Sardis was labeled by our Lord as being “dead.” (Rev. 3:1) Was He painting with too broad a brush? Surely not. Were there not some spiritually alive there? Yes.
There were some living but “ready to die” (verse 2). There were a few that were undefiled and worthy (verse 4). Yet, Jesus labeled the church, as a whole, “Dead.”
So, it is possible to refer to a church, using a general term reflecting the general spiritual condition of the church, without applying it to every member.
Consequently, I don’t get all out of joint when I hear brethren use a general term to label a church to either warn against or commend it. I understand that there may be some in that church that do not fit the term, but that, in general, the label fits.
When I refer to a church, as Liberal, or Conservative, or Faithful, or Unfaithful, or Worldly, or Sound, etc., I do not mean that every single member fits the label used, but that I consider that to be the status of that church in general. Similarly, materially speaking, I may refer to a church as Affluent and another as Poor without meaning that every member fits the label. A generally affluent church may have some poor members. Some poor churches may have a few affluent members.
Admittingly, some may be prone to unnecessarily and, at times, maliciously labeling churches using some of the above terms. I am not defending that. But, there are times when such may be needed to give a reason for endorsing or not, or recommending or not.
I am also aware that the “labeling” done in our text was done by Jesus who, being omniscient, was in position to infallibly judge it and that mere men will make mistakes. In fast, evidently most folks evidently had designated it as a Living church. That does not mean that faithful and knowledgeable Christians, though imperfect, cannot make judgements about the fruits of an individual or a church – “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matt. 7:20).