3-23-24:How Does A Church Die?

“You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Revelation 3:2

We read of the dead church at Sardis and wonder how that can happen. What causes a church to die? Whatever it is, it appears to
be happening in North America on an increasingly rapid rate. The Pew Research Center reported that American adults who identified as Christians dropped 12 percentage points in the last decade. Fuller
Theological Seminary professor Scott Cormode, reports that American culture is rapidly changing but the North American church hasn’t kept up with people’s changing needs. Perhaps that gives us insight into why dead churches litter the landscape. (Or maybe it tells us churches try to give what people want instead of what they need.)
There are two major reasons why churches die. First Satan counterfeits the Lord’s true church. He starts a new religion, calls is by the name of Christ and pawns it off on society as what Christianity is supposed to be. This ”church” is dead but it was never truly alive.
What about true churches of Christ, ones that start off on fire for the Lord, have a vision to serve God and reach their community for Him? Why do they die? We get a picture of the death process as we look at the churches that have preceded the church at Sardis. The Lord shows us first the church at Ephesus. It was on fire for the Lord. It was strong in its doctrinal purity and in its preaching. Over time, however, a problem occurs. The church began relying on its own strength. People go to church and volunteer for ministries, and give their money; they might even show up for prayer meeting. Something happens so that people have quit placing Christ in the center of their lives. This is not seen by the human eye. They work for Christ like an employer instead of letting Christ’s life work through them. Christ’s strength, which comes from abiding in Him, is replaced by their own will and effort – they determine what they want to do and then ask the Lord to bless what they have already determined. The Lord moves to second place in their loves and in their ministry but the people never sense their loss.
We go to the church at Pergamum. The church remains true to the Lord and does not renounce its faith in Him. Some are added to the church who want to be like the world. Instead of seeking God’s direction there is pressure to appeal to the world, to copy its program and activities. The church is influenced by the world (like Balaam) which tells God’s people of God come sin is acceptable. There is pressure inside the church to modify its doctrine to be acceptable and relevant to the culture. Doctrinal purity diminishes which allows people to question God and His standards even more deeply – “these things God says are old-fashioned”
The Lord then tells us of the church at Thyatira. A lot of works are still being done and the church is still talks of love and faith but the sins of the world are now inside the church. This misleads others so they accept these sins which God condemns. As sin moves inside the church all power from Christ is diminished. Those who are lukewarm become cold and and those who are hot become lukewarm. The church moves toward its “death rattles”.
What can we learn? A true church of God does not die over night. It occurs as the church drifts away from Christ.
First it drifts away from spending time with Him, then it drifts from doctrinal purity, then it does not separate itself from sin. The outreach to the world in now fun activities not doctrinal purity. Soon the church
provides the culture what it wants instead of what Christ commands. When this happens, God’s power is gone and one cannot tell the difference between the church and the world.