I’ve recently been thinking about the Strange Fire Conference put on by John MacArthur, since there has been quite a big uproar about it on the blogosphere in Evangelical circles. John MacArthur, being a staunch cessationist (believing that sign gifts from the Holy Spirit were only part of the early church, and have ceased), hosted a conference on the dangers against the Charismatic movement, and the necessity to guard against the false doctrine that the Charismatic movement has propagated. I’ve read many blog posts for and against the conference, and also about the way Mark Driscoll crashed the conference. I myself am a continuist (believing sign gifts still happen today), so I don’t agree with many of the arguments that MacArthur makes. While I could potentially write about why I don’t agree with him and my support for the continuist movement, what this whole conference made me think more about is the way our present-day celebrity culture influences the way we view Christian leaders.
Before I can critique celebrity Christian culture, I have to admit that I am one who has been influenced by it. In college, my friends used to call me a “Pipette,” since I used to listen to many John Piper sermons and read many of his books. While I’ve come a long way since then after getting two seminary degrees and reading many other perspectives, I know it is so easy to just follow someone and throw their theological views around, instead of thinking through issues myself. There’s an appeal to just defer to someone else’s opinion, instead of taking the time to investigate differing viewpoints, and in some ways, it feels safer and more comfortable to follow one person’s perspective. Yet, I think it is interesting how easy it is to get swayed into just following one Christian leader over another, and identifying ourselves with a person or a movement.
Our modern day Christian culture has been influenced by celebrity culture, and the cult of celebrity can have some harmful ramifications. Christian leaders are put on insanely high pedestals, and people follow one person’s words as if they were God’s. In this way, I think it can be dangerous to merely ascribe to one person’s theology and teaching, and there is a necessity to think critically about what we are taught. The onslaught of social media has made it even easier to ascribe to Christian leaders – to follow their thoughts and opinions, as we retweet and hashtag different quotes. This cult of celebrity can cause a kind of idolatry in magnifying a person and their words.
I remember my friend in college rebuking me in jest (but with some truth) with Revelation 22: 8-9:
“I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”
It’s true that we need to worship God and not the messenger.
Of course, I’m sure as I write this, just having graduated from the Institute of Spiritual Formation, I’m probably one of those people who ascribe to the movement of Spiritual Formation, since it has been so beneficial for my life. Yet, we’re all people, and we all have errors in the ways we view things, as we continually learn and grow in truth and grace. So, I’m open to being wrong about my current views on the non-essentials of Christianity.
And as I read God’s Word, I guess nothing is really new under the sun, as Paul admonishes the Corinthian believers who were following their own leaders, in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (ESV):
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
While the cult of Christian celebrity can bring much division among us, I pray blessings on my brothers and sisters who are of differing theological opinions, and hope that we can all see Christ’s gospel and redemption magnified in the world.