THE DAY THE CHURCH DIED
by Wayne S. Walker
People die physically. "And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27). This is something that we all know from our own personal experience with friends and loved ones, but one look at the obituary page in the daily newspaper confirms it. Christians sometimes die spiritually through sin. "But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives" (1 Tim. 5:6). Probably every child of God knows some formerly faithful saint who is now in such an unfortunate condition. And, believe it or not, churches can die.
"And to the angel of the church at Sardis, write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead"’" (Rev. 3:1). The church at Sardis had a name or reputation of being alive, but so far as the Lord was concerned, they were dead. Of course, the universal church that our Lord built will never die but will stand forever. However, this article concerns local congregations. There are several different ways a church can die. Each child of God should examine the congregation with which he worships, and himself since the character of a church is usually determined by the behavior of the members who make it up, and ask if it seems to be headed in one of these directions.
Sometimes a church dies in that it ceases to exist. As people who once made the church alive and active either pass on, or move off, or, sadly, fall away, they are not replaced by others who keep things going. This usually results from a lack of evangelism, although other factors beyond people’s control may enter in as well, such as a bad economy in the area forcing people to move for work. Or there may be so much feuding, fussing, and fighting that people are driven to leave for other congregations. In either case, the numbers dwindle down until there are not enough in attendance any longer even to pay the bills. Then the group disbands, the doors are closed or the building sold, and that church has died.
Sometimes a church dies in that, while it continues to exist, it ceases to be a living, active force for truth and righteousness in the community. There may be enough births, baptisms of members’ children, move-ins, and occasional conversions from the outside to keep the doors open, but there is no real spiritual growth, and hence no true spiritual life. People become content to "keep house for the Lord." They meet at all the regular times (Sunday morning for classes and worship, Sunday evening for worship, and Wednesday evening for classes), and perhaps have a gospel meeting or two each year. And they may make a few half-hearted attempts at evangelism,such as a newspaper ad or telephone Bible message, all the while glorying in their past reputation (name) for faithfulness and service. But that is about all, and there is no zeal or fervor on the part of each individual to serve the Lord and teach others. Such a church is still there, but for all practical intents and purposes, it has died, and if something is not done about this condition, the ultimate result may be that this church may cease to exist someday.
Sometimes a church dies in that it goes into error. That error may be either doctrinal or moral. Some churches are very busy in all kinds of activities, but those activities involve that which is not authorized by God, such as supporting human institutions, promoting the social gospel, watering down the message of truth to please people, or having fellowship with denominations. Such things appeal to carnal minded people who may flock to a church like this and it will appear to be "growing" but not in a scriptural way. Other churches are very busy in only those activities which are authorized, but they have become rotten to the core because of all kinds of unrighteousness, ungodliness, worldliness, and materialism that are tolerated among the members. They also may appear to be "growing" but not acceptably to the Lord because it is often carnal minded people who flock there. In either case, a church like this may have a name or reputation that it is a live, but in reality it has died.
[— taken and slightly adapted from Truth Magazine; Mar. 4, 1999; Vol. XLIII, No. 5; p. 10]