What does it Mean to be Luke Warm?
In my later teens and early twenties I entered into the evangelical and charismatic world that preached energetically against being lukewarm Christians. The response was typically met with “Amen” and “that’s good preaching.” In my first two years of Bible College I quickly found out that most of the preaching I had heard on the church of Laodicea (the lukewarm one) was somewhat wrong.
Should we only be “hot” for the Lord?
In Revelation chapters 2-3 we read messages to seven key churches in ancient Turkey. In the final message, he writes to the Christians in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22). The author is relaying a message from Jesus, who says this church is “Lukewarm” and that God wishes they were either hot or cold. Many times I have heard preaching on this text that said to be hot was to be on fire for God, to be cold was to be against God.
Sometimes this text is used as a sort of whip to mobilize the congregation into whatever external sign of worship they prefer or whatever program they want to advance. When preachers do this, they have their eyes on the wrong aspect of personal devotion. We should look as God does, at the heart, and not the external package (1 Samuel 16:7). Hot does not refer to the good Christians and cold does not refer to those outside the faith. Hot and Cold are both being used positively.
What Does Lukewarm Mean?
The town of Laodicea was known for its banks and medical school (Witherington p. 107). A quick reading of the passage written to the church in this region will find both wealth (Revelation 3:17) and health (3:18) addressed. The author of Revelation knew the city he was writing to. The weakness of this city was its water supply (p. 107). In a nearby city, there were hot medicinal springs. At another nearby city there was pure (cold) water. For Laodicea however, their options were bleak. Laodicea, received water from hot springs that passed over limestone. As it traveled along it became lukewarm and dirty (p. 107). It was no good to drink. The water of the nearby towns was good and useful. The water of Laodicea was useless.
This passage of Scripture can still be used by preachers to challenge their congregations. But, it should be used to challenge them be useful to the Lord, whether cold or hot.
Is this age a Lukewarm Period?
One reason some say the 20th and 21st centuries are lukewarm is because of a faulty interpretation of Revelation 2-3 by Tim Lahaye and others. Thinkers like Lahaye have tried to align each of the seven churches with seven periods of time throughout Church History till now. In the outlines I have read, many highlight the most recent history (and the start times for this may vary) is the final age. The age of Laodicea is the final age, and we just so happen to be in it. This is one reason why some think we are in a Lukewarm period. This method of interpretation is highly flawed for the following reasons.
1. Lahaye’s reading of church history is biased and narrow. In this broad swath of time, he has misjudged very critical centuries. He literally cites some events as happening that never happened. This would mean that even if he was right to sprawl out the churches over periods of time, he would be wrong as to what times they refer.
2. The book of Revelation was never meant to be sprawled out as epochs of time in relation to the 7 churches. The 7 churches were actual churches in a region in Turkey. He was writing to actual people in 96A.D. and not to highlight seven church ages.
3. My final point is meant more as a scold. When one reads each period of church history the way that Lahaye does, one can justify harsh judgments against whichever denomination formed during these times. I still find deep skepticism and suspicion among evangelicals and charismatics that have followed similar ideas as Lahaye toward some good and classic Christian groups. This suspicion among brothers in Christ is highly problematic.
Are there other Methods of Thinking about Lukewarm today?
One can look at the situation of Laodicea, and try and show similar issues in our own day. If this is true, we could say that there are always some lukewarm people in every age of the world. We might say that there are some people who do not allow themselves to be used by the Lord. As much as this is true, I have found practicing quick judgments or over generalizations to be of no actual help to the body of Christ.
If we are to make parallels to today, our parallel would be wealth. Laodicea became wealthy enough that the temptation was to no longer rely on God. That message is still alive and well for Christians, especially in the west.
Key Takeaway – Whether you are rich or whether you poor, make sure to remain useful for the Lord and trust singularly in Him.