Christ versus Religion, by Witness Lee

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In the history of the Lord’s recovery, the Lord moved on from Thyatira to Sardis. Sardis was a partial recovery from Thyatira. But according to the Word of the Lord it was only a short time after Sardis appeared that she became a kind of dead religion. What was wrong with Sardis? There was not much wrong; the only problem was that she was dead. The Lord said to her, "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead," and, "Strengthen the things...that are ready to die." In nearly everything, Sardis was in a state of deadness. From church history we see how the church through Martin Luther experienced a certain amount of recovery, but everything soon became dead. To have anything right in a dead way is a kind of religion. If we are sound, fundamental, and scriptural, but dead, we have simply fallen into a religion. If you speak about justification by faith, it is good and right, but if you speak in a dead way, that also is a religion.

I have met a good number of so-called Lutheran believers. The Lutheran Church, we know, stands strongly for Luther’s teaching concerning justification by faith, and these followers spoke much with me regarding this matter. They were one hundred percent right, but only in doctrine. They could speak much about justification by faith, but I eventually discovered that they were not justified. They were absolutely correct doctrinally speaking, but they had no experience of what they spoke. This is just a kind of religion. Religious people hold certain religious teachings without any life.

Take this principle and check with various groups in Christianity today. You will find that with nearly all of them the principle is the same—they hold the teachings, but there is no life. Brothers and sisters, I fear that if we are not on the alert, we may hold the right teachings concerning Christ as the life-giving Spirit and yet not have the experience. We may even have the correct teachings concerning such a matter as this, but without the life itself. This also is a religion. Everything we teach, everything we minister, everything we stand for, must be full of life; otherwise, we are perpetuating the history of Sardis. What is the religion of Sardis? It is to hold something so right, so fundamental, and so scriptural, yet without life. Even the matter of the church life and the church ground can be held merely as a right doctrine, stripped of life and impact. Anything that is scriptural and even spiritual, yet without life, becomes religion. The Lord cannot tolerate those who are "deadly right." This is the fourth step.

(Christ versus Religion, Chapter 12, by Witness Lee)