Upon arriving at a New York church where I was to be the speaker for a weeklong conference, I was both impressed and concerned. The church buildings were impressive: a large colonial complex including a sizeable sanctuary, many classrooms in which to conduct a strong educational program and a fine gymnasium to accommodate an active youth ministry; but I sensed that these outward things housed but a shell of what had once existed in this former place of fiery faith. A conversation with the pastor confirmed my conclusion.
These expensive facilities were now used for only a small number of people to gather for worship and service. Their decline in numbers had caused such a financial crunch that they had lost favor with area businesses because of being late in paying bills. Missions and evangelism had become almost non-existent.
What went wrong?
During their time of growth and prosperity, the congregation had become complacent about things that really matter. Their success in outward things changed their focus from faith to finery, from people to programs. Their love for God and people cooled; became lukewarm. And this contradiction of love brought about their downfall.
In his book, "Soul Food," the nineteenth century evangelist, G.D. Watson called becoming lukewarm in our love one of the most deadly conditions to afflict any church, writing:
"One of the worst features of lukewarmness is that it steals on the soul in such quiet, respectable ways. If the horrible thing had horns and hoofs, and a smack of criminality in it, it would alarm the soul; but as a rule, lukewarmness of spirit is so decent and well behaved, that it chloroforms its victim and kills him without a scream of terror. This is what makes it so awfully fatal. While open sin slays in hundreds, nice, respectable lukewarmness slays in tens of thousands."
Our Lord once warned a prosperous church that it was heading for big trouble because it had become lukewarm (Revelation 3:14).
What's the spiritual temperature of your church?
We're living in one of the most perilous times of history. Terror cells exist in many nations where high tech traitors plot acts of violence and world domination. These conditions call for churches to be places of powerful praying for protection, wisdom for government leaders and the defeat of those who long to destroy us.
Churches are also commissioned to be constantly caring for those who are struggling because of problems in their health and homes. Love for the wounded among us must never be lukewarm. When love cools, toward those in distress, we can be sure it is but lukewarm for the One who was continually reaching out to hurting ones to bring them peace.
And then there are those without faith; without hope. These, especially must be objects of our concern. To be lukewarm in love toward them is to be unlike our Lord and the greatest contradiction of all.
Roger Campbell is an author, a broadcaster and columnist who was a pastor for 22 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.