An Autopsy of a Dead Church
Southern Baptist Convention – started in Augusta, Georgia – Church now an abandoned building, what happened? Not sure – but if you ride the streets of our city you see many facilities who fate might be the same. Seems as if church is losing its relevance and power. How do we reverse the trend?
· Before Rome took control of city – Sardis a great city. Capital of Kingdom of Lydia.
· Known for its wealth – gold discovered in this city – very prestigious – beautiful buildings.
· Overtaken twice – by Alexander the Great and Antiochus the Great
· 17 AD destroyed by earthquake. Emperor Tiberius funded rebuilding but city never regained its former glory. The glory of Sardis was in its past – it’s best days were behind her.
· The church in Sardis had seen better days as well. The church had taken on the character of the city – hoping its past glory would be enough to sustain it. The church had lost its Gospel effectiveness.
· “The words of him who has the seven spirits of God” Not seven literal spirits but fullness. Jesus full of the Spirit and able to see to the church’s heart. The church is able to fool everyone else, but the church can’t fool Jesus.
· How does a church die? An important question to ask when so many on the verge of death.
1. A church dies when the people forget whose they are.
· Notice: this is the shortest letter to any of the churches, first church Jesus does not commend the church in any way.
· Instead, Jesus drops a truth bomb on Sardis. “You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Dead? That’s harsh. Apparently, at one time the church of Sardis thrived and people knew it. But, no longer. Church completely lost its Gospel effectiveness. (Maybe people think that about you – you have a reputation of being alive - but you know better – you’re not alive…)
· Notice what’s missing in this letter. The church isn’t experiencing any persecution. Pergamum experienced persecution, and endured. The other churches experienced persecution, and false teachers rose up in the churches seducing the churches to give in to the culture around them.
· In Sardis, no mention of persecution or false teachers. Why? They ceased to live out their faith. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted… (2 Timothy 3:12)
· Sardis wasn’t an easy city for Christians to live in. Emperor worship was prominent, so was the worship of pagan gods. A massive temple to Artemis that rivaled the temple of Artemis in Ephesus had been built.
· The church had stopped confessing Christ publically and boldly possibly because it had become so immersed in the culture that the members of the body had completely lost their distinctiveness.
· They forgot their identity; forgot whose they were.
· A dead church is a church that has had an identity crisis – a dead church quits living for and talking about Jesus.
· A dead church is a church where Jesus and His mission just aren’t important. Tradition may be, living for self-indulgence may be, hearing a positive message may be, but Jesus isn’t. A dead church has forgotten that Jesus is in charge. (Hudson – Next time don’t cook what I don’t like – He’s forgotten who he belongs to – he thinks he knows best.)
· Heed the warning! May we never be a church that has an identity crisis – may we know that we belong to the One who gave His life for us. May culture never have such a strong hold on us that we stop living for Him and stop confessing Him.
2. A church dies when purpose is lost.
· Since there wasn’t a sense of identity – there was a lack of purpose.
Pastor’s Panel Discussion – “Why are you here?” I have no idea… The moment we forget whose we are is the moment we forget why we are here is the moment we lose our effectiveness as individuals and as a church.
· When you’ve forgotten whose you are, you’ll lose sight of your purpose – the reason why He created you and saved you.
· You’ve been a part of churches that have lost their sense of direction and purpose. What characterizes a church or a person who has lost their purpose?
o Inwardly focused – what can the church do for me? Little to no mission…
o No sacrifice – ministry on my schedule
o No urgency – rather, complacency – no crying out to God
· Ill. – Dropping everything to get a new phone – why? I have to stay connected – What if that was our attitude in our walk with the Lord? I have to stay connected to His purpose.
3. A church dies when fear takes over.
· This church could have died because it completely immersed itself into a pagan culture, or because it completely retreated from a pagan culture.
· A large Jewish population in Sardis – the largest Jewish synagogue outside of Israel discovered in Sardis – it could hold over 1,000 people.
· Jews were protected by the Roman govt. They could worship Yahweh without experiencing persecution.
· Maybe the believers in Sardis didn’t immerse themselves in culture, but simply got scared. Maybe they lived faithfully and discovered that persecution was coming their way, so they quit talking about Jesus. Maybe they hid among the Jews and simply quit confessing Christ. As a result, they weren’t persecuted by the Romans or the Jews. They let fear take over.
· Could it be in this room that some of us are silent about our faith because we’re scared? Scared we might not get that promotion if we talk about Jesus on the job? Scared we might lose some friends if we share the Gospel with them? Scared we might be called bigoted if we take a stand for our convictions? Some of us are even embarrassed about our relationship with Jesus. So, we hide – we live as undercover Christians – only talking about our faith when we gather in a church facility. Or, we fear what God might call us to if we walk with Him. How many churches are simply scared to step in faith and live for Him?
· When we lose our sense of identity – that we belong to Jesus – the One who died for us and lives in us – we will lose our purpose and we will live in fear.
How do we experience personal and corporate revitalization?
1. Open your eyes to the reality of your own spiritual condition.
· Wake up! Strengthen what remains – you’re not done yet – still hope for you.
· You need to wake up – take an honest evaluation – are you spiritually sleeping? Works not complete – you may have fooled other and even yourself, but not God.
· Do a self-diagnosis to see if you’re spiritually sleeping:
o Is your time with the Lord more consistent than it was this time last year?
o Are you more passionate about sharing your faith?
o Do you delight in God more than in the past?
o Do you crave relationships that help you grow in Christ?
o Are you actively seeking to obey what God tells you?
2. Remember why God has saved you and why He created the church.
· Jesus tells church to remember what they had received and heard – Christ and His mission.
· Remembering leads to repentance (theme in seven churches) because remembering helps us to see how we have drifted.
· God saved you to know Him and make Him known.
· We exist to change the world through the power of the Spirit. Look at the needs around us – a community that God has placed us here to reach. Look at the needs inside the church – hundreds of people that need to be mentored in the faith and equipped for ministry.
3.Understand the consequence of staying asleep.
· Jesus comes like a thief in the night. Just like surprise attacks were launched on Sardis, Jesus will launch a surprise attack on the church and it will cease to exist.
· Hear the warning – if we slumber – if we get comfortable and complacent – we will die – cease to be effective.
· We are only a couple of generations from Northwood ceasing to exist. This church may not be here for your grandchildren.
· Ending: Some who were not asleep. Had not soiled their garments. (How’s that for imagery?) In other words, for those who stay awake, there is a white garment. There is victory! There’s complete assurance that if you confess Christ before men, He will confess you before the Father as His. Repent of slumbering.
· Maybe this morning you are not spiritually asleep. You are spiritually dead. Maybe you’ve never been awakened by Jesus. He’s calling you today. He’s calling you to experience life. He calling you to cross over from death to life. Believe the Gospel. The God of all creation stepped into His creation for you. The Son of God, Jesus, fully human and fully divine, lived the life you could not live, went to the cross, paid the penalty for your sin in His substitutionary death and rose three days later so you could be forgiven of your sins and so you might receive the righteousness of Christ. You are declared innocent and given true life! Repent and turn to Him in surrender.