“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation: “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” – Revelation 3:14-16
Revelation, the last book of the Bible, often gets a bad rap. Fundamentalists have turned it into some sort of playbook for the end of time, full of hellfire judgement. But the reality is that Revelation was written in the midst of a time of historic church persecution. It’s full of powerful imagery that is more metaphorical than literal.
It is comforting to know we don’t have to read the words literally. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take its challenges seriously.
One of the most challenging metaphors comes when God calls the church in Laodicea “lukewarm” and threatens to “spit them out.” It’s not that the Laodiceans are bad people; it’s just that they are apathetic about their faith. They believe in Christ, but it’s just not the center of what they do.
In other words, they were the original “frozen chosen.” (Okay, the “lukewarm chosen,” but you get the picture.) As in many mainline churches today, Christ stood not at the center of the fellowship, but the periphery. There was no boldness in them, and in a time of turmoil, God just didn’t have time for it.
I often wonder if those of us who are American mainliners might be the contemporary Laodiceans. We are comfortable being lukewarm, congratulating ourselves too much on at least not being cold. But we don’t know what it’s like to be set on fire by our faith.
In fact, we think that being lukewarm will save us. We trade in the hope of the Gospel for the ambiguous and undefined. We count the addition of a yoga class as outreach (there’s nothing wrong with yoga…it’s just that people can and do find it on every other corner). We stop doing the unique things that churches can do well, and start doing a mediocre job on what everyone else is doing. Then, we’re surprised when it doesn’t work.
Revelation isn’t about fire and brimstone. It’s about God offering us a greater hope, and us deciding whether or not we will be lukewarm. Too often we pass up the challenge of the Gospel and we go with the lukewarm. But what would it be like to choose to get fired up?
God, warm up my heart today, and warm up my church. Amen.
Emily C. Heath is the Senior Pastor of the Congregational Church in Exeter, New Hampshire, and the author of Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity.