The lukewarm church

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (Rev. 3:14-22)

From Joseph L. Mangina’s commentary on Revelation:

The reader’s attention is naturally drawn to the image of “lukewarmness.” Commentators regularly note that Laodicea was located near the hot springs of Hierapolis, whose waters cooled to tepid by the time they arrived in Laodicea – a point that at least shows John was capable of wit. Thankfully the metaphor does not stand on its own: the speaker unpacks it in the words he mockingly attributes to this church: “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” It is the smugly self-satisfied attitude of this church that disgusts Christ, making them so disgusting that he has no choice but to spit them out. A church filled with the Spirit necessarily burns with the fire of love (Song 86-7). A church that is cold – perhaps close to death, like the assembly in Sardis – can be miraculously revived by the one who brings life to the dead. But the lukewarm church, the church that imagines it has everything, neither needs nor expects anything of him. The pathos of this situation lies in the absolute dichotomy between reality and perception, so that the community that is the most “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” is at the same time the one most impervious to help

There is no hope, then, for the Laodicean church. Unlike Sardis, there is not even a faithful remnant that might serve as a seed for regeneration. Yet it is wrong to say there is no hope, for this church is still the subject of address by the risen Lord: “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation'” (3:14).

The use of creation language is not accidental. The church at Laodicea needs to undergo a kind of re-creation, a movement from indifference to desire, from death into life. And this is possible, because the one speaking to it is himself alive with the reality and the possibility of God. Even the sin of lukewarmness is not the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. Even a church dead in its sins may yet become a place of life and hope.

The pitiless letter to the Laodiceans concludes with an image that is among the most beautiful in all the letters: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (3:19-20). 

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