“I know your works. You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1b).
I’ve noticed over the last 10-20 years or so the revival of an interest in zombies, both in kids and adult genres of entertainment. I know there’s a popular show which I’ve never watched called The Walking Dead which employs the use of zombies in their storylines as some sort of commentary on the American condition.
What is a zombie? According to one definition, “A zombie is a fictional undead being created through the reanimation of a human corpse. Zombies are most commonly found in horror and fantasy genre works.”
What’s more horrific than watching zombies on TV go after their prey is seeing walking dead among the churches. At the end of verse one, Jesus tells the church at Sardis, “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” What a chilling statement! It’s possible for churches to look the part and act the part, but actually be spiritually dead. Vern Poythress rightly says,
The essence of a church is not its programs, buildings, past achievements, reputation, institutional greatness, or formal doctrinal correctness, but its spiritual life. This life comes only through fellowship with the living Christ, and is demonstrated through the seriousness of repentance.
It’s so easy to slide into spiritual deadness while thinking you’re spiritually spiritually alive. And it’s always easy to believe a church will always be around and go over-confident. The city of Sardis itself was situated upon a nearly inaccessible hill. The residents grew overconfident, never believing anything nor anyone could penetrate. One day, thanks to an unguarded area, a crack in the rockwall, some skillful mountain climbers took a chance and climbed at night to crush the city. As the city grew, the hill could not contain it anymore and folks began to move to neighboring cities. In 17 AD, an earthquake hit the city. Nothing is impenetrable. When John wrote this, Sardis was declining into a slow death.
But the Holy Spirit, represented by the ‘seven spirits of God’ along with the seven stars, the seven pastors who deliver the Word of God to the church, there’s always hope for a church, for individual believers, and for those who’ve never trusted in Christ to be alive in Christ. We just need to remember and repent. Remember and repent. Remember and repent. Every. Single, Day.
In what ways can the church look alive but be dead?
In perusing the pages of Scripture, we find ways that a church can look alive, but is really dead.
When we become ostriches rather than eagles.
Jesus said, “I know your works” as he had to every other church. Jesus defines our reality. He’s given us His Word to bring clarity and accountability. He gives us the Spirit to convict us when we stray and to teach us to go the right way. He goes on to tell Sardis that, “You’re in a dream state. You’re living in an unreal world created by your own false criteria of what is pleasing to God. Shake yourself and get back to reality” (Storms).
Granted, it’s a myth that ostriches bury their heads in the sand in order to hide from danger. They’d die. They bury their heads in the sand in order to turn their eggs, making it look like they do. But the expression lives: burying your head in the sand to the reality of things.
Eagles soar over the landscape with their ‘eagle’ eye seeing all that’s happening. An eagle’s vision is 4-8 times stronger than a human’s and can see a rabbit from two miles away. Proverbs says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” While some use the word ‘vision’ to mean a preferred future, this means a vision, or a word, from God. God has called us all in general, and the leaders in particular, through prayer and the Word to identify reality as God sees it, and for God to give us eyes to hear and see and not bury our heads like Hezekiah did, who knew the enemy was coming, but could still sleep at night because all that mattered was that it wouldn’t happen in his lifetime and he wouldn’t have to deal with it.
When programs mean more than people. Over 25 years of ministry, I’ve heard so many say, “Well church isn’t church unless you have _________________ going on.” Yet, Scripture says that as long as you have the preaching of the Word, prayer, celebrate the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and abide by the Great Commission and Great Commandments in making disciples, you have a church. In Mark 2:23-28,, Jesus and HIs disciples went out into the fields on the Sabbath and plucked some grain. The Pharisees came about and said, “you’re breaking the Sabbath.” They weren’t, only the Pharisee’s made-up laws about the Sabbath, which went outside of what God said. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Do we make up our own laws and add them to the non-negotiable list?
When pragmatism means more than the pages of Scripture. “If it works, do it! If it brings success, it must be right.” That’s pragmatism. How often do we look at how well people respond positively to something, then it must be right. If the numbers are robust, if books are published, if publicity comes, then what they are doing must be right because it’s getting results. If something isn’t getting results, it must be wrong. When Jesus preached the hard sermon in John 6, he went from 20,000 followers to twelve because of his teaching. Did Jesus fail? By our standard, the results aren’t there, so he must have.
When past achievements trump the present mission. All through the OT, the people of Israel lived on God’s delivering them from Egypt into the Promised Land. But they struggled with the present mission of obedience. It’s wonderful to look over the history of a church and see all that God did. Yet, our culture has changed. No longer do the generations, especially here in Denver, have an upbringing of church. It’s not on the radar. We may think, “If we just do now what we did then, things will return to the way they were.” Again, programs must never trump people. We live in 2016 and must look to the past to learn, but we can’t live there. It’s getting further away every second. We have a present mission to reach our present neighbors, not going into the future to look at past programs. If we look back, let’s look back 2000 years to the Scriptures!
When we’re more citizens of this world rather than the next. I am so brokenhearted to see how Christians are treating each other because of their political bent. More brokenhearted than the selection of choices we have is how personal it’s gotten. If a Christian hears someone is going for Trump and they are in the #NeverTrump crowd (or vice versa), then many question the legitimacy of their faith. So many forget as Christians that our citizenship is in heaven, not here primarily (Philippians 3:20-21).
How does Christ make us alive? Tune in tomorrow!