This week in our morning revival time we come to the church in Laodicea, the degraded recovered church, the church in which the opinion of the people replaces the Lord’s authority and the brotherly love is replaced by the vote of majority.
Philadelphia and Laodicea are a pair: Philadelphia is the orthodoxy of the church, what the Lord wants, and Laodicea is the degraded recovered church. In the idealistic human perspective, Philadelphia would be the conclusion of all that God has to say, but unfortunately, there’s yet another church which will remain until the Lord returns – the church in Laodicea.
To the church in Philadelphia the Lord said, I come quickly; this church is what the Lord is coming back for. The reality in Philadelphia is the bride of Christ from the aspect of His return; what the Lord desires and waits for is the church in Philadelphia, the church in recovery today, and this is what we are here on earth for.
However, when reading the seven epistles to the seven churches in Rev. 2-3 together with brother Nee’s exhibition on them in the book, The Orthodoxy of the Church, we can’t help but wonder, what about us – where are we, what church are we?
Brother Nee didn’t say that the Lord’s recovery is Philadelphia but rather made it clear that the British Brethren the Lord raised in the last century are the Philadelphia. Even brother Witness Lee never said that we in the church life are Philadelphia…so which are we, Philadelphia or Laodicea?
We don’t know the answer to this question is, but we believe that it was not only the British Brethren that were Philadelphia but also there were some other saints here and there in this line.
The Lord’s recovery also has started in the line of Philadelphia, and today we are endeavouring to practice remaining in the Lord’s word and not denying His name, as He has said.
Where are we in the Church Life Today: in Philadelphia or in Laodicea?
It is very interesting and saddening to realize that, no more than 20 years after the Lord raised the Brethren, there was a major split between them – the “open brothers” (George Muller and the others, mainly in Bristol), and the “closed brethren” (Darby and the others in Plymouth).
Among themselves there were many splits, and there are many branches and streams, to the point that many consider themselves as part of the Brethren but have their own beliefs and practices. Only 20 years onward and Laodicea began.
What about us today in the Lord’s recovery today? The Lord’s recovery started 100 years or so ago after the Brethren, in China; because the Lord had no more way in Europe and in the western world, He was forced to turn to China and start something new.
The move of the Brethren has impacted the world much more than the move of Reformation, and that move was really Philadelphia, but the Brethren began to degrade and fall 20 years or so onward. This is such a warning to us; those who started so well and impacted the whole word eventually were divided and took other names (such as Darby-ites, Taylor-ites, Newton-ites, etc) like Paul says of the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 1.
Because the Lord had no more way in Europe, He started something in Southern China, in a pagan, Buddhist, and heathen place, He began something to continue His testimony in the church age.
This is such a warning to us. We need to be in fear and trembling today in the Lord’s recovery. The Lord’s recovery is not something small or a movement – it is the Lord’s reaction to the degradation in the church.
We should not be proud to say that we are the ones in Philadelphia and no one else is, but at the same time we can’t deny that we have seen the principle of Philadelphia and we want to practice what the Lord has shown us in His word. We want to stay in the central line of the Bible, live according to the principle of Philadelphia, and by the Lord’s mercy stay in this reality.
We want to let the Lord decide who is in Philadelphia and who is not, and on our side we want to have a deeper aspiration that the Lord would continue the reality of Philadelphia.
Today we want to see the orthodoxy of the church – Philadelphia, and we should take this as our aim, to be for the Lord’s satisfaction. The Lord has not stopped with the Brethren – He wants to gain the church as His testimony for Him to return.
We need to both be encouraged to remain in these things and to be warned of the history of the Brethren, for such a thing can happen to us. We are not here to promise and determine to do this or that – but the Laodicean condition is always around the corner.
The only place we can go today from Philadelphia is not in the Roman Catholic church (Thyatira) or Protestantism (Sardis) but Laodicea, the degraded recovered church. We need to take the Lord’s word to the church in Laodicea as a warning to us so that we may be careful and not repeat the same experience.
In the 90 or so years of the Lord’s recovery, all we can say that we can be either in Philadelphia or Laodicea, depending on our condition and situation. These two churches are very applicable to us in the church life today.
In many instances, we have to admit, we have become Laodicean; we have to repent, return to the Lord, and hold fast what He has given us. We should not be assured and proud by saying that we can never be in Laodicea. We need to tell the Lord,
Lord Jesus, we repent: bring us back to Philadelphia. Make us the church You desire, the church that keeps Your word and does not deny Your name. Save us from being Laodicean. May Your word to Laodicea be a warning to us, and may we return to the orthodoxy of the church. Lord Jesus, have mercy on us and keep us one with You, remaining in the things that You have entrusted to us, and keeping Your word and name with the little power we have. Lord Jesus, we love You, we love Your word, and we love the brothers!
Holding Fast what we Have and Not Letting it Go so that No one take our Crown!
As history confirms, less than a century after the Lord recovered the proper church life in the early part of the 19th century, some of the recovered churches became degraded – they became Laodicea.
The only thing the Lord tells the church in Philadelphia is to hold fast what they have (Rev. 3:11); they already have what is right, and they should just not lose it. To hold fast what we have means that we shouldn’t be wary of doing the same things for a long time, we should not ask for a change, and we should not contemplate doing something new after all the years of doing the same things.
What the Lord has given us in the Lord’s recovery is His pure word, unveiled and expounded according to the divine revelation; we should simply hold it fast, not try to bring in new things, and He will reward us with the crown of life.
Actually, the crown already belongs to the church in Philadelphia, but if she doesn’t hold fast what she has, she will lose the crown to others who will do.
Only the church in Philadelphia can meet the Lord’s standard, and her characteristic is keeping the Lord’s word and not denying His name. However, if those in Philadelphia don’t hold fast what they have – and this is proven by history that they didn’t – then they will degrade and fall into Laodicea.
The degraded Philadelphia is Laodicea; it is impossible for Philadelphia to go back to Sardis or Thyatira. Laodicea is a distorted Philadelphia.
When we lose the brotherly love, what we have is the opinion of the many, the “democratization of the church”, in which everyone has an opinion about the church and how the church should be managed and run.
As soon as Philadelphia becomes degraded, the “brothers” become the “many people,” and its “brotherly love” becomes “the opinions of the many.” Love has degenerated into opinion. Brotherly love is something living, but the opinion of many people is something dead. When brotherly love is lost, the Body relationship is lost. The fellowship of life is cut off as well, leaving only the opinion of men. The opinion of the Lord is lost, and the only things left are the vote of the majority, ballots, and the show of hands. Once Philadelphia falls, it becomes Laodicea. (Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 50, pp. 783-784)
When there’s no more brothers but the brotherly love is gone, what we have is the opinions, judgement, preferences, and ideas of many, and this is Laodicea. Are we a “church of people” or are we a “church of brothers”? If love is lost and gone, if there’s no mutual love among the saints, what remains is opinions, ideas, and thoughts.
What the Lord wants us is to keep what we have – not to invent new things or do something new, but simply hold fast what He has given us. This is very meaningful. The word of God has been opened to us, it has been given to us, and we should just keep it year after year, not denying the Lord’s name but holding fast what we have.
We have a rich all-inheriting and all-inclusive ministry – the ministry of the apostles, and we should just keep it. We have a little power, and what we have done is right and blessed by the Lord; therefore, we should continue in it and hold fast what we have, not letting it go!
We need to continue steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship (Acts 2:42) – we need to keep unto these things until the Lord comes back. We should not belittle the Lord’s speaking among us, neither should we say that we have heard this before….we simply need to keep what the Lord has entrusted us, His word and His name!
We need to realize that among us there’s no “higher brother” – only Christ is the Head of the Body, only the Holy Spirit has authority, and only the Father is the source; we simply need to remain in the Body, be under the authority of the Head, and accept the Lord’s representative authority in the Body.
The church life is not a democracy where each brother and sister has a vote; the church is the kingdom of God! However, when brotherly love is lost, the Body relationship and consciousness is lost.
If there’s no Body of Christ, there’s a voting of the members of the church; when the fellowship of life is cut, there’s only the opinions of men. Our only job is to pray, and the Lord’s job is to speak and direct in the Body; we should humble ourselves, be in the spirit of the Body, be fully under the Head, seeking Him and honoring Him, honor the fellowship in the Body, and we will come to know the Lord’s mind.
May the Lord save us from our opinions, which are Satan’s expression in our mind – no matter how good they are. May the Lord bring us back to the brotherly love, the church of the brothers, where God rules in His Body!
Lord Jesus, we want to continue steadfastly in the teaching and the fellowship of the apostles. Against all distraction and opposition, we simply want to hold fast to what You have given us – Your word and Your name – and not let it go. Thank You for the ministry of the age which brings us into a rich enjoyment and experience of Christ for the church life. Lord, cause us to return to the orthodoxy of the church to be in reality the church in Philadelphia, the bride that You will return quickly for!
References and Hymns on this Topic
- Inspiration: the Word of God, my enjoyment in the ministry, the message by brother Minoru C. for this week, and portions from, Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 47, “The Orthodoxy of the Church,” ch. 8, as quoted in the Holy Word for Morning Revival on, Returning to the Orthodoxy of the Church (2016 fall ITERO), msg. 8 (week 8), The Church in Laodicea.
- Hymns on this topic:
# Now Philadelphia comes at last; / That which she has she should hold fast / The brothers’ love, the name, the word; / This church has satisfied the Lord. / We as the brothers all are one; / We’re one by life, and life alone. / If we His word and name do keep / A glorious building God will reap. / Laodicea warns us all: / From Philadelphia some will fall. (Hymns #1274)
# Not so strong by worldly standards, / Hidden from religion’s fame; / Jesus loves you, Philadelphia, / For you’re faithful to His name. / By His Word you’re overcoming— / How the Amen does resound! / Just hold fast to what you’ve gotten, / That no man may take your crown. (Hymns #1276)
# Thou, beloved Philadelphia, / Dost His Word of patience keep. / From the hour of trial He’ll save thee, / Which o’er all the world shall sweep. / Troublers too shall know He loves thee; / They to thee must then bow down. / “Hold thou fast, for I come quickly, / That no man may take thy crown.” (Hymns #1275)
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