God is saying to the Church, “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.”
God spoke to me recently specifically over the state of the Church through the Church in Sardis (Rev 3). Jesus’ message to seven first century local churches in western Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) was to challenge, warn, and build up believers and churches throughout church history, even in this age of Covid-19. Jesus’ message suggest that ‘without proper precaution, churches will slowly go their own way, accept false teaching and adapt to the evil practices and anti-God elements of the world’ (Gal 5:17). Beloved, it is possible for a church to have a perfect orthodoxy and death. Sardian church lacked a living loyalty and love to the real, living Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ. A living Church loves faithfulness and ‘loyalty to the Lord Jesus who died for it, and feels that goodness and holiness are grandest thing in the world.’
Like the Sardian church, it is possible for a church established through a man’s vision to reach out with a mission, becomes a movement and end up a monument. Christians in Sardis might have looked spiritually mature on the outside, but they were dying on the inside. The messages for such churches today includes: revelation of what Jesus Christ himself loves and values in his churches as well as what he hates and condemns. The church in Sardis had taken on the character of the city in which she resided. Jesus condemns such a church for ‘neglecting or abandoning true Biblical faith, ,,, becoming spiritually dead or lukewarm … substituting outward success and prosperity,’ and tolerating immoral practices.
“Name” in this context is used in the common sense of character or reputation. Name is very prophetic bearing in mind there is meaning behind it. The Church in Sardis in western Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) had a name for Christianity, but there was no Christianity in it. The Church in Sardis had a reputation of being active, for piety but, was a corpse, no growth but decay. Sardis was infested and infected with sin, its deeds were evil and its garment soiled. The Church in Sardis looked good on the outside but was corrupt on the inside. The faith of the leadership and of the Sardian Church had sunk into a superficial with the improvement upon the life of the sensual and idolatrous people. T Sardian church had adopted the atmosphere of the city by becoming ‘a thermometer that registered the temperature of the city instead of a thermostat that changed the temperature of the city.’
The Sardian Church learnt so much that they abandoned the basic truths about Jesus, hence they were urged to hold on to the Christian truth they had heard when they first believed in Christ, to get back to the basics of the faith. The reflection for us today is that, it is ‘easy to grow satisfied with the reputation, and to forget to keep open the channels through which grace and life could flow.’ Indeed, ‘self-satisfaction, which springs up when a certain reputation has been acquired, is the very road to self-deception’ and decline.
The church in Sardis seemed to be effective ministries and a dynamic form of worship, but not the true purity and power of the Holy Spirit. The reputation of the Sardian church may have fooled a lot of people, but Jesus saw the inner lives and hearts of the people. However, throughout church history, there have always been a few members remaining faithful, devoted to Christ and committed to his original message as passed on through his faithful messengers throughout the Bible (2 Cor 11:2; Isa 11:11; Jer 23:3; Zep 3:13).
If we truly examine our hearts and the life of our churches like the Sardian church, the words of Denis Lyle would reveal our true situation. Denis said, “Tragically, many churches are dead. Like the rotting carcass of Lazarus, these church bodies have the foul stench of death upon them. They have the appearance of life, but they are in actuality, dead. Their sanctuary is a morgue with a steeple …’ The good news for the Sardian church and for the Church today is that not all is lost. Christ in us is the hope of glory, hence there is still hope for any Sardian churches of today if we can repent and get back to our first love. There is need to ‘be watchful’ and arise from our state of spiritual slumber and pride. To be watchful is to come before God in humility and prayer just as Apostle Paul prays his prayer from his knees as a sign of humility (Eph 3:14). The reflection is that when pride walks in God walks out and when God walks in pride walks out. The life of a healthy Church is loving loyalty to Jesus Christ, ‘present more or less in the actual human heart of all the members; an inner, hidden thing. The life of a Church is the living, real presence of Jesus Christ as a daily influence on the conduct, the thoughts, the words, the deeds of all the members of that Church. The life of a Church is the living presence of Jesus Christ in every committee of management, in every meeting of Sunday-school teachers, in every social gathering of the congregation; a living loyalty and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, born out of a grateful certainty that He died to save us, born out of a grand sympathy with Him, and under the belief that He is willing to save all the men and women and all the little children who are round about us.’ Jesus’ word to the Sardian church stand as a timeless warning to all churches, in all locations, throughout all time. The hope of the church with name but dead is to be more concerned with pleasing God than pleasing men and the world of ‘a chronic sacred-secular dualism’ that ‘readily confuse discipleship with therapy.’ The hope of the church with name but dead is to reclaim its conviction that the Bible is the Word of God.