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Tuesday, May 15, 2012 | Comments (18)

by Travis Allen

Everyone wants a piece of today’s A-listers. They’re wanted by book publishers, conference organizers, and adoring fans everywhere. In certain circles, some of them have trouble getting around without being noticed.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about Hollywood, Nashville, or Washington, D.C. I’m talking about the happiest place on earth: Evangelicaland. And to be even more pointed, I’m not talking about “prosperity gospel” heretics or charlatans. I’m talking about respectable Christian leaders—think John Piper, R. C. Sproul, and John MacArthur.

That’s why I was so drawn to the panel discussion at this year’s Together for the Gospel conference on the subject of celebrity pastors. It was encouraging to hear from gifted men, with a wide influence, who don’t think of themselves as celebrities. And they don’t want the rest of us to think of them that way either. Celebrated men, leading celebrated ministries, decrying celebrity status. Now that’s something to celebrate.

The men on that panel uniformly acknowledged the challenge of Christian ministry in our celebrity culture. Actors and athletes, politicians and musicians, divas and dopes—they are often the producers of some of the most brainless tabloid drivel that dominates our media today. We are served a steady stream of that kind of pabulum. It infiltrates our visual and auditory senses through every means, inundating our minds.

Question is, what should Christians do about it?

First of all, Christians should not celebrate their leaders like the world celebrates its demigods. That kind of thinking is fleshly, worldly, ungodly. That kind of thinking divides Christians—it never unites them—because it detracts from the glory that belongs to Christ alone.

Paul rebuked the Corinthians for that very thing in 1 Corinthians 1-4. “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed . . .” (1 Corinthians 3:5, emphasis mine). If Paul didn’t die for the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:13), then neither has any man since died for the elect, the members of Christ’s church.

Paul said, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1, emphasis mine). As such, they should be thanked for serving us the Master’s food; they can even be honored for bringing it faithfully, week after week, without spilling it on the floor. But they should never be adored or worshiped in any way. That kind of adulation belongs to our triune God, and to Him alone.

Today’s American evangelical church needs to own that rebuke. Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians is the Spirit’s admonition to us. We need to examine ourselves to see if we’ve been committing the sin of admiring Christ’s servants more than Christ. If so, we should confess, repent, and worship God alone.

At the same time, Christian ministers bear some of the blame. Shepherds have a God-given responsibility to look out for their sheep, to recognize and avoid the dangers inherent in the terrain. In our environment, in our day, it is a pastoral duty to divert people’s attention from the vessel to the treasure it contains (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7).

That’s exactly why Paul said what he said in 1 Corinthians 1-4. He recounted for the Corinthians how intentionally countercultural he was in his ministry. “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom . . . I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:1, 3, 4).

The rock stars of Paul’s day were called sophists, public speakers with silver tongues. They wielded tremendous oratorical skill as experts in rhetoric and debate. They were witty, charming, and could sway audiences with ease. Sophists traveled the conference circuit (not unlike some of our own celebs), drawing massive crowds, dazzling and impressing the hoi polloi by waxing eloquent on any subject, ascending esoteric heights or even making mundane subjects sound absolutely sublime. In a day without mass media—radio, television, Internet—the sophists were it.

Contrary to common sense, Paul wanted to be as unlike the sophists as possible. What was he thinking? Didn’t Paul want to attract big crowds? Didn’t he want to see vast numbers, swarms of people, coming to Christ?

It’s not that Paul was unconcerned about results. In fact, he was so concerned about results that he chose to subvert cultural expectations. He didn’t give the people what they wanted; instead, he gave them what they needed—a faithful proclamation of the gospel message. Paul proclaimed “the testimony of God” to the Corinthians, determining “to know nothing among [them] except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1, 2). He wanted to get himself out of the way, to give the Corinthians a “demonstration of the Spirit and of power” in the clear, plain proclamation of the gospel, so their “faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Coritnhians 2:4, 5).

And why did Paul take that approach? Because the wisdom of men damns men. It’s only the power of God in the gospel that saves them.

No true Christian intentionally sets out to prop up and worship a celebrated pastor. And no faithful pastor, celebrated or despised, wants his congregation to worship him either. That anyone would even be tempted to elevate him is a terrifying thought.

But the danger is with us at all times, in all cultures. From Corinth to America, from the first century to the twenty-first, all cultures are celebrity cultures, prone to worship its guitar heroes and rock stars. It’s the danger of idolatry that lurks in every human heart. Even the aged apostle John was susceptible to elevating the creature above the Creator.

And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. But he said to me, “Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God.” (Revelation 22:8-9)

Knowing the danger that lurks within our own hearts—especially insidious in American culture, with the incessant temptations provided by modern media—it’s our job as Christians, pastor and congregation alike, to obey the command of the angel:

“Worship God.” And worship Him alone.


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#1  Posted by Benedict Jude Govender  |  Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 1:01 AM

Many Thanks for a most timely reminder. How often we get so used to quoting a good preacher instead of quoting Scripture.I do hope and pray this affects many.

#2  Posted by Andrew Roberts  |  Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 8:07 AM

Wonderful reminder. Thanks

#3  Posted by Shawn Clauther  |  Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 8:24 AM

Wonderful blog post indeed. As Benedict (#1) implies, we shouldn't be so used to quoting pastors instead of Scripture. If the only authority we have for our doctrine is "Pastor so-and-so said," then we Christians are on shaky ground indeed! If we do not leave a sermon with a greater appreciation of God's Holy Word, then something is amiss.

Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Soli Deo Gloria.

#4  Posted by Lillian Sorum  |  Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 8:44 AM

I appreciate the article. It is sad to see this in the church. I have heard our own pastor refer to a well known theologian/seminary professor as a "rock star", using those exact words. So thank you for bringing this relevant subject to our attention.

#5  Posted by Greg Begemann  |  Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 9:29 AM

Great post Travis and thanks for dealing with this subject. I was brought up in the "independent baptist circle" where the typical belief is that church leadership be structured in a way that makes one man (the pastor) the absolute authority of everything and everyone. What he says, goes, in every sense. He controls the money, the programs, the logistics, the services, everything -- and with absolutely no accountability, no system of checks and balances. In fact, it is taboo to question him about anything. One is viewed as a potential "troublemaker" if they dare inquire as to disappearing money or obvious error being propogated from the pulpit. Of course it usually never starts out this way -- who would follow that? But over time well-intended preachers fall prey to this flesh-inticing package of power, money, and prestige, which comes complete with no restraint. To put any sinful man in a position of total control is a recipe for disaster. It doesn't take long in a setting like that for the sin nature to take over. Mix that with some crowd drawing promotional talent, throw in a few strategic man-centered programs, and the ability to produce articulate, suave, funny, emotionally appealing sermons, and bingo! a "growing" church!... growing in crowds, buildings, and bank accounts, that is...not growing spiritually. And of course, any mention of Christ ruling and building His church has long since been abandoned. Instead these men become "legends" in their own mind. They begin to proudly strut about as though bullet-proof, bragging about all the "big things they are doing for God". They begin demanding their way with people, taking advantage of people, intimidating the weaker ones who are easily swayed. Young christians, or superficial non-christians who are temporarily energized by false hopes are also easy targets to manipulate. They can be "guilt-tripped" into giving all their loyalty and life savings. Members are badgered week after week for more and more their time and money which is poured into more and more programs and perks that do little more than elavate the pastor while lining his pocket. I have seen church after church devastated by this debauchery. Satan is having a field day in churches like this. Instead of joyously growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, unsuspecting people are used, misled, manipulated. These men see their church as a lucrative business with a primary goal of increasing the membership. "More members means more money" (and more fame) becomes the business model. Result? Spiritual starvation. Unable to keep up with increasing demands for their money and time, oppressed people become tired, discouraged, confused, and spiritually disoriented. Eventually, many will drift away, some stay but become lifeless, a split may occur,etc. The result is what satan wants, a totally ineffective church. Tragic. I'm thankful for GTY and men like John MacArthur so true to the Word!

#6  Posted by Raymond Cox  |  Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 1:46 PM

All of this is so illuminating...,but it's also scary.

How do we help (in addition to prayer) those well meaning and loved brothers and sisters who are convinced they are doing well? Is it "damage done" or can they be helped? I believe they can be helped because as the Word of God says, "...but with God all things are possible." (Matt 19:26). Also, the apostle Peter said "Be sober,be vigilant;...(1Peter 5:8).But how do we help so many?

#7  Posted by Isabel Lebron  |  Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 1:54 PM

God is so kind to show me my sin and allows me to repent. Thank you for this reminder. The only one who should be worshiped is Jesus Christ.

#8  Posted by Greg Begemann  |  Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 3:26 PM

Good question Raymond...we just keep preaching and teaching Truth. That was Paul's instruction to Timothy when the church he was sent to pastor was inundated with corrupt false teachers. It is the Word that exposes false teaching/teachers and enables those who are victimized to discern truth from error. It is the power of the Word that corrects, reproves, instructs those who want to know the Truth 2Tim 3. We cannot reach them all but still in a spirit of obedience, by God-given faith and endurance we labor and preach and pray with relentless diligence knowing that it is all a work of God. He will do His work through us. As His ambassadors our LORD has made us His Hands, His Feet, His voice. It is His Word that must be heard through us, it is His character that must be seen in us. Christ alone deserves to be seen, heard, worshipped, exalted, and glorified in His church. And He is doing His work. As Savior, purifier, glorifier He is building His church. So at the end of the day we can rest in the fact that Our Great Shepherd knows His sheep, cares for His sheep, and is shepherding His sheep. He sees to it that His sheep know His voice and follow Him (John 10). What a relief that is!

#9  Posted by William Stinson  |  Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 3:37 PM

Acts 14:12-15

New Living Translation (NLT)

12 They decided that Barnabas was the Greek god Zeus and that Paul was Hermes, since he was the chief speaker. 13 Now the temple of Zeus was located just outside the town. So the priest of the temple and the crowd brought bulls and wreaths of flowers to the town gates, and they prepared to offer sacrifices to the apostles.

14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard what was happening, they tore their clothing in dismay and ran out among the people, shouting, 15 “Friends,[a] why are you doing this? We are merely human beings—just like you! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them.

I am very blessed to live in Scotts Valley attend CC Santa Cruz and have the privilege of being taught by Pastor Bill Holdridge (does not like titles like Pastor) but I do alot of studying online and listen in the morning John M. it is when my brain is most receptive and the afternoon to Jack Ableen I like his wit, now I know enough to be as the Bereans, but must admit I am in awe at Johns incredible study regiment, the time he puts in is staggering which makes my studying easy I just follow Johns lead (I have caught a few errors) I do not worship John but I sure do admire him.

John do I get a free book for my plug, okay a small prayer will do; for wisdom and discernment.

#10  Posted by Raymond Cox  |  Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 4:58 PM

Message recieved Greg...thank you very much for the thought and time you put into your answer in order to help me. The expression " He sees to it " is indeed a relief. Thank you for that added encouragement.

Because of the resources God is providing through Grace To You and this blog, I should be able (with His guidence) to help any brothers or sisters within my sphere , who may have taken their eyes off Jesus without realizing it.

#11  Posted by Jeff Shaddix  |  Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 6:47 AM

When I saw the header, the first thing that came to mind was the Dove awards. As a volunteer church musician, I can tell you that some of the most well known artists are humble and accessible at Christian music conferences, because they are real. They worship as they perform and the concerts are in fact large worship gatherings, but why do we need an awards ceremony? I am certainly not one that condondes being different to a fault, just to make a point, but if it is not about us or the music, then why look just like the SAG awards, or CMA?

#12  Posted by Charles Shanks  |  Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 9:27 AM

I agree that Gods word does not want us to worship celebrity preachers.With TV celeb preachers,seeker friendly church, and emergent.It is hard not to lean too much perhaps when you find a preacher that studys and preaches Gods truth as opposed to so many who do no so well.I was hammered on a regular basis on tithing until I heard Dr. J vernon McGee and especially John MacArthur.Also Donald Cole at Moody Bible Radio and others.It(tithing) had caused a huge amount of division in our home between my wife and I (and even my daughters when I obeyed the topical sermons on tithing. For years and worked two jobs and more to do it.This is justb a hard learned example for me. There are others.I get confused are we to place confidence in all pastors equally when many seem to be off track?

#13  Posted by Greg Begemann  |  Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 2:39 PM

Valid point Charles; it is difficult when you trust what a preacher says (especially when he sounds like he knows what he is talking about) only to find out his teaching is not Scriptural. As Proverbs 25:19 puts it -- putting confidence in a "faithless man" is like having a "bad tooth" Unbearable pain from a bad tooth can strike suddenly with no warning--usually before you realize there's a problem. And it effects your whole body until the tooth is removed! That kind of unexpected suprise trauma is what the Bible compares with the painful effects of suddenly finding out you have been led astray by a false teacher you always thought truthful. For that reason Psalm119:8 says "It is better to put your confidence in the LORD and not man..." That doesn't mean you can't trust anyone, certainly there is an array of Godly, trustworthy men like John MacArthur who we can all be extremely grateful for! But when it comes down to taking someone's word for it--i've had to learn the hard way -- check it --put it up next to THE Word and see if it's a match. If it's not, discard what that person is saying. All in all, God works a good thing in us through experiences like that. He teaches us caution and discernment; we trust God more and our own judgement less; it forces us to dig into the Word and learn it so we can easily recognize error; it drives us to our knees pleading for the safegurd of God's wisdom -- which, undeserving as we are, Our gracious LORD tells us He will give us upon request (Jmaes 1:5). How awesome is that!

#14  Posted by Greg Begemann  |  Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 3:46 PM

previous post corrections: (Psalm 118:8) and (James 1:5) sorry for the typos!!!

#15  Posted by Lamar Carnes  |  Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 6:07 AM

Well done article on how we should watch our hearts and minds on the issue of elevating individuals into an idol. I think our model for evaluating other highly used individuals in the body of Christ, for we can certainly see and observe God's Holy Spirit gifting many today, is the book of Hebrews. The writer carefully names and speaks well of the great faith of various individuals in past history. People's attention was upon each one of them. So, this is a correct manner in speaking, thinking, and evaluating the men and women in our Evangeland today. Nothing wrong at all with giving honor to whom honor is due. Also, nothing wrong is noting how God is using someone in a special way and our desire to be under or near or close to that ministry and or minister. But always remembering they have their sins and weaknesses also and are like all of us in the body of Christ. Remember James comments Elijah, we too have the Holy Spirit and should walk by faith even as he did for the glory of Jesus!

Men in ministries have to guard their own personal hearts very closely or they will become puffed up in pride and arrogance. I think this is an ongoing thing thourghout the history of our Church and I also think we should not be so quick to judge another person's heart just because we may not agree with their methods and practices. Pray for all in the body and the various ministries and God will take care of the situations for us. Let's encourage all who adhere to the Gospel and the whole counsel of God.

#17  Posted by Raymond Cox  |  Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 7:34 PM


I'm reminded of the wisdom of Warren W. Wiersbe ( a greatly devout man of God ) who wrote: "...even the most saintly men are made of clay."

Perhaps we can all help as we show it and sow it!

#18  Posted by Eli Jackson  |  Friday, May 18, 2012 at 7:52 PM

Much needed post.

#19  Posted by Daamon Landry  |  Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 12:26 PM

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