Part 2: Christian Celebrity
This past decade the death of cultural Christianity accelerated rapidly.
Statistically, the church is in decline, and most of that is evidence of the death of a version of Christianity where people merely attended for social reasons.
*see Barna’s statistics on Christianity.
While some are concerned by these trends, I think it’s a healthy thing for genuine Christianity to reemerge and for people to no longer put on a show or merely have “a form of godliness but denying its power” (Timothy 3:5). American Christianity for too long has suffered from being commandeered by the culture for its purposes. Though some forms of cultural Christianity are holding on for now (like in the political arena), they likely will soon die too as people no longer see Christianity as a viable way to gain public approval.
My hope for the next decade is this: The death of Christian celebrity.
We reap what we sow
The Christian celebrity culture has been an infection in the American Church. It is antithetical to Paul’s critique of the church in Corinthians: “When one of you says, ‘I am a follower of Paul,’ and another says, ‘I follow Apollos,’ aren’t you acting just like people of the world?” (1 Corinthians 3:4). It has molded and shaped pastors, churches, and denominations to be attention seekers, fame grabbers, and ultimately has resulted in the “cover-up culture” we are now reaping the results of [eg., Mark Discoll, Bill Hybels, the cover up of abuse in Southern Baptist churches, etc.].
Lest you think it’s only a “big church” problem – small churches fall prey to treating their leaders as celebrities too. In fact, the first “fall from grace” I had first-hand experience with was as a part of a church of less than 100 who treated the pastor like he was untouchable.
Ultimately the Christian celebrity culture is antithetical to the Gospel.
Seeking the biggest stage.
Publishing a New York Times bestseller.
Having your new worship song trend on iTunes.
Being an influencer on social media.
Garnering the largest financial support.
Being in a context where no one questions you and you are surrounded by “Yes Men.”
These are the things that Hollywood, Washington, D.C., and Silicon Valley value. Not Jesus. And such a reality being normalized in the Church is detrimental to the work of the Gospel in the life of the person celebritized (yes, I may have just made up a word) and ultimately in the life of the people buying into their celebrity status as well.
The Bible is clear that the fruit of Christian celebrity is: immaturity, the appearance of godliness, dead religion, self-righteousness, and self-promotion (also called “conceit” [ESV]; vainglory [KJV], “empty conceit” [NASB], “vanity” [NET]). The very things Jesus hated most about the leaders of His people when he walked the earth.
The harshest part of the reality of Christian celebrity culture is this: We created it.
You and me.
The people of the church.
We are buying what they’re selling us and thus perpetuating a reality that is ultimately harmful.
We are promoting Christian celebrities, willingly placing ourselves under their teaching, and giving our support to the very things Christ warned His people against.
Instead, we should be focused on the downward trajectory of humility Christ displayed for us and we are called to imitate [Philippians 2:1-11]. Willing to die to our own selfish ambition and take on the holy ambition of Jesus laying our lives down that He might lift us up.
So, this Lent, may we hear the words of Jesus afresh as we pray for the death of Christian celebrity culture both in our hearts and in the American Church:
Matthew 23 (Message version)
Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.
“Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’
“Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
“Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.
“I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either. You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned…
“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.
“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds…”