A Battle with the Superficial

A recent conversation with an evangelist friend of mine has left me greatly grieved at the state of the American church.  So harrowing was his account that last evening I was troubled to an extent that it gave me a bit of insomnia.  He opened up his soul to me as he told me of the superficial spirituality that marks many of our churches these days.  This superficiality is marked with a “hurry up and let’s get this over with” mentality.  Worship is rushed and has little depth because of the desire to hurry and get to the next thing.  There is pressure to hurry and get to the restaurants, the game on television, the shopping excursion or some other endeavor that seeks to satiate the entertainment factor in our soul.

I was appalled when he told me that several of the churches he went to, pastors had informed him before he ever started to preach that they did not care for any sermons on hell, judgment, or any kind of conviction.  One pastor gave the recommendation that he ought to read three or four Scriptures and tell four or five stories and then conclude the sermon.  Another place he went to, he found out that the pastor was opposed to altar services that brought people to the “mourner’s bench” and was marked by tears and confession of sin.  He was told that the people needed to be given a “joyful” and “exciting” worship experience so that they could go home “happy.”  Music has also become a bit of a beast in that he noted that at multiple places, the music would get people whipped into a superficial, psychological frenzy.  The music would go on for a lengthy period of time and the preaching of the Word would be limited to a fifteen to twenty minute time slot. 

Although the church I pastor thankfully has not fallen into this sort of thing, there was something that rose up in me that determined not to fall into the trap of superficiality.  In fact, I routinely tell our guests who come that my job is to preach “long sermons.”  While I am smiling and lighthearted when I say it, I am deadly serious about it.  When we lose our ability to preach Word-centered, Word-forced, Word-provoking messages, we have entered into a phase of church death.  It might take years for it to finally take place but at some point, the church that caves into superficiality will die.     

After hearing this yesterday afternoon, I revolted last night in our church.  One of the reasons for my revolt was because I had to drive a little over two hours after this conversation with this evangelist.  Instead of praying for situation he told me about, I prayed for myself.  I prayed that I would be a man of God.  I prayed that I would be a man of prayer.  I pleaded with the Lord for Him to let me see the priority of prayer and preaching like I never have seen it before.  As this was taking place, the Lord prompted multiple points from Scripture about what it meant to really be a clean, pure servant of the Lord.  Much of this poured out of me last evening as I preached without notes.  In fact, I rarely preach without notes because I place value on what I dig out in the study during the week.  However, on this night all of the study that had filled the reservoir in the past came roaring out with a vengeance.

If you are a pastor and you are reading this on Monday, you might give consideration to understanding that you are accomplishing far more than you might guess.  The scary part is that if you are negligent but think all is well, you are adding to the lukewarmness that is gripping the American church.  On the other hand, if you are faithfully expounding the Word (even in a Pentecostal setting), you are accomplishing far more than you can imagine. 

I can tell you what superficiality does to churches.   It allows the unconverted to remain in their unconverted state but really believe that all is well with their soul.  It allows fleshly carnality to reign which will stifle any and all of the convicting work of the Spirit.  Superficiality causes men to believe the lies that their heart continually tells them (Jer. 17:9).  It will cause all men to flatter themselves concerning the true condition of their soul.  Self-flattery is a high form of self-deception that has been mixed with self-worship.  Superficiality causes men to buy into the idea that they are a “good person” and that the Lord will give them a pass at the judgment.  When this kind of attitude sits in the pews and is never confronted, the power of the church slowly weakens. 

Years ago, I was involved in the care of a woman who had been stricken by Gullian-Barre Syndrome.  I have only seen two cases of this in my almost 30 year medical career.  It is one of the most chilling and scary medical conditions you have ever witnessed.  It starts with a muscle weakness that soon turns into paralysis.  It starts in the lower extremities and ascends up the body until the patient is totally paralyzed.  There is no cure or medicine that has been found to stop it.  Various treatments like high doses of steroids and occasionally plasmapheresis will be used to slow its upward progress.  As it progresses upward over a period of about a week, the patient soon gets to a place that they cannot breathe and mechanical ventilation is required for survival.  This one lady was in this state for 120 days before the paralysis began to recede downward.  All-in-all she was the whole process of the sickness, recovery, and rehabilitation lasted about 18 months.  Churches that allow superficiality to take hold rarely recovery from their spiritual paralysis.   

I came to an understanding yesterday about standing against superficiality.  If I am to win the battle against superficiality, then I will have to embrace the Cross.  My life, my calling, my public ministry and my private devotion will have to be Cross-centered. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer—When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. . . because only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ.  In fact every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts.

Thomas a’ Kempis—Christ’s whole life was a Cross and Martydom:  and thou seek rest and joy for thyself?  Thou art deceived. . .”

A.W. Tozer—The cross will cut into our lives where it hurts worst, sparing neither us nor our carefully cultivated reputations. 

Cecil B. Knight—Those looking for the deluxe brand of salvation without a Cross are more in search of salve than salvation.  You can have a religion without crucifixion—but not Christianity.  Life in Christ begins with the death of Self.

The Cross shoves superficiality out of your life.  It pushes it from the ministry and it expels it from the church.  However, when superficiality makes its exit there is an inherent and resident force of holy anointing like we long for.

We must take up our cross and follow the Lord no matter how difficult the path may seem to be.  There are rewards awaiting those who are faithful to the calling!

Thanks for reading. . .

Philip Harrelson         


Steve said…
Some of the absolute best writing I've read in awhile. I have no doubt that you are, indeed, a man of prayer, a man of study, a man of God, and I appreciate the stand that you have taken in your ministry.

Thanks for a word that I needed.

Anonymous said…
I'm retired and have plenty of time for reflection. Just this morning I was thinking about a time years ago I put in a place of constriction by a pastor who gave me a scripture to teach the adult Sunday School Class. Trying to be obedient I tried to do as he asked but I could not get any inspiration. It simply was not what God wanted for the church that day.

You see that church had became a prime example of what you've written. I'm so glad I got my family out of there before we succumbed to it too.
Anonymous said…
Thank you for this timely word. As much as I would like to say it sin't it is more and more becoming true across our fellowship. May God stir us to see where we are, what we are and who we are - and Whom we belong to.
Unknown said…
God has made this so vivid to me as a pastor. In the area in which I pastor, we go out witness and invite, but many of our "first-timers" have already come from a church tradition as you have described and it will take the Holy Spirit to change their hearts because the "Denying the Self" preaching is foreign to many a church goer, sad, but God has those who have not bowed the knee to the people or the age...Amen!!! Thanks for the article....Praying for you!!!!
Unknown said…
Thank you pastor Charles for recommending the article. It is necessary for us to watch as Christ told his disciples to do. This will help us keep our eyes open and our hearts and minds right.
css said…
Very well said! This is something that has been driving me for a couple of years now. We've relegated church to music and a short funny sermon or something touching. The Lord gave me a word "casualty of casual christians". Over all we don't want our indifference to be challenged. We do not want our prayerlessness exposed or our ignorance of God's Word to be made evident. We want something easily achieved to keep our brand of a "move of God" in tact without any real victory in life.

I'm an independent home mission's pastor. We've just finished a 31 day March for victory. We have a small church but they are growing spiritually and have fallen in love with truth. The best is yet to come to a church that will not compromise.

Thank you for your blog it has helped me to keep focused on the Word.
Unknown said…
An absolutely profound post, my friend. Thanks, my sharing.
Wow! Very deep and yet so very true. I've been seeing this myself although I'm only a member of the flock of God. It has been bothering me for some time now that it seems as the days and years draw to a close, we as seem to be yearning for "Easy" Christianity. We seem to demand that church and God be formed around our lives not, our lives around God. God help us in this last hour to seek Him.

Awesome writing, Thank You.
Anonymous said…
Brother Harrelson,

While I have seen this trend in some circles of modern Pentecost, thankfully, the fellowship that I have remained a part of has not seen this decline (and it IS a decline). We are still preaching against sin and worldliness, preaching consecration and separation; still have deep, powerful services and altar calls, still have young people who stay and pray FOLLOWING the altar call, instead of rushing out the door; still have, as we had this week - new converts toss their televisions in the trash to help keep their heart pure.

Thank God for men of God who understand and preach, that each of us who have this HOPE of heaven, purify ourselves even as He is pure.

Bro. Connell

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