Revelation 3:1–6. Sardis. A Dead Church.
Key Notes: Stirring a moribund church. Some causes of a dysfunctional, dying church. Signs of life in the Church.
The city of Sardis was in decline. It had been rich and had become lazy and degenerate. The church was also practically dead. Towns and cities have reputations, and often the church is influenced by its environment. A vibrant church in a dead city would be a surprise.
3:1 Christ is shown with the seven stars (the seven messengers of the churches) and the seven-fold Holy Spirit--Whom this church sorely needs.
3:2 The church has a reputation for its activity, but it is dead.
3:3 Its works are not completed.
There were four admonitions:
•Wake up. The church is dead because the members are sleeping.
•Strengthen what remains. The embers have not entirely died out. If you push the coals together and add fresh fuel and forced air, the fire can be reignited. One person on fire for God can have a remarkable effect on the group.
•Remember what you have received. There is a basis for continuing the work because the basic messages have been delivered.
•Repent. The root problem of the church is sin. Almost all church problems are spiritual problems.
•Those who have not been soiled by sin will walk with Him in white. "Fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints." Rev.19:8
•The over-comer will have his name retained in the Book of Life. Jesus will confess him before the Father and the angels.
Is this dead church due to dead people? "Dead through our trespasses" (Eph.2:5) characterizes those who are outside the Kingdom. But the admonitions to wake up, strengthen what remains, and remember what you have received imply a group that has had spiritual life and has lost its vitality. So while there are dead churches because they are full of people who never were Christians, that does not appear to be the case with Sardis.
How does a church die?
•Weak preaching leading to a loss of vision.
•Spreading distrust, bitterness (Heb.12:15), or apostasy.
•Exhaustion from infighting and power struggles. A strong member can oppose every pastor who comes to serve and paralyze him. The congregation then is split between the two leaders and becomes ineffective.
•Contact inhibition. A domineering clique of people may prevent the congregation from having any active role or opportunity for growth. If two or three people do all the work, the rest suffer from inactivity and low morale. Professionalization of a church is a danger.
Marks of a live church.
•They know their Lord and King. They are becoming like Christ. They are filled with the Holy Spirit.
•They know the doctrines of the faith. They love Scripture and it is well-taught.
•They go out to evangelize.
•They practice the disciplines of the Christian community. They love and care for one another and minister to the poor.
"The difference between a dying congregation and one that is throbbing with life is the element of hope." (Beating the Church-Going Blahs. Henderson. IVP.)
Current events suggest Church vitality world-wide.
•Missions has expanded over the past 150 years. We have had missionaries before, but sending thousands of Christians overseas to Asia and Africa is a phenomenon of the post-WWII generation. Wycliffe's goal is to translate Scripture into every tongue. Then number of people-groups with the New Testament in their language is approaching 1200.
•Personal evangelism. "Fulfill the Great Commission in Our Generation" is Campus Crusade's motto. Alpha groups, Jews for Jesus, and International Students Inc. are some specialized outreaches.
•Church renewal movement. It takes many forms. Small groups that meet in mainline churches for evangelism, mutual support, and prayer is one dimension.
•Church growth movement. Ralph Winter researched the growing church and taught us how to promote church growth. Megachurches (attendance >1000) are a relatively new phenomenon. The largest church is in Seoul, S. Korea, and has over a hundred thousand members. In’55 there were 2–4 tiny evangelical churches in Madison, Wisconsin. In 2000 there were more than 25 and 3–4 were evangelical megachurches--something unheard of 20 years ago.
•Charismatic movement. It has won converts even in mainline churches so that Anglicans priests are holding healing services. Large numbers have been converted in S. America and Africa by charismatic groups. The Vineyard movement has been influential.
•Music revival. Hymn-books are replaced by new, upbeat rock music that has taken over in many churches. The new music centers on worship (God-focus) whereas the older hymns emphasized testimony (Church or Person -focus).
•Emphasis on the family ("Focus on the Family") and the responsibility of husbands and father ("Promise-keepers") is a response to the social disintegration of modern life.
•Bible study. Bible study is the most common form of lay ministry. Evangelical scholarship is providing excellent commentaries, dictionaries, theologies and devotional materials.
•Lay leadership. "Equipping the saints for the work of the ministry" is a relatively new idea and has freed up many gifted but unschooled people to work in and around the churches.
•Parachurch ministries. Mission boards, charities, youth movements, Sunday Schools, etc have been going on for many years, but focused outreaches to university campuses (Campus Crusade, Intervarsity, Navigators) was revitalized 50 years ago.
•" About 34% of Americans claim to have received Christ as Savior.
In spite of this ferment, the culture of the United States continues to deteriorate. One interpretation is that "you have a name of being alive, but you are dead." In other words, there is a lot of activity, but little evidence of change in the behavior of so-called "born-again" people. For example, it is estimated that 40% of those who have made a profession of faith do not go to church. A year after Billy Graham's crusades, less then ten percent of the responders could be accounted for. A truly godly 30% of the population would be enough to make major changes in the moral life of the Country.
May God bring a thorough awakening to us.