The Laodicean Legacy Part I

I was reminded Sunday evening (through a few discussions during our fellowship time) of how great our challenge is for evangelism in this modern era. The people of this culture are simply addicted to entertainment, and the continual flow of technological devices only continues to fuel this “addiction.” I use the word addiction here, not to suggest that people are passive victims (as that word is often used), but I use it in order to point out the severity of the problem. Like a drug addict, many in our day are practically made prisoners within their own homes, being chained to their cable-connected-large-screen-TV jail keepers. This entertainment “addiction” of the modern day has created an entire world of isolationsim. A century ago, if you tried to knock on your neighbor’s door to say “hello, how are you” – the visitation would be seen as a normal – even a welcome event; however, if you try to do the same today, you may be seen as an invader from outer space; after all, that deep reservoir of virtuous content – “Desperate Housewives” is on! We do face steep challenges in this modern era, but this addiction of self indulgence is as old as this fallen world itself “Here is the church and here is the big screen, open the door and see all the worldlings.”(Matthew 24:38), and we are deceived to think anything else. The Gospel mission of the church could be summarized by this simple thought: we are to go out into the world with the Gospel, rather than bringing the world into the church. Out, versus in – can it really be that simple? Absolutely! The Lord’s own ministry and example sets the stage for our understanding between “out” and “in” –

John 17:18 “As Thou didst send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.

This is a very simple message. The church is to go out into the world rather than the other way around – the world coming into us. In fact this key concept was part of the Savior’s prayer for us:

John 17:15 “I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.”

Believers are to forsake evil while engaging this wicked world – in other words, we are to be in the world, but not of the world. Failure to submit to this key principle of Scripture was the very backbone of error in the church at Laodicea. They looked to combine the red-hot firebrands of Gospel truth with the cold and dead practices of the world – thus, they were neither hot or cold, but lukewarm:

Revelation 3:16-17: 16 “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked…”

Unlike the persecuted and impoverished church at Smyrna (whom the Lord praised for their godliness), Laodicea must have been a booming synergy of worldliness and religion. Their popularity is implicitly made evident by their financial wealth – they “had need of nothing.” Laodicea had found a way to import the sinful preoccupations of their world into their ranks and thereby establish an institution that was overwhelmed with fleshly strength, while being devoid of Spiritual substance. Instead of sending holy servants out into the world, they chose to invite the world, in all its worldliness, into the church. But the Lord saw through their game of compromise and wanted to spew them out of His mouth – extremely strong language coming from the Lord of all mercy and compassion!

I offer all this to you in order to contextualize a recent interview of interest (with Bill Hybels, October 24th 2005) – this was recently sent to me and it has recharged my passion for pursuing purity in the church and evangelism out in the world:

BY CATHLEEN FALSANI Religion Reporter for the Sun Times

As a conversation with Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, continues on the anniversary of the church’s founding in 1975, the pastor turns his attention to what the next 30 years might hold the groundbreaking “seeker-friendly” congregation and its successors on the cutting edge of evangelicalism in the 21st century.

Q: What does the future look like for Willow Creek and the church, writ large?

A: “I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of the local church than I am right now, because I think church leaders have finally come to understand that the wise thing to do is to recalibrate the methodology of the church for each societal change and each generational reality. When I started 30 years ago, the church hadn’t changed much in 50 years.

“There’s rarely been a debate about whether the church should debate its theology. . . it’s never been a serious discussion. But what used to be a serious discussion is: Should we adapt our methodology for the culture that we’re trying to relate to? And now even that is not much of a discussion at all.

Q: Whether the church should engage culture at all is not a question anymore?

A: “Right. And it used to be. There was a barricade mentality, a let’s huddle and separate-ourselves-from-this-terrible-awful-world thing. There’s none of that left. Those churches have closed down or have been merged with a church that has a more positive vision.

Let me first say that there are some small nuggets of truth in Hybels’ observations above. First, it is true that the Willow Creek model of ministry has essentially taken over the American “church.” This is, unfortunately, a statement that is mostly true. Secondly, there is such a thing as a barricade mentality that can be sinful – it is the same barricade mentality that formulated the basis of the religious monastery. Those who hide from the world, and thereby fail to engage it with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, are in sin. However, this isn’t what Hybels is talking about. What he has in mind are those who believe that we are to “separate-ourselves-from-this-awful-world.” Contrary to Hybels’ philosophy, we are to separate ourselves from wickedness and worldliness – “keep them from the evil one” [litertally – keep them “out of the evil” (tereses outous ek tou ponerou)] our Savior prayed; however Hybels believes that worldly influences should be invited into the church. That is why churches have become religious entertainment centers, complete with theatre seating, drama, puppet shows, rock bands and stand-up comedians who try to impersonate Gospel preachers. It is sad, but it is not new – in fact, it’s ancient. The children’s rhyme of old has been changed to: “Here is the church and here is the big screen, open the door and see all the worldlings.” May the Lord grow us after the pattern of those godly saints at Smyrna, rather than the worldlings of Laodicea.

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