SBTS chapel live blog: R. Albert Mohler Jr. — Revelation 3:1-6

Communications Staff — October 1, 2009

Preacher: R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Text/title: Revelation 3:1-6; The church of the living dead – the letter to the church at Sardis.”

We see the decline of mainline denominations and we can immediately come to conclusions, perhaps appropriate, about why they have declined. We know that the main cause of decline is doctrine. Theological accommodation on inerrancy and other issues. And theological accommodation is followed by theological liberalism.

We can understand this decline.

We know that the story of mainline Protestantism includes pockets of those remain faithful. And we are grateful for them. But we know that on a broad scale many mainline denominations have declined and it has declined because of theological accommodation. We see the results of empty churches and large, empty cathedrals that serve as a silent testimony to this decline.

We also know the trend of American evangelicalism. As the twentieth century came to a close, we saw that the trend was up. Starting in the mid-twentieth century, the trend line has been up. Particularly in comparison to mainline Protestantism.

Then you have the rise of the mega-church. We have churches in our denomination and the evangelical world that are attracting 15,000-20,000 people on a weekend.

We know how to count. But if we are honest, we know that we are not as healthy as we might look. Indeed, we can look healthy and vital and even be dead.

You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead (Rev 3:1)

Sardis is well known for having once been well known. It wasn’t much when Jesus wrote this letter. The past, rather than the present, would have come to mind for Jesus’ audience when He mentioned Sardis.

The church at Sardis receives no commendation. We have come to recognize the pattern in these letters of greeting, then commendation, then warning. But in the letter to the church at Sardis, and we will see to Laodicea, there is no commendation.

These words to the church at Sardis reveal that the church at Sardis is the church of the living dead. It is possible to look very healthy on the outside, to look healthy physically and in numbers, but on inside to be dead. These are terrifying verses. This is church of the living dead. And only the Lord of the church can declare this.

The church at Sardis had the reputation of being alive, but was dead. Can we tell which churches, or denominations, are alive, merely by physical numbers? Merely by charts, graphs and statistics?

We want things to look good. So we come up with interesting means of doing so, such as non-resident members. Non-resident members? We think we can invent vision, energy and leadership and the ironic thing is the church at Sardis may have had all these things, but was still dead. Looking at the congregation of Sardis, we would have thought they were alive and doing well. But the Lord Jesus Christ says, they had the reputation of being alive, but they were dead.

Strength what remains (Rev 3:2)

Verse two tells us that there were some things that remained in the church at Sardis. There is something that yet remains that can be strengthened. Every church and every denomination better take heed and strengthen what remains.

Jesus tells the church that He knows their deeds; He knows that they have started deeds, but have not yet completed them. I wonder how many churches in how many denominations and how many congregations would realize that they have not completed what they have begun. How many people began to be disciple, but their discipleship was not completed. This is the reality of nominalism in the Christian life.

This is an easy believeism: there is no authenticity to it. There are so many churches, so many Christians and so many denominations that start well, and maybe even mean well, but who do not end well.

We must pray that our churches will complete that which is started.

Repent and persevere

Verse four says there were a few who had not soiled their garments, which means the rest had. It is clear that there was immoral behavior, and a tolerance of immoral behavior, in the church at Sardis.

In verse three, Jesus tells the church at Sardis to remember, so much of the Christian life is about remembering, to receive what they have heard and to repent.

There is a remnant in Sardis and we are told that this remnant would walk with Jesus in white. This is a reminder that there is often a remnant of believers even in declining churches. No one will sit at the marriage banquet of the Lamb who is not wearing white. And the one who not only begins, but ends, the one whose Advocate is Jesus Christ, is dressed in white.

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