My wife and I discuss the state of the Church quite a bit. Having been involved in many facets of ministry for our entire marriage, it’s just something we do. I know that there is now a clamor among all those reading this to get in on these amazing conversations, but you are probably not cool enough. HOWEVER, feel free to start one next time we are hanging out!
One of the things that we come back to over and over is the rampant idolatry in our church settings. When I hear the word “idolatry,” I think of a bunch of people gathered around a golden idol. They bow down and worship it, expecting it to do magic tricks for them. The thought is almost so humorous it can be difficult for me to really identify with it. When I am being “spiritual,” my mind runs to Israel in the Old Testament as they constantly struggled with idol worship. Just reading the book of Judges, will make your head spin with their constant merry-go-round of idol worship-repent-deliverance-repeat. We do not identify with this either, because most of us aren’t dabbling in the polytheistic religions of the Ancient Near East, and we think we are superior to the Jews because of the whole New Covenant thing.
However, I think we are equally as idolatrous as the Jews were.
The difference between the modern church and other idolaters is the object of what we worship, not that we are somehow devoid of idolatry. We don’t worship sticks, or objects, or a pantheon of gods and goddess; but we do worship things in the place of God. While there are many, many idols I could focus on for this discussion; the one that has really been bothering me for some time is “Celebrity Christianity.” I picked just a few reasons why I think this has been, and will be severely damaging to the American church.
The first is that it is antithetical to how Jesus lived. Jesus was sought out by crowds, but He never sought the crowds to build His brand. Jesus told people to keep quiet about Him. How many Celebrity Christians does that sound like? Jesus was concerned about one thing: the Kingdom. Celebrity turns very quickly into being concerned with one thing also: our kingdom. If we claim to be Christ-followers, shouldn’t we follow Christ?
Secondly, Celebrity Christianity teaches people that there are levels of Christians. The famous ones are looked up, everyone else is just ordinary. The truth of Scripture teaches us that no Christian is better or worse than any other. In fact, the Bible teaches us that there aren’t good and bad people, just bad people and a good God. Paul rebukes this type of foolishness, especially when it comes to factions caused by worshipping people other than Christ.
Lastly, the idea of Celebrity pushes people away from THE place of discipleship and growth: the local church. Celebrity teaching replaces pastoral teaching and involvement in the Missio Dei, because one no longer has to be involved in a church to get “solid teaching.” I believe one of the reasons the local church is declining is because people no longer NEED to be connected: get your spiritual scraps from the Celebrity’s table; and you are alleviated from the burden of having to be in the messiness of church life. This also leads to the idea that these famous people speak for Christianity as a whole. There are many people I respect who are “big names” in the Christian sub-culture, but I agree with none of them on everything. This is insidious because people hear a Celebrity Christian speak and do not bother to study to even see if they agree with them; especially when it mirrors their own presuppositions or feelings.
Rachel and I have been talking about this for a long time, and I don’t know that I have a solution. Americans seem to need to fixate on someone/something they can worship that is real. The only way to reverse course is not to miss the fact that God was tangible, and still is if we walk in His truth, and are His hands and feet. God is tangible when we decide we aren’t all that important, and push everything aside to elevate His name. God is still very real when we recognize the truth that the local church is more important than conferences, and conference speakers, and is THE engine for real discipleship. God is the only suitable object for our worship.
We must repent and seek Him, not our brand, not our “hero,” and not ourselves.