|oday we hesitate to claim we’re the remnant; but as for Laodicea, that’s us! Us alone! Why the difference?
As Adventists, we’ve received a lot of criticism over the years for arrogating to ourselves the title “remnant.” This has led us, shall we say, to exercise greater caution in our claims and tighten our language when we speak about the things that set us apart. We’ve become more sensitive on this point, trying not to create impressions of special privilege or exclusiveness. That’s because “remnant,” however sparsely used in contemporary religious circles, still comes with positive connotations. It points to specialness, loyalty, faithfulness. Hence the pressure on Adventists to back off. All Christians want a part of it, and resent it when Adventists seem to claim the title for themselves.
“Laodicea” is different. It’s not chic; does not carry positive connotations. Laodicea is described as “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17, NKJV).* No other Christian group vies with us for the dubious privilege of being identified with it. Unlike the claim to be the remnant, claiming exclusive rights to Laodicea is not politically incorrect. So, unchallenged, we’ve become anchored in the view that Seventh-day Adventists are the sole group envisioned in the apocalyptic concept of that term. And as long as that portion of Scripture remains intact, we continue to flagellate ourselves, finding ever new ways in which we think we fulfill the unflattering descriptions of the text.
But what if—and that’s the thought that came to me—what if “Laodicea” is more comprehensive than our usual interpretation has envisioned? What if “Laodicea” applies to the entire Christian church today? How might that affect our mission and our evangelistic strategy?
The answer, I think, is that it can broaden our approach and change our tone. On the one hand, it’ll help cure us of any incipient pride we still have of somehow being superior
to those we’re called upon to serve. And on the other, it will take away whatever inferiority complex subsides in our system. For now we’d see other Christians for whom we minister—and all others, for that matter—as in the same boat with us. All Laodicea—all “poor, miserable, blind, and naked.” A level playing field makes for both boldness and humility.
Anticipating there’d be folks out there ready to come down on me like tons of bricks for suggesting we broaden our exclusive rights to “Laodicea,” I took a moment to check out my speculations against the writings of Ellen G. White. Some of her emphases surprised me. She speaks of some Adventists in her time making “bad use” of the Laodicean message, not “applying it to their own hearts,” but rather “using the testimony to oppress others”—causing her at one point to abandon “the subject almost entirely” (Life Sketches, p. 333).
Though her usual application of the Laodicean message was to the Adventist Church, she in a few key instances broadened it to apply to other churches and the world. As in this example: “The Laodicean message has been sounding. Take this message in all its phases and sound it forth to the people wherever Providence opens the way. Justification by faith and the righteousness of Christ are the themes to be presented to a perishing world” (Letter 24, 1892; SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 964). And again: “The warning for the last church also must be proclaimed
to all who claim to be Christians. The Laodicean message, like a sharp, two-edged sword, must go to all the churches” (Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 77). (And, yes, I checked the context. By “all the churches” here she meant all Christian churches.)
Mrs. White never ceases to amaze me!
Then a series of other thoughts came to me: Can Laodicea change? Is the church always Laodicean—predestined to remain in the same state? The people of Nineveh were sinners; but under the preaching of Jonah they repented in sackcloth. If that happens to Seventh-day Adventists, are they still Laodicea? Is it possible that there could be segments of the church, perhaps even large segments, that aren’t Laodicean at all? If we were to run into such a segment, would we recognize it? Or would we feel obliged to lay on them the Laodicean message with the same intensity as elsewhere?
Are these the wrong questions? If so, what are the right ones?
*Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright ” 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson,
Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Roy Adams is associate editor of the Adventist Review.