The Way: Part 5: When a Church Dies

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Part 5: When a Church Dies

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The Way: Part 5: When a Church Dies

MP4 Video - 1080p (1.03 GB)
MP4 Video - 720p (636.35 MB)
MP3 Audio (19.47 MB)

This occurred in a congregation that had been on fire for the Gospel. Could it be happening in your church?


[Gary Petty] How does a church, a group of people dedicated to The Way, a group that had been once known for being spiritually vibrant, how does it die? The message of their story contains a strong warning message to postmodern Christianity, and will help you understand the question of why you may go to church but feel so disconnected from God.

[Narrator] Join our presenters from the United Church of God as we bring you help for today and hope for tomorrow directly from your Bible, here on "Beyond Today."

[Gary Petty] Is there something missing in your spiritual experience? You like the weekly praise music, but the next day God's really the last thing on your mind. You like the idea of Jesus loving you but the struggle with daily anxiety and stress, most of the time you don't feel loved. Does it sometimes feel like your church experience is sort of a lifeless, fake experience without any relevance to your everyday life?

You know the earliest Christians, the people of The Way, were a dynamic spiritual and social movement in the first century. In this Beyond Today's series, we've been telling you their story, a story a few people actually know. But it is important to your life if you want to understand why God made you, why you exist and what He desires for your life, and then experience the dynamic meaning of The Way.

We've seen how The Way began in Jerusalem after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was originally considered a sect of Judaism, but soon people from all racial and ethnic groups began to follow the teachings of Jesus. We've seen how congregations formed and thrived in cities like Ephesus, where they actually gave up paganism. And how Paul and the Athenian Areopagus taught that The Way was for all people. Now we looked at how the people in The Way in Corinth struggled to reject the moral depravity of their society.

Now there is another early Christian congregation that's not so well known, but if you consider yourself a follower of The Way you need to know the story of this church. What we know from the New Testament is that this congregation, it says, spiritually died. How does a church, a group of people dedicated to The Way, a group that had been once known for being spiritually vibrant, how does it die? The message of their story contains a strong warning message to postmodern Christianity, and will help you understand the question of why you may go to church but feel so disconnected from God.

The church in Sardis, which is a modern day Turkey, is mentioned in the book of Revelation. 700 years before John actually wrote Revelation, Sardis had been one of the greatest cities in the world. For centuries it was a thriving community. It did have a long history of being conquered by foreign armies. It was conquered by the Persian King, Cyrus, Alexander the Great, and again by the Romans. By the end of the first century AD, Sardis was a city in physical and economic decay. The Apostle John wrote to their church that they had, "A name that you are alive but you are dead." I mean, once again, how can a church that's famous for being spiritually alive become spiritually dead?

Before we talk more about Sardis, you need to personalize what this message means to you. Are you willing to be honest with yourself? Are you willing to be honest with God, and are you willing to search the Bible and be honest with the teachings of Jesus Christ and The Way? I guess even most important here is, are you willing to be honest enough to ask God, to go to God and ask Him to reveal to you in your heart if you're practicing a dead Christianity. If you are and you're willing to take this journey on, The Way God's going to change your life.

You know, most Christian denominations claim that their purpose is to preach the gospel to the world. Many Christian ministries include a call for non-Christians to repent and turn to God. Christ's message to Sardis is for Christians to repent and turn to God. This message cries out to some Christians today because much of Christianity is moving farther and farther away from the original Way. The Christians at Sardis were given five warnings concerning their dying Christianity. Now we're going to look at these warnings and then we'll break them down into practical life changing solutions that you can actually apply to your life.

Now here's what it is written to that church. They're told to "Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God." This is what Christ says. "Remember therefore how you have received and heard and hold fast and repent." Now, what do these warnings mean? Well, first of all, they were told to be watchful. They were just sort of sleepwalking through life without observing what was happening in their lives. Their relationship with God produced a little change in their way of thinking or even their behaviors.

They're told to strengthen the things that remain. The Sardis Church had lost biblical truth and biblical love. The religious works that they were famous for were not based in The Way, but in a sort of watered down version of Christ's teachings, Christ tells them to take what little spiritual truth and works they have and to strengthen it.

Then they were told to "remember therefore how you have received and heard." The people in Sardis had lost their biblical roots. And you know, much of today's Christianity has lost its biblical roots. Instead, it is shaped by a secular and new age society that has twisted the teachings of The Way into selfish behaviors, mentally unbalanced viewpoints and emotionally destructive hearts. The Way with its call to be dramatically changed by God in the inner person has been replaced with sort of political slogans and pandering to the basic elements of human nature.

He tells them to "hold fast." They were in danger of losing everything, even the little bit of what God had given to them. And then they're told to repent. Christ implores these people who thought they were on The Way but it turned to, we're walking a different path, to turn to God and change their lives. And this message cries out from the ruins of Sardis to many people in this Christian era. It cries out to Christians today.

Is this a message that resonates with you? Well, let's look at some of the symptoms of a dying church and see if they describe your spiritual state. And I don't mean the spiritual state of the church down the street or your neighbors, I mean your spiritual state. Does this resonate with you?

The first thing that we look at as a symptom of a dying church. People in a dying church are no longer Bible centered. Now this doesn't mean that their preachers don't read from the Bible, but that what they teach is a surface teaching of the Bible, that's actually used to support non-biblical conclusions. Now just look at an example. There are Christian pastors that are using the Bible to claim that Jesus himself taught that homosexuality is acceptable Christian behavior. And the proof comes from a verse in Matthew 19: 12, where Jesus said this, "For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men. And there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it." This quote is used to claim that Jesus has accepted homosexuality and is used in many churches. First of all, we have a real issue here. Neither the Hebrew or Greek words translated eunuch in English mean homosexual. So the word just doesn't mean that.

But let's look at Jesus' statement because it's best understood when read in the context of the conversation he was having with His disciples that you just can't pull it out. You see some Pharisees asked Jesus about a morally acceptable reasons for divorce, which was a hotly debated issue among contemporary Jewish religious leaders at the time. Jesus responded by quoting instructions from Genesis on how a man was to leave his parents and become one flesh with his wife. And they then concluded, "Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man separate." Now, the Pharisees countered with this argument that Moses had allowed for legalized divorce. Jesus responded to them by stating that the only legitimate reason for divorce was sexual immorality. But Jesus disciples were stunned with that answer and they replied to him that if this was the only acceptable reason for divorce, then it was better than man never married.

Now it's in this context that Jesus made his statement about concerning eunuchs for the kingdom of God. So read in context of the conversation, Jesus and disciples were having about marriage, it becomes clear that his comment about eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven wasn't made about and had nothing to do with homosexuality. His point was that if a person can't remain obedient to God's teaching concerning divorce, it would be better to remain unmarried for the kingdom of heaven's sake. That's obvious when you read it. But living by this other kind of biblical misrepresentation is like a child who satisfies her hunger by eating donuts and drinking a large soft drink and thinks this is really healthy.

Are you addicted to spiritual junk food? Do you go to church just because you like the music or because you like the feel good sermons? Because you can watch online while sipping coffee and sitting there in your pajamas and that's why you like that church. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness where they shall be filled." Unfortunately, these words have become almost a meaningless platitude. So read them with me, okay? I want you to read this. I want you to think this through. "Blessed," we all want blessed. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled." Do you want a blessing from God? Of course you do, right? A new car, a better job, bigger house, some more money. Well, here's how God wants to bless you. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled." You know, this is a statement of intense need and longing. Righteousness means being right with God. It means having a right relationship with Him.

Have you ever really been hungry or thirsty? I mean really thirsty. When my son was a teenager, we were hiking in the desert of Big Bend National Park. The trail brought us to a camp store. It was so hot that there was nobody in the campgrounds. It was too hot to be out hiking. We're out hiking through the desert. So we stumbled into the store where for a handful of quarters we were able to take a shower, which was the first shower we'd had in days and get something cold to drink, which was quite refreshing compared to the tip and canteen water we'd been drinking. But I will never forget the giddiness. We both talk about this years later, that we felt, here we were washed, our thirst was quenched, and we were sitting on this porch eating this cold, sweet ice cream.

Have you ever experienced that kind of spiritual longing, that kind of spiritual thirst like you've been lost in the desert and then experienced that level of spiritual quenching? When we look at what Jesus taught, He said, now I want you to think about this, that only those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who experience an intense desire to know God, to be His child, that live The Way, only they will be filled. Everybody else won't be filled. You see, God's greatest blessing is to fill our spiritual longing and help us come to Him as His child. And this hunger and thirst leads us to searching the Bible to have God reveal to us who He is, the reality of Jesus Christ, and lead you on The Way.

A second symptom of spiritual decay is people in the dying church compromise with society. They compromise so much that they get where they can't tell the difference between society and true Christianity. You know it's comfortable to blend in society. In this series we've seen how, on The Way or the ones we've been doing here on The Way, how those earliest Christians had to remove themselves from the values of their Greco-Roman pagan world. You know, the church at Sardis began as people seeking God, but just as Sardis was a decaying city, they mimicked society and became a decaying church. Not only have Christians today accepted non-Christian values and lifestyles from secular society, but many are teaching these values and behaviors if they were The Way Jesus acted. You see you must seek The Way of the earliest Christians and dedicate your life to following The Way. Anything else is trying to survive on spiritual junk food.

A third symptom. People in a dying church are comfortable. They're comfortable in their complacency. And see, a spiritually dying person is more concerned with physical, emotional comfort than personal conviction, spiritual growth and pleasing God. Hungering and thirsting for God is uncomfortable and a steady diet of messages like God accepts you just the way you are, instead of God wants to forgive you and change you. Or messages about how God promises health and wealth if you give more money to the church, or music extravaganzas that produce an intense emotional experience without actually praising or worshiping God. This kind of spiritual junk food produces little effect on the reality of everyday life. As people sleep walk through their daily routines thinking about, well let's see, marching in support of abortion or LGBTQ, getting laws passed to outlaw eating meat or accepting all religions as the same path to God well, that's the kind of things Jesus would do. This confusion about the authentic gospel invariably leads to compromising with more and more unchristian behaviors.

If you really want to be an authentic Christian, it's time to snap out of your spiritual decay and complacency. So we've seen a few of the symptoms of a dying Christianity. No longer Bible centered. It's affected by society and it's comfortable, it's comfortable with complacency. Now, if you find yourself being convicted a little bit in this message that maybe you aren't truly in the right walk with God, what should you do? How do you stop this spiritual decay and snap out of the complacency? Okay, there's a couple things you can start doing. One is pray for God to turn your spiritual need, because you have one, every human being has a spiritual need, to turn your spiritual need into hunger and thirst for righteousness.

You could feel guilty, you could even feel ashamed because of behaviors, but real repentance results in turning to God and surrendering your life to Him and He changes those behaviors. Yes, yes, what I'm asking you to do is to go to God and ask God to make you uncomfortable at the very core of who you are. That's the only way this works. We go to God and we say, "Make me uncomfortable. Strip me down past all the layers of things that we do to give meaning to our lives." Just buying more and more things on Amazon, getting a promotion at work, pretending to be someone you're not in order to impress others. Meaningless sexual encounters, addictions to porn, numbing your feelings with alcohol and drugs, and then going to church and get your emotional fix for the week. That's not Christianity. So open yourself up to allow Christ to lead you in The Way.

So the first step is to pray for God to turn your spiritual need into a spiritual hunger and thirst for righteousness. The second step is something that the church in Sardis was told. They were told to be watchful. The scripture admonishes us to watch many things. When we aren't attentive to God in our lives, we lose both the vision and participation in what He's doing. We sort of only think about what am I doing?

Jesus gave a parable to His followers about watching. Now, I want to stress that this parable is a warning not to people who don't know Jesus. It is a warning to people who follow Jesus. This parable is about a man who is leaving his house to get married and tells his servants to be ready for whenever he arrives home with his bride. Be ready. The servants don't know how long the wedding feast will go, so they have to be watching and waiting for him to show up. Jesus is telling this parable to teach His disciples about how to live in anticipation of His second coming. This anticipation is to be the vision and mission and motivation for following Jesus Christ on The Way. And here's what He taught. He said, "Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning." This is what the master is saying to the servants.

Authentic Christianity isn't docile and is sure not a spectator sport. It's being dressed for action by daily keeping your focus on God the Father and Jesus Christ, and following The Way. He then says, "And be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks." Once again, one of the greatest motivating forces in our lives should be the anticipation of the return of Jesus Christ. Let me tell you this, any Christian message that motivates people only with promises of physical blessings or the false concept that human nature is basically good and all we have to do is discover the goodness in ourself. It's spiritual junk food, that's all that is.

We must accept the life of Jesus as the divine Son of God who came to die for our sins. We must accept His resurrection and His return to save humanity from total destruction. That's Christianity. He then said, "Blessed are those servants," another blessing here, "whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at the table and he will come and serve them." This is really an unexpected turn in the parable. I mean, the job of the servant is to serve the master, right? Here is a clear reference. Jesus talked about Himself and He says when He returns, those who are awake, He's going to take care of them. But they must be awake. They can't have slipped into spiritual decay and complacency. Jesus said if He comes in the second watch or the third and finds them awake, blessed are those servants. "But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into." The point here is since the servants don't know when the master is returning, they must always be prepared. It's a daily preparation so that they will be prepared when the master comes, and if he comes later than they expect they won't be asleep and the house won't be robbed. And then hear how He finishes this. He says, "You also must be ready for the Son of Man is coming in an hour you do not expect.”

You see, when you give up spiritual junk food and you receive the authentic gospel, you open yourself up for your spiritual need to be turned over to God and you become uncomfortable and hunger and thirst for a right relationship with Him through Christ. You leave the path of your life and walk The Way by dedicating your life to God's love and power. He then works with you as His child and you can live in anticipation of Christ's return.

Where is the church that Jesus built? A living church? One of the keys to a living church is that it teaches about Jesus Christ and the work God the Father does in Him. It will also teach you the transformational message that Jesus taught. Now to help you in your search for The Way, we would like to give you your free copy of "The Church Jesus Built." And one of the sections of the study guide is a spiritually transformed people. This transformation is a process, that's why you'll never find a perfect church. Everyone's in a different stage of transformation, but the message is of a living church in which the gospel, sin, repentance, God's forgiveness, baptism, and transformation by God's spirit is center stage. Any Christian Church that doesn't contain this message is just giving you spiritual junk food.

"The Church Jesus Built" will also help you understand that there's a great counterfeit Christianity and that is growing in power and influence. This will also help you see and reject the deception of this counterfeit. So you can go to to download or order your free copy of "The Church That Jesus Built," that's or call the number on your screen to get a copy sent directly to you. And just like all the literature we offer here on "Beyond Today," it's all free of charge.

If you feel that you're in a spiritually dying church, remember the first two steps you must take. One, pray for God to turn your spiritual need into a spiritual hunger and thirst for righteousness. Go ask Him for it. Be prepared, well, you can't be entirely for what's going to happen if He answers that prayer, but it'll change your life. And two, become spiritually watchful. So remember, when you take these steps, you're asking God to make you uncomfortable. You will become aware of your need for Him and begin to hunger and thirst for a right relationship with Him, and you will begin to see society differently and begin to feel out of step with your old life. And this hunger and thirst will drive you to want to understand Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for you more intently. And as you draw closer to Jesus Christ, you'll begin to anticipate the reality of His return when He comes to establish God's Kingdom on the earth. That's the life God wants for you.

The five programs we've done on The Way can only scratch the surface of the personal life-changing path of life that God wants to lead you down. Now, if you've missed any of the programs in this series, you can go to and watch them. And here's what we covered in this series. First of all was what is the Christian message? What is Christianity all about? So it's simply called The Way: What is the Christian message? Then we covered The Marriage Revolution, talked about the church in Corinth. Then we talked about the unknown God and Paul at the Areopagus. Then we talked about the Promise of the Father because the change takes God in us. It takes God's Spirit in us.

Turn to God, follow Jesus Christ and live The Way.

[Narrator] Call now to receive the free booklet offered on today's program, "The Church Jesus Built." Jesus Christ promised to build His church. Churches today have a wide variety of approaches, doctrines, and teachings. How do they compare to those of the original church the one Jesus founded, the one carried on by those who knew Him? Order now, call 1-888-886-8632 or write to the address shown on your screen. You can find those who are among the church Jesus built today. When you order this free study aid, we'll also send you a complimentary one year subscription to Beyond Today Magazine. Beyond Today magazine brings you understanding of today's world and hope for the future. Six times a year you'll read about current world events in the light of Bible prophecy, as well as practical knowledge to improve your marriage and family and godly principles to guide you toward a life that leads to peace. Call today to receive your free booklet, "The Church Jesus Built" and your free one year subscription to Beyond Today Magazine. Call 1-888-886-8632 or go online to

[Gary Petty] Hi, I'm Gary Petty, a pastor with the United Church of God. If you are looking for a church that encourages living what the word of God really teaches you found the right place. We're a community of believers dedicated to seeking the truth and preaching the good news of the coming kingdom of God. We'd like to welcome you to come and join us on this spiritual journey. We have hundreds of congregations around the United States and across the world. Visit to find a church near you. We're looking forward to meeting you soon.