Living in Laodicea; Evangelicals and Friendship with the World
[Editor’s Note: A great many of our readers and listeners were disturbed at the defenses provided for Karen Swallow Prior’s attendance and support for a pro-LGBT and “gay Christian” film festival, advocacy for gender-preference public restrooms as a “commonsensical and refreshing idea” and saying that “…gay marriage remains an act rooted in love.” Those defenses often entailed comments like, “Jesus ate with sinners, so how is this any different?” I asked my college friend and fellow minister, Matthew Woodside, to write this post in his own words to address that notion from a theological perspective – JD]
I grew up in the 1980’s in the throes of the Conservative Resurgence (CR) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The battle for the Bible’s authority and inerrancy was at the forefront of the SBC and every area of the convention felt the impact. I also grew up in the era of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). In the 80’s, CCM was not played all over the radio, and artists had a different vibe about them. Sure, there were plenty of syrupy songs, but there were also artists who stood up and called the people of God to repentance and to stand for biblical convictions. Steve Camp, whom John MacArthur famously dubbed “Keith Green with theology,” was one such musician. His song “Living in Laodicea” was penned in 1983 and in it Camp called for the church to stop living in the world of compromise:
“For I’ve been living in Laodicea. And the fire that once burned bright, I’ve let it grow dim.
And the very one I swore that I would die for, has all been forgotten
and the world’s become my friend.”
As I watch social media, as I read blogs, as I hear sermons, as I read articles, the last line in that chorus keeps hitting me, “the world tragically has become our friend.” People I love have embraced the “gay Christian” movement with open arms. My own convention imbibes in worldliness in all forms, playing lip service to the inerrancy of Scripture while in theory denying its sufficiency. Agencies of our convention give to causes that muddy the line between orthodox theology and heresy, and have representatives joining with those who are clearly enemies of the gospel.
The Bible clearly says that “friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4)” so why do we insist on making the world our friend? Much of it lies in the mistaken notion that if we can somehow in any small way make the world like us, then they will hear our message and be attracted to our Jesus. Friends, if you have a Jesus that a lost world likes, it’s not the Jesus of the Bible.
Much of this friendship with the world goes back to a mistaken notion of how Jesus interacted with sinners, namely tax collectors and prostitutes. Keep in mind Jesus interacted with all types of people. His entire ministry was not centered around only interacting with one kind of people or one kind of sinner. He ate with tax collectors (Luke 19) and he also ate with Pharisees (Luke 14). He interacted with crowds which would have had all kinds of people in them, but the bulk of his time was spent with His disciples. He was with his disciples traveling around Judea and Galilee, teaching, healing, ministering to all kinds of people. It’s a silly notion to think that the bulk of His time was somehow making friends with sinners and just enjoying their company so he could be liked by them. Jesus ate with sinners for one reason, to call them to repentance and to call them to follow Him. His entire mission was to seek and save that which was lost, and he did not come to just make friends for friends sake. There was a divine purpose behind his interactions with anyone be it the Pharisees or tax collectors.
Let’s also keep in mind that Jesus never sinned. When I see assertions that Jesus made friends with sinners just to tick off the religious crowd or just to go against the establishment, that misses the point. The Pharisees accuse him of eating with sinners and tax collectors, and indeed He did. But eating with sinners and tax collectors is not the same as endorsing what they do or celebrating their lifestyle of sin. The calling of Zacchaeus and Matthew are prime examples that Jesus never approved of an individual’s sin. He demanded an immediate change of heart and life. Furthermore, Jesus would never violate any of the God’s Law. Nothing of what Jesus did would contradict or be in opposition to what God had commanded. Emphatically quite the opposite was true. He only spoke in accordance with what the Father had commanded Him. He only did what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19).
Which brings us to the next issue. How far is too far? How far can we go with the world before we are teetering on the brink of Laodecia. Not only do we need to understand what Jesus did and did not do, you also need to ask yourself what does the whole counsel of God say about this matter?
We are not to love the world . . . 1 John 2:15
We know that the world is passing away along with its sinful lusts . . . 1 John 2:16-17
We know that God so loved the world . . . John 3:16, but that doesn’t paint the world in a good light. God who is holy, gave Himself for a world of rebellious sinners that were opposition to Him and already judged by Him (John 3:18).
The Psalmist tells us that the blessed man is the one who does not stand in the way of sinners . . . but delights in God’s Law. . . (Psalm 1)
Proverbs 22:5 reminds us “In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays far from them.
Both the Old and New Testaments are replete with warnings of entanglement with the world and those in the world that would ensnare us.
Let me give you a practical application on this matter. If you work in the public square you encounter the world every day. You work with drug users, drunks, homosexuals, liars, gossips, etc. You sit by them in class, they take your order at the drive through, they wait on you in restaurants. You may share a table at lunch in the common area, and you walk by them in the aisles at the store. You live in a world full of sinners and sin just like Jesus did. You cannot escape it, it’s everywhere. But as a Christian you are called to be in the world but not of it. What do you do? You can jump in with both feet and embrace everything, or try to walk some impossible tightrope of trying to be friends with the world, or you can take the light of the gospel to a world that is at war with Christ.
You don’t stop talking to people, you don’t quit going to the store, you don’t withdraw from all things in society, but you do build walls around yourself and the name of Christ. You have to make wise judgments as to when you are getting too friendly with the world. My scenario goes like this. I am an Army Chaplain. I have about 950 Soldiers under my care in my Battalion. I do PT with them, eat with them and all other matters of training. But, I’m not going out and getting drunk with them, or to the barracks to smoke weed or I’m not cursing with them or doing anything to dishonor Christ, just in hopes that they will like me more. The same thing is true with Soldiers who practice open sexual sin. I will sit down and eat at the dining facility with the adulterer and the homosexual, but I am going to invite them to chapel and seek to give them godly counsel not condone their behavior. I can be cordial to the homosexual, but I am not attending the wedding, nor officiating it, nor celebrating it in any form or fashion. Same thing with the adulterer, I am not blessing that type of behavior. And Christ would not either. The Christ that told the woman at the well all about her sin and forgave her is the same Christ who appeared to Moses and said take off your shoes because you are standing on holy ground. Jesus never compromises His holy standard and nor should we.
What Christians don’t realize when they want to play friends with the world is that they become useless to God. Much like the kings of Israel in the Old Testament who wanted to live in the middle land of Laodecia, Christians have no prophetic voice because the law has departed from their lips. They have started scratching itching ears and are worthy of only being vomited out of Christ’s mouth. The sad thing is that homosexuals, adulterers, cheaters, liars, rapists, murderers and sinners of all stripes need to hear a clear message. They don’t need compromise from us, they need conviction. They need the church to be less like a buddy and more like a father who warns them and offers them shelter from the oncoming storm.
If you are living in the land of Laodecia, my prayer is for you to come out of that waste land. If you are deceiving yourself that friendship with the world is possible, then you have only made yourself and enemy of God. My call to Southern Baptists in particular is stop cuddling up to the world. No amount of academic credentials, Southern hospitality, or catchy rhetoric will win you the favor of the world. They are going to hate you, even if you smile, even if you agree to disagree, and even if you think that dialogue and forums are the answer.
It’s not the world’s smile we are after; it’s Christ’s. And He doesn’t smile on people who make friends with the world.
[Contributed by Ch (CPT) Matthew Woodside]