The Love of Appearance
A moral and spiritual crisis marks 21st century American Christianity. It is ironic that with so much knowledge at our fingertips Biblical illiteracy seems to be at an all-time high. People are still easily duped and deceived by the glitter and the gold, the hype and the hoopla, the superficiality and the showmanship that marks so much of American Christianity today, not to mention the many wolves in sheep’s clothing that stalk our land. The visible church in the mainstream of this great country is gradually becoming a hollow echo even with its million dollar edifices, high tech media, and silver-tongued orators. People are putting their faith in the wisdom of men and their eloquence, their persuasive words, clever phrases, and logical dissertations. The demonstration of the Spirit and power of God operating through humble, broken men is fading. But God has reserved far better for those who possess an intimate knowledge of their God. They will do exploits!
As a compelling example of the hollow echo effect, I was watching a video clip of a short sermon excerpt someone sent to me. The person who sent it to me thought it was hot stuff. In this clip a nationally known television preacher was whooping it up preaching and hollering something about the need for people to press through their tired state. Many in this large congregation were standing up and wagging their heads and waving their hands, but all the while I was sensing grief.
Trying hard not to be critical, I pondered what I was watching. “Why am I sensing this grief, Lord? What is this? It feels so unclean to me.” As I continued to weigh the heaviness in my spirit, here are the words I heard: “It’s just a show – you’re sensing the showmanship and the love of appearance that is such a big part of Christianity in the West today. It is as little children playing church. It is a subtle religious form of man-centered entertainment. But because scripture is attached to it people are often deceived by it, and don’t realize that they are receiving another spirit.”
More of my own questions raced through my mind: Do you sense His presence at all? Can you relate even a little to these people’s excitement? What do you think will happen to these people? What is at the root of this sort of behavior?
Honest responses rose up within me: There is no presence of God here. I sense nothing. It is only emotion. I feel so disconnected from these people’s excitement. Most of them have made a huge idol out of this celebrity preacher, and whatever he says they will take it as God saying it. He is not leading them to you, Lord.
I continued to muse within myself: This is the grief I feel. They are being further and further separated from your holy knowledge. Unless they have a rude awakening they will never really know you and your ways will they? What will be their end? They have formed another God according to their own brand of Christianity. It’s almost as if Christianity has been separated from Christ himself. Now that is a very sobering thought that reveals volumes about Christianity in many places.
The curse of Christianity today in much of the West may well be the creation of an image of God that is according to the religious culture people find themselves in. We have the Charismatic culture, the evangelical culture, the new Catholic culture, the Baptist culture, etc. We have the prophetic camp, the word of faith camp, the vineyard camp, the revival camp, and on and on. Infiltrated into many of these cultures and camps is the seeker-friendly philosophy of reaching larger numbers of people, based on a removal or a veiling of Christian theology that is least appealing to the world. But for the most part, in the visible-to-the-eye mainstream of Christianity — except perhaps in a few places — the Lord Himself is not being glorified because we are so divided. People don’t need a cultural Jesus or a traditional Jesus or a seeker-friendly Jesus. They need a living word that will pierce through the veil of their own hearts and reveal the real Jesus to them. They need an encounter with God.
The love of appearance is killing us spiritually. I’m not talking of having things look honorable and excellent. The root of this stronghold that I call love of appearance is not outward. I’m speaking of something much more deceptive. It’s a superficiality, an irreverence, a pride and hypocrisy that couldn’t even enter into the early Church. Ananias and Sapphira walked in it and were struck down. They wanted to be recognized for their generosity and having given all, so for the love of appearance they lied, and then they died. It was more spiritual than physical, inward not outward. Except for the Holy Spirit no one knew what was going on in their hearts. The great need of the hour is for more prophets and apostles like Peter, full of the Holy Ghost, who are able to see right through man-made facades, and then preach a burning word that convicts of sin and cuts away motives, attitudes, and things that are dishonoring to God.
The early Church was yet in its infancy. They were still localized in Jerusalem only. If this pride and hypocrisy, rooted in the love of appearance, had been allowed to fester it would’ve marred the purity of Christ’s body and killed the glory. Instead, the glory killed it. Judgment is always equal to the level of glory.
During my viewing of the aforementioned video clip I caught another all too familiar glimpse of the self-based nature of the modern gospel and the mainstream word that is preached. Nothing of Christ, the Holy Spirit, or anything bearing his character and nature was mentioned. Like far too many messages today, it was all about us. It was all about us overcoming, us fighting, us getting our blessing, us receiving all that is ours, with no focus or even minor referencing to Jesus and his heart and ways. As I wrote in my book, The Real Gospel, this all points to an inordinate deification of man that has become the apex of 21st century Christianity in America whereby millions of people are being deceived.
I believe the only way the glory can be restored in the Church today is through humility and the fear of the Lord. We must fall to our knees and repent of the vanity and futility of our own efforts. Large crowds and man’s approval are not sure proof signs of a move of God, or that preachers even know Him. Much of the ungodliness in present day America falls on the shoulders of preachers. We’ve led people to us and our visions, ministries, and churches more than to Him. We’ve exalted charisma, talent, attendance, buildings, cash, religious activity, and the love of appearance far more than we have the Holy One.
Ananias and Sapphira stood before Peter clutching on to a lie based on a desire to be recognized and esteemed, and rooted in the love of appearance. Unbeknownst to them however, was the fact that they stood not before man, but before the high court of heaven and the majestic glory of Him whom John, when he saw Him, “fell at his feet as dead” (Rev 1:17). Are our corporate gatherings marked with this holy focus and awareness of Him whose glory no flesh can stand?
Jesus is walking amidst the lampstands (churches – Rev 2:1). He is not concerned with the government, the economy, or world affairs as He is with his churches. Can we see Him, or is all the smoke from the methods and machinery of men blocking our view?