What does it mean to be living in Laodicea?
Nathan Jones: Revelation 3 prophesies that the Church in the last days will become apathetic — spiritually poor yet thinking itself spiritually rich — but in reality has very little connection with God. In light of this dark situation, we have invited Pastor Bob Russell, an expert teacher of teachers and pastor of pastors, to advise us of what our churches can do to help grow real relationships with Jesus Christ and so not get sucked into the spiritual darkness of this world.
Bob, what do you think is the condition of the Church today? Do you believe that it’s become the Laodicean Church as prophesied in Revelation 3? Are we then now living in the Laodicean Age?
Bob Russell: Tremendous doctrinal apostasy has been taking place in churches across all denominations. I read several months ago that Harvard University has appointed an Atheist as their head chaplain. How in the world could Harvard have gotten into this predicament when Harvard was founded for standing on the truth of preaching Jesus Christ?
But, gradually over time, we become doctrinally compromised as we get absorbed by the world. How incredible that we perform a 180-degree turn doctrinally! More and more churches are absorbing the immoral values of the world. Who would have ever thought that churches would perform same-sex marriages thereby endorsing behavior that the Bible calls detestable? Who would ever think that churches would hold ceremonies glamorizing divorce?
The Bible talks about how Ahab, a king of Israel from the Old Testament, treated the sins of Israel as though they were trivial. Likewise, we take a similarly cavalier attitude toward Scripture and towards sin, and as a result, the Church loses its power.
I try to encourage preachers to just preach through the Bible. Just be the mail carrier. Just deliver what the Word of God says, for there is tremendous power when God’s Word is preached. Doing so may mean that you lose a few people, but God will purge your church and sanctify your church, and in the end, you’ll be more effective. I think the churches of the future that are going to be effective are going to be less concerned about numbers and more concerned about health.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Tim Moore: Bob, you deal a lot with pastors. You mentor them and you run a tremendous ministry as a pastor to pastors. You teach pastors to stand firm on the Word of God.
What would you say to those who have been attending a church that has for years been drifting? Or, perhaps they’re in a denomination that has drifted from doctrinal soundness? What would you advise them? Many Christians wish to protect their children and grandchildren. Should they stay in such a church where the local body has drifted away from sound doctrine and has allowed so much of the world to indoctrinate itself, or should they go elsewhere?
Bob Russell: I’m asked by a lot of people who email me that have become part of a church that has been drifting away if they should leave. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that question. Sometimes we need to stay and do our best to redirect the church and so be a positive influence in their church.
There are two important factors to consider when making a decision to stay or leave a church. One, ask yourself if you have sat down and talked with the leaders of the church. Sometimes, if you’ll talk with the preacher or the elders or the lay leaders of the church, they will realize that they’ve not been perceptive enough and so will make adjustments, and then you can continue to stay in that church and be a positive influence on some of the people who maybe are not as well grounded.
Two, the second big part to consider is, do you have children? I would not keep my children in a church that was not sound both biblically and morally because they are going to be impacted in such a short period of time. So, I think if you’re in a church and you talked with the leadership, yet they’re not willing to make an adjustment and you have children, then you need to leave and find a Bible-believing church where you can be reinforced by sound doctrine. Leaving can be a tough move to make.
What if you can’t find a sound church? Then, start one. Start a group meeting in your home to study the Bible and it could become a small group church.
Reasons for Decline
Nathan Jones: Bob, how did the Church go from being in the age of the Church of Philadelphia — a prophesied time of great evangelism and growth — to where we are now living in the apathetic age of the Church of Laodicea? How did we go from being so energetic about our walk with Jesus to becoming so apathetic about our faith?
Bob Russell: We often discount the fact that Satan is alive and well. Satan hates a growing, evangelistic, Bible-believing church and he is going to do his best to undermine it.
Then, we’ve got the world as the flesh and the Devil are fighting us. After serving in 40 years of ministry, I witnessed how again and again the natural inclination is towards deterioration. The leaders of churches have to be on guard at all times and work at trying to remain true to the truth. Keep standing for God’s Word. Keep preaching what the Bible says. God honors that. The evidence is all around us that we regress if we’re not vigilant at all times.
Tim Moore: The lesson from the last book of the Bible prior to Revelation is also critical. Jude, who is writing about all sorts of things dealing with keeping to the Gospel, says in verse three, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all time handed down to the saints.”
So, whether one is a pastor, a lay leader, an elder, or a member of a church — all of us have a responsibility to contend earnestly for the faith. We certainly must do that within our own homes. We pray that we stand firm in our doctrine and for the faith that has been handed down to us by the Word of God.
Bob Russell: The Bible says to watch your life and your doctrine closely. You can’t read the Bible without realizing that details matter. As soon as you see the first indication of slippage, somebody needs to stand up and speak the truth. Speak the truth in love, but don’t be careless and allow what’s doctrinally sound to slip away.
Nathan Jones: Thank you, Bob, that’s great advice! To reiterate, for those who may be in a church where they see it slipping doctrinally, we can heed Pastor Russell’s advice. Talk to the pastor, talk to the elders, and see if you can make a change. But, we must first protect our children and our family, so if change doesn’t happen, then leave and seek out a church that places the authority of Scripture first.