Previous: Revelation 3:15-17 - Continued 5

"I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'-and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked- Revelation 3:15-16

The Plot Thickens

An analysis of the current slice of history, beginning about 1980, is difficult because we are still going through it.

Most developments in recent decades have the potential to be either good or bad, depending on how they are used. There are many examples: the use of nuclear power; the way wealth is spent; and the way technological advances are employed; can all be either blessings or curses.

Our first parents chose to have the "knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7). They already had knowledge of the good, but they suffered greatly when they disobeyed their Creator and learned what it was to experience evil. This tension between good and evil is also reflected in Jesus' condemnation of the Laodicean Christians (and of our current Church age) of being spiritually lukewarm.

In these days the human race is unstable and the church is in decline. Here is a brief consideration of these two issues.

World-wide Turmoil

Most of the world's population is experiencing political and economic woes. Several international organizations are trying to bring people together for the sake of peace and better economy. The United Nations, with its branches, like as the World Court (International Court of Justice), professes to promote harmony and prosperity. In reality it is much too divided and weak to be able to accomplish these goals. The globe is seriously divided over political and economic theories and religious differences. Unwise monetary policies and lack of wise leadership is epidemic.

At this time the U.S. President is not trusted enough at home or abroad. The Russian President was named "the most powerful person in the world" by Forbes Magazine
(, but he is known to be a cold and cunning leader from the old Soviet era. There is too much corruption in politics everywhere, often caused by the untouchable super-rich who help place people in government and then control their actions.

Most of the world's economy has been in a recession in recent years. Europe is especially impacted, and the United States is trying to recover by borrowing and spending more than some experts think coming generations can ever hope to repay.

Wars have always plagued our fallen human race. There are currently (and usually) about 40 wars being fought at any given time on our globe. ( Some of them are civil wars, usually caused by religious differences.

Much of the current conflict originates in the Middle East where a rising tide of Islamic fervor is focused on exterminating Israel. This unrest is exacerbated by the differences between Sunni and Shia Islam. In that arena the greatest threat is the fact that Iran is on the verge of producing nuclear weapons, and is led by a Supreme Leader whose theology predicts that a great crisis will cause their messiah, the Mahdi, or the Twelfth Imam, to appear and save the world.

Ever since the 911 attacks on the Pentagon and New York's Twin Towers, Islamic terrorism has been a dreadful fact of life globally.

In addition, another "cold war" seems to be building between the U.S. and Russia, and China is building its military rapidly, causing the whole world to take notice.

Cyberwar is new kind of warfare that will be fought over the Internet, and threaten any country without warning. Cyber-attacks could interrupt the flow of data and destroy or paralyze power grids, oil and water systems, transportation, and other basic infrastructures.

Cyberwar is one byproduct of the quantum leap in technology, known as the "information explosion." This increase of knowledge was predicted by the prophet Daniel, even though he did not understand its meaning at the time. Michael the Archangel told him that in the end times, "many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase" (Daniel 12:4). Since the introduction of the first personal computers in the late 1970's, computing and the Internet have grown exponentially to the point where the average smart phone has more power than the mainframe computers of a few decades ago, and nearly infinite knowledge is available to all via the Internet. There are, of course, countless advantages to having such power and convenience. A whole book could be devoted to the various applications and abilities that this new world of inventions has given us, and more are being added every day.

However, returning to the earlier concept of new things being used in either a good or a bad way, numerous dangers and distractions entered through this fascinating portal of technology. Online pornography is a temptation to many, and when it is viewed on smart phones it is even more difficult for parents to monitor. Unwise use of texting, and "sexting" inappropriate messages and pictures is another pitfall. Listening to explicit music poses an additional danger. The use of violent video games is a factor in real-life tragedies. Bullying online causes some people to commit suicide. Excessive time spent on social media programs and entertainment and/or video sources is a serious waste of time.

Perhaps most significantly, this technology will make the predicted world-wide economic dictatorship, and the "Mark of the Beast" possible (Revelation 13:11-18).

Unfortunately, immorality has also found many ways to affect (and infect) this generation. The progressive element in education and government endorses or allows a catalog of behaviors that have always been considered sinful by Bible-believing Christians. Some of these are abortion, euthanasia, graphic sex education, homosexuality, premarital experimentation, smoking, drinking, use of marijuana, and gambling. The entertainment industry pokes fun at the values of evangelicals and conservatives, and calls them "haters" for voicing their concerns. The Bible says,

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
And prudent in their own sight! - Isaiah 5:20, 21

True Christians who are led by the Holy Spirit should show genuine love and concern for those who have different life-styles. We should realize that all of us are sinners (Romans 3:23), and that the sins other people commit are not worse than our own transgressions (Matthew 5:17-48). But condoning sin is not the loving thing to do. The Lord is not only a loving God, but He is also Holy, Righteous and Just (Exodus 15:11; Psalm 99:9; Psalm 119:137; Psalm 89:14). In His righteousness He warned that the penalty for sin is death (Genesis 2:17; Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23). Sin results in spiritual death, which is separation from God (Ephesians 2:1). Jesus often went out of His way to reach out to people who were caught in the trap of sin. In the well-known case of the woman brought to Him in adultery, He said, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." In His great love He was able to offer forgiveness because He was also going to satisfy the demands of justice by dying for her. He did not deny that she had sinned. In fact, He said, "Go and sin no more." (John 8:7-11).

Those of us who have found eternal life in Christ (John 3: 3-8; John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:17) know that we must not allow sin to reign in our lives (Romans 6:12-19). Instead we are expected to be repentant and confess our sin (1 John 1:9) so that the Lord can restore us and help us be more like Him. If we have sincere love for friends or relatives who are sinning, we will do our best to help them acknowledges their need and give their lives to the Lord (Galatians 6:1-5).

Non-Confrontational Christianity

The issue arises, "What was the Church doing during this period of serious moral decline? Was it able to stop the holocaust of abortion, or the export of pornography, or the plague of human trafficking? Was it even able to keep its own young people engaged and provide good answers to their hard questions?

The Church did help stem the tide of evil. It would have been much worse without the presence of born-again believers. But surveys show a steady decline of godly influence and an increase in the biblically-illiterate population. One such survey, conducted by The Bible Society showed that 46% of adults surveyed did not know that the story of Noah's Ark came from the Bible, but about half of them thought that the Hunger Games were biblical. One third said that "Harry Potter" could be a biblical story. About 30% of the children interviewed did not know that the Nativity was from the Bible.

With an ever-increasing population and a declining interest in church, innovative pastors found various ways to boost their attendance, but some of their experiments yielded mixed results. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, and other pastors as well, began to offer seeker-sensitive services in 1975. Church services employed attractive, even entertaining, methods to build attendance by people who presumably did not attend church. The message was a simplified Gospel, carefully given in a way that would not be considered harsh or judgmental. It was purposely non-confrontational and positive. This approach was relatively successful in introducing people to Christ, but not so good in the discipleship area. For greater growth, new converts were encouraged to attend week-night training sessions. After more than three decades, a survey of seeker-sensitive churches revealed that many Christians failed to grow spiritually in that atmosphere. In 2007, in Bill Hybels' own words, too many Christians expected the church to keep feeding them when they should have become self-feeders. He admitted that he had made a mistake and would have to change the way they were doing things.

By the early years of the 21st Century there were scores of megachurches in the United States. Many of them had followed the Willow Creek model, or the pattern set by Rick Warren's Saddleback Community Church in Southern California, and had experienced the same results. On the good side of the issue, these massive churches had indeed influenced great numbers of people to place their faith in Christ. On the negative side, some of these ministries tended to collect people who were not interested in true biblical discipleship. An unhealthy number of them considered this kind of church the best "bargain" from a consumer's point of view: presenting the most interesting program in town at whatever day or hour was most convenient for them and the most fun for their children. In the process they heard politically correct messages, and were rarely confronted with anything controversial, like abortion or homosexuality, divorce, or anything that would discourage them from attending. Congregations that were not taught "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:26-28) were not inclined to oppose the cultural shift that was going on, nor to influence their own family members to follow biblical principles.

Surveys showed that while the megachurches were still growing, the number of Christians was declining. The 2012 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey indicated that the number of American Christians declined 5% during the previous five years, and even Evangelicals dropped 2%. In essence, some of the megachurches were increasing at the expense of the smaller churches. Meanwhile the "Nones," people who do not identify with any religion, grew 5%!

I want to stress that I am not against megachurches per se. There are a number of great Bible-teaching megachurches, in the United States and abroad that do take a stand on controversial issues, and do have a high percentage of mature and growing Christians. Even in the case of the more non-controversial churches there are many spiritual victories, and the Lord knows the hearts of the dedicated pastors, and the good that is done by many of them. However, some of the pastors who had the greatest opportunity for speaking out against the onslaught of evil missed their opportunity and failed to be watchmen on the wall.

But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand.'
"So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me. When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you shall surely die!' and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. - Ezekiel 33:6-8

Unfortunately there was another impediment to the progress of the Church during these years. There were several high-profile pastoral scandals, involving church leaders. The Catholic Church has been criticized for decades because of numerous cases of pedophilia by some of its priests. Among Protestant clergy there have always been occasional moral failures, but some of the highly publicized problems of the past few decades turned many away from the Church. Without going into details, some very famous Christian leaders were accused of financial misconduct, including Christian television pioneer Jim Bakker, and Robert Schuller, who had built the famous Crystal Cathedral. Two of the most prominent ministers accused of sexual misconduct were Television evangelist Jimmy Swaggert, and Ted Haggard, pastor of a megachurch in Colorado and head of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Another negative development during the past few decades was the alienation and lack of interest by young people in the Church. A recent survey by the Barna Group revealed that "nearly six in ten (59%) of young people who grew up in Christian churches end up walking away from either their faith or from the institutional church at some point in their first decade of adult life." The unchurched segment among Millennials (born between 1984 and 2002) has increased from 44% to 52% in the last decade.

A controversial solution to the problem of reconnecting young people to the Church is the growth of the so-called "Emergent Church." The jury is still out on how much of this movement is good and how much is bad. It is good in the sense that its leaders try to understand and relate to the thinking of the postmodern generation. But in the process they de-emphasize the Bible as the literal Word of God, causing some leaders, like Rob Bell, to question such basic biblical concepts as heaven and hell. Leaders in the movement lean toward universal salvation. It also borrows heavily from Catholic liturgy and mysticism. Some analysts believe it is influenced by Jesuits, who are still working to bring the Protestant Church back under the control of the Catholic hierarchy.

One last major push during this stage of history is ecumenism: the cooperation and even coalition of religions. As seen in the earlier mention of the World Council of Churches and the Parliament of World Religions, this is not a new idea, but it is gaining ground as never before. The issue of abortion, and more recently of contraception as part of the national health care system, is bringing many Protestant and Catholic activists together to fight their common causes.

A similar effect was experienced in California when the Mormon-led Proposition 8 ballot initiative was created to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. For their mutual advantage, Mormons and Evangelicals worked hand-in-hand.

It is increasingly fashionable in some churches to have representatives of various major religions offer prayers and meditations. Chrislam, a working relationship between Christians and Islam, gives the impression that we all worship the same God. This erroneous concept is supported by some high-profile evangelical leaders.

The New Age movement is quietly gaining ground as a sort of common denominator between various beliefs.

Perhaps most significant in this matter of ecumenical union is the fact that Pope Francis, who is incredibly popular on the world scene, is a strong advocate of the movement.

Evangelical Response

Many of the powerful ministries that sprang up during the Missionary Age continued their work, but with a gradually declining effect. We have already considered the fact that there was successful missionary work in every period of Church history. This was characterized as an "open door:" a situation made possible by the Lord Jesus Christ in each age. In this last, Laodicean stage of history the missionary enterprise can be considered an "Open Door of Escape." In this third millennium after Christ, missiologists explain that this ought to be the time for a great spread of the Gospel to Asia. The strongholds of Communism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam are in view. And amazing developments are being reported, such as the growth of the Chinese underground church to an incredible estimated number of 100 million believers. And that Chinese Church has the vision of a "Back to Jerusalem" campaign to take the Gospel to the rest of the Asian world.
( There are also many reported occurrences of Jesus appearing to Muslims in countries where missionaries are not allowed.

In this generation there were still many outstanding churches--places where believers are "spiritually hot," not just lukewarm like the Laodiceans. But with the passage of time a growing percentage of church leaders have failed to teach the whole Bible and to affirm that it is literally God's infallible Word. Christians looking for that kind of church often reported difficulty finding one.

When moving into a new area, concerned Christians could not depend on past denominational experience. They needed to visit various churches and observe how much emphasis these ministries placed on missions, evangelism and discipleship. They also evaluated what kind of ministry the prospective congregation offered for children and youth.

While the Sunday School movement declined steadily, the need for adult Christian instruction and discipleship was replaced in part by small groups, like "Experiencing God, "The Truth Project," and women's bible studies from teachers like Kay Arthur and Beth Moore. Most of these groups met weekly or bi-weekly in the evenings. They provided some level of Bible instruction, fellowship, and usually included a time of prayer together.

For children "Good News Clubs" made a dramatic come-back, not so much in people's homes, but on school property during non-instructional time. This was the result of an encouraging Supreme Court decision in 2001 that "the school could not deny equal access to the Club for any time that is generally available for public use."
( Matt Staver, President of Liberty Counsel, used this ruling to encourage many Christian organizations to stand up for their First Amendment rights.

Some of the larger evangelical churches provided or recommended Christian schools. Most of these schools followed basic Christian doctrine and fundamental methods of education. Parents who chose a Christian school were normally very concerned about the curriculum that was used. Two examples of basic curriculum employed by these schools were A Beka Book and Accelerated Christian Education.

These private schools were careful to include all of the state-required subjects, but in controversial issues, like the origin of the human race, they gave preference to the biblical view while explaining the pros and cons of the secular perspective that is taught in the public arena. Christian schools also emphasized good study habits, Christian ethics, character development, knowledge of the Bible, and appreciation of the biblical world-view. Most Christian schools belonged to the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). Many were also accredited by the secular Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WACS).

Homeschooling was another popular solution to the dilemma of providing a good education in a Christian environment. A variety of effective methods and materials were made available to dedicated parents who could spend the time supervising their children's education. The entire industry of homeschooling became very efficient in mixing study time at home with some time in public schools and enough social interaction with other homeschoolers to balance their educational experience.

Students from Christian schools and homeschooled children usually had higher scores on standardized education tests than their public school counterparts.

A variety of new parachurch organizations sprang up during these years of spiritual and moral turmoil. Some of them were family-oriented like "Focus on the Family." They began a daily radio broadcast in 1980 featuring their founder, Dr. James Dobson. It was a daily dose of encouragement about marriage, raising children, and the right to life.

Men got a huge boost in the 1990's because of the Promise Keepers movement. For many years this organization offered stadium events gathering tens of thousands of men to hear powerful messages on how to be a godly husband, father and leader. The apex of this effort was a rally in 1997 when more than a million men assembled on the Mall in Washington D.C. The event, called "Standing in the Gap," was the largest gathering of men in American history. It was the closest thing to a national revival that I ever witnessed--an ocean of men singing and praying, with our faces to the ground!

Women also had large stadium events to build their faith. Starting in 1996 an event called "Women of Faith" was held yearly in various major venues.

Pro-life organizations did their best to hold back the tide of abortions during this era. Some of these were The Family Research Council, The Christian Coalition, and The American Family Association. An interesting technological development that helped their cause was the improved ultrasound imagery of the baby in the womb. Expectant mothers often decided against abortion after seeing their child moving or sucking its thumb.

For people with homosexual tendencies there was Exodus International and some Christian-based counseling ministries to help people understand the issues and to make wise decisions.

Celebrate Recovery spread rapidly with its assistance to people with all kinds of dependencies. Group meetings were offered in the facilities of a great number of churches.

Some very effective legal organizations gave assistance to Christian churches and individuals when their civil rights were violated by secular activists. Two heroic examples would be Liberty Counsel, founded in 1989 by Matt Staver, and the American Center for Law and Justice, established in 1990 by Pat Robertson, and led by Jay Sekulow.

The apologetics field gained outstanding new organizations and spokesmen to face the challenges of "defending the faith." The Ravi Zacharias International Ministries was begun in 1984 to promote the ministry of a brilliant speaker and writer who was effective in defending traditional evangelicalism.

A new field of scientific study known as "Intelligent Design" was introduced in 1991 by Phillip E. Johnson, a retired UC Berkeley law professor and author. He wrote the book, Darwin on Trial, in which he presented convincing evidence that Darwinian evolution had failed to prove itself, and that modern scientific methods call for belief in a Creator. He was a co-founder of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, which has become the well-spring of many great authors and speakers on the subject.

In the 1990's Biola University and Talbot School of Theology (my alma mater) established an Apologetics Department, led by Craig Hazen, and featuring many notable apologists, including J.P. Moreland from Biola and William Lane Craig from Talbot. They sponsor special "Defending Your Faith" events with popular speakers like Lee Strobel (The Case for Christ, 1998), Greg Koukl (Stand to Reason), and representatives of the Intelligent Design movement. The department publishes Philosophia Christi, the premier journal of Christian philosophy. The Biola/Talbot nexus was rated the top apologetics school, but there are several others with growing influence.

The so-called "Young Earth Creation" theory maintained its momentum also with the addition of ministries like Ken Ham's "Answers in Genesis" in 1994, and the opening of their Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky in 2007. A debate between Ham and "Bill Nye, the Science Guy" in 2014 drew millions of viewers on the Internet, and stimulated discussion of the biblical point of view.

It is not possible to properly acknowledge all the great contributions made in this apologetics field, but a few others should be mentioned in passing: Ray Comfort, and his "Way of the Master" radio and television ministry, Dinesh D'Souza, author of What's So Great about Christianity?, and Jay Smith, who has the unique and difficult role of exposing the errors of Islam and the advantages of Christianity. He does this at "Speakers Corner," a free-speech area in London, even though he has been physically attacked for his beliefs.

While young people were suffering the negative influence of some of the vulgar music and immoral lifestyles portrayed on MTV, Contemporary Christian artists became more skillful in their craft of devotional and inspirational music. In some ways they became the new evangelists to their generation. One example among scores that could be cited is "Glorious Day" by Casting Crowns:

One day when Heaven was filled with His praises
One day when sin was as black as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men, my example is He
Word became flesh and the light shined among us
His glory revealed

Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He's coming
Oh glorious day, oh glorious day

One day they led Him up Calvary's mountain
One day they nailed Him to die on a tree
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He
Hands that healed nations, stretched out on a tree
And took the nails for me

One day the grave could conceal Him no longer
One day the stone rolled away from the door
Then He arose, over death He had conquered
Now He's ascended, my Lord evermore
Death could not hold Him, the grave could not keep Him
From rising again

One day the trumpet will sound for His coming
One day the skies with His glories will shine
Wonderful day, my Beloved One, bringing
My Savior, Jesus, is mine

Glorious day, Oh, Glorious day

Ever since the invention of the printing press Christian books have been instrumental in maintaining the faith and spreading the Gospel. The most outstanding Christian series toward the end of the 20th Century was the 16-volume Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. These depictions of the end times became the all-time best-selling Christian novels.

The Internet became a popular alternative to reading books during the last decade of the 2000's. Conventional wisdom says that the Internet, smart phones and electronic readers will never completely replace printed books. Nevertheless, most book publishers, and whole chains of Christian and secular bookstores have disappeared. The good news is that every imaginable version of the Bible, and all the Bible study tools, commentaries, and even audio and video teaching on Bible subjects, is now freely available to all via our phones and computer connections. One only needs to Google "online Bibles" to get a list of these powerful sites, including the Blue Letter Bible, Bible Gateway, and many others. Search for "Bible prophecy" to get our site, Prophecy Central, and hundreds of other Christian depositories of information. Or enter just part of a verse you wish to find, and the Internet will show you the chapter and verse!

Every church, mission, ministry, and any individual Christian who has something to share is now able to have a websites, a blog, or pages on social media. This is a previously unimaginable privilege and opportunity. And if the Lord doesn't return soon, it will just become an even more amazing resource!

Everything considered, the zeal and involvement of born-again Christians during this difficult period of time has been commendable, even if it does fall short in some ways. Like the Laodiceans, we, as a whole, cannot be considered "hot" or highly successful in our response to the negative influences of our age. Thankfully though, we are not completely "cold" either. We care, and we are still involved, but something is lacking. In Jesus' opinion, we are "lukewarm."

Individual Christians can be, and many are, "on fire for the Lord." Individual local assemblies of believers may be making a huge impact on their part of the world with the Gospel. Even large areas of the world can be aflame with love for the Lord and effective in reaching their generation. This has been true in every age.

But Christianity as a whole cannot be described in this glowing way at this time. There are too many that do not know the Lord personally. That is why, as we will see, Jesus invites the Laodiceans to open the door of their lives to Him (Revelation 3:20). Too many are trying to improve the world and build the Kingdom by their own good works without the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. (See the discussion of "Kingdom Work" in chapter 1, verse 9; and chapter 2, verse 16. See also the "Filling of the Holy Spirit" in chapter 1, verses 5 and 10, and chapter 3, verse 1.)

As we will see when we get to the final verses in this letter (Revelation 3:18-21), the church does not need to remain in its tepid condition. It is possible for lukewarm Christians to respond to the Lord's chastening and repent! And those who do not know Christ personally are invited to accept Him as Savior. A promise of future blessing is given to the "overcomers." These things should inspire hope and encourage Christians to be optimistic about the future. In the meantime, Jesus expects us to "occupy (do business) until He comes (Luke 19:11-13).

I read something recently that suggested that those who are expecting a literal return of Christ to set up His kingdom are experiencing an "abortion of hope" because they ignore the responsibility to make things better. Supposedly we are obsessed with "doom and gloom," and just want to survive until Jesus returns. The exact opposite is true, for Paul called the promise of Christ's return "the blessed hope" of the believer (Titus 2:13).

There is no need for pessimism here. If believers will respond properly, they can be revived. We are praying for one more revival to reach this generation of young people with the Gospel. Too many of them do not know what the Bible teaches. They don't know what they need to do in order to have a right relationship with Christ. There is every reason to expect that the Lord will send another great awakening in the end time just as He did before the flood in Noah's days and before judgment on Nineveh in Jonah's days. (See notes on revival in chapter 3, verse 2.)

Next: Revelation 3:18-22


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