Comparing the problems in churches today to that found in the ancient churches of Laodicea and Ephesus
The modern-day church is plagued by many ills. The pursuit of money, fame, power, signs and wonders edges God out from our focus. Worship is more about entertainment and immersion in a highly emotionally-charged experience. Marketplace techniques are used to create an attractive, seeker-sensitive environment for churchgoers. Diluted, “feel good” messages are concocted to draw the masses into massive auditoriums as church coffers continue to balloon.
Meanwhile, the central message of the cross and its demands on the believer—self-denial, repentance, obedience and fruitfulness—are downplayed or sidelined whereas external symbols of success are worshipped. Wealth, health, personal well-being and fulfillment have gained wide acceptance as the mantras of today. God is often seen as an “errand boy”, compelled to do our bidding when we ‘name it, claim it’ by faith. If we are not healthy or wealthy, we are told, something must be seriously wrong with our relationship with God. But this is a false premise.
Believers may get so enchanted by the glitz and glitter in church—soothing music, rousing worship, imposing architecture, luxurious ambience, eloquence of the preacher—that they fail to distinguish between the form (externals, frills) and the substance (core values, essentials).
Now there is nothing wrong with having all the nice things in life—the music, ambience and eloquent preaching. But the substance, too, must be there.
- Is God’s presence truly in the church?
- Is the doctrine well-balanced and sound?
- Are the church funds well accounted for?
- Does absolute power reside in one person only?
- Are there sufficient checks and balances to prevent abuse of funds and the emergence of “mini-dictatorship”?
- Has there been too much ‘hero worshipping’ that the leader is seen as someone who can do no wrong?
- Has ‘touch not God’s anointed’ being used to deflect leadership accountability?
- Has he been idolised to the extent that his wrongdoings must be covered up for the sake of maintaining the status quo?
- Has there been an inordinate emphasis on building an elaborate sanctuary—incurring massive debts in the process—at the expense of less tangible priorities such as missions and social work?
- Has the church been too inward-looking, rather than being kingdom-minded?
- Having started out well, has the church allowed a different kind of gospel to seep into it along the way —a “health and wealth” gospel?
- How much of the cross is featured in the church’s idea of the gospel?
- Has there been a healthy balance between the Word and Holy Spirit in the body life and ministry of the church?
Once again, we need to be reminded of our core values. We need to renew our minds by going deep into scripture, allowing it to impact and shape our worldview.
“Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect” (Romans 12:2).
May we heed the warning to the church at Laodicea so that we will be cured of spiritual blindness:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see”
How much has the love for worldly things seeped into the church?
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
Next, let’s consider the church at Ephesus. They passed with flying colours in three P’s:
1. Performance—excelled in good works.
2. Purity of doctrine—being discerning, they managed to fend off false doctrine.
3. Perseverance—able to endure hardship.
But they failed in one area: First Love.
So it’s PASS for three P’s but FAIL for one F.
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
Now what exactly is ‘first love’? It is the glow, excitement and enthusiasm that we had when we first believed in Christ. We could serve God and testify for Him with great joy.
But down the road in our spiritual walk, things have turned dull and monotonous. We no longer seek him as earnestly as before or spontaneously burst out in worship.
Peak performance and statistics have always been the name of the game in business and corporate circles. It is the method by which we monitor success. Sadly, this kind of thinking has also been creeping into church circles.
Undeniably, good response is often a sign of God’s presence. It tells us God is moving as is evident during Pentecost when Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, preached the first sermon and thousands were saved.
Yet, playing the numbers game alone without “quality control” is dangerous. Did Jesus emphasise having a huge following at the expense of quality of believers? Would Jesus lower discipleship standards so that more people can come under His wings? (Luke 9:23, John 6:60-66). No, Christ did not play to the gallery. He maintained high “admission standards” for those who desired to follow Him (Luke 9:62).
Having a big church, in itself, without the spiritual reality (2 Timothy 3:5) is not commendable. What is the point of great numbers if truth is not upheld? The danger of performance without ‘first love’ (intimate relationship with Christ) is that our ability to witness or impact those around us will be taken away—when our lampstand is removed from us.
A rethink is sorely needed today.
Taking the warning from the church at Laodicea, the modern-day church needs to shifts its focus away from form (external symbols of success) to substance (core values such as love, discipleship and faithfulness).
Heeding the warning from the church at Ephesus, today’s church also needs a shift in its emphasis—from performance to rekindling its first love.
Worship and Entertainment
“It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to attend a meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.”– A. W. Tozer
Being Seeker Sensitive
"I would say the greatest failure of the Church today is its unwillingness to say and do the unpopular thing. Too many Christians busy themselves these days trying to come up with new ways of being admired and desired by the world rather than simply being obedient to the Lord they claim to love. With a self-sustaining focus on acquiring evermore results and relationships (i.e. “church growth”) by way of pragmatism and consensus, none of which is biblical, today’s Christians are, by and large, being persuaded and trained week after week to embrace surveys, marketing principles, public relations programs and people skills as their new commandments with dialectically-trained consultants and facilitators posing as prophets and preachers – people pleasers who know how to work the crowd and steer the herd while selectively applying the scriptures as needed to maintain a biblical appearance of righteousness and religiosity."
– Paul Proctor in “What's Wrong With A More Social Gospel?”
CONSUMER-ORIENTED APPROACH VS HARSH TRUTH
If Jesus were preaching today, would He place consumer expectation and drawing a crowd as top priorities? Or would He value truth above all?
IS THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL VALID?
FIVE MARKS OF AN AUTHENTIC DISCIPLE
BALAAM: PROPHET OF COMPROMISE
What relevance has the life of this Old Testament prophet to believers today? A lot. Mentioned three times in the New Testament, Balaam and his errant ways still speak to us today.