Because of centuries of debate both pre and post-Reformation, the belief that Jesus is “God in the flesh,” is nearly universally understood at least at a dogmatic level among anyone who claims adherence to two millennia worth of Christian doctrine. However, among that same company, the implications of the full humanity of Jesus are not nearly as well understood. Jesus is God is a convenient escape hatch: “Well, let’s be reasonable, I mean, after all, He was God and I am not, so the best I can do is try to be like Him in character.” Jesus–fully human and fully representative as the pattern human–closes that escape hatch, and our carnality would rather leave it open. The implications are too profound, too deep, and too challenging: Jesus is not just a moral example. He is the pattern for piety and power.
The belief in the present day continuation and manifestation of all the spiritual gifts is not now, nor ever has been a fringe issue. There is much at stake on what one believes on this topic. Critics try to portray belief in all the gifts of the spirit for all time as belonging to the kook fringe of Evangelicalism, a late development in theology of a small segment of the ekklesia. This is far from the truth. There is much that is foundational to the gospel at stake on this issue. If you removed one of the constituent elements from the ingredients of a cake, your end result would not be much of a cake, regardless of how excellent the remaining ingredients might be. Cake that is missing an ingredient is simply not cake, and not worth eating. Excise some of the spiritual gifts, as Cessationists try to do, and you are not left with anything accurately resembling cake.
Whenever I bring up the topic of the importance of culture and context in understanding the Scriptures, folks sometimes respond with: “What about new converts, or uneducated people?” Aren’t you putting the gospel out of reach of the “non-scholar masses?”
However, Christian anti-intellectualism is a work of the flesh just as much as sexual immorality. Only it is more dangerous as it has been given tacit approval under a form of perceived superior spirituality in large segments of the Body of Christ.
There’s an old saying that if we ever saw sausage being made, we would never eat sausage! Saying you favor Christian unity is like saying you love sausage. Anyone can wax eloquent about the philosophical virtues of ideal sausage. The question is, do you have the stomach for the process of making sausage? Yielding to the processes of God that will actually yield John 17 Christian unity rather than cheap counterfeits is an entirely different matter than agreeing about the eternal priority of unity. How unity is defined, implemented, and embracing its cost will separate sausage lovers from sausage producers. God has called us to produce sausage, not just rhetorically extol its virtues. It is not for the faint of heart.
You do not have to be a member of the family of God for long, before you will be exposed to one of the major divides in doctrine and practice among believers: the division over the continuation of all the gifts of the Spirit, and all the gifts of Ephesians 4:11-13 until the return of the Lord. This blog is the first in a series that examines the implications of the full humanity of our Lord on charismatic issues, and many other foundational facets of the gospel. There is much at stake.
The city of Laodicea was founded around 260 BC, in the Lycus River valley in what is now Turkey. It was a bustling city known for its great wealth from medicine, textiles/wool and finance. Laodicea was so wealthy that when it suffered a major earthquake in 60 AD, they refused the support of the Empire and financed their own rebuild.
Laodicea had it all – except water. So they constructed two aqueducts. One sourced from the cold mountain water of Colossae, and the other flowed from the hot springs of Hierapolis. However, by the time the cold fresh mountain water from Colossae and the hot, healing waters from Hierapolis flowed through the aqueducts, the water had become lukewarm. This provides some context for the images that John writes concerning the Laodicean Church in Revelation 3:14-22.
The Spirit of the Lord challenges the citizens of Laodicea on their self-sufficiency stemming from their wealth. They think they are rich because of their finance, textile and eye medicine, but the Lord sees them as blind, bankrupt, and threadbare. We also find this strong statement: I wish you were hot or cold but because you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth!
The image of cold speaks of the refreshing that cold mountain water brings. Likewise, hot speaks of the healing, therapeutic aspect of the hot springs. They are neither refreshing or therapeutic – they are lukewarm. The religious elite of Jesus’ day had some lofty thoughts about God, they knew the scriptures well and lived with moral excellence. They had become comfortable, all about their traditions, interpretations, practices and knowledge but missed the very Messiah they had been anticipating. In spite of their religious prosperity, they were neither refreshing to others (cold) nor were they healing and comforting (hot).
Laodicea: What could this mean for us as a church today?
What if lukewarm is where we are no longer refreshing to others, or no longer healing and a comfort to folks? Is this the same as salt losing its saltiness? Could it be that sometimes despite all our great doctrines, practices and traditions we have subtly lost sight of Jesus and His mission? The place where to love God and love others as Jesus loves us becomes a mere platitude or a sappy sentiment? To do so is to be lukewarm.
I am not diminishing the importance of healthy theology or healthy practice, but they are not an end unto themselves. They posture us towards Someone and something greater – Jesus and His mission. This posture helps free us from the trap of self-righteousness that is often so darn intoxicating and yet makes us so lukewarm. Like the Church in Laodicea, we are invited deeper into a relationship with King Jesus. It is here that we discover what it means to buy gold refined in the fire, to be clothed in the garment of Heaven, and to buy medicine for our eyes so that we might see, really see! This is to be hot and therapeutic or cold and refreshing for a world that longs for good news that is actually Good News!
Copyright 2014, Michael Rose. Michael is a spiritual director and the author of Becoming Love, Avoiding Common Forms of Christian Insanity.
His passion is to help others to learn to live loved and live lives of love. He blogs at IamSignificant.ca
Ministry is a word that evokes many strong feelings. Our individual history and experiences likely shape our definition and expression. I don’t define ministry by clergy-laity distinctions. All of life is ministry. The effort anyone engages in, at any time, in any arena, for the sake of Jesus’ kingdom and His interests in people, is ministry. Ministry can be diversified and specialized in the sense of Ephesian 4 callings, but everyone does “ministry” (or should!) and everyone needs to be free of addicted to ministry syndrome!
When Ministry Misleads
Those called to engage in ministry (especially, but not limited to, Ephesian 4 types) must learn a difficult lesson of the Cross. Ministry can be a church-world-acceptable veneer for carnal drive, ambition, and general psychological unwellness.
Our identity, soul wellness, and sense of fulfillment in life must come from our status of being His beloved sons and daughters, not from what we build or accomplish in ministry.
Perfectionism is the state of soul of a person bound by legalism. The perpetual striving to perfectly live up to “principles from the Bible,” not only empowers legalism, but also spills over into how a person engages the universe and others. It is a relationally destructive power. The legalist is in some ways a perfectionist, and deliverance from perfectionism is often an element of freedom from legalism.
The mess at the Mars Hill Church and the “network” led by Mark Driscoll, spurred some thoughts today.
I pray for the day western evangelicalism gets free of celebrityism, but I am not holding my breath. The Mars Hill controversy makes a case for my one line summary of Rene Girard’s mimetic theory of scapegoatism: “We make kings so we can tear them down when they fail.” How many times will this scenario have to play out before we understand that the entire SYSTEM is flawed. The dependency on the pope, priest, or Protestant mini-popes/pastors/ministers/bishops/apostles/prophets/superintendents/general big-dog-chieftain . . . whoever . . . is intrinsically flawed.
The Galatians did not wake one morning with a surprise case of spiritual apostasy— infected with some unseen virus. They had witnessed not only conversions, but also miracles in their midst (see Gal. 3:5), yet they took to legalism like trout to PowerBait. Why did the Galatians, who had “begun in the Spirit” (Gal. 3:3), so readily take the bait of an alternate reality? What made them bite? There are at least six ways that performance-based religion, including mandatory Torah observance, appealed to the Galatians and continues to appeal to believers in every generation.