I went to church yesterday.
That may sound like an obvious choice for a Christian on a Sunday morning, but I usually worship at home with my family. This Sunday, however, God led me to attend church elsewhere. I settled on Parkway Community Church in Frederick, MD, a church I had driven past many times, but never attended.
The people were friendly. The singing consisted mostly of hymns and Gospel songs instead of fluff-and-nonsense praise and worship songs, accompanied by piano, keyboard and drums. The pastor led the singing, since both the song leader and assistant song leader were on vacation. Then, after prayer-and-praise time, and taking up the collection, it was time for the sermon.
This reporter has been in many churches and heard many sermons over the years. The sermon today was like many that I have heard before. The pastor preached on Matthew 11:25-30:
At that time, Jesus answered, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in your sight. All things have been delivered to me by my Father. No one knows the Son, except the Father; neither does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and he to whom the Son desires to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30)
As the pastor, Dr. Howard Zurley, preached his sermon, I felt as though something was wrong. But I couldn’t pinpoint it. For the most part, everything he said was accurate. Indeed, Jesus reaches out to those who labor and are heavily burdened. Indeed, Jesus gives us rest. Indeed, Jesus’ yoke is lighter than the yoke of bondage to sin, and those who wear it receive the reward of Heaven. Indeed, too, Jesus has told us to “Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and don’t be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1)
It was accurate—nothing that I could say was heresy or falsehood. And yet, the pastor seemed to be going on and on without really saying anything.
And then God showed me the answer: the pastor understood the Bible academically, and was preaching a message that was Biblical, yet he was not guided by God. To put it succinctly, the pastor knew about Jesus, but he didn’t know Jesus. He had years of Bible knowledge and could put one verse with another to form a sound message. But he didn’t really understand the yoke of Christ that he was preaching about.
As I left the church, I felt grieved in my spirit. To be honest, it wasn’t as though this was the first time I had experienced such a message. But this time, God had showed me His perspective and crystallized my understanding in a new way.
At the beginning of the sermon, a man from the congregation read the pastor’s text. But he started with verse 24 instead verse 25: “But I tell you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, on the Day of Judgment, than for you.” He stopped, confused, realizing that this was not what the pastor would be preaching about that day.
That was not a mistake. That was God’s message to the congregation today. I know because He told me so. The pastor should have been calling his congregation to repentance before Jesus Christ.
Sadly, I don’t believe there is hope for this church. I do believe that there are sincere believers in Christ who attend there, who will not be part of the harsh judgment prophesied this morning. But they are not part of a living church. They are part of a zombie church—a church led and attended by the walking dead.
Zombie Christians don’t realize that they’re dead. Like Lazarus, they have been unwrapped and set free. Unlike Lazarus, they have not been raised to life. Or maybe they have died again, yet haven’t been buried. They are walking around, going to church, playing Christian music on the radio, slapping Christian fish symbols on the back of their cars, even going to seminary and getting Doctor of Divinity degrees, but they do not have the life of Christ living within them.
Their sermons are more or less Biblically accurate, yet an atheist could preach them, with about the same impact—because the sermon does not require a personal relationship with Christ. It is not the result of walking with Christ and learning from Him, but the result of academic study of the Word. They take the living words of Jesus and turn them into a dead sermon.
I wish that this was an isolated case. It is not. As I drove home, I realized that Sunday, in America, is not a happy day for God. Certainly, there are living churches and living Christians in whom God rejoices and is glorified. But America is filled with zombie Christians and zombie churches, who preach empty messages and sing empty songs, and grieve the heart of the One who they think that they know.
I had a similar experience listening to Paul Emerson preach at Calvary Mennonite Fellowship in Virginia. At the time, I didn’t realize everything that I do now, but I sensed that something was wrong. The message was dead. Everything he said was true and good, yet it lacked the power of the Spirit of God. Now I understand. Folks, I’m not going to “pretty it up”: Paul Emerson is a zombie preacher.
It brings me no joy to share this message with you. I was planning to conclude the series on the love of God, but He led me to interrupt it with this report. I wish that I could offer hope and change. And as long as there is physical life, the door is still open for repentance. Some will repent. But many, just as in the days of Jesus’ time on earth, will see God’s mighty works, but fail to yield themselves to Him.
“You, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, you will go down to Hades. For if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in you, it would have remained until today. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, on the day of judgment, than for you.” (Matthew 11:23-24)