The Constipated Church

          Pride and Prejudice, a novel by Jane Austen, is a classic study in the haughtiness of man. In 1995 the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) created a miniseries from the book that starred Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. In one scene Mr. Bingley confronts his friend, Mr. Darcy, about seeing Jane Bennet in London and unabashedly asks, “You tell me now that she was in London all those months, and you concealed it from me?” Darcy’s reply, “Yes; I can offer no justification. It was an arrogant presumption based on a failure to recognize your true feelings. And Miss Bennet's!”
Arrogant presumption is an issue in some churches because leadership thinks too highly of what their church is and fails to recognize what Christ wants for the congregation. They assume they are a strong and influential church when in reality they are constipated – that is, so full of their history that they bloat their own importance. They reside in the past, resting on ancient laurels rather than being steadfast in the present for what God desires them to be now.
            I was once told by a pastor that his church was a leadership church. He and a few of his supporting elders prided themselves on the fact that their church formed many ministries and was highly influential in the area. I thought to myself, “What is a leadership church? Does it mean that it is setting a trend that other churches quickly follow? Or does it mean that the church was so progressive that other churches looked toward it for direction?” Although I believed the church had many fine qualities, it was far from a “leadership church.” In fact, the leadership was conflicted in vision and direction; and really didn’t have a pulse on the true needs of the sheep that had started wandering to other pastures. In other words, the church was in decline some five or six years after its high point and leadership refused to recognize it.
            Constipation makes us concentrate on “me” and when we do, we forget that the church is not ours, but Christ’s. How soon we forget that the church is an assembly of professing Christians who come together to worship Christ, obey his word, and promote his gospel (Rom. 16:5; Col. 4:15)! As a people of Christ, we are the body of the redeemed, for we are part of all the elect given to Christ by the Father (John 10:29). The Church belongs to Christ, for he is the Good Shepherd who surrendered his life for the sheep (John 10:11). And if the Church is Christ’s, then leadership must get off their high horse and submit to the lordship of Jesus, for he is the head of the Church (Eph. 5:23).
            When leadership fails to see the stages of decline in their church, they actually participate in its downfall. For the most part, they wear rose colored glasses and see a wonderful church, a family church, and an active church. But like the person who has cancer growing on the inside of his body and yet seems very healthy at the moment, the local church may seem fine but internally a disease is eating away and will eventually surface causing debilitation and possible death. That disease is for the most part “failed leadership.” Leaders are to see through the lens of Scripture and rule the local church as appointed by Christ.

The Church at Laodicea
            The Church at Laodicea is an example of the constipated church. They were rich in material goods and so wealthy they had need of nothing, but spiritually were wretched, poor, and blind (Rev. 3:17). Laodicea was a prosperous banking center; so, proud of its wealth that it refused Roman disaster relief after the earthquake of A.D. 60, and was therefore rebuilt from its own resources. It was also known for its textiles (especially wool), for its medical school, for its production of ear medicine as well as the highly reputed Phrygian eye salve.
The church though wealthy became complacent in the spread of the gospel. They thought they needed nothing and didn’t realize that their spiritual condition was one of misery and poverty. Whatever we have as individuals or as a church really belongs to the Lord. What we do with it belongs to us. The problem is that we have the tendency to hoard our capital and keep it for a rainy day. Ironically, being a wealthy church may be a deterrent to spreading the true gospel, for it keeps our focus on the earthly rather than the heavenly. For instance, during the 1980’s there was the push toward the mega church. Bigger churches had the money, the people, the programs, and the reputation. They concentrated on technique and expansion and acted like the gurus of the “here and now” church growth movement. Pastors of some smaller churches became envious of those who had huge churches. They too became constipated because of their worldly desires enticing them to be bigger and greater. But money can’t buy love, particularly the love of Christ. In fact, riches could easily be detrimental to spiritual growth, especially if we claim the Lord blessed us with it, but do nothing for the enhancement of the kingdom on earth.
When we don’t grow spiritually, we become lukewarm just like the Laodiceans. Christ knew their deeds like he knows ours. They were neither cold nor hot, for either condition would have been pleasing to the Lord (Rev. 3:15). Laodicea was located on the Lycus River in the same province with Hierapolis and Colossae. Hierapolis was where hot springs were located to the north above Laodicea. Colossae was located to the south, but at higher elevation than Laodicea; it had fresh pure water that flowed from it. The hot water from Hierapolis met the cold water from Colossae at Laodicea on the Lycus River; and there the mixture became lukewarm.
To be hot would be like hot springs, acting as healing waters to those who were hurting. To be cold would be like bringing cool refreshment to people in need of encouragement. Jesus commended either condition, but to be lukewarm meant that the Laodiceans were tepid in their spiritual life and thought more highly of themselves than they should have. So, because they were neither hot – acting as healing balm – nor cold – spreading the refreshing taste of the gospel – Jesus would spew them from his sight (Rev. 3:16).
            There are many Laodicean churches today. They stand on their past record and continue to be rich through the legacies left by appreciating donors or by money bestowed by present influential people. I have known a few churches that had magnificent edifices and little financial worries. They lived on their past reputations and maintained that they were still relevant in their community. The honest truth was that they were blinded by their own ignorance, inflated with their own self-importance, and had ceased being relevant years before.