Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 19, 1959
NUMBER 45, PAGE 1,12-13b

A Dead Church "On The March"

W. Curtis Porter, Monette, Arkansas

The title selected for this article may seem, at first thought, to be a description of something that is altogether impossible, as the first part of the title appears to be in direct conflict with the last part of it. Imagine, if you can "a dead church" that is "on the march." Yet, in reality, it is a perfect description of a definite possibility. In the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation we have recorded the letters the Lord addressed to the seven churches in Asia. In that group of letters we find one sent to the church in Sardis. This letter is recorded in Rev. 3:1-6 and reads as follows:

"And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write: These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.

Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.

Remember therefore how thou hest received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.

Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.

He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."

Your attention is called first to a statement made in verse 1: "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead." Here is a divine portrayal, if there ever was one, of a dead church on the march. What action on the part of the church in Sardis could have served as a background for this statement? What had this church been doing that caused the Lord to say: "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead"? I do not know just what it was.

Likely there were many things that could have contributed to this situation. An enumeration of some may be interesting, enlightening and beneficial. Let us take a look at them.

1. THE ASIATIC ALLEVIATION ASSOCIATION. The saints in Sardis were aware of a responsibility the Lord had placed on them in the care and relief of the needy. While "a few names even in Sardis" felt that the church was adequate as an organization to discharge the responsibility of the church in the field of benevolence, there were many others who did not think so. They argued that God never intended the church to function as a home, and that the church cannot become a child-caring agency. Another organization, separate and apart from the church, must be set up to function in the field of benevolence, and let the church turn its funds to such organization to relieve those who are in need. Under the influence of this majority THE ASIATIC ALLEVIATION ASSOCIATION was organized, with a Board of Directors selected from various parts of the country, which, in turn, elected their officers — a PRESIDENT, VICE-PRESIDENT, SECRETARY and a TREASURER. Solicitation was then made for the needy adults and dependent children from all over Asia to be sent to them. And also they solicited funds from all the churches of Asia — from Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Philadelphia and Laodicea — to be sent to the Board selected in Sardis to care for all the needy of that section. This would certainly impress the world in that area that the Sardis church was living and active. While the churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia did not contribute to their project, the Board in Sardis was not deterred by this. They simply dubbed such churches as "anti-orphan" brethren and went on with their solicitation.

2. THE SARDIS SWIMMING SAINTS. It was contended that the young people of the church — and some of the older ones — need a lot of recreation. And what could give them more of this needed commodity than plenty of swimming exercise. So a group of the saints in Sardis, under the direction of the angel of the church, formed themselves into a swimming society called the SARDIS SWIMMING SAINTS. They arranged, as a work of the church, all the details necessary for their swimming parties. A choice spot on the banks of the River Hermus was located and leased, all the necessary work to get it in proper condition for their parties. Being opposed to any kind of segregation, they stated in their charter that their facilities would be used for mixed bathing. The Sardis saints of both sexes, being dressed or nearly undressed — for the occasion could swim to their heart's content. The lust of the flesh, of course, would never raise its ugly head in a party thus conducted by the leading church members of the community. They did not merely wish to hold their own young people for the church through such recreational activities, but they wished to convert the world around them. So invitations were given to their non-Christian friends and neighbors, of both sexes, to join them in their parties. They would thus be impressed by the activities of a working church and would soon seek membership in it. A living church is certainly a blessing to any city!

3. THE DIABOLIC DANCING DUDES AND DOLLS. A number of the younger set in Sardis, who were still in their early twenties, had formerly been professionals in the field of dancing. They were convinced that such a stimulating exercise would be good for the saints in Sardis. Hence, they formed themselves into a group called THE DIABOLIC DUDES AND DOLLS. They put pressure on "the angel of the church" to make necessary provision for this form of "Christian recreation." A "recreation hall" was built that joined hard to the auditorium in which their Saturday night dances could be staged. They would not, of course, encourage the young Christians to go to the night spots for their dancing, but here, under Christian supervision, they could dance till the wee hours of the night. They might be fagged out by the time Sunday morning came and not be able to make it to the regular services of the church, but at least they could console themselves with the fact that Sardis was a church "on the march." And this recreation hall would not have to stand idle during other parts of the week. In fact, it was the most used of any part of the building plant. It served as a gymnasium for the various church sponsored teams that took part in the various athletic contests of that time and area. The Sardis teams, both among the boys and girls, had distinguished themselves in the athletic fields. They brought home many trophies, as a result of their victories over other teams in the area that caused the Sardis church to be known far and wide. No other organization in that area was so widely advertized as the church in Sardis. All of this was accomplished because of far-seeing brethren who wanted to put the church on the march.

4. THE FELLOWSHIP FESTIVITIES. The recreation hall, used for the dancing parties and the athletic contests, also served well as a fellowship hall for the banquets provided by the church. These happened with monotonous regularity. Banquets for the younger set, banquets for the young married couples, banquets for the aged and banquets for all the Saints, with their friends invited, were the order of the day. What could do more to strengthen Christian character, hold the young people for the church and convert sinners than old time fellowship festivities given by the church? And did not the early church in Jerusalem, according to Acts 2:42, continue steadfastly in such "fellowship." If the model church in Jerusalem had such "fellowship meetings," how could any one now oppose such? It is true that "a few names in Sardis" did not go along with all these church sponsored organizations and festivities, but they were just a little bunch of cranks that were always against something, and no attention should be paid to their objections.

These are some of the activities that will put a dead church on the march. You may ask how I learned that the Sardis church was engaging in such activities. Does the Bible say they were doing these things? No, these things are not detailed, but the Bible does show Sardis to be a dead church "on the march," and I know what it takes to put a church "on the march" today. When you find a church today that is engaged in all kinds of human promotions, building human organizations to do the work of the church, engaging in all kinds of recreational activities, throwing banquets in their fellowship halls, sponsoring baseball teams, promoting youth camps, holding youth rallies, and generally engaging in fun and frolic, you find a church "on the march", according to the ideas of many brethren. And if that is what puts a church "on the march" today, evidently it would do the same thing in the first century of the church's existence. And Sardis had made a reputation among the people of that area as being a "live church" — a church "on the march."

Note again the language of the Lord: "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead." Yes, the Sardis church, the Lord said, was a "dead church," but she had a reputation of being "alive." Hence, she was a "dead church on the march." Just what had you thought of the Lord's statement made to Sardis? Had you reached the conclusion, from the Lord's statement that Sardis was "dead", that Sardis was an inactive church? Have you thought of her as a church that did nothing? A church that took no interest in religious activities? A church that had no meetings of any kind? A church that made no effort to "hold the young people" or "care for the needy" or "reach the outsiders"? If so, then how do you think she made a reputation of being a "living church"? The Lord said: "Thou hast a name that thou livest." A lazy, indolent, inactive, sleeping church would never make a "reputation" of being a live church. Sardis had a "name" — a "reputation" — of being "alive." In the Williams Translation we have the sentence translated this way: "You have the reputation of being alive, but in reality you are dead." The "reputation" had to do with what people around them thought about her. She had impressed them with her activities — she had won a "name" among them as a live church. A "do-nothing" church could never make such a reputation. She was actively engaged in something or the people around would never have given her a "name" as being alive. But what she was doing — the things that made the reputation for her — was what brought about her death. In the eyes of men she was alive, but in the eyes of God she was dead — she stood condemned spiritually. Why? Because she did nothing? Absolutely not. But because the things she did were without divine authority — they were done without divine sanction or approval. In verse 2 the Lord said: have not found thy works perfect before God." Yes, she was working — she was doing enough things to make a good reputation as a live church — but her works were not pleasing to the Lord. What she was doing had not been divinely authorized. The word "perfect" is from the Greek word "pleroo" and means to fill up or complete, her works had not fulfilled or completed the law of God. She had not done what God had authorized, but she had followed that course that would win for her a reputation among men. This caused her to be dead in the sight of God. She stood condemned because of the type of works she followed — she was a "dead church on the march." The Berkeley Version of the New Testament translates the expression like this: "I have found none of your works meeting the requirements of my God." But they did meet with the approval of man. Hence, she had "a name that she lived" but in the sight of God she was "dead."

And that little group — "a few names in Sardis" — that may have opposed her promotions and were likely considered by the liberal members of the church in Sardis to be but a handful of cranks, radicals and antis, were the ones God considered "worthy." The Lord said: "Thou has a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy."