You have most likely heard people talk about a church and say, “That church is dead”.
As shocking as that sounds, we need to ask a follow up question: “What do they mean when they say a church is dead?” More often than not, the so called “dead church” is dead because the music is not contemporary or the preaching is not “fiery” or the people are not too friendly. As much as all these things need attention, they do not necessary make the church a dead church or mean the church is a dead church. Another question we need to ask is: “When it’s said a church is dead, what is actually meant?” To answer this question we need the help of God through His Word.
Rev 3:1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.”
This church has a reputation for being alive. Maybe it had upbeat music or maybe it preached what the people wanted to hear. They thought they were alive. The community thought this church was alive; that was its reputation. People would say, “Wow, that church is dynamic–come and see!” But Jesus says they are dead! What He meant was that spiritually the church was dead. The Holy Spirit was not the unseen guest. They are called to remember the gospel message, to get out of their sinful behaviour of spiritual make-belief, obey the gospel and repent. It’s awful when the world and the church thinks the church’s reputation is vibrant while Jesus looks in with disgust, warning that refusal to return to spiritual life will result in closure [end of verse 3].
What is the main reason for a church being dead–spiritually dead? Whilst George Whitefield was on an itinerant preaching tour of Salem, Marble Head, Maulden and Boston, he observed many unconverted preachers talking about what he called “an unknown and unfelt Christ.” He said to this: “The reason why congregations have been so dead is, because they had dead men preaching to them.” He went on to say: “How can dead men beget living children?” Often, what people think is life because of friendliness, high powered music and flashy dressed preachers is only showmanship. The way God determines spiritually is opposite to where they are. Like Sardis, they are spiritually dead. The lively preachers are spiritually dead. They are imitators … imposters. But then there are other churches who are dead for different reasons. Before I was saved, we attended a church. The singing was great. Good wholesome doctrinal hymns were sung. The preaching, however, angered me. I could not say why it did, but it did! I bought a modern translation of the Bible as I could not quite understand the old King James Bible my dad gave me when I was drafted into the Defense Force. I read from Genesis to Colossians. At Colossians I read and re-read the book and made copious notes. That day God convicted me of my sin and saved my soul. I then understood why the messages in that church angered me. It had nothing to do with God and His gospel. It was a politicized message. True, it was during the difficult days of apartheid, but getting politics for a sermon in place of the gospel or teaching from God’s Word is simply dead men preaching! And that is the reason that church was dead! That was the reason the Church at Sardis was dead. Dead men in the pulpit means a harvest of dead souls for the church. Living men in the pulpit means a harvest of living souls for Jesus’ Kingdom.
Jesus said in discussion with Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council:
Jn 3:10 “You are Israel’s teacher, … and do you not understand these things?”
In His day, and even in our day, there are teachers and preachers and clergy in the church that do not understand the things of God! What don’t they understand? They don’t understand that unless a man is born again [made spiritually alive], he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven … but at the same time, unless a preacher is born again he cannot preach a spiritual, pointed, provocative gospel message. The Spirit works through spiritual men. Spiritual men might not be that eloquent or fiery or articulate, but they preach to see the heart changed for good and for God!
Jonathan Edwards was a pastor during the Great Awakening in America in the 18th Century. His glasses were very thick. He held his sermon notes so close to his eyes. In his other hand he held a candle … yet thousands were saved through his preaching. Why? Because he was spiritually alive preaching spiritual truth, calling men and women to be born again … and they were! A church with spiritual life is not so because of a large building, many musicians or a great sound system. That church has life because there is life in the pulpit! The preacher is born again and as one right with God seeking to declare the message of God will engage in hours of prayer and preparation. He will seek to understand the meaning of the passage to get the meaning of the text. He will not try to entertain his people. He will declare the Truth even if he is not liked or if people are likely to respond with anger. He will cut the Word correctly, dishing such a spiritual diet that those eager for manna from heaven will open their spiritual mouths wide and feast heartily upon the juicy meat God provides through His faithful servant. When the message excites the heart of the preacher, it will excite the hearts of the hearers, and God will own that message with His seal of spiritual blessings.
Dear God, help me to prepare myself for every time I listen to Your Word. Help all men You have called to preach to spend time in the Word and in Prayer so that they might be able to bring spiritual food to Your church each Sunday. Lord, set your church alight with spiritual truth so that many will be saved for Jesus’ Kingdom. Amen.