Laodicea, Who Are You?

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Article Updated: 18 Feb 2016

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The Church of God at Laodicea

 

 

 

How accurate is the belief that the seven churches cited in Chapters 2 and 3 of the Book of Revelation represent seven singular "attitudes" to be found in the Church at all times? From a reading of these Scriptures it can be seen that this belief is not at all well founded. The "churches" described are not attitudes, but are in fact assemblies (Ecclesia) of people.  The seven churches were seven different assemblies (of the Church of God) by necessity, due to those assemblies being in seven different cities in Asia Minor. Although it is certain that all of the conditions pertaining to these specific churches were present in the first or early second centuries, it is inconceivable that is all there is to it.  The prominence of these messages in a book like Revelation, which covers the whole future of the church in the plan of God, suggests a much larger fulfilment.

 

At the outset of this last Book in the Bible we are told that it is a book of revelation – divinely inspired truth that can come from no source other than God – Rev 1:1,

"...The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,..." [RSV].
 

"Revelation", is an accurate translation of the original Greek word “apokalupsis” and properly means a disclosure concerning things unknown before that time; it is a revealing of what has been hidden – hidden by God and then revealed by God. The descriptions of the seven churches would not be much of a revelation had they only been referring to the existing congregations in those cities. After all, the descriptions are of behaviour and attitude, which could be seen easily by contemporary observers and therefore simply covered by letters of exhortation from the Apostle John to those Churches.  No, these are revelations from God and the best explanation for the larger fulfilment is that these are accounts referring to the ancient churches and to future consecutive “church Eras”. This matter was special and so hidden that God had to send His angel to tell of it to John (Rev 1:1). Church Eras cover both, groups of people and blocks of time. Based on the mail-route principle (the principle given by God in assigning names to the seven churches in Revelation Chap 2 and 3), the idea of any two Eras existing simultaneously in time and geographical location is excluded – one must follow the other.

 

There is a general belief that a "lukewarm" attitude has now entered the Church of God and thus indicates that we have entered the "Laodicean Age" – while we are supposedly in the "Philadelphian Age". People of this belief look to a "separation" of the Laodiceans from the "true Philadelphians". The problem with this idea is that it is not supported by Scripture!   Each of these churches is described separately and not in relation to any of the other churches.  Historically, the churches of Philadelphia and Laodicea were about 70 miles apart. There may have been occasional visits by individuals to the other area, but they never attended together as a church and they never split up. At all times, these groups were completely separate from each other.  

 

What was the difference between the people in the seven churches of Revelation?  It was where they lived – they lived in one of seven cities in Asia Minor. However, when we substitute location for time, it is when we are born that identifies the Era to which we belong, just as in ancient times it was where one was born that would have shown the name of the city to which one belonged. The mail route principle (the prophecy aspect of Revelation chapters 2 & 3) is actually a time-line showing the order in which the different Eras will appear. If we are now in the Laodicean Age, then we always have been the Laodicean Age.  It is the same principle we observe in nature – a bad diamond does not become a ruby or some other inferior gem and even the most exceptional ruby, or other gem, never becomes a diamond. Nature teaches us this and it is God who created nature so we can know Him – He is consistent:

Rom 1:20

"...For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead,..." [NKJV]

 

Accordingly, we did not enter this Age when doctrines or administrations were changed. We are still in the same Age as those in the early nineteen hundreds. Yes, there have been some changes, but these were changes WITHIN whatever Era of which we have always been a part. Overcomers from one era are not elevated to receive the reward another church era. Each church era has its own predetermined reward. As an example, consider the Ephesian church (Rev 2:4):  They pleased God at first, then they changed – they seemed to adopt what we might consider a more "Laodicean" attitude. Apparently, if they did not repent, then they would no longer be God's Church (Rev 2:5). However, they were still Ephesians.  

 

There has been much talk about a "Laodicean attitude" and while, today, there does seem to be an attitude that describes such people, it does not necessarily apply to ALL citizens of Laodicea". Not all those in Sardis were "dead" (Rev 3:4). Some in Thyatira followed "Jezebel"; some did not (Rev 2:24). Some in Pergamos held the doctrine of Balaam, while some held the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, but presumably (since it was God's Church) there were those who held neither of those doctrines.

 

There has been speculation about the meaning of Rev 3:14-22 (description of the Laodiceans). In the past it has been taught that the Philadelphians are protected in "the place of safety", while the Laodiceans are the "lukewarm" church members who will be left behind to suffer through the great tribulation.  The Laodiceans have also been linked to the five "foolish virgins" of Mat. 25:1-13. Scripture does not support either of these two claims! One thing is clear from Rev 3:21: The Laodiceans who "overcome" (like those of the other six churches) will be in God's Kingdom. This clearly shows that Laodiceans WILL be at the wedding of Christ and proves that not all Laodiceans are the foolish virgins of Matthew 25 who will be shut out. However, it is indicated that in each of the seven churches there are those who overcome (strive to obey God) and those who do not; and therefore in each of these churches there are wise and foolish virgins.

 

If a Philadelphian became "lukewarm" and adopted the attitude: "I am rich; and increased with goods; and have need of nothing;" what would he become? He would become a Philadelphian who fails to overcome!  He would not be magically transported to Laodicea to live out the rest of his days; or if he repented, he would not be magically transported back to Philadelphia. This idea is too bizarre to even contemplate, yet it was not only contemplated it was taught as fact. Does God advise those who “overcome” in Laodicea to move to Philadelphia? They probably could have; it wasn't that far. Why didn't He warn the Philadelphians about the greatest danger they faced; that they might become “lukewarm” and turn into Laodiceans? They were not warned because changing cities was never an option Christ gave to the first century Philadelphian church and nor was it ever an option for any in the Philadelphian Era, or any other Era of the church! Each Era was told to heed the warning given to the others, but changing cities (Eras) was never a solution offered by Christ and nor was it ever a "punishment". Whatever Era a person is born into, that is the Era to which they belong and shall remain.

 

There is no Scriptural evidence to indicate that those who have been called into one group can or will become part of another group.  

 

Exactly What and Who is a Laodicean? 

 

In the above it has been held that what determines the church to which a person belongs is geographic location, while the prevailing circumstances in that location only contribute towards formulating a person’s attitude or outlook.  As we are now talking of each of the churches as Eras, the concept of geographic location is replaced with time – each of the seven churches in Asia Minor represents a different Era of the Church of God.

 

Some of the characteristics of ancient Laodicea were as follows:

  1. In comparison to the other six cities mentioned, Laodicea had great economic prosperity with extensive banking operations (I.S.B.E);

  2. Unger has Laodicea as a city of social prominence with culture and refinement, to which the ruins of several well preserved Roman theatres, a stadium and colonnade testify to this day;

  3. The I.S.B.E states that within the city was a renowned school of medicine;

  4. Nelson states, “When the city was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60 (along with Colossae and Hierapolis), it alone refused aid from Rome for rebuilding"[4]. God’s reprimand in Rev 3:17 indicates that this refusal was made more from a boast of self-sufficiency rather than being one of self-sacrifice or concern that others may be in greater need;

  5. One of the great engineering feats of the city was “a six-mile-long aqueduct which brought Laodicea its supply of water from the south. The water came either from hot springs and was cooled to lukewarm or came from a cooler source and warmed up in the aqueduct on the way” (Expositor's Bible Commentary).

Obviously not all citizens of Laodicea experienced its benefits, but the above are considered to be its general distinguishing characteristics. However, if we "shrink" the world today into the size of a single city, then we would find that city to closely resemble the city of Laodicea. Likewise, we would see the same similarities in the Church of God.

 

In looking at God's indictment against Laodicea, we find it is in two parts:

  1. Spiritually Laodiceans are classified as being lukewarm; and

  2. Spiritually they are self-satisfied – in spiritual knowledge and understanding.

 

There should be no mistake – these are spiritual indictments.  God is speaking of an attitude of self-satisfaction with their own spirituality. These are people who have had access to a great deal of spiritual knowledge; and overall believe that they are in good shape spiritually. However, they do not understand that knowledge acquired from simply reading God’s Word does not provide understanding. They do not understand that obedience to a "minister", or a superior, is NOT obedience to God.  These people do not see their inadequacies. The plain indication is they do not see God properly because they have become reliant upon men to tell them what to do and in this regard they are especially self-deceived. God wants His people to be reliant upon Him and for this purpose He indicates that in order for these people to see, it will be necessary for them to undergo serious self examination or undergo some severe trials.

 

It is time we saw things plainly and recognized that the description of the Laodicean Church is a perfect description of the Church of God since at least the early part of the last century.  For decades, the Church of God has been led to believe that it was the Philadelphian Era, but the facts reveal otherwise.  There is not the slightest shred of evidence to support the view that this ever was the Philadelphian Era, but there is substantial evidence showing that it is and always was the Laodicean Era, viz:

  1. Overall, the church has never before, not in all history, been more prosperous.

  2. Culture and refinement was encouraged and actively pursued by the ministry.

  3. Through the press, radio, television, internet and live sermons the Word of God has never before been so richly available.

  4.  With the original administration taking the stance that this was the Philadelphian Era, people and ministers became satisfied that their efforts as Christians MUST be acceptable to God. After all they “were in the Philadelphian Era” and God had no complaints about the Philadelphians, so they must be doing okay. Although this tragic delusion may have been perpetrated by honest and well-meaning men, they were also mistaken men!

  5. This Era of the church has been the only one to be characterized by loyalty to a corporate entity, which brethren have mistakenly taken as the Church of God.  Loyalty of the brethren and the ministers to the man-made organization has become the paramount issue, rather than loyalty to God.  This is why Christ depicts himself as knocking on the door waiting to be let in; and from the Scriptures it is plain that the corporate entities are not letting Christ through the door. What the individual organizations think they are doing is immaterial – it is what God says they are doing that counts.  Christ is calling people out of this mind-set of corporate loyalty so they are free to obey God and the ministers are free to preach the pure Word of God, not the company policy.

 

This Era of the church does have works and that is acknowledged by God. Through the press, radio, television and now the internet, preaching the gospel has been done in a very powerful way, but it must be recognized that it has been an EASY work – certainly, I know of no-one who was in peril of their lives while preaching unless they accidentally touched some bare wires on a microphone. This situation hardly compares to the threat of being eaten by cannibals, sawn in two, crucified or fed to wild animals under order of the secular establishment. Also, with the advent of the printing press the Word of God has never been more freely available than during the past and present centuries – as a result we are very knowledgeable Biblically. By this we have become self-satisfied and believe that we are spiritually rich and increased with spiritual goods. By this, we think we have a pretty good bead on things.

 

The bad news is, God is convinced that we do not even have our eyes open, let alone have a bead on what is happening with us or anyone else.

 

 

How This Age Became Laodicea

 

There is nothing too deep about this question – Laodicea was the last of the cities on the mail route, so it is a simple matter of sequence. There is no need to get hung up on a name, because there is nothing innately wrong with any name or any city, just as there is nothing wrong with any particular time in history. Time and location are inert qualities and are neither good nor bad.

 

So, the real issues which should concern us are, how and why the individuals in Laodicea were led to certain unwise choices that God is calling on us to remedy. God has given us the advantage of knowing what are our problems – now we must face up to them.

 

One of the keys to repentance is self-examination. In applying this principle to an entire church Era it is essential to examine the history involved; we must look at the key specific events that triggered the situation, followed by analysing the systems that nurtured and perpetuated the delusion created by those initial events.

 

To begin, it is assumed that the time during which the first administration presided over the Church, in the early 1900's, that it was the Philadelphian Era. By using even the wildest of calculations, based on Biblical events and genealogies, it is certain that we are now almost at the end of 6,000 years since Adam and that puts us nearly at the return of Christ. Even the hard core Philadelphian Era believers support this view. With that timing being so determined, the church is now placed towards the END of the Laodicean Era of the church! To reach these conclusions all we have done is apply simple logic.

 

The question now:  Why have so many, for so long, believed they were part of the Philadelphian Era?

 

Those in control ensured that no-one would be able to question their decisions by establishing a new church administrative system giving the senior pastor and other ministers unprecedented control. The type of government introduced was unscriptural and the principle elements were as follows:

  1. Only ministers can baptize prospective members! According to his own Autobiography, Herbert Armstrong baptized prior to being ordained to the ministry. Not only did he admit that there was nothing in the Bible preventing any lay member of the Church of God from baptizing prospective members, but the baptizing was to be done by whomsoever did the preaching that resulted in the request for baptism.

  2. Only ministers can ordain other ministers to the ministry! Again, according to his Autobiography, Herbert Armstrong himself was ordained by lay members of the “Oregon State Conference”. The decision for ordination was made by the Officers of the Conference (not ministers) and hands were laid on him by the lay brethren.

  3.  Tithes and offerings were to be paid to the organization, rather than to individual ministers! This caused the ministers to become shepherds of the organization rather than shepherds of the people. Preservation of the organization became the paramount issue, not preservation of the people.

  4. The truth of God came from the “top down!” Which is to say, from Herbert Armstrong first, followed by lower ranking ministers. This effectively prevented the ministry from being questioned on any matter of doctrine, thus establishing a type of “papal infallibility” and effectively denied God's people the right to "study" God's Word to see if what was being preached was in fact from God. 

  5. Anyone who did question doctrine or ministerial behaviour was labelled as having a “bad attitude,” of which they were to repent or be disfellowshipped!

  6. The administration miscalculated and said that this was the Philadelphian Era! The mail-route analogy of the churches in Revelation Chapters 2 and 3 was misread by apparently interpreting the churches as adjoining suburbs, rather than separate cities. As adjoining suburbs, there would be no "dead" regions between the Eras. However, with the Eras being depicted as separate cities they would appear as blips on the timeline just as cities are blips on an actual mail route with huge "dead" regions (the roads between the blips) between the cities. Even the region between Philadelphia and Laodicea would appear to be “dead” relative to the cities themselves. When the church emerged from the last “dead-zone” it was assumed to have been the Sardis Era, because God describes Sardis as being spiritually dead. This was a very serious miscalculation and was all the more so because the myth was perpetuated even in the face of all evidence to the contrary, both within the church and outside the church.

 

The consequences of the situation described above were as follows:

  1. Everyone, including the ministry, became self-satisfied and complacent about their spiritual condition. After all, this was the Philadelphian Era and God had no complaints about the Philadelphians.

  2. The members became dependent on the ministers for truth, rather than dependent on God. We are supposed to study the Word of God, like the Bereans, to verify what we are being taught is actually of God. So, people did not “test the spirits to see whether they be of God” (the truthfulness of what is being preached reveals the spirit of the preacher at that time) as God commanded. Such testing was actively discouraged by perpetuating the wrongful assertion that God only revealed His truth to His people via the ministry. This assertion would have us deny God’s statement that we are responsible individually for our personal spiritual growth (Phil 2:12). 

  3. By admission, the ministry had been “sheriffs” not shepherds. They became the oppressors of God’s people rather than their nurturers. They became managers, not ministers.

  4. Ministers became dependent on the organization, rather than dependent on God through the people for their salaries. This meant that they had to support the organization and preach its policies, rather than preaching the undiluted Word of God.

  5. The organization set the qualifications for entry into the ministry  according to the dogma of that organization, rather than the "ecclesia" (the people of the church) selecting the ministers according to the doctrine of God.

  6. The organization became all-powerful due to the setting in place of incorrect administrative procedures By Herbert Armstrong. This is the same mistake that Ignatius made in the second century when he commanded the people to obey the bishops, elders and deacons, rather than encouraging them to study the word of God for themselves – their example should have been the Bereans, not the bishops or any other men who were perpetuating reliance on man rather than God. This insistence, by Ignatius, on obedience to the incumbent bishops appears in his letters to the Corinthians, the Ephesians and the Magnesians and seems to be a reaction to some bishops being put away by the congregation and to some heresies being brought into the church. However, no matter what the reason, causing the people of God to come under the control of men was wrong and is still wrong. The people of God must be taught reliance upon God, not men.

 

At every turn, the church described above was and still appears to be breaking the first of the Ten Commandments by placing the organization and its welfare before God and His concerns (His people – His church). Clearly, this does not describe the Philadelphian Era; rather it is a perfect description of the Laodicean Era.

 

Going Back To God

 

God tells us to repent!  That means going back to our baptism and remembering what it was of which we were supposed to repent – believe and follow God not man. So simple! God tells us to overcome! We are told in Romans Chapter 7 what overcoming is all about – it is about the battle, the striving for what is good and right, and never giving up in this endeavour. In so doing we acknowledge our sins and realize that our only hope is through calling upon Christ and his sacrifice to pay the penalty for those sins. We acknowledge that Christ was the one who actually overcame and we are always fully reliant upon him.

 

The original example of overcoming is recorded in Romans 7; being the all-night wrestle between Jacob and the Word, before he was born Christ. Jacob knew that he could never defeat or overcome this mighty being, but all the same he was not going to give up – he would continue to strive. In the same way we are expected to strive to live God’s way of life in spite of ourselves being our own worst enemies in that regard. We start to do this by seeing life in terms of our obligations towards others, rather than our rights against them. In this way we avoid oppressing others and begin showing kindness towards them. We gather together on the seventh day Sabbath to learn from and appreciate each other; to strengthen each other, not to judge or tear down; we are to be kind to each other and support each other, not stand back and be satisfied with a self-perceived sense of well-being. Yes, we are to be our brother's keeper, not merely our brother's observer or offender.

 

Another clue as to what we should be doing: Christ says he is knocking on our door. That can mean only one thing – the door of our lives. He is asking for us to let him into our lives as we did at baptism. How? By taking up his way of life of obedience to God, NOT the corporate entity. Preachers ought to preach, unrestrained, the Word of God rather than preaching company policy in the name of “unity”. The latter way is reminiscent of Adam’s behaviour, where he chose to break God’s law in the name of keeping peace within the family.  Putting an organization or anything else before God is breaking the first of the Ten Commandments. We are to seek out God's will, rather than do our own will or the will of another person or organization. Just as was the case in the Age of the Judges, the Laodicean Era started out strongly having correct doctrine and being God oriented, but very quickly degenerated into a man-made organization where company policy became more important than the doctrine of God. This was paralleled during the Age of the Judges by a general degeneration into worshiping the idols of the surrounding nations and wanting a physical king to rule over them rather than God – obeying man rather than God. In this current Era people seem to be more comfortable with the physical leader of a church organization telling them what to do rather than seeking God's will and following His Word. Not seeking and doing God's will was the main indictment against the physical nation of Israel during the time of the Judges (Jud 17:6) – they constructed their own morality and lived by their own philosophies which led to sin, oppression and death. During this time the Israelites were the epitome of Laodicea, being divided, self-absorbed, self-willed rather than seeking God, not caring what was befalling their brethren and not seeking to help others.

 

We can be different, we are Laodiceans which means we do have many spiritual gifts, but these gifts are of no consequence if not used for the purpose of strengthening and maintaining the body (other individuals in the Church). Having spiritual gifts and using them are two different things – having them can give the illusion of being wealthy spiritually; it is only by using them for the benefit of others that develops the true riches, being love for fellow man and love for God. There can be no love for God without there first being love for fellow man and especially those who are our spiritual brethren – 1John 4:21 and Gal 5:14.

1John 4:21, “…And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother…” [NIV].

Gal 5:14, “…The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’…” [NIV].

 

Most of us will find this to be inconvenient, but expecting a reward for doing only what is convenient is neither rational nor Godly. Also, the doing must not be for reward – it must be because we actually want to do right simply because it is right and good. Life is difficult for people, so when there is an opportunity we should try to relieve distress and be kind as instructed in Gal 6:10;

 

"...Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith..." [NKJV].
 

 

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The Government of God is God's way of life, the way Jesus lived his life. It is not a political administrative system, nor is it any system of governance within a church organization. It is totally voluntary, or government by consent - it is not a system of management or control over others.