And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul's message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. - Acts 17: 11 (NLT)
"Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars: "I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive--but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don't wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief. - Revelation 3: 1-3 (NLT)
The poor state of the church is nothing new. The Revelation of Jesus Christ to the Apostle John begins with seven letters to seven major churches of that time and in the vast majority of them - Jesus is less than pleased. I can only imagine what He thinks now when He surveys the church landscape in these last days. Seeing hucksters bilking the poor out of their money in His Name. Seeing new age, motivational philosophy and self help replace the solid Biblical theology He has left us. Seeing seeker friendly, purpose driven, man centered teachings supplant the Word of God. Seeing salvation without repentance, salvation without regeneration, and salvation reduced down to a Mickey Mouse three sentence prayer. Hallelujah - pass the offering plate and plug em into ministry!
To have to endure while preachers in thousand dollar suits sell earthly prosperity to people without enough food to feed their families. To have to endure while so called Christian leaders live lives in direct opposition to Biblical principles. To see service times cut down to the point that the church operates under a fast food mentality. You can always have it your way! Special orders don't upset us! Here is your happy meal of theology today - God loves you and has a great plan for your life and if anyone tells you any different they are just a legalistic Pharisee spreading disunity! After all this is about your best life now and there are seven steps to a better you and five keys to living an extraordinary life! If you ever don't like what God has to say, just draw a circle in the sand, cross your arms and demand God answers your prayers in the affirmative. This is after all about us - not Him!
To have to watch as worship erodes into a man centered - how can you bless me today - fleshly mess of entertainment. How we have gone from Amazing Grace to How Amazing God thinks I am? To see Pastors who treat their professions like they are rock stars. Who operate without belief in the Holy Spirit. Who tend only to the sheep that drink their Kool-Aid and leave the sheep pen door open so the others can leave. Who think they are responsible for the growth of the church and not God. Who are more interested in the horizonal growth of a church than the vertical growth of the people God has entrusted to them. Who use carnal metrics to measure their success, rely on worldly experts to develop their leadership skills, and with a nod and a wink allow more and more leaven into the Body of Christ until unbelievers can no longer tell the difference between the church and the world.
There are correlations between the churches in Revelation and the church today for us to consider. In the key verses today we see Jesus writing to the Church at Sardis. In the ancient world, Sardis was one of the largest cities with bustling commerce and plenty of trade. So this was not some small back-woods country church Jesus was writing to. This was the mega-church of today. This very well could be the church you find yourself in today. We need to drop our propensity to church-worship and really listen to what God has to say because the building we stand in every Sunday does not make us any more or less righteous. The first charge Jesus has against the church is that they cannot see who they really are. This is vitally important for the church today as well. Jesus makes no bones about it - you are dead. The problem however is not just that the church is dead it is that their reputation was that of a church vitally alive! But Jesus knows all the things we do. He sees all the things we do in His name. The facades we put in place to cover up the fact that spiritually we are dead. The great show we put on. The solemn religious festivals we hold. Publicly calling for a fast. Making a lengthy show of prayer. Pretending to heal people when we are completely devoid of the power of the Spirit of God. The Bible gives us an example to consider:
A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, "I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!" Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, "I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?" Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered. - Acts 19: 13-16 (NLT)
These seven sons had a father who was a leading priest. They knew all about religion. They knew all about the show. I am sure they dressed the part. I am sure they sounded the part and knew all the pious sounding things to say. But underneath the pomp and circumstance they were just seven people in way over their head, calling on a God they were not even in relationship with. As it was, so it goes. But preacher - that church has 45,000 people attending every week!