The Footsteps of Paul Blog

A Walk Through The 7 Churches – Sardis

Posted By: Chris Posted In: Blog, The Seven Churches Date Posted: July 13th, 2012 Comments: 7

Photo (Chris D.) Christian symbol on a paving stone at the Temple of Apollo, Didim, Turkey. The ship (bark or barque, barchetta) was an ancient Christian symbol. It is the Church tossed on the sea of disbelief, worldliness, and persecution but finally reaching safe harbor with its cargo of human souls. Note the fishing net (Mk 1:17 “I’ll make you fishers of men”) and the anchor (Heb.6:19 “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain”)

Issue #20 – “Works of the Flesh are as Filthy Rags”

Sardis today is located near the present day village of Sart, near Salihli in the Manisa province of Turkey, close to the Ankara – İzmir highway (approximately 72 kilometres (45 mi) from İzmir). The excavated remains include the bath-gymnasium complex, magnificent synagogue and Byzantine church and shops and is open to visitors year-round.

Sardis was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia,one of the important cities of the Persian Empire, the seat of a proconsul under the Roman Empire, and the metropolis of the province Lydia in later Roman and Byzantine times.

As one of the 7 churches addressed in Revelation it was obviously a centre of Christian worship, albeit in the midst of a lot of pagan “Earth mother” worship in the persona of Artemis – whose temple in Sardis was second only to that of Ephesus.

When Susanne and I visited Sardis in 2009, we were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the ruins of the temple – gigantic columns strewn all over the site. But what we will never forget was the terror we felt. It started with jelly-knees. We looked at each other and asked at the same time, “Are you feeling this?” We both were! There is still a very powerful evil presence that we have never felt at Ephesus, Didim (Temple to Apollo) or anywhere else.

Photo (Chris D.) Gigantic columns of the temple to Artemis, Sardis, Turkey

Tucked into one corner of the ruins is a miserably small Byzantine chapel. Just why the Byzantines did not demolish the temple we will never know.

Photo (Susanne D.) Byzantine church ruins dwarfed by older temple of Artemis ruins

“The words of Him who holds the seven spirits (or, seven-fold spirit) of God” Revelation 3:1a

It seems Sardis was always a “spiritual” place. The offer Jesus makes to this church is His very presence, by His Spirit. Only the Spirit of Jesus is powerful enough to dispel the pagan spirits that were worshipped in that place.

“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” (3:1b)

It seems the reputation the church had was based upon deeds that Jesus was actually not impressed with:

“…I have not found your deeds complete (“perfect” – NKJ version) in the sight of my God”

Isaiah 64:6 refers to works done apart from God as “filthy rags”

The church at Sardis had begun in the Spirit but over time relied and worked in the flesh. A little bit like the Galatians who Paul reprimanded with these words:

“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God—or rather are known by God —how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” (Galatians 4:8-11) “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:7) “Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? “(Galatians 3:3)

So many churches that have experienced revival at some time in their history, over time, grow cold. The initial ministry that sprung up was Holy Spirit inspired, motivated by love and executed in faith. As the spiritual zeal wears off, the ministry grinds on empowered at best by well meaning intentions but at worst by a hollow religiosity that without faith in Jesus sink to a “salvation by works” mentality. “Do good to feel good to hopefully tip the balance of good and evil in my favour on the day of reckoning.” This is not Christianity.

The exhortation of Jesus to the Church at Sardis was:

“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent”. (Revelation 3:3)

What we call “reformed” churches – those whose historical roots lie in the 16th century European Reformation – are those churches that especially must heed this letter to Sardis. The pillars of reformed theology that shaped these denominations such as salvation by faith, the priesthood of all believers and the authority of the Bible have been severely undermined over the last 100 years. The 21st century finds Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and others similar groups embroiled in disunity among their own clergy and leaders over no-brain issues such as the authority of Scripture and the legitimacy of homosexual marriage and ordination.

It was elements within these same churches that aligned themselves with liberal theology, and liberation theology. The bottom line for these folks was that salvation was not achieved through faith in Jesus Christ but rather through social action. The extremists of the movement went so far as to promote and support freedom fighters in places like Colombia who would enforce “justice” at the point of a gun. Human effort replaced faith in God as the prime mover of social change.

Today, among the many neo Pentecostal groups that have sprung up and grown rapidly over the last 30 years or so, we are seeing on one hand a wonderful balance between faith and works, but at the same time there is a concerning thread that is emerging and growing, which once again is a revival of 1960s liberal theology. Now, 50 years later, it is called “justice”. We find young western Christians drawn more to works-based activities and agencies than evangelism. Being “fishers of men” is not as cool as getting involved in human trafficking advocacy.

We need to “Wake up!” (3:2), repent and return to what we have “received and heard” (3:3). The Good News of Jesus Christ . Unless we put relationship with Jesus and the empowering of His Holy Spirit first in our lives, our works will continue to be “incomplete” (3:2) and the Lord will come “like a thief” (3:3) and remove our lampstand.

“Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white.” (Revelation 3:4)

Praise the Lord for those individuals in the aforementioned denominations who like some of those in Sardis have not “soiled their clothes” by purely fleshly motivated, self-glorifying works, but who pour themselves out for the last, the lost and the least (and the trafficked) in untainted sacrifice to the One who is worthy. Only these deeds are deemed “complete” and acceptable. And thus we are clothed in white, forgiven and cleansed through the blood of the Lamb who poured out His life for we who were not worthy and….

“I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.” (Revelation 5:5)

Photo (Chris D.) Sardis, Turkey. ΙΧΘΥΣ (Ichthys) is an acronym for "Ίησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ", (Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr), which translates into English as "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior". All 5 of these Greek letters are depicted in the 4 lines within a circle a very early Christian symbol.

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let the discussion begin!

  • Rocky Grudier - 13 July, 2012 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    I continue to enjoy your blogs, Chris. Thank you for the insights you are giving us into God’s word. Lorena and I were saying how we loved when you played the violin during worship. We miss you guys – God bless you!

  • Lyn Scott - 13 July, 2012 at 11:43 pm - Reply

    Great reading, thank you for this,I have enjoyed understanding the background and settings to these letters, but also a being challenged. This so ties in with other stuff I have read in the last few days.
    God bless

  • Noah - 14 July, 2012 at 3:14 am - Reply

    Christian graffiti! I’m inspired. 😉

  • Chris - 14 July, 2012 at 9:20 am - Reply

    Go for it Noah. Just don’t get caught or you’ll be fed to the lions.

  • Olive Macleod - 15 July, 2012 at 11:44 am - Reply

    Heard recently on the radio – ‘Just how much tolerance are we going to tolerate?’ Ref. last week’s lesson !
    Very good this week Chris as always. Are there still people living in Sardis, surrounded by those mixed messages ? I have a sense of the reality of these 7 churches now – thank you.

  • Chris - 15 July, 2012 at 7:01 pm - Reply

    Olive, I doubt there is a single Christian in the Sardis area now. There is a huge need for “workers” to come, learn the language, live among the people and share the Good News.

  • Lloyd Carey - 16 July, 2012 at 6:52 am - Reply

    Thanks Chris for reminding us again of our purpose.
    Lord may not only these seven churches come back to life , but our churches as well.

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