Sensationalism; An Excerpt from an Apostolic Ministries Lecture

Posted: December 17, 2012 in Living the Faith, On Being Apostolic, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church
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There are three perspectives of the story of Cornelius presented in Acts 10-11.  Luke tells it as the book’s author, then he has Cornelius tell it from his perspective, and Peter from his.  Luke says plainly that an angel appeared to Cornelius, and when Peter addresses the brothers in Jerusalem he says an angel appeared, but Cornelius himself doesn’t make that claim.  Cornelius describes him as “a man with bright clothing.”

This is interesting because the angelic nature of the visitation is noted, but never emphasized.  It isn’t celebrated in any way, only observed and reported.  Luke and Peter interpret Cornelius brightly dressed visitor as an angelic messenger, but neither place any real focus on it.  It’s also interesting that while Luke & Peter recognize the supernatural nature of the visitation, Cornelius himself doesn’t necessarily see it as so.  And while Luke and Peter recognize the supernatural nature of the event, they in no way place any stress on this when dealing with Cornelius.  Evidently they don’t feel the need to shock and awe him with the presence of angels.  The weird and wonderful isn’t what they focus on; their focus is on the Gospel.

Even the sensational nature of the vision of Peter isn’t mentioned in the address at Cornelius’ house.  All Peter tells of it…and this very briefly…is what God taught him.  He mentions the point of the vision, but not the vision itself.  We are told of the vision by Luke, and the brethren at Jerusalem are told of it by Peter, but it wasn’t even hinted at to Cornelius.

Here’s the point; the early church was not sensationalist.  When dealing with the lost they felt no need to promote their spiritual bona fides.  They didn’t need to get Cornelius and company in a lather about the presence of an angel, and they didn’t need to establish their spiritual superiority by presenting fascinating accounts of visions.

What is sensationalism?  What do we mean?  We embrace sensationalism when we focus on subject matter, use language, and minister in a style that’s designed to produce startling or thrilling impressions.  Sadly, this is us.  We require more and more startling or thrilling subject matter, language, and style.  Our culture’s constant bombardment of the senses with the big and loud, the lurid and shocking, the violent and troubling, dulls our spirits.  In the same way that the constant throbbing din of rock music dulls the hearing, so our tenderness and sensitivity is reduced, and our souls calloused.

We are not immune from the influence of cultural phenomenon.  We as the Church are affected by this cultural noise pollution, and it has affected our expectations as the Church.  Everything we do must be bigger, louder, and more sensational.  We must be more alarming, more emotional, more alive than life itself…if being frantic can be interpreted as being alive.

So cue the coloured lights, the smoke machine, the swelling music, and the heart rending story.  Speak of angels, demons, and grand conspiracies.  Show us beasts, jeweled seraphim, and golden cities from heaven.  Stir us with the grand and the glorious.  Make our senses tingle.  Do this…we must have this…for Calvary will not move us and the Gospel is not enough.

  1. Cameron says:

    This is why you often hear people refer to church as “boring.” They have certain expectations that have more to do with presentation and less to do with content.

  2. Big Dave says:

    I had a first hand sample of this at a camp meeting, not too long ago.

    The high powered, super spiritual, camp speaker came to the pulpit and announced that he “saw an angel pacing in front of the tabernacle.”

    As the saying goes, “The crowd went wild!” Hands were in the air, tears were flowing and people were moaning and praising with all of their might.

    I just sat there in shock with a disgusted look on my face.

    My wife turned to me and asked what was wrong. My reply was simple.

    “All these people are going crazy over an angel in front of the tabernacle and none are noticing that GOD IS IN THE HOUSE!

    When an angel moves us to tears and the presence of God is of no effect, our train is seriously off the tracks!

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