What makes it so incredible is that it was hidden in plain sight. No sleight-of-hand or elaborate attempts at obfuscation were involved. Hear it once, and you might chalk it up to a simple slip of the tongue, followed by the customary non-apology apology. But Jonathan Gruber’s repeated reference to “the stupidity of the American voter” was alarmingly straightforward.
Now, the name Jonathan Gruber may not mean much to you. He’s an economics professor at MIT. But more importantly, he was one of the architects of the AHCA, the Affordable Health Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. Yes, Gruber repeatedly maintained that voter stupidity was the crucial element in passing that massive piece of legislation on March 21, 2010, in what has been called “the trickiest legislative move ever accomplished in Congress.”
“The lack of transparency gives huge political advantage,” he said. Now, in my mind, that makes him a bit of a creep, but at least he’s an honest creep, in that he openly describes the process and the players involved.
The reason that you and I should listen up and pay attention to this is because the Bible, too, is honest and straightforward. It tells us that we are in a war, and specifically, that we have an adversary, the devil. The devil is not a joke or the figment of someone’s ancient deluded imagination. No, he’s real, and like a roaring lion, he’s all about devouring the souls of men. To accomplish this, we are told he relies on deception, moving in the shadows as a master of manipulation, even masquerading as an angel of light if he has to. The Lord Jesus was not just engaging in petty name calling when he referred to him as “the father of lies.” Instead, He was telling us that all he traffics in is lies; it is the devil’s native language. Hmm… that’s a curious segue from politics to a lying devil; but I’ll leave that for another time.
The Bible repeatedly warns us, “Don't be ignorant... I don't want you to be ignorant.” In writing to the Corinthians Paul says: “Lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11). This kind of vigilance and commitment is exactly the opposite of the casualness, the lazy, relativistic thinking, and the moral laxity that is so prevalent today.
This sort of laid back attitude can lead to the despised spiritual condition known as lukewarmness, or lukewarm religion. The actual case study is found in Revelation 3:15-16, where Jesus gives His spiritual diagnosis of the church at Laodecia: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” The Message paraphrase puts it this way: “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot – far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit.”
Clearly, there's nothing subtle about those words. We should take them very seriously, since they come from the Lord Jesus Christ, who is revealed in this setting as “walking in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks,” which we are told are the seven churches in Asia (and the churches of today). He spoke – with perfect knowledge and unfailing love – a kind of spiritual prescription to each of these churches. So these words are not a lashing out. Rather, they come from the lips of the One who “loves the church and gave Himself for it.”
Lukewarm religion is truly one of the perilous spiritual conditions of the last days, one of the signs of the times that we are warned about repeatedly. The most explicit breakdown is found in 2 Timothy 3:1: “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred.” Close behind this admonition is Paul’s charge to Timothy to preach the Word – set in the context of 2 Timothy 4:3-4: “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.” Here Paul describes a prevailing climate where absolute truth is abandoned in favor of self-satisfying and self-justifying fiction. It is worth pointing out that there will even be a religious flavor to all of this, as described in 2 Timothy 3:3: “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!”
While not exhaustive, there are some specific qualities of lukewarm religion to which this passage alerts us. Understanding these will help us to see clearly, and live and witness effectively in a very murky and confused hour.
THE DUMBING DOWN PROCESS
It's not an exaggeration to say this is a growing national crisis. I don’t want to paint this with too broad a brush, but there was a time in our history when Americans were considered among the most educated of people and America among the most aware of societies. Sadly, I doubt the same thing could be said today. The dumbing down of the American educational system has been going on for decades. Now, what we have come to witness is the institutionalization of the mediocre. Instead of producing excellence, we content ourselves with simply promoting and applauding it. While this attitude is not universal, it is certainly far too common.
The current man-on-the-street interview is very illuminating. In fact, it lends credence to the saying “truth is stranger than fiction.” Take “Watter’s World,” for instance, a segment on FOX News in which Bill O’Reilly’s protégé Jesse Watters interviews common, ordinary people about their knowledge of important people and/or events. Consider his special Memorial Day edition aired on May 26, 2016.
Now, I realize that Jesse has his political bias, and that by pairing ambush questions with cutting and splicing, you can make almost anyone appear in a none-too-flattering light. On the other hand, put people in front of a camera, tell them they’re going to be on TV, and you never know what you’re going to get. It’s no secret that media plays a huge part in the political process.
Just imagine this headline: “We must weed out ignorant Americans from the electorate.” The outcry this would cause! The tsunami of criticism! The enormous charges of Racist! Elitist! Now, we’ll never see that headline, and I am certainly not advocating that we should. But as The Federalist recently stated: “We do know that nearly every study conducted on voter knowledge finds a big chunk of the electorate understands next to nothing about American governance.” This sad fact allows political campaigns to degenerate into media bias, empty platitudes, hurled insults, and a reliance on optics and imagery – in short, anything but leadership and substantive policy.
Here’s the unsettling truth: the elites of the political class, whether right or left, want it to remain so. Why? Because it's easier to manipulate an uninformed electorate. Now to be sure, being well-informed about government doesn’t necessarily make you smarter than others. There are plenty of working-class Americans who have a keener understanding of how things should be than the best educated PC devotee. As The Federalist’s David Harsanyi said: “When the next swindler promises them a shiny new object, voters might be better equipped to recognize the absurdity of it all.”
IMPACT ON THE CHURCH
My main reason for bringing this up is that the church has not escaped unscathed. The key phrase about the Laodecia’s lukewarm condition is found in verse 17: “You don't realize that…” In other words, they were blinded to and ignorant of their true spiritual condition. They didn't see it at all. Our eyes (visual perception), and our heart (inner health) are intricately related. Each affects the other. The apostle Paul recognized this relationship in his prayer for the Ephesians: “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” The importance of this relationship to a growing and vibrant faith is unmistakable. Never forget that the stakes are very high here, since the prophet declares, “My people are destroyed by lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6).
Lukewarm religion cannot stand against the onslaught of a growing secularism. Not only do we regularly face this need on a personal level, but it also represents a generational challenge. Judges 2:10 gives us the following historical commentary: “All that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.” The Israelites had seen God do wonders; yet the ensuing generation found themselves ignorant of a personal experience with the God of their fathers. They lacked an understanding of His will, His ways and His workings. Remember, in the Bible, knowledge is not just educational. It is also relational, since it is connected with our worship. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).
Writing in The American Conservative, Rod Dreher referred to this as “the coming Christian collapse.” Unlike previous generations, Dreher says Millennials are not joining churches as they get older and raise children. He maintains that even those Millennials who identify themselves as Christians “are shockingly illiterate, both in terms of what the Bible says and more generally regarding what Christianity teaches.” It is this growing biblical illiteracy that contributes to the nauseating condition of lukewarmness that “you don't realize.” As the late Michael Spencer warned, “We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive today’s secular onslaught.”
All truth is parallel. What’s true in one area may also be true in a parallel arena. We can see that the dumbing down trend has also hijacked the proper focus in modern-day worship. The new focus is on worship as entertainment, replacing Scripture as the center and putting the emphasis instead on feeling good and providing an uplifting experience. Worship may include a 20-minute sermonette, but certainly not enough of the Word to bring about the transformational necessity which Romans 12:1-2 calls our “intelligent worship.” Dr. William Lane Craig reflects, “Our culture in general has sunk to the level of biblical and theological illiteracy… but if we do not preserve the truth of our own Christian heritage and doctrine, who will learn it for us?”
HOW ABOUT SOME PUSH BACK?
Trust me when I say that we are speaking of possibly the most important and influential last days battlefield. We must recognize that without deliberate pushback, the spiritual gravitational pull of the last days is always toward lesser things. Life left to itself, without any kind of intentionality – just going with the flow – always takes us further away from God and His ways, and not closer. Down through history, leaders have spoken of exercising the spiritual disciplines. Paul called Timothy to a kind of cultural pushback: “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:15,16).
Paul’s admonition represents a necessary contradiction to the likes of mega-church pastor Andy Stanley, who says that the evangelical impulse to turn to the Bible in our defense and presentation of Christianity is a huge blunder that must be corrected.
“Perhaps you were taught, as I was taught, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,’” Stanley recently told the congregation at North Point Community Church. “That is where our trouble began.” He identifies this “trouble” as the crisis of “de-conversion,” where adults leave the church because they have outgrown their childlike faith, no longer believing what they were taught.
Well, my response to Mr. Stanley’s view of things would be significantly different. The people he's describing haven't outgrown anything; they just never grew in the first place! Stanley’s further concern about Bible-based Christianity is that “If the Bible is the foundation of your faith, here’s the problem: it is all or nothing. Christianity becomes a fragile, house of cards religion.”
Now, this brings to mind a few thoughts: 1) When Jesus was questioned about marriage and divorce, was it wrong for Him to reference Old Testament Scripture? "Have you not read…” He says “…in the beginning it was not so.” Why is it that Jesus had no qualms about taking them back to Scripture in outlining of God’s plan for men and women in marriage? 2) Was the Reformational truth of justification by faith misguided because it was based on the principle of sola Scriptura (Latin for Scripture only)? 3) When Paul prayed for the Ephesian elders, saying "I commend you to God and the Word of His grace, which is able,” was he knowingly pointing them to an unreliable foundation for their faith and the Gospel’s advancement?
Let me quote Albert Mohler, Jr., whose response to this controversy was, “In the end, we simply have no place to go other than the Bible as God’s authoritative revelation. Christ, not the Bible, is the foundation of our faith – but our only authoritative and infallible source of knowledge about Christ is the Bible. A true defense of the Christian faith has never been more needed than now, but an attempt to rescue Christianity from its dependence upon Scripture is doomed to disaster. We are left in the same predicament as Martin Luther: if Scripture cannot be trusted, then we are doomed.”
Of course, we know a house is built of more than a foundation, but without that foundation, you will one day end up homeless. So, in that regard, I shout a big YES! Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so!
My humble opinion is that Andy Stanley needs to get his eyes checked. He needs an eye exam. And following the biblical prescription, he might also “anoint his eyes with eye salve” that he might see.
But Mr. Stanley is not alone. A recent article on USAToday.com was titled "More Americans Tailoring Religion to Fit Their Needs.” The subtitle read: "If World War II-era warbler Kate Smith sang today, her anthem would be Gods Bless America.” The article went on to say that Americans’ drift is toward faith tailored to fit their personal preferences. In other words, they make up God as they go. They do it on the fly.
“America is headed for 310 million people with 310 million religions,” said religious statistics expert George Barna with obvious hyperbole, “It's called a designer society. We want everything customized to our personal needs – our clothing, our food, our education. Now it's our religion.”
Christ's words ring out strong in response: “Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).
Dr. J.P. Moreland summed up this state of affairs as follows: “The church is suffering for its lack of well-informed Christians. Evangelism suffers; discipleship suffers; the kingdom suffers. But when people learn what they believe and why, they become bold in their witness and attractive in the way they engage others in debate or dialogue.”
HEREIN LIES OUR HOPE
I find great hope and comfort in knowing that when the Lord Jesus saw these people stuck in the mire of creeping lukewarmness, His response was, “I counsel you.” He’s saying that there is a remedy; that this condition must not necessarily prove final or fatal. God doesn't quickly give up on people, even in today’s Laodecian-like age. “I counsel you” is the Great Physician writing us a prescription. I like to call them grace remedies, because they are the product of true love. As He says in verse 19, “I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.” For God (or anyone) to speak to us an unvarnished truth is an act of great kindness. So, read the Rx: what did He prescribe?
- “Gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich.” This speaks of unreserved commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. A commitment that has been through the fire, purified and unwavering, and emerging extremely valuable, like pure gold. It means seeking the mind of Christ, to think and act as Christians, to know our Bible and to live by it in the power of the Spirit. We must commit our time and our treasure to evangelism, and to the work of God’s mission. Real Christian faith is not a nice little additive; it’s the very marrow of our lives.
- "White garments that you may be clothed.” This deals with the priority of righteousness. Jesus vividly portrayed this in His parable of the wedding feast. The king’s costly and generous invitation had been met with people’s indifference, excuses, and self-centered lifestyles. These things had been corrected, and all was finally readied for the wedding. On this celebratory occasion, a man stood out conspicuously for his lack of appropriate attire: “But when the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for a wedding. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?’ But the man had no reply” (Matthew 22:11,12). They say that clothes make the man. In this case, it was their absence. The magnificent provision of the white garments of righteousness is the source of ecstatic praise in Isaiah 61:10: “I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For He has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding or a bride with her jewels.”
- “Anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” Here is the blessed ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, in a passage outlining how crucial – even preferable – is the Comforter’s presence in our lives, says: “He will bring Me glory by telling you whatever He receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is Mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever He receives from Me” (John 16:14,15). What we have here is not only the opposite of, but the antidote to the dumbing down process endemic today.
Finally, Jesus concludes with the ultimate invitation in verse 20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” This verse is used most often in giving an invitation for people to repent of their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ. I don’t have a problem with that, since I believe it reflects the heart of God toward sinners. However, contextually, this was an invitation from the Lord Jesus to His bride, the Church. He was calling her into a deeper, richer, and fuller knowledge and relationship with Himself. As the chef du jour of my household, I love the imagery that is presented here: sitting down at the table with the ultimate Host and enjoying one of the most satisfying meals you’ve ever had, along with the joy of indescribable fellowship. The experience delights the senses: the warmth, the free flow of conversation, the deep enjoyment of one another’s presence, the sounds of laughter, maybe even tears; and at the forefront, the shouts of praise and expressions of gratitude to the One who makes it all possible.
It brings to mind the lyrics of an old hymn I learned as a young convert: ‘Come and dine,’ the Master calleth, ‘Come and dine’; You may feast at Jesus’ table all the time; He who fed the multitude, changed the water into wine; To the hungry calleth now, ‘Come and dine.’” Ah, yes, so wonderfully real and true!
Just don't forget to have your eyes examined.
- “Washington Elites Can't Survive Without Ignorant Voters,” The Federalist 5-24-16
- Ibid, page 3
- Breakpoint Daily, page 2, “When the Sky Really Is Falling”
- Ibid, page 4
- Audio sermon by Harold Warner, “Your Audience with the King,” 12-14-14
- “Who Needs God? The Bible Told Me So” (http://northpointonline.tv/messages)
- Ibid, Audio sermon