In the beginning of Revelation 3, the Lord had a letter delivered to the church at Sardis. Using comparative terminology that most people understand, we might cautiously call this church the Zombie church. I use the term only to emphasize the point with a contemporary reference. They had a reputation of being alive, and yet in the Lord’s estimation they were dead. Their reputation of life might well have been their many social works and their benevolent programs practiced without the power of the Holy Spirit.
I believe the issue in Sardis was their attempt to be Christian without knowledge and belief of Christian doctrine. Although some in Sardis were faithful and were not defiled with sin, it seems they were in the minority. The church at one time must have been filled with the faithful, but over time unbelievers became dominant. Membership in the church made them appear to be believers, but they were living a false profession.
How do we know they were not believers? The best indication is the use of the word dead to describe them. The Lord never speaks of His people as being dead. To be spiritually dead is to be without faith in Christ and thus without life in Christ. It is the living (believers) versus the dead (unbelievers). Dead is the often reference in scripture to those still depraved in heart and still in their natural condition apart from God (see Ephesians 2:1-5).
Since the church at Sardis is used as an example of churches across all ages, we conclude there are active churches doing many works without the knowledge of doctrine that proves they are God’s people. I have addressed this issue from this pulpit many times as the reason the Berean Baptist Church does not fellowship with many churches nor care to join with them in cooperative efforts. We have only one method of cooperation—a common belief in the true gospel of Jesus Christ. There is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. This is the basis of Christian unity—it is doctrinal not emotional. We must be compelled by more than common compassion to work together. It must be doctrinal unity in the faith of Jesus Christ.
We encounter many churches that have a zeal for Christ, but their zeal is not according to knowledge. Ask them about their doctrinal positions and you are greeted with either blank stares or this response, “Does it matter?” It matters because we cannot glorify Christ without knowledge of His ways and works. These are found in scripture encapsulated in the doctrines of the faith. For example, does it matter if you believe Christians are safe and secure in their salvation, or if you believe salvation can be lost? Yes, it matters. The first displays dependence on faith in Christ alone, while the second is dependence on self. One affirms justification by faith and the other justification by works. The first upholds the promises of Christ and gives glory to Him for salvation, while the second glorifies self and our ability to do enough good things to be saved. If salvation can be lost because of doing evil things, it can be gained by doing good things. One ratifies the doctrine of scripture—the other blasphemes the God of heaven.
When we join with churches that are muddled in their doctrine, are unsure of their doctrine, or have no sense of Christian doctrine, we link arms with the dead. We cannot do Christ’s work without the vital connection of life through the belief of the truth. The living in Christ have no business in the graveyard of the dead.
What will we do? Continue to walk in the light of Christ’s truth and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. To do otherwise, to work with unbelievers, is to shame the name of Christ.
Pastor V. Mark Smith