The Dead Church: Is the Church Dying?
Study Posted on November 1, 2023
Focus Scripture: Revelation 2:12-17
Key Verse: Revelation 2:14-15
Table of Contents
2. The Bringer of the Divine Truth
3. The Harsh Truth for the Church in Sardis
– Faith without works
– Dead in faith, alive in religion
– A call to wake up in active faith 4. Is Today’s Church Dead?
– A very sad reality with one bright spot
Watch & Listen
Over the past month, we have been taking a look at the seven churches that Jesus spoke to in the book of Revelation. As we have seen, each church represents the collective Church, and so far, the picture that has been painted is one where the Church has much room for growth.
In this week’s study, we’re going to study about the church in Sardis as it paints a picture of great importance to today’s church. The issue that will be brought up in this study will raise a question about religion, sincere faith, and the Holy Spirit.
The Bringer of the Divine Truth
Our study opens once again with Jesus having a message sent to the angel (messenger) of a church. In our previous study, we saw Jesus present Himself as the Judge of all and this week, we see Jesus present Himself as the one that has the seven Spirits of God (Rev. 3:1). Now, what does this mean?
Jesus has presented Himself before as having the seven Spirits before His throne in Revelation 1:4. The “seven Spirits of God” refers to the Holy Spirit. The fact that Jesus is speaking about the Holy Spirit in the opening of His greeting to the church in Sardis speaks to the importance that the Spirit plays in our study this week.
With that in mind, let’s speak to the significance and the role that the Holy Spirit plays in our lives today. Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit to His disciples after His death, resurrection, and ascension (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit is received by all of those that sincerely believe and guides us into all truth — the divine truth (John 16:13).
So, considering that the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth, and with Jesus saying to the church in Sardis that has the Holy Spirit, we should understand that He was bringing the divine truth to this church. We should also remember that Jesus is the light of the world, which means that He reveals the divine truth. The truth that Jesus would reveal to this church would not be subjective or objective – it would be absolute and divine.
The Harsh Truth for the Church in Sardis
So, what does Jesus have to say to this church? As we have seen with the other churches, Jesus knew their works; He commended the church for having a name that was alive. Let’s take a moment to dive into what this portion of the verse meant because it’s very important.
The name speaks to the reputation of this church. So, the reputation of the church in Sardis was alive in that people knew of it. Was this a good thing or a bad thing?
Let’s note that we don’t see Jesus commend this church about anything else other than having a name. This is very interesting because Jesus commended the other four churches for quite a few things. Ephesus was commended for its labor and Smyrna was commended for being steadfast during tribulation.
Even the churches in Pergamos and Thyatira, where one was beginning to compromise its faith while the other was corrupted, was greatly commended by Jesus. Jesus commended those in Pergamos for not denying His name while Thyatira was commended for its love, service, faith, patience, and works. So, it says a great deal about the church in Sardis that Jesus commended that it had a name but nothing else.
Faith without works
Though the church had a name, Jesus said that the church was dead. So what does this actually mean that the church had a name but the church was dead?
I think about local churches today and how many of them are known by their name. Honestly, I know the name of my church is nowhere close to being known by those even in the local area; we are very small. I think about my home church and I would say that it does have a name in its area. With that being said, does it really matter if a church has a name or not?
For some, it is very important for a church to have a name. In fact, some will not even attend a church unless the church is well known and the pastor is well known. Is this what is most important?
Some will suggest that the works of the church is what matters. Is this true? I do believe the works of the church are of the utmost importance, but we have to consider the kind of works that’s being done, right? What are the works of that church?
Some of us will consider that the church should help its community. For example, since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, some will consider that the church should be of great charity around this time of year. The church should be handing out food boxes and helping to feed and care for the poor. However, I feel I must ask, what about those churches that don’t have the capabilities of doing these types of works? Are those churches dead in their works?
James spoke to the importance of works when he tied both works and faith together. James stated, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (Jas. 2:17).” James also stated, “for as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (Jas. 1:26).” Ultimately, what James was saying is that it is not enough to simply profess your faith, but that your faith must move.
Faith, I would tell you, certainly should be active as that says a lot about your spirit and the Holy Spirit abiding with you; the Holy Spirit is always active and never sits still with us. Again, the role of the Holy Spirit is to guide us into living a holy and righteous life. Through Paul’s teachings, we learn that the Holy Spirit is always working within us, renewing our spirit, so that we are not conformed to this world (Rom. 12:2).
Through the Holy Spirit, the sincere believer receives gifts from the Lord to put to use (Rom. 12:6-8). The gift giving of the Holy Spirit is shown to us on the day of Pentecost, when the apostles received the Holy Spirit and preached the good news (Acts 2:1-4, 38-39). You and I receive these gifts from the Holy Spirit to the profit of all of those around us – to uplift them in their soul (1 Cor. 12:4-11).
Now, to be very clear about this, there are more ways than one way to do the works of faith; it does not always have to be giving out money or food. To the Galatians, Paul stated that believer should produce the fruits of the Spirit through their works. Paul wrote that the fruits we bear are love, joy, peace, longsuffering (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).
The works of the church includes opening its doors to all people for the intended purpose of uplifting souls through the ministering of the Spirit. The ministering of the Spirit can also be done through the teaching of scripture and the preaching of the good news to edify (educate) those who enter in. The ministering of the Spirit is also done through the sharing of one’s testimony.
If you ever take a look at the earlier church, as shown throughout Acts, the early church didn’t have much physical wealth to be able to share. However, what the early church did have to share is what all believers have to share today – the gospel of Christ. We can, again, minister through preaching, teaching, our personal testimony, and through prayer.
Dead in faith, alive in religion
So, of the works for the church in Sardis, Jesus said, “I have not found your works perfect before God (Rev. 3:2).” Why would the works of this church not be perfect? Are your works perfect? Are the works of churches today perfect? I think we would probably all respond with a shake of the head no. That being said, if we consider the other churches we have studied about in this season, what is most important is that the church, the believer, is actually striving towards the mark of being holy and righteous!
Why would the works of this church be found to not be heading towards the mark of holiness and righteousness? The answer to this question is that whatever works were being done by this church were not being done through the Holy Spirit. As we know, when you are attentive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the Spirit will lead you unto what is holy and righteous.
The church in Sardis suffered from not being attentive to the Holy Spirit. So, whatever works were being done by this church was dead in faith in the Lord because the church was not heeding the Spirit. This church was suffering a great deal from what the collective Church suffers from today — religion. Religion, in my definition of religion, is the mechanical and heartless actions taken by one who believe those actions will please the Lord.
Something that is truly sad is that there are many within the church today that don’t even realize the problem with religion in comparison to sincere faith. For example, those of religion will go to church, not because they want to be there, but because they believe they have to be there as their presence will please God. In another example, those of religion will only care for the poor and perform charity because they believe that will please the Lord, rather than simply loving their neighbor out of sincerity.
This may be confusing to some of us but let us consider Paul’s words to the Corinthians when he wrote, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work (2 Cor. 9:6-8).”
God, I want you to understand, desires cheerfulness in faith and not dull, lethargic, and lifeless faith. The church in Sardis was dead in the cheerfulness of faith which led to their works not striving to being perfect. This was a church that needed to wake up from its spiritual slumber and work the works of the Lord. The works of the Lord, we must remember, is to believe in Him whom the Father sent (John 6:28-29).
A call to wake up in active faith
So, the church in Sardis was a church that needed to wake up out of its spiritual slumber; they had religion but they weren’t profiting those around them in the spirit. Jesus said to this church, “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. (Rev. 3:3).”
What was it that they had received? They had received the word of God, right? The only way that they could believe in the Lord is through the receiving of the word. What else have we received through our faith? As I said earlier, we have received the Holy Spirit through our faith as well.
Now, there is something else that all believers have received from the Lord as well, do you know what that is? Christ commissioned all who would follow Him to baptize all people in the good news of the gospel (Matt. 28:19-20). As I said earlier, we are to minister the good news to all people.
Sadly, many are ministering everything but the gospel of God. Some are ministering worldly prosperity rather than spiritual prosperity. Some are ministering to lusts, covetousness, and great gain rather than the selfless love of uplifting others.. Others are ministering out of bitterness, anger, and hatred rather than out of loving those that hate you, persecute you, and spitefully use you.
What do you suppose happens when a message of love is ministered by one part of the body of Christ but the other ministers anger, hatred, and selfishness through their actions? Much confusion. Confusion is no good and can (does) mislead.
Is Today’s Church Dead?
The message to the church in Sardis really highlights the difference between religion and sincere faith. As Jesus said in His closing, those who walk by faith will one day be clothed in white and the name of these faithful believers will be found in the Book of Life (Rev. 3:4-5).
Jesus’ message to this church makes me consider the condition of today’s church: Is the Church alive or is the dying? What do you think?
A very sad reality with one bright spot
Sadly, we are starting to see many local churches closing their doors. Is that because those churches are dead? Not necessarily. The local church has simply grown older and many of the elders of the local church are passing on from this physical world to rest with the Lord. The aging of the local church has revealed a very noticeable issues: the vanishing away of the younger generations.
I would say to you that “Gen X” and us “Millennials” should now be the torch bearers of Christ, but sadly, that is not the case as many of my generation aren’t present in the local church. Now, with these things being, we are starting to see more people worship the Lord differently. For example, you’re able to do bible study with me without being in my physical presence, though, I would say that I am with you spiritually as we are, in a manner of speaking, going over this study together.
I do believe that one day the smaller church congregations will be a thing lost in time. However, I do want to point out what I said to start off this season: the local church building is not the Church. The Church resides in all of those that sincerely follow Christ.
You see, in the early days of the local church, when believers gathered together to learn and worship the Lord, they did so wherever they could; whether it was in homes, on a hill, in a valley, or some other common place, they would worship wherever they decided to meet. So, while local church buildings may close, there will always be sincere believers in the world. Jesus said, “where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them (Matt. 18:20).”
The Lord will always be with those who are of sincere faith, which means that the true Church of God, will never die. So, no matter what, I encourage all of you to keep moving in sincere faith. If your faith has turned into mechanical religion, I encourage you to look to those who move with sincere faith as an example to follow so that your faith can wake up in your soul. If your faith is lifeless, I encourage you to heed the voice of the Holy Spirit’s guidance and He shall renew your soul (Is. 40:31).