The Church is Dead
What is your reaction to the normal news stories of our day?
I don’t know about you, but I get a pit in my stomach almost every day when I read about what is going on in the world. Consider these two recent stories in the news.
The first comes from the University of Michigan. Muslim, Middle Eastern, and North African (MENA) students at the University of Michigan were successful in their mission to cancel a campus screening of “American Sniper” – claiming the film promotes anti-Muslim rhetoric and made them feel unsafe.
The university had planned to show the critically acclaimed film about the life of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle on Friday. Instead, students were to be treated to “Paddington” — a PG rated flick based on the children’s book about a stuffed Teddy bear.
“Watching this movie is provocative and unsafe to MENA and Muslim students who are too often reminded of how little the media and world value their lives,” the students wrote in their letter. Fortunately, the University did a complete reversal of their original decision and showed the movie.
Now, consider the second story. The Somali terror group al-Shabaab threatened to launch more bloody attacks on Kenya after its militants killed 147 students in a targeted attack on Christians at Garissa University College.
“No amount of precaution or safety measures will be able to guarantee your safety, thwart another attack or prevent another bloodbath from occurring in your cities,” the group said in an emailed statement.
The al-Qaeda-affiliated group called it a long and gruesome war with Kenya, saying its cities will “run red with blood.” Of course, the blood is that of innocent Christian students.
What do we notice about these two stories?
First, we notice that the Muslim students at the University of Michigan had the freedom to voice their opinion, to change public opinion at to (at least for the short-term), and to impact institutional decisions. We notice in Kenya that if you profess Christ, you will be executed.
Second, we notice that those committed to Islam are taking a stand regarding their faith. Those in the Kenya also stood by their faith. The Islam students were allowed to live; the Kenyan students were not.
So, where is the Church in all of this? Christians should be appalled. In our country, where we have freedom of speech, we should be standing up for what is true. Instead, the Church in our country is allowing our country to abandon the moral and ethical basis of Christianity. The US can no longer be considered a Christian nation, but neither is it Islamic. Professing Muslims are a minority in our country; yet, they are very vocal group that is affecting the laws of our country.
Again, where is the Church?
Perhaps the Church in America is following the way of the Church in Sardis. We have spent the past few weeks looking at the seven churches addressed by Jesus in Chapters 2 and 3 of the Revelation. This week we will look at the church of Sardis.
The Corrupt Church: Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6)
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’ (Revelation 3:1–6, NKJV)
Sardis was an important city in the Roman province of Asia. It was once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia. It was a cultural, religious, and commercial center for the region. The city became legendary for its wealth circa 560-547 B.C. Sardis had a reputation for being a progressive and leading city. Sardis means “those escaping” or “those who live.” Thus, Jesus’ fifth letter is written to the church that must escape the cultural trends of the times.
The church according to the Historic-Prophetic Interpretation seems to represent the church of the Reformation. As we saw in the previous post, the Catholic Church had introduced some 10 false doctrines into the Church; these false doctrines ultimately led to idolatry and spiritual fornication within the church.
The church in Sardis has a reputation for being good, but in reality, it is dead. Like so many churches today, they put on a facade of spirituality but it is but a false wall.
Now Jesus is calling for a complete transformation of the church because of the apostasy brought about following the rise of the Roman Catholic Church.
The church in Sardis did not receive a direct commendation. Jesus did, however, present a commendation to the few in their fellowship “who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy” (Rev 3:4). These are the ones who have exercised faith and do have spiritual life.
They have overcome the deadness of the church. These overcomers do not represent the general nature of the church; they are the remnant of true Christianity.
The church in Sardis has a reputation for being alive—you have a name that you are alive. But in actuality, they are dead. This is a valid description of the church of the Reformation as it developed—the churches of that day had a name that lived. Many of the doctrinal errors propagated by the Roman Catholic Church were corrected during the reformation. The churches that developed during the Reformation era had good creeds and solid biblical doctrine—for the most part.
Nevertheless, they were dead—they lacked spiritual vitality. The churches of the Reformation failed to rectify the basic problem of the Church. That basic problem was the unity of church and state.
After the Reformed churches broke from the Roman Catholic Church, they proceeded to become state churches as well. This problem happened in Germany and Scandinavia where the state church became Lutheran. In England, the state church became the Anglican Church (the Church of England). In Scotland, the Presbyterian Church became the state sponsored church.
Since the Reformation failed to correct the base problem of church and state unity, it eventually became a dead church. What corrupted the church of Pergamum also corrupted the church of Sardis.
Children who were born in a given locality were simply baptized into the church (and the state). Personal faith had little or nothing to do with membership in the church. As a result, church membership was more and more composed of unbelievers.
These churches had good creeds so they appeared to be living churches. Their doctrine appeared to be sound (except for their insistence for Replacement Theology—transferring the promises directed for Israel to the New Testament Church). But these churches lacked personal faith—they are composed of people who are spiritually dead.
The exhortation to the church of Sardis is found in verses 2-3— Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.”
They are told, in essence, to wake up. They are to strengthen what remains. Jesus is calling on churches that appear to be alive but are dead to go back to their spiritual life. They need to rediscover the sound doctrines of the Bible. Spiritual life is impossible without sound doctrine. However, sound doctrine without spiritual life is dead. Both are necessary.
Dead churches will be surprised when the Messiah returns for His Bride—the Church. A church with spiritual life will not be surprised when the Messiah returns. Since most of those in the dead churches are unbelievers, they will be left behind when Jesus brings His Bride to be with Him where He is (John 14:1-4).
A threefold promise is given to the overcomers of the church in Sardis.
- They will have white garments—a symbol of salvation.
- Their names will not be blotted out of the book of life—their salvation is eternally secure.
- The believer will be confessed by Jesus before [the] father and before His angels.
We still, during our day and age, struggle with the results of the Reformation. Many think that the Reformation was perfect and the church is now alive. But that is not true. The church in our country may look alive, but it quickly dying—perhaps it is dead in many respects.
The reformation did not go far enough in its separation from the Roman Catholic Church. The issue of state-run churches was not overcome. The role of Israel in God’s plans has been negated by replacement theology. Reformed churches continue to hold to a “works salvation.” They teach that only by persevering through works can your salvation be proven.
Because of these issues, the church in America is dead. We are not spiritually driven. We do not stand up for the truth of the Bible. We allow our free speech rights to be taken away. It is now time to stand up for the truth of the Bible. We don’t need to be pushed around by an unbelieving world.
Those 147 students who were killed by the followers of Islam were given an opportunity to reject their faith in Christ. They stood firm in their commitment to Christ. I am afraid that we in this country would have little trouble rejecting Christ to save our lives or our jobs or our standing in the community. It just isn’t that important.
Consider this statement by an intern missionary in Kenya at the time of the attack in Garissa.
“I’ve been in Kenya on internship since January and will return stateside at the end of June…
I’m uncertain how much of it is covered in the American news, but there was a recent terrorist attack in Garissa, Kenya that took the lives of 147 students. We were actually going to head up there today to spend Easter weekend with other team members, but had to cancel. Thank God, we are all safe. Just praying for the families of those involved. We hear about these kind of attacks frequently, but it’s almost surreal to be so close to it. It inevitably raises the question: How seriously do I hold my faith in Jesus?
Learning a lot here. I hope you have a wonderful Easter weekend as we remember what Jesus has done for us. He is worth it all!”
How seriously do you hold your faith in Jesus?
Is Jesus worthy enough for you to give your all in His service?