Currently there is a huge discussion going on in the blogosphere about the dangers of a celebrity culture. Often in the blogosphere, if you blink you may miss a certain discussion. Some of you may not even be aware that there is a discussion going on. The basic gist of the conversation is that celebrity culture is a massive problem in the Church. Many people today want to build up their platforms so as to gain recognition for their work. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to be noticed for the work one does, the real question is ultimately that of one’s motivation.
The Christian believes that we should boast in nothing but the Cross of Christ to include the necessity to take up their Cross, deny themselves, and follow Christ in all of life. The Christian life then argues against the idea of a celebrity culture. Why does the celebrity culture then seem so entrenched in the Church? In this post it is my intention to help us think through this issue by first looking at what it means to honor those whom God is blessing verses what it doesn’t mean. My focus will be restricted to the main issues of this debate, acknowledging that there are of course numerous side issues that come with such a discussion that will not be addressed in this particular post.
First, let us be clear about what it means to honor your Pastor. Unless you attend Mars Hill in Seattle or one of the more well-known Pastors churches, they are not your Pastor or shepherd. This means it is highly unlikely that R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll, or Matt Chandler is the pastor of your home church. That isn’t a bad thing to acknowledge but many believe they can just listen to these men from a distance while avoiding being under the authority of godly shepherds in their own local community. Such an approach is the very thing Scripture as a whole argues against, namely the idea of a rugged individualistic lone-ranger Christian life. The biblical Christian life is one under authority. The New Testament epistles were written to local churches scattered across many locations and the Apostles exercised oversight of these churches while local pastors and elders ministered to the people. Paul wrote many of his epistles in response to questions raised by people in these congregations. Furthermore, Hebrews 13:17 declares, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” In addition to this verse, there are over 50 references in the New Testament alone instructing Christians on how to “one another” each other. It must also be noted that these passages make no sense outside of the context of the local church.
Second, when one looks at Hebrews 13:17, it is clear that “obey your leaders” is not a suggestion. The author of Hebrews is teaching his congregation about the superiority of Jesus in and over all things, noting in Hebrews 12 the practical outflow of the Lordship of Jesus over all of life. This includes the submission of believers to godly leaders who love Jesus and desire to make much of the gospel in and through the local church. Christians are to “obey their leaders and submit to them” but many Christians want to do everything but follow this clearly stated command. They suggest that they don’t need to submit to anyone, an idea that flies in the face of the passages we noted that outline what being under godly leadership looks like and why it is needed. The Christian life is a life of submission—submission to God, submission to godly authority in the Church, and ungodly authority outside the Church.
Finally, as I’ve thought about this issue extensively over the past few years, I’m concerned by much of the conversation about celebrity culture, specifically the assertion that if we talk about it somehow that will help to deal with the issue. There is a massive difference between honoring our leaders and elevating them to a place of superiority. Honor means giving respect. Your pastor is a man and as such is bound to sin and hurt you. It can be hard to respect a man who you live in close proximity to you. It is easy to judge him because you see all of his struggles and failings. Yet your pastor is not Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Charles Spurgeon, or John Owen. It is easy to read about the various failings of modern pastors such as avoiding helping people or meeting with them when the parishioner expected. We live in a culture today that encourages people to be hypercritical; however, the Christian is called to be patient, long-suffering, and to manifest the fruits of the Spirit because of the Gospel. I’m concerned that many people are confused over what it means to honor leaders of local churches and instead choose to elevate their leader’s opinions to the level of the Word of God.
It is highly unlikely that Mr. well-known Pastor is your pastor. He may be popular and great in the eyes of many, but the reality is he will fail at some point in time. Thus, the underlying question is why is the “celebrity pastor” the leader for some; as opposed to a local pastor? Is it because it is easier to not deal with the struggles and failings of your pastor or is it because you would rather not submit to those placed by God in positions of authority within a local church setting? If it is because you would rather not submit to your local church and your pastor, I urge you in light of Hebrews 13:17 to repent. The assembly of believers known as the ecclesia or the Church is not man’s idea—it is God’s idea. The God you believe in as a Christian instituted the church and placed your pastor in a position of authority as an undershepherd to shepherd the people of God toward Himself. Your pastor is not a superman. He is a man who has a desire to become more like Jesus. He is in need of the Gospel just like you. With that said, rather than elevating him, instead support him. Fight against the dangers of the celebrity culture by being humble and encourage the leadership of your church rather than be hypercritical of it. Yes there is a place to share concerns, but there is even more of a place to be humble and submissive to the leadership of the local church.
At the heart of this discussion on celebrity culture is a needed corrective, one that understands that authority is God-given and therefore worthy of honor and respect. You may disagree with that reality, but that is sound biblical truth. When we deal with what the Bible says, we come to see that we are a people under authority, under God and the authority He has placed over us. We must encourage those who give oversight to us by not being hypercritical. Conversely, we must be first submissive first to God, His Word and His Son and then to the undershepherds He has placed over us. In doing so, we will do more to combat the celebrity culture than just writing or speaking out against it. Moreover, we will actually do damage to the celebrity culture because God in His Word calls His people to be a humble people. 1Peter 5:5-7 states, “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
I pray today that you will fight against the dangers of celebrity culture by being a humble and submissive member of a local church that preaches the Word of God and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Fight against the dangers of the celebrity culture by proclaiming the superiority of Jesus in and over all of life to the glory of God. As you proclaim the glory of Jesus, ground your life and thinking in the Word of God even as you dedicate your life to advancing the Gospel in and through the local church. By taking this biblical approach, you will be fighting against the dangers of the celebrity culture in the Church and testifying of the greatness of God’s grace towards you in the finished work of Jesus Christ.