The danger that always faces activity-oriented churches is what Jesus said of the church in Sardis: “I know your works, that you have a name that you live, but you are dead” (Rv 3:1). The disciples in Sardis took pride in their notoriety. They certainly had a good reputation in the community of Sardis. But they were dead to the reason for which the church is to function in a lost world. They too, as the Ephesian Christians, had forgotten the purpose of the body of Christ.
Because the Ephesians had lost their purpose, they were called on to “remember from where you have fallen, and repent” (Ep 2:5). Though others spoke well of the disciples in Sardis, in reference to what they were to be as the church of Christ, they were dead. Churches that have lost their purpose to save the lost have simply forgotten the reason for their existence as the church of God in a world of lost sinners. If we lose our love for lost souls, and thus our purpose as the church, then we are dead!
We have found that when there is a group of disciples who have lost their purpose for being evangelistic disciples for Jesus, they will continue to assemble with one another. In fact, they will often obsess with one another in relational activities to the point that they forsake to establish relationships with the lost, or even consider everyone who believes in Jesus to be saved regardless of their obedience to the gospel. In their absentminded evangelistic outreach, the entire group carries on in a survival mode with exciting assemblies in order to convince themselves that they are still disciples of the One who came to seek and to save those who are lost. A few members may smell the stench of death, but they are so outnumber that their voices are no longer heard.
When we lose our love for lost souls, and still seek to be religious, we will fall in love with ourselves. We will focus on ourselves in order to convince ourselves that we are all OK. Our Sunday assemblies will thus become experiential events wherein we seek to remind ourselves that we are still the right church. We will refer to our heritage as the authority for our continuation. We will convince ourselves that if we progress through a legal system of ceremonies every Sunday that are opened and closed with a prayer, then we have assured ourselves that we right. As long as we maintain the heritage of our fathers, then certainly, we assume, we cannot be wrong.
A local church that has been in existence for decades is composed of members who have a strong relationship with one another. The members often become protective of these relationships. They assume that the majority of their group of gray-headed members is not dead because they still show up on Sunday.
The church is indeed about relationships with one another. It is about taking care of one another until each one of us step into a grave. However, our obsession with our relationships sometimes turns the church into a clique that inherently is exclusive. In our exclusiveness we feel uncomfortable about sitting down with a lost soul. We even feel uncomfortable about sharing the gospel with our lost neighbors. And when we do, our mission is to convert the lost to our social religious club of relationships is gone.
We must never forget that obedience to the gospel for the remission of sins has priority over all relationships between ourselves. Top priority is that the sinner must establish a covenant relationship with God. Our relationships with one another are only the serendipity of our common obedience to the gospel. The disciples of Christ are to be known for their love of one another (Jn 13:34,35). But our love for one another is validated as true love when we reach out with love to bring the lost into the sheep fold of God.
[Next in series: June 3]