21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (I John 5:21)
You may be wondering why I’ve cited I John 5:21 for today’s biblical text? Didn’t we just finish our study of I John?
I couldn’t help but be reminded as to the many self-imposed idols the church adopts from time to time, from season to season. I’m not referring to stone statues or totem poles made of wood. I am referring to Christian personalities that we often tend to elevate to a stature they should never occupy. It’s bad enough when these so-called leaders and rock-star pastors personally seek the limelight, but it is another thing when believers place these individuals on pedestals as objects of praise.
As I am writing this article, a popular Christian author has recently announced that he has left his wife, refuted what he has previously written in his bestselling book on Christian non-dating while at the same time renouncing his faith in Jesus Christ. I could not help but remember how many in the church sang this man’s praises regarding his written thoughts. It seemed to me and others that he began to replace the Scriptures as the primary, if not the sole, authority on biblical relationships.
This evangelical hero-worship is not new. Well over twenty years ago, R. C. Sproul Jr. wrote an article about evangelical fame. He said, “There is nothing wrong with appreciating God’s gifts. We are to be thankful for those He (God) has gifted for His church. He has graced us with some outstanding men and women. Too often, though, it goes too far. We want not teachers and artists, but superstars. Our appreciation for the gift causes us to overlook the Giver.”
I have been a believer in Jesus Christ for over 40 years. During that time I have witnessed many evangelical superstars come and go. Some were musicians, authors, pastors, evangelists or conference speakers. They resembled modern day Diotrephes, who loved to put himself first (3 John 9). And for those who didn’t seek such significance, there were many of their followers who were willing to seek it for them.
Like July 4th fireworks, they lit up the Christian culture with dazzling pyrotechnics: real and spiritual. However, just like fireworks, which are brilliant and blazing for the moment, they soon disappeared and faded into the darkness of obscurity. Some became involved in moral failures, while others simply drifted away because they no longer were relevant. Their fame, and perhaps fortune, lasted only for the moment. Most, if not all, denied fundamental truths of the Scriptures.
Christian author and Pastor Gordon MacDonald once commented that, “The loyalty of a leader’s constituency is a heady thing. If effective, the leader receives the praise of people, the fellowship of generous donors, and introductions and invitations to privileges and opportunities not usually available to the common person. And leaders tend to know the minute that loyalty starts ‘going south,’ as they say. Reread the narrative (I Samuel 18:5-16) that describes Saul’s reaction when the person on the street began to notice David. The loss of loyalty can be devastating.”
What must the church do to guard from such idolatrous worship? Make no mistake, it is idolatry to worship the musicians, authors, pastors, evangelists or conference speakers instead of the One, True God these evangelical superstars presumably represent. It is also wrong to idolize men and women of God who humbly seek to serve the Lord with their God given gifts and want no part of the slippery slope of hero worship.
Additionally, what must church leaders do to guard themselves from becoming objects of idolatrous worship? How do leaders protect themselves from the intoxicating attraction of popularity?
We will seek to answer these questions when next we meet.
Until then, may the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.
Soli deo Gloria!