“If the rate of change inside an organization is less than the rate of change outside, the end is in sight. The only question is when.”
That warning from corporate guru Jack Welch is more than a principle from the business world. It’s also true that religious organizations cannot thrive or even survive without making changes necessary to fulfill their God-appointed purpose.
So says Jesus in His Revelation letter to the Laodicean Church, which represents a group of self-professed commandment-keepers in earth’s last days. He describes them as lukewarm and unwilling to change: “You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'” (Revelation 3:17, NKJV).
“We’re good, God. We thank You that we are not like those commandment-breaking Sunday keepers out there.”
But the Lord is not impressed by self-righteous assertions. He pushes past them to the core reason Laodicea resists changing for Him: You “do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17, NKJV).
So, spiritual ignorance that germinates pride makes the Laodicean Church change-resistant. What will Jesus do about it? In perhaps the most shocking statement ever recorded in red print, He declares, “I will vomit you out of My mouth” (verse 16).
Not a pretty picture of Jesus. But it’s there in the Bible—and it’s there specifically for us. The Laodicean message is primarily a warning to the corporate church, but there are implications for individuals.
How is it with you, personally? Are you an Adventist now because 20 years ago you quit your job to keep the Sabbath? Maybe it’s time for a spiritual update, lest your testimony become as stale as the smoke of those cigarettes snuffed out long ago.
I confess that I don’t like changes in my life. I’m getting old enough to resist them instinctively. How about you? Perhaps we need increased spiritual maturity as physical aging drains our energies. Physical change happens naturally (hastened by bad health habits we all struggle with), but spiritual change comes through an act of the will, in which we engage a Higher Power. Alcoholics Anonymous teaches this in its famous and effective 12-step formula for change. Number 4 requires “a searching and fearless moral inventory.”
But that’s only for addicts, right? Well, all of us struggle with addictive tendencies of one kind or another—the worst of all being Laodicean pride expressed in gossip about fellow Adventists, or in condemnation of non-Sabbatarians. How do we board the ambulance from Calvary that rescues us from our proud and ignorant lukewarmness?
A good first step is to quit blinding ourselves with self-flattery, assuring ourselves that because we are Adventists in good standing and the church is going through, we have nothing to worry about.
Somebody actually told me a few years ago when he and I worked for another Adventist organization: “I’m going to stay with the ship even if our president and I are the only ones left on board.” Some time later that president left office amid a cloud of questions, and I’m not sure what happened next with my friend’s faith.
Commitment like his may seem admirable, but it begs a couple of questions: What is our ship of salvation? And what is the church that is going through? Is it a computer database of names compiled at the conference office, or is it the corporate body of Jesus Christ, comprised of believers whose gospel faith in these last days motivates them to keep God’s commandments?
When the roll is called up yonder, will the angel Gabriel be reading from a digitized list downloaded from computers in Miami or Manilla? The New Testament says it’s all about having our names written in blood in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
I’m grateful for the privilege of being Seventh-day Adventist. Our church may be “enfeebled and defective,” but no more faulty than I am, I have to admit. Ground zero honesty is never easy, certainly not for me. And change is always a challenge, particularly within an organization of such a rich spiritual heritage as ours.
Martin Weber, DMin, is communication director for the Mid-America Union and editor of Outlook magazine. This article originally appeared in Adventist World, September 2009 issue.