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The Church at Laodicea

The Deception of the Charismatic Renewal
(AD 1900-Tribulation)

And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.  (Revelation 3:14-19)

By now it will be obvious to anyone who has been reading these messages with one eye on the timeline of church history that with the letter to the church at Laodicea, we have entered the final period of church history. It will be just as obvious to anyone who has any perception about what has characterized the church in this century that the predominant unique characteristics of this period have been brought about by what has been termed “the Charismatic movement.”

In our discussion of the nature of the final period of church history, we are not any longer focusing on the state of the mainline denominations, because they are the subject of the letter to the church at Sardis. We are not overly concerned with recent events in the Roman Catholic communion, because that is a continuation of a branch of “the church” that was covered in the letter to the church at Thyatira, wherein we noted that that church will continue on into the Great Tribulation.

We are not even overly concerned with recent developments in “fundamentalism,” as we saw that the rise of the dispensational, premillennial fundamentalist movement, and the churches that have flowed from that, were the subject of the letter to the church at Philadelphia. We noted that that church is given a promise that it will not enter into the Great Tribulation along with the Catholic church and the denominations, but that it will be “kept from” the judgments that are to fall during that period of time.

So we are looking for a 20th century testimony of the “church” that is not primarily associated with the Catholic church, the mainline denominational church, or the premillennial fundamentalist church movement—but which itself embodies a “spirit” and a “testimony” unique to this century.

So, what aspect of the present day church can be said to have been introduced subsequent to the rise of fundamentalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? There are many clues within the message itself. 

First of all, note the derivation of the name. Lao, as we noted when discussing the Nicolaitans, is the Greek term for the laity, or the people, in the sense of the common man. Dicea is the Greek word for “power” or “authority”, or even “rights.” This then is the church of “people power,” “people’s rights,” or “civil rights.” It is interesting that the mindset of our age is an overriding concern with people’s rights—human rights, women’s rights, senior’s rights, patient’s rights, children’s rights, everyone’s rights but “God’s rights.”

Secondly, let’s look at the attitude this church holds of itself. It is a church that feels it “has arrived.” The Lord says this church claims to “have it all.” This is the church of the “prosperity gospel,” the “name it and claim it” church, the church that believes that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are found within it—they have the “recovery” of all that has been “missing” in the church for two millennia, they have been blessed by the “refreshing” of the “latter rain.” The leaders of this church have no problem filling huge halls, amphitheaters, and stadiums were self-congratulatory services are held—where the communicants are reassured, “We are the people!” This is cable–channel Christianity in its most glorious, most enthusiastic, most extravagant display of “Christ’s power” to overcome the world, the devil, sickness, and poverty.

And what does the Lord, who is supposedly to be “honored out of his gourd” by all this pageantry, think about it? It makes Him literally sick to His stomach. The vernacular would have it, “It makes Him want to puke.” In fact, the nicety of the King James English almost obscures the fact that the Lord promises this church that He will vomit them up and spit them out. Taken in context with the promises given to the other three churches that exist up to the time of the Rapture regarding what will happen to them at the Lord’s return, there is a picture here of a church that is almost taken up in the Rapture, but then is spued out back to the earth.

Although there have been any number of books and articles published in recent days comparing Laodicea to the current condition of the church. They generally focus on the issue of lukewarmness, and a preoccupation with material wealth.  But it is easy to read these books and believe they are about those other Christians out there.  The fact of the matter is, this is the age in which we live.  In effect, we are all of the Laodicean era of church history.  Therefore, we should take extra care to study this letter with the aim of discovering just what it is about this particular church that the Lord finds so unpalatable.

Anyone who has been active in “the church” over the last several decades is aware that believers outside of the mainline denominations tend to identify themselves as either “fundamental” or “charismatic,” and these two camps tend to be at odds with each other over a host of issues. “Boiled down,” however, the main issues could be summarized thusly:

       Charismatics tend to believe they have more of everything than their fundamentalist brethren, more “gifts,” more “anointing,” more “power,” including the power to heal, the power to prophecy, and the power to bring down the blessings of Deuteronomy 28 upon their finances and business dealings.

       Fundamentalists tend to interpret scripture literally and therefore they see the promises of Deuteronomy 28 as pertaining to promises literally specific to Israel, and New Testament miracles as “signs” given at the beginning of the age to mark the introduction of a new “dispensation.”

In the same vein, fundamentalists tend to be premillennial in their eschatology, teaching that it’s going to get worse before it gets better; that our “hope” is the soon return of the Lord Jesus in the air to “rapture” true believers from the earth before the judgment of God falls on an unbelieving world. These is easily contrasted with the eschatology of the Catholic church and the mainline denominations, as they believe in neither the rapture, nor the return of the Lord to establish a kingdom on this earth.

When it comes to charismatic eschatology, however, there is much confusion about what we are waiting for. For the most part, the movement in general seems to feel God is going to gain the victory over the world system by empowering “His church” or “His army” to spread the gospel. Most charismatic congregations are preparing in one way or another to “go through the Tribulation” and win the victory in the end. This is the heart of amillennialism, and is the kind of thinking that influenced the Catholic and Reformation churches to militant action to take over lands and kingdoms by force if necessary in the name of God. 

We have already seen that this issue of amillennial eschatology versus premillennial eschatology has been an issue addressed in each of the churches that will exist on the earth at the time of the Lord’s return. There are those in the church today who feel this is a “divisive” issue and doesn’t effect how we live our lives as Christians and so should not be discussed or “worried about.” One of the purposes of this article is to show that this issue is of the greatest importance to the Lord, and His assessment of any church necessarily takes into account the attitude of that church toward His promise to return for His own and keep them from the Tribulation that is coming upon all the world.

A little meditation on this issue reveals the reason why. A church’s teaching in this area will have a significant impact on the attitude of believers toward the world—this world in which we live. It is a generalization to say—and nevertheless true—that amillennial eschatology will result in a church that is basically “at home” in the world. It feels its place is here in the world—it’s mission to change the world and bring in the Kingdom in a spiritual or allegorical sense that the Lord intends to bring literally.

“Premillennialism” on the other hand results in a church where the believers are expecting to be “outta here” in short order. These believers will be more concerned with storing up treasures in heaven than in learning how to “cash in” on their “heavenly bank accounts” to meet current needs here on this earth. Realizing the time is short, they generally have a greater sense of urgency about “saving souls,” while “charismatics” are generally more concerned with befriending fundamentalist believers so that they can lead them into the “fuller gospel” of gifts, miracles and prosperity. The fundamentalists beat the bushes and “get them saved,” and then the Charismatics get a hold of them and get them “baptized in the Holy Spirit” so that their focus changes from the soon return of the Lord to such distractions as the “fullness of the five-fold ministry,” the recovery of the gifts, spiritual mapping, etc. 

The rather muddled eschatology that teaches that the church is headed for a time of great persecution, while also teaching that the church is headed for its most glorious period of awing the world with signs and wonders and miracles makes for a rather unclear scenario of the end times.  And it is this confusion that causes most believers of the Charismatic persuasion to be “lukewarm” in regards to His return.  If indeed the church is to take the brunt of the judgments during the Tribulation, that is not much to look forward to.  And if the church is going to rise up in might revival and win cities and nations to Christ unlike ever before, who wants to see such a glorious time come to an end?  So, although Charismatic teachers use fundamentalist terminology in speaking of the Last Days and the Second Coming, it is not clear at all what it is we are really to expect.  

Just as in the first letter to the church in Ephesus, many teach that the “first love” the Ephesians lost was their love for the Lord, most teachers today teach that the Laodicean church is lukewarm in its love for Jesus.  But just as in the first case, that “first love” may very well be referring to the love of the saints for each other rather than their love for Jesus, so in this last latter the lukewarm attitude could very well be a reference to a “moderate” position between amillennialism (cold) and Premillennialism (hot).  Charismatic eschatology does not deny that the Lord is returning to the earth (it's not that cold), but on the other hand, they have a lot of things to do first.  Their eyes are on themselves as they anticipate going out into the world to lead the greatest revival that has ever been.  Therefore, they are not waiting for the Lord to return any day (they are not that hot).  Not cold, and not hot.  Not amillennial, and yet not quite premillennial.  A muddled, wishy-washy, lukewarm eschatology, or attitude toward the Lords' return, is a major characteristic of the Charismatic movement, which encompasses Third Wave, Third Day, Kingdom Now, Latter Rain, Manifest Sons of God, and Man Child scenarios—but speaks little of the Lord Himself actually setting His feet on the ground and sitting on a throne in Jerusalem.

So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot...

No doubt this will be a hard pill to swallow for many in this age who are involved in this type of church or even this type of ministry. The primary message is that those who are most involved are totally unaware of their true condition, from the Lord’s point of view. Of course, according to the message itself, the predominant trait of the Laodicean church is self- deception. That is to say, one of the outstanding characteristics of a true Laodicean church is that it has no idea that it is a Laodicean church!

But deception, and self-deception, is the hallmark of the end times. The Lord Jesus talked about it in Matthew 24. Paul expounded on it in II Thessalonians 2, calling it “strong delusion.” Paul indicates that those who fall prey to this delusion would be those who “received not the love of the truth.” Although this passage is generally accepted by Premillennialists as referring to a deception that takes over the world following the rapture and the revealing of the Antichrist, when taken with Jesus’ own warning that the deception that would come in the last time would, if it were possible, deceive even the very elect, it should be ample warning that in these closing days of the church age, the winds of deception and delusion are reaching tempest proportions.

Let us simply note a few other things about this final letter that indicate further evidence that this message is to the church of the 20th century, not the second century.

First of all, note the Lord’s self introduction to this church. He asserts and affirms that He is the “beginning of the Creation of God.” A good message to a church that exists at a time when the world has decided there is no God and there was no creation.

Another sign that this letter was written with the 20th Century in mind is the admonition, “I counsel you to buy from me white raiment, that you may be clothed, that your nakedness not appear.” We live in an age when Paul’s admonition to women to maintain “modesty” and “shamefacedness” seems almost comical. Nakedness and near nakedness do not shock us anymore.

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:20-22)

Revelation 3:20 is one of the most well-known verses in scripture. It is also one of the saddest when seen in its context.

In the passage, it is the Lord Jesus standing outside His own church. The church doesn’t even realize the Lord is not among them—but rather standing outside, seeking any individual that will hear His voice. This again underscores the fact that since AD 600, the Lord has placed his message to the overcomers before the exhortation to hear what the spirit is saying to the churches. He continues to speak in any age to those individuals who are willing to follow Him, and not some denomination; Him, and not some creed or statement of faith; Him, and not some “historical position.” The Lord has not changed one bit since the day He ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father. The church has changed, and with the exception of one bright, shining moment, it has generally been a change for the worse.

I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Rev. 22:16--19)

The Lord obviously takes the prophecies contained in this last book of the New Testament very seriously. The book is called the Revelation, not because it is intended to be difficult to understand, But because it is intended to reveal. The problem is we don’t particularly like to see what it is that is being revealed in the seven letters to the seven churches of Revelation. If taken seriously, these messages could result in a drastic change in your Christianity, your attitude toward the brethren, and how you choose to worship the Lord in spirit and truth. Taken seriously and believed, these letters could really shake up your life. Certainly, if the church really understood these letters, they would definitely shake up the church.

Note again that the Lord bears witness to the fact that He is not only the Root, but the Offspring of David, the King—the King that was promised would be a descendent of David's to sit on the Throne of Israel, to order it forever.

He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

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