John W. MartensOctober 25, 2010

In an interview reported in USA Today, Archbishop John Nienstedt “said Jesus Christ directed his followers to ‘either be hot or cold, but if you're lukewarm, I don't want that. So we want people who live their faith.’” This interview was given in response both to a controversial DVD the Archbishop sent out regarding same-sex marriage and the reorganization of many parishes, including the closure of over twenty, in the Archdiocese. In the article Nienstedt spoke of this as “‘a reconfiguring of resources to meet our needs and mission.’ But he said Catholics need not fear a smaller church, and the threat of one is not a reason to abandon core tenets.” He went on to say that “I believe that it's important that if you're going to be Catholic, that you have to be 100% Catholic. That you stand by the church, you believe what the church believes and you pass that on to your sons and daughters and your grandsons and granddaughters.” It is entirely relevant for Archbishop John Nienstedt, my archbishop in the Diocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, to call the whole church to heed Jesus’ warning on being “lukewarm,” especially since it is a warning that leads to life. The Archbishop’s mission must be to lead his flock to everlasting life not worldly success. It is also the case that it is precisely a Bishop’s task to call his flock to adherence to professed teaching and to exercise canonical oversight and discipline. My concern is how others, both within the church and outside the church, might interpret this warning. I want to look at the scriptural passage from which the Archbishop cites, Revelation 3:14-22, and attempt to understand the phrase “100% Catholics” in light of the passage from Revelation and other relevant passages from Scripture, including this past Sunday’s Gospel.

The message from Jesus in the Revelation of John 3:14-22 to the Church of Laodicea is as follows:

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God's creation: “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

I have been to the ruins of Laodicea on three occasions now and tour guides will not fail to tell you about the wealth of ancient Laodicea, or the fact that the water in Laodicea was actually lukewarm, or the optical balm that was made in Laodicea. All of these realities may be true, about the wealth we have some ancient evidence apart from Revelation, but the reality is deeper than the ancient context: what is said to the church in Laodicea is said to all Christians, to the Church at large.

But what is being said? Jesus is warning certainly of a faith that relies on material goods – those who say “I need nothing”  and find such faith sufficient. It is reminiscent of Jesus’ parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:13-21, in which Jesus warns those who rely on material goods alone to beware for their souls. In Revelation Jesus challenges the church in Laodicea to “be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” To those who conquer, a phrase which appears after all the letters to the churches, and which has an eschatological sense in every case, they will have a place “with me on my throne.” To those who do not conquer, however, “because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Each of the seven letters in Revelation calls the local church to a greater and more profound faith and away from degrees of self-satisfaction or complacency. The churches are being called by Jesus himself to measure up, not as individuals, but as the church. Naturally the church is made up of individuals, but it is the corporate body which Jesus calls to repentance. It is also important to define what each letter is not: these are not letters of excommunication, but of warning. The eschaton will come and we will all be judged. The churches which are found wanting at the time of the end will be “spit…out of my mouth” because they are “lukewarm.” As a result, the Archbishop’s warning to those who are “lukewarm” is well–taken, for we are called by Christ to “repent,” but who are the “lukewarm” in our churches today? Jesus warns the church in Laodicea not to rely on their material wealth, but to rely on the transforming grace of Christ. Jesus says, “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love.” Are the “lukewarm” today only those Christians today who rely on their material wealth or is it a broader swath of Christians? In the Archbishop’s formulation, “lukewarm” Christians are to be equated with those who are not “100% Catholic,” those who do not “stand by the church,” who do not “believe what the church believes” and who do not “pass that on {what the church believes} to your sons and daughters and your grandsons and granddaughters.”  Given Jesus' focus on "repentance," the reformulation of the "lukewarm" as those who want to accept only some of the teachings of the church seems reasonable.

The “lukewarm” would seem to be those who dissent (do not “stand by the church”) from the professed teaching of the church and who do not pass on these beliefs to their children and grandchildren. Those who do all of these things, it would seem to me, are “100% Catholic.” Like the Archbishop, I do not mind a smaller church materially, fewer parishes and schools, if it means using our resources more wisely and prudently. I think what is taking place in our Archdiocese is actually wise stewardship and essential to renewal, though often painful for those making the transitions. I do mind a smaller church numerically because the goal is to create as many disciples as possible and to bring all to salvation. John’s vision in Revelation, apart from those of the twelve tribes of Israel, includes, “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (7:9-10). If, on the other hand, remaining faithful to the teachings of the Gospel creates a smaller church, then it is important for the church to remain faithful and not to change or alter its teachings in the hopes of attracting more members, as if we are in the business of a country club on a membership drive or a business trying to attract more customers with cut-rate prices and new, special offers.

My concern actually arises with how a “100% Catholic” is defined by those of us in the pews not by Archbishop Nienstedt, who has simply asked for adherence to the Church’s teachings. This is what I mean with respect to definition: I do try to remain faithful to all of the teachings of the Church, but the reality is that I never do this perfectly as Jesus has asked me to do (cf. Matthew 5:48). I get angry at others, I am lazy at times, I am rude, I am often a poor son and brother and regularly an average father and husband. I do not wish to discuss other of my faults; I would prefer to confess them privately. Some of them embarrass me (I mean, embarrass me more than the ones I mentioned). All of us sin and so all of us are moving in the direction of 100% Catholics, though without question some of us reside in the 95th percentile and some of us are striving for a passing grade. Which ones do we want to toss out of class? The danger is that we start to measure ourselves against other Christians and fall into the trap that Jesus warned us against so often and in so many passages. In Matthew 6, Jesus warned us against our piety being used a means to trumpet our superiority; our deeds were to be done in quiet, in relationship with God the Father. In Luke 18:11-14 Jesus tells of the “The Pharisee, standing by himself, {who} was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”  To whom did Jesus tell this parable? "To some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt" (Luke 18:9). It is humbling to realize that the closest approximation to a Pharisee today by vocation is a biblical scholar. There is no question for Jesus that the Pharisees were more righteous than a tax collector or a sinner, but the Pharisee was still constantly in need of forgiveness. It is that unwillingness to recognize sinfulness in his own life that creates a problem for Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7:36-50. In that encounter a woman who is a sinner – that’s the definition given to her – bathes Jesus with her tears and her love, but all Simon and the other Pharisees see is that she is a sinner and that a prophet would know that and reject her. Jesus, however, tells a parable about two people in debt, one with greater debt, the other with lesser debt. In the narrative, Simon has fewer debts, fewer sins, to pay off, but if he does not recognize his own sins, how will he pay off his debt? On the other hand, the sinner acknowledges her debt and so is forgiven. We must keep in mind our own fallenness, our own weakness, when we judge others: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).

I have become concerned with fellow conservative Catholics whose desire, often spoken to me and others I know, seems to be to cast out one group or another from the church, which indicates that they are quite certain they know who belongs and who does not. Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds in Matthew 13, however, demonstrates that certainty in defining the righteous and the wicked is hard to come by. Our task in weeding the fields, that is spitting people out of the church, is limited: when the servants ask, “’Then do you want us to go and gather them?,” “he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’” (13: 28-30). The weeds will be burned up, indeed, a Judgment will come, but a major part of this parable is precisely that until the eschaton we do not know which is wheat or which is a weed. Fulton Sheen wrote many years ago in Through the Year With Fulton Sheen that there would be surprises in heaven, "first of all, there will be many people there whom we never expected to see there. There will also be a number of people absent who we thought would be there" (p.224).  

It is an error to expect that the Church cannot and should not discipline its members, for it can and must, as Matthew 18 makes clear, but Matthew 18 also makes clear that forgiveness must be at the heart of the Church’s discipline. If there is error in offering charity without making clear that there are also guidelines, there is an equal error in not offering the Church’s teaching with charity and compassion. If there is more joy in heaven when one sinner repents, how much more must there be when thousands upon thousands do?  The Church must be a place where all are obviously welcome while at the same time making it clear that there are teachings and beliefs which accompany that welcome. Yet, if we are all to be judged and welcomed by what we do not do in upholding the faith, by our ability to live every aspect of our faith, from love and mercy to tithing mint and cumin, from forgiving those who have harmed us to welcoming the stranger, from our sexual thoughts or behaviors to our honoring of our parents, by all of our actions or words, how many of us could cross the threshold of our Church as a “100% Catholic”? If we are truly concerned about the salvation of souls then we need to begin to show compassion for all Catholics, at whatever percentage they might rate on the scale, and even possibly our enemies. The church might become smaller, but it can never become less forgiving.

John W. Martens

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Marie Rehbein
10 years 8 months ago
I like how Michelle has introduced the idea of courage being common to both the hot and cold.  I have been mentally reviewing the various possibilities for cold that we discussed above, and thought to add another comment when I found Michelle's

My thinking was going along the lines of the hot and cold literally referring to how something tastes.  While there is obviously a judgment being made in the verse, both hot and cold as it pertains to certain foods have virtue - cold salad/hot soup - rather than hot being better than cold.  This seems to connect to Michelle's observation of a shared virtue at both extremes.

It still does not settle why a bishop would advocate for a Christian being cold, however.  I suppose someone could ask him, but, perhaps, the bishop's perspective is that hot and cold Christians are not really opposites in their faith, but only in their style (cold being more reserved, hot being more demonstrative, perhaps), the way foods that are meant to be cold are best cold and foods that are meant to be hot are best hot.  In contrast, the lukewarm Christian just goes through the motions, maybe in the hot style, maybe in the cold style, but without feeling much of anything about it.
Marie Rehbein
10 years 8 months ago

The Internet is wonderful for providing immediate feedback.  As I travel around in it, I find the tone in some forums is fairly earthy but still thoughtful while in others people seem to be getting paid to be stupid.  This forum, however, perhaps because of the nature of the topic, does have more gentle correspondence. 

No matter in which forum I decide to participate, I try to be thoughtful and respectful.  However, the difference here is that the author, you, come back to dialogue with people who post comments.  I would say that does a lot to elevate the tone. 

I agree with you that not being face to face, but being able to go away and come back with ideas as they form, makes this superior to other methods of sharing ideas.  It has the virtues of writing combined with the immediacy of conversation without the distraction of witnessing people doing their emotional work or being oneself compromised by irrelevant emotional reactions to people's appearance or behavior.

My only reservation about all this is that the "written" record dissolves so quickly, such that a lot of what might be quite insightful is not around for those who did not catch it when it was being discussed "live".   It is my biggest reservation about books on media other than good quality acid free paper, also, in terms of what is lost to future generations.
Michelle Russell
10 years 8 months ago
I agree that this blog in particular, among the many I follow, is respectful and thoughtful, and that much of this comes from both the topic matter and the manner in which the author interacts with the respondents.  As for the internet, and this Scripture forum in particular, I am so grateful for it.  Our parish is spread over several islands, our island-church has perhaps 35 full-time families, our priest comes from another island once a week just for Mass, so we tend to be a very good at fellowship but not so strong in theological discussions or Scripture discussion groups,etc.  This forum gives me a sense of belonging to a larger community, with which I can interact relatively real-time but which also allows me to find a time that works best for me.  I do, like Marie, prefer ''good quality acid free paper'', but for discussions like this, I find this quite superior and intellectually stimulating.

Back to the thread: after sitting with the Scripture for a bit last night, I do think Marie is on the right track, but I'm not sure there is any judgement as to which is better, hot or cold.  For example, tea is served either hot or cold.  Neither is necessarily ''better'', just different and for different tastes, times and climates.  But when allowed to sit, both extremes move toward the lukewarm.  ''Because you are lukewarm...I will spit you out....''  Just like tea, perhaps these Christians have just sat around and allowed their Christianity to become tepid, and Jesus understandably finds this distasteful.  Because of their wealth, they have become comfortable and forgotten from whom everything comes.  The invitation to ''buy from me gold refined in fire....'' is the invitation to come to Jesus and receive true wealth, lasting and strong, that lives in the heart; and the ''white garments'' a call to return to the purity that informed the early Church.  These people in Laodicea are a couple of generations removed from Jesus, and have perhaps lost the fire that filled the early Christians.  In addition they have found material wealth, which makes them think they need nothing from God, for they are now comfortable.  They have ceased to renew their faith, and look more to themselves than to God for what they need.  Like tea allowed to sit, they are no longer at the proper temperature and the reflex is to spit them out.  But they can be renewed - either heated back or re-chilled.  They just need to turn back and realize their ultimate dependence upon God.

I think perhaps fire and hot are easier to use and understand in terms of rekindling and remaining fervent in the Church, so are used instead of ice and cold, but in this case maybe they are just two sides of the same coin?  Maybe there is no judgement, but, as John said previously, just different style of fervor. 
Marie Rehbein
10 years 8 months ago
In consideration of Cody's effort to catagorize the disaffected Catholics relative to the Biblical passages in question, I was thinking that perhaps we need to compare the Church of Laodicea to the Catholic Church (or the Diocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis), rather than characterizing the disaffected Catholics as hot, cold, or lukewarm Christians.  (I think this was the actual point of John's article)  Where do the Church or the Diocese fall on the temperature scale?

Not being Catholic myself, but actually being fairly active in the Catholic Church by way of my children, I tend to see the institutional Church only as a venue.  I don't find that it affects me very much if some Church leaders somewhere say politically volatile things.   

Let me put it this way on purpose: I find the Church agreeing with me on what I consider right and wrong, or moral and immoral, with regard to my own behavior.  That some leaders disagree with me as to the degree to which our shared moral vision should be imposed upon our fellow citizens by means of our government is not enough to make me feel unwelcome at my local Catholic church.

In reading the USA Today article, and in light of the issues the he embraces and those he dismisses, I would question whether the Archbishop is actually aware of where he falls relative to the judgment of God that he is expressing.  Michelle points out that the Church of Laodicea likely became too comfortable with itself.  In that same vein, I would say that a diocese or Church which determines its own direction - in this case toward smaller and purer - would qualify as lukewarm in that it's focus is on its own vision, not God's.  God's vision being, as John wrote above, to create as many disciples as possible and to bring all to salvation.

Maybe the Archbishop is only following the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in that perhaps a smaller, purer Church could do a better job at creating disciples and bringing people to salvation some day.  On the other hand, what he is saying sounds more like it is coming from the other side by its apparent direction to people to choose up sides on very temporal issues.
Michelle Russell
10 years 7 months ago
Hi John,
"My" island is one of the islands in the San Juan Archipelago in the Puget Sound of Washington State (Orcas Island).  Our "parish" consists of 4 individual churches on 4 ferry-served islands, with a Benedictine Monastary being one of these (Our Lady of the Rock).  We have two priests for the entire parish.  Logistics can be quite challenging here.
I enjoy reading your posts, and probably enjoy the discussions they engender even more!  Keep up the good work, and take care.
Marie Rehbein
10 years 7 months ago
Well, Walter, you made me think of something.  You refer to the cold person as having totally rejected Jesus.  As we know there are two religions that reject the divinity of Jesus, but who do not reject the teaching of Jesus as it pertains to how one is to conduct oneself toward others.  Are they like, or are they in fact, the cold church Jesus would prefer to the lukewarm one?
david power
10 years 8 months ago
Great article ,but what has struck me most was the constant use of the word "Jesus".
Perhaps the most enlightening thing I have ever read about the Jesuits is the origin of their name. 
It was an insult ,and was said to describe those who constantly referred to the carpenter from Nazareth.I was curious to find out if you were a Jesuit and a little dissapointed to find that the only person on America who liberally  threw around the word Jesus was not a Jesuit.
Nonetheless it is a beautiful thought to consider that 1500 years after his death there were a group of Europeans who could not stop repeating his name.
Tomorrow I will pray that more people will follow your lead and invoke the Holy name of Jesus,and find consolation in that alone!  
David Nickol
10 years 8 months ago
I have to admit that it has long confused me in what way the Catholic Church purports to represent Jesus on earth. What happened to the Jesus who spent his time with sinners and tax collectors? Whereas in the Gospels Jesus is a charismatic figure who draws the powerless to him and alienates those with power (especially the religious authorities), the Church now has power, which Jesus never had, and there is much talk nowadays about a desire for a ''smaller and purer Church.'' 

There has been an accumulation over 2000 years of dogma and doctrine that would have made the heads of first- and second-generation Christians spin. Would the original Christians have imagined that one word (''filoque'') would be a major factor in a split of two branches of Christianity? Does believing in transubstantiation make you 100% Catholic and believing in consubstantiation make you a heretic?

If we found a document that appeared ancient and it attributed to Jesus a saying like, ''Amen, Amen I say to you, excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means,'' would it seem authentic to anyone? Or even if it said something like, ''The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator''?  If Jesus had not ascended into heaven and instead had remained on earth, would he be living in Vatican City now and writing encyclicals?

I generally find asking what Jesus would do to be unhelpful, but I seem to be edging ever closer to it anyway. Would Jesus have spent a million dollars in anonymously donated money to send out a DVD about same-sex marriage weeks before an election in which only the Republican candidate opposed same-sex marriage? 

Garry Wills was recently quoted as saying, ''I pay no attention to popes anymore—they have nothing to do with the Gospel.'' It seems a bit extreme even to me, but frequently I have a hard time figuring out exactly how the Church is representing the Jesus of the Gospels. 

Marie Rehbein
10 years 8 months ago
I have a feeling that the original Christians were not unlike today's Catholics - debating and disagreeing.  It seems to me the best response to this kind of behavior is to ignore it and keep going to church and doing good deeds; turn the other cheek and forgive seven times whatever. 

The only question I have is what is a cold Christian/Catholic in the bishop's observation?  Isn't saying don't be lukewarm different from saying be cold or hot, but not in between? 
Cody Serra
10 years 8 months ago
John Martens: I wonder if the meaning of a ''cold'' Christian in this context maybe an ''indiferent'' one...Which perhaps, may be similar to a lukewarm one who still has faith and can't adhere to the Church of these days, divided, politicized, and less pastoral.
Marie Rehbein
10 years 8 months ago
John (and Cody),

The part that puzzles me is "I wish that you were either cold or hot" rather than "I wish you were hot", because otherwise I would assume

hot = passionate about Christ
lukewarm = self-satisfied.

That would make the same point about the church in question, I think. (i.e.  kick it up a notch, Church of Laodicea)

Perhaps cold = angry with or disappointed in God.

If so, maybe that gives God something to work with in that the cold Christian may be waiting for some response from God. 

I think I would disagree with the bishop that God actually wants cold Christians based on Rev 3:15.  It would be like someone actually wanting his or her alcoholic spouse, say, to leave rather than reform, when he or she gives the ultimatum.
Marie Rehbein
10 years 8 months ago

I am going to give the matter a lot more thought before replying to any greater extent.  However, your asking whether a cold Christian remains a Christian or has turned away from their faith, made me remember that I also considered whether a cold Christian might be one who was baptised, but not taught the faith.  Obviously, if they are part of the a church being addressed, it is almost impossible for them to have avoided learning something.  So, in that case, I also see "I wish you were cold" as meaning I wish you had not even learned what you have been taught - since it will have to be unlearned.
Michelle Russell
10 years 8 months ago
John et al,
I will try to be coherent with my two boys running around behind me! 

I would like to add a thought to the "hot vs cold vs lukewarm" discussion your post has prompted.  As a teenager, my faith was very "hot", then something happened which caused me to become angry with God, and I turned completely the other way; consciously and purposefully "cold", which is something Marie had proposed in an earlier response, where "cold" Christians might be those angry or disappointed with God.  For me, this was the case.  After many years of "thawing", when I did return to God I returned with fervor, with a faith on fire.  I think in the hot vs cold, whichever way a person has gone, there is perhaps a passion that is important to Jesus.  These hot and cold Christians have made a choice, have put there foot down so to speak, and know what and why they feel the way they do.  As you mentioned, John, "then it must be that it is easier for someone who has turned away from the faith to consider it anew or in a fresh way when they are cold".  I do believe this to be the case.  My husband, is neither hot nor cold,and tends more toward the lukewarm/tepid faith.  He has become comfortable with his spirituality, and desires no change and sees no reason to reconsider his position.

Using the alcoholic example given by Marie, I suppose the lukewarm spouse is willing to maintain the status quo, is not willing to challenge the present condition...would it not be better for the alcoholic to either leave or reform?  Is the present condition, one which has become bearable and knowable, really a good place to be?  To move from lukewarm (comfortable) to either hot or cold would require some degree of courage, commitment and desire.  Perhaps this is what Jesus is looking for, knowing those who possess these qualities are those who will be the strongest fighters when they are on His "side". 

Just a thought. 
Cody Serra
10 years 8 months ago
I'm interested in the ''description'' (?) of a lukewarm Catholic. I'm wondering how do you qualify  (theologically or biblically)  the large number of Catholics who perhaps are still ''hot'' in their faith, passionate about the problems within the Roman Catholic Church, but have left, and have not joined any other denomination?. They still consider themselves Catholics, but are despondent with the internal divisions and autocratic governance of the Church.
Are they hot, cold, lukewarm, or is it needed a new word?

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