Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Revelation 2:4
“Dear Harold,” writes a regular listener to Guidelines, “as a member of a large mainline denomination, I have often been disenchanted with the liberalism that seems to pervade the church. We have one of the finest choirs and most beautiful buildings in the city. And yet, one is hard pressed to hear the preaching of the Gospel…. Such churches may be very wealthy indeed, and yet, they appear to be very poor.”
Perhaps you, too, feel as does the friend who wrote. Perhaps you grew up in that kind of church. It has been your home church as far back as you can remember, but with the passing of time, things have changed. You recite the Apostle’s Creed, sing the traditional songs, the offering is taken and you hear a reading of Scripture, done rather perfunctorily, but there is no life. The spirit has departed. The glory of the Almighty is missing.
Vast numbers of denominational churches, once vibrant and powerful, are now in survival mode, their pews almost empty, their major concern: how to raise the budget. They remind me of the description John gave us of the church of Laodicea in the first century. Of them John recorded the scathing words of the Almighty: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17). An interesting sidebar: Laodicea was famous for its eye-salve—a kind of medicine known and esteemed throughout the world, and God says they should buy salve to put on their own eyes so they could see.
It is little wonder, today, that those churches are nearly empty. In inner cities, some of those lifeless buildings have been converted into restaurants or warehouses. Is there any hope for denominational churches that have all but abandoned the historical faith? If you take history seriously, you have a very dim view of the possibility of reformation. Meanwhile week by week you go through the motions of worship. When you become completely disenchanted with the status quo, you usually drop out. You throw out the baby with the bath water! You give up on church! At least, that’s what large numbers of people have done.
In the past few decades, megachurches have emerged the world over, focusing on biblical teaching, worship, a worldview that touches lives and shares the message that your life can have purpose and meaning. Most of these same churches urge participants to get involved in a small group, sometimes called a discipleship group, or home group, where interaction can take place on a personal level. At the same time, there is a quiet revolution taking place—a movement towards small group home churches with no staff, no building, no overhead, and no pressure to fill out a stewardship commitment.
So, is there hope for the traditional churches? The remedy God gave to the cold Laodicean church was to repent, to recognize their spiritual poverty, their nakedness, their failure to see the needs of others as well as themselves. Resurrecting corpses is a challenge, but not impossible. Giving life to new ones is much easer.
A closing thought. Following the scathing denunciation of the Laodicean church, you have the image of Jesus Christ standing at the door knocking, assuring those within that if they will open the door He will enter again (Revelation 3:20). It’s pathetic and tragic when the door of the church has been closed and He who gave birth to it is on the outside knocking, attempting to get within.
Personally, whether in a stained-glass cathedral, converted warehouse or living room, I’d opt for the fellowship where I sense He is there, welcomed, embraced and loved, then fall at His feet and worship.
Resource reading: Revelation 3:14-21