Moral compromise and selfish ambition have greatly weakened the American church. The gospel of success has tainted us and diluted our power with God and man, while the gospel that brings true persecution is kept under a bushel. The reverential fear of the Lord, which is a prerequisite of real revival and spiritual awakening, is clearly absent from the general overall church, save for a faithful remnant.
Compare the ministry in the early church to ministry in the mainstream Western church today. We boast in our monuments, our meetings and our men. The apostle Paul boasted of the Messiah, martyrdom and the marks on his body (Gal. 6:17). We boast in our creeds and credentials (we delight in putting our titles before our names); Paul boasted in the cross and crucifixion, though he was a very learned and educated man in his own right. We boast of being slain in the Spirit. Paul boasted of being stoned in the city. We boast of our programs and prosperity. Paul boasted of persecutions and prisons. We boast in our gain. Paul boasted in his loss. Did he know something we don't?
"So then, death works in us, but life in you" (2 Cor. 4:12).
Today most ministries are known for their great preaching, large congregations, books they've written and countries they've been to. Paul's letter of recommendation was based on the sacrifice and sufferings he endured to obey God and preach the gospel.
All the great souls who have been made fit for the Master's use are all acquainted with suffering in one form or another. American Christianity, on the other hand, is conditioned to avoid suffering at all costs. Some will even rebuke suffering and continually seek to place themselves above it. If it's inconvenient, if it involves sacrifice, if it involves losing your life, most don't want any part of it.
According to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the one Paul referred to as "my gospel," any desire to save your life is a false desire (Mark 8:35; Matt. 16:25; Luke 14:27, 33). Did you get that? The American gospel of success is based on saving your life, improving your life and chasing your dream, even though it is not God's dream for you. Many of these false desires are cloaked under the guise of ministry, making them even more deceptive and deadly.
Peter actually rebuked Jesus for choosing the way of the cross, much like the spirit of most of today's hyper-grace teachers, who convey that it's OK to live as you please, never suffer and exert any effort or discipline in your walk with God, and they will even label someone a legalist or bound to the Law when they reject this basest brand of wisdom. Added to this milquetoast message for the sweet tooth, we have the purveyors of the motivational seminar, you-can-have-it all, success-in-life, pop-psychology, candy Christianity. These are our enemies who hide in our midst under the veil of false pretense.
Jesus rebuked Satan, as He would rebuke these groups today, for He recognized the diabolical source of Peter's words as demonic.
"Get behind me, Satan! You are in my way, an offense and a hindrance and a snare to Me; for you are minding what partakes not of the nature and quality of God, but of men" (Mt. 16:23, AMP).
Jesus guarded His death more than He did His life. And that's my main point.
Speaking of enemies, the words of Paul ring as true now as they did back then: "Brothers, become fellow imitators with me and observe those who walk according to our example. For many are walking in such a way that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. I have told you of them often and tell you again, even weeping. Their destination is destruction, their god is their appetite, their glory is in their shame, their minds are set on earthly things" (Phil. 3:17-19).
Two of the characteristics of an enemy of the cross is that their belly is their god and they mind earthly things. Think about that.
This is such a picture of how Western Christianity is depicted. It is a gross dilution of the original blueprint Jesus and then the early apostles delivered. The message of the cross has been greatly diluted in the church today, just as salt that has lost its savor and is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. A Christlike spirit of self-denial is what flavors the Earth. This is the real reason much of the church is despised and disrespected by the world and trampled underfoot.
Have you ever thought about this? In the beginnings of the early church, multitudes were added to the church, while simultaneously, many would not dare join themselves to the believers (Acts 5:13-14). You see, the power and influence of the church increased along with an increase in the polarization of those who were not ready to surrender to the Lord. There was a great line of demarcation and distinction drawn. They knew who belonged to the Lord and who didn't.
In this Laodicean age, this is where we fall so short. The scourge of American Christianity is the wisdom of men and gaining respectability in society at the expense of holiness and preaching a no-compromise gospel. The result has been an awful mixture of the spirit of the world. We don't want to lose church members, respectable associations and fair-weather friends. This mixture is why we have no power and are without true public respect and influence. Yes, we will be persecuted, but our problem has been that we don't want that part. Please understand that the early church experienced persecution while at the same time being sought after and favored by the multitudes who recognized their authenticity and power.
The wisdom of men looks so smart and fools us because it is mixed with the desire for acceptance and respect. That is the scourge of the modern church today. And this is what God is going to put His finger on with His next coming move. This will actually bring a great division between the white-hot church and the lukewarm. You think there is division now; just wait until the Lord brings His winnowing fork to the body. It is premature to look for a spiritual awakening in our nation until we see this process of surrender and submission in the church.
The church in Laodicea was lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. We've sort of misunderstood this indictment. We have often interpreted it as if hot meant godly enthusiasm and cold meant ungodly antagonism, but there is another explanation that suits the historical and geographical context better. Laodicea was situated between two other important cities, Colossae and Hieropolis.
Colossae, wedged into a narrow valley in the shadow of towering mountains, was watered by icy streams which tumbled down from the heights. In contrast, Hieropolis was famous for its hot mineral springs which flowed out of the city and across a high plain until it cascaded down a cliff which faced Laodicea. By the time the water reached the valley floor, it was lukewarm, putrid and nauseating.
The parallel is striking. At Colossae, one could be refreshed with clear, cold, invigorating water. At Hieropolis, one could be healed by bathing in its hot, mineral-laden pools. But at Laodicea, the waters were neither hot (for health) nor cold (for drinking)—or, good for nothing.
"Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?" (Acts 19:15). Hieropolis I know, Colossae I know, but who are you, Laodicea?
Very few American churches and ministers are known in hell. Unless you've obeyed the Master in denying yourself and taken up your cross, following Jesus, and truly seeking the kingdom of God, you are hardly a threat to the kingdom of darkness.
The words of the late Leonard Ravenhill say it all:
"It makes no difference to me if your name is plastered in every newspaper across this nation. It has absolutely no effect on me if your ministry is broadcast on every network around the world. Who cares if your name has become a household word across America? So what if you have a world-wide ministry with thousands of supporters. Big deal if you have hundreds of thousands of names on your mailing list. What does it matter if you pack out stadiums from coast to coast? None of this amounts to a hill of beans to me. I want to know one thing and one thing only: Are you known in hell? Does the devil know your name? Are you on his 'hit list?' Are you a threat to the kingdom of darkness?"
May our faith not be found lacking.
Bert M. Farias, revivalist and founder of Holy Fire Ministries, has authored several books with an emphasis on helping to restore the true spirit of Christianity in the Church today, including his latest book, Passing on The Move of God to The Next Generation. Follow him at Bert Farias and Holy Fire Ministries on Facebook and @Bertfarias1 on Twitter.
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