A Call To The Remnant

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The Triumph of Form over Substance

Posted by appolus on February 24, 2016

What do I mean by the triumph of form over substance? Well, it typically means that content or the subject does not matter, what matters is how a thing looks. In other words the subject itself does not have to have any depth or true meaning it only has to look good and feel good.

I would argue that this current political cycle is a perfect example of form triumphing over substance. The rise of Donald Trump is the rise of form over substance. He merely taps into the mood of the people and says what he needs to say to get elected. He is an amalgam of our personality cult culture and business and now politics. This is the end result of a long process that could only truly find its successful conclusion with the rise of media and especially social media.

Now there have been notable people from the previous century that gives us clues as to how we got here. If we look at Hitler we see a man who could never have arisen without the aid of radio and the camera and of course circumstances. The circumstances are obvious. There was social unrest caused by a financial meltdown. This of course was severely aggravated with the rise of socialism and communism throughout the world. Given these fears and others, the people turned to someone who promised to make Germany great again. Someone who would face the problems of the day head on. Now they knew that he held extreme views but their fears for their present situation overcame any misgivings they may have had for him. The basic premise throughout the ruling classes was ” he would at least sort out the Communists,” which of course he did yet they had unleashed a monster.

Along with all those reasons, Hitler could still not have come to power without the aid of media. Radio of course was the social media of the day. People gathered in their living rooms and listened to his captivating speeches. They also went to the movies and saw such productions as ” Triumph of the Will.” A movie about the rise of the Nazi party that combined music and clippings of speeches and rallies. It is purported to be the greatest propaganda movie of all time and truly shows the power of media, form over substance, to move a whole nation. And of course that power has only increased exponentially over the last 80 years.

The first ever televised interview of two politicians debating was in 1960 and was between Nixon and Kennedy. Unbeknownst to Nixon, Kennedy had the heat turned way up in the studio because he knew Nixon had a tendency to sweat. When they both sat down to debate, Kennedy looked cool and collected while Nixon sweated badly. This had a great effect on the viewing audience. No matter what one of these men you liked, it could easily be argued that Kennedy knew the value of form over substance, it was less about what they were saying and more about how they were coming across to the audience.

In the church we are living, for the greater part, with the triumph of form over substance and the evidence of that is the depth or lack thereof of Christianity in our society. While we have had no Hitlers in the church(many mini ones) we have had many charlatans that used the power of the media and the rules of entertainment to water down the message while promoting themselves. Now three of four generations into an entertainment driven church we are left with a shallowness of showmanship that engages the ” audience.” Tozer writes “The church that can’t worship must be entertained. And men who can’t lead a church to worship must provide the entertainment.” I would argue that all across Christendom in the west we are seeing leaders who lead the people by providing entertainment.

Tragically we have seen that as the world goes so goes the church. Of course it should be the exact opposite, yet here we are. You will hear excuses about staying relevant and keeping up with technology and so on. I personally have nothing against technology but when it becomes an integral part of the “show” on a Sunday morning then you know that the plot has been lost. Today we are being driven by the form and not the substance. The cultural winds have simply taken a hold of the church and the church is being driven along by these winds towards what destination? What is the end for such a church? The complete amalgam of the world with the church. This is a tragedy. The church was supposed to be a counter-culture not a sub-culture.

Yet if there is an enemy that seeks to swallow up the church whole by means of swamping it with the world, he has badly miscalculated. We see in the secular world that given enough frustration the electorate eventually rebel against the establishment that has become corrupt. This election cycle is a perfect example with men like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. If the world can react against the corruption of the system then even more so good brothers and sisters in Christ. As always Satan will overplay his hand and brothers and sisters will simply leave corrupted institutions behind. The more our enemy overplays his hand the more he drives saints together and actually helps the Scriptures come to pass. Jesus prophesied in John 17 that we should be one just as He and His Father are one. We shall see this come to pass.

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ……….And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:(Eph 4:4-13)

Brothers and sisters God is raising up apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers. Not the children of the system that we see today, but genuine saints whose primary goal is the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry and the edifying of the Body until we all come into the unity of the faith. The unity of the faith is the work of God Himself through His Holy Spirit and the spirit of the world that has invaded the church will only drive the saints towards such a unity that will undoubtedly be forged in the fires of persecution. Pursue the substance of God with all of your heart and soul and mind and do not be distracted by shiny things that make a lot of noise and attract attention. The substance of God will triumph over the form of man.

4 Responses to “The Triumph of Form over Substance”

  1. Steve said

    “The church was supposed to be a counter-culture not a sub-culture.”

    Marvellously well-put, and spot-on.

    “Pursue the substance of God with all of your heart and soul and mind…”

    To your understanding, does focus on “substance” imply a mindset of radical (Latin, radix, “root”) simplicity ?

    blessings, Steve

    • appolus said

      Hi Steve I love your phrase ” radical simplicity,” might have to steal that 🙂 Yep, right on the money Steve. There is a desperate need to strip it all down to where it all begins, Jesus and Him hung high on the cross because of His love and the love of the Father. I have grown desperately weary of the centuries of additions, traditions if you like. Some may not be bad in and of themselves but they are coloring outside the lines. We need to get back to the beating heart of God our heavenly Father. Throw it all off and simply begin to walk again, just me and Jesus and His revolution of man right down to his DNA……………………bro Frank

  2. Tobie said

    Thank you for this. The single book that has explained the phenomenon you are talking about better than any other (that I am aware of) is Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman does not write from a Christian point of view, but as an objective social scientist. Interestingly, this contributes to the book’s value in a sense, as it is clear that he has no agenda or need to prove anything. He simply documents the shift from the “age of exposition” to the “age of showbusiness” in a brilliant manner, and shows how it has changed the face of American politics (One chapter is even devoted to the impact it has had on the “Protestant church service”). I have found the book immensely helpful and have heard it recommended by evangelicals like John MacArthur, so it is worth a read.

    • appolus said

      Your the second person to tell me that in so many days Tobie, gonna have to get a hold of that book. There is a movie from 1957 called ” A Face in the Crowd,” starring of all people, Andy Griffith. It was a dark movie but was exploring the effects of radio and television on the masses and politics……………………………bro Frank

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