I recently came across an article in which the author wrote of being “let down” and “confused” by a particular celebrity. The author had looked up to this particular songwriter but had become disillusioned when she wrote a song with lyrics antagonistic to another celebrity that the author admired. Reflecting on why she had felt so let down, the author writes, “Celebrity status is a social construct, and the more we enforce it, the more we treat famous people as gods rather than people. When we do this, we find ourselves let down by them so much more, because the stakes and expectations are so much higher.” She quotes John Green, who said, “What a treacherous thing to believe a person is more than a person.”
Celebrity worship is certainly a problem in the age in which we live. Our society tends to hand authority to people who have done nothing to warrant it except gain a cult following. We don’t even know the person in question but the fact that she has a massive Instagram following means that we must listen to what she has to say. It is precisely why Hollywood is one of the most worldview-defining forces in the modern world. Skye Jethani calls this “popularity-based rather than proximity-based authority.” He writes, “We do not allow a person authority based on a track record of faithfulness but based on the magnitude of their platform.”
It is one thing to observe this trend in the unbelieving world. It is quite another to observe it in the professing church. And yet Christians far too often fall prey to the same trap. We lament the fall of celebrity pastors and apologists as if they are our own pastor. We grant nigh-infallible authority to famous theologians for little other reason than their celebrity status. We have never met them and they certainly don’t know us, but they loom large in our hearts and minds.
We should never diminish the faithful work of famous men and women of God. We should be thankful for the ways in which we have benefited from John Piper and John MacArthur and Voddie Baucham. At the same time, we must recognise that the size of someone’s ministry or the extent of their book sales does not immediately grant them authority in our life, faith, or congregation.
The Corinthian church appears to have fallen prey to this very temptation. As divisions arose in the church, they were exacerbated by a culture of celebrity worship. Some members claimed to be followers of Paul, others of Apollos, and still others of Peter (Cephas), while the more “spiritually-minded” among them followed only Christ. Paul rebuked them for their idolatry and argued that they were emptying the cross of its power by overvaluing celebrity preachers. This is a temptation we must take care to avoid.
The first step to overcoming this temptation is to recognise it. Here are some signs you may be guilty of celebrity worship.
First, you may be guilty of celebrity worship if you promote the person rather than the word. Rather than arguing from and pointing people back to Scripture, you reason from what your favourite celebrity preacher says.
Second, and related, you may be guilty of celebrity worship if you must agree with everything the person says. I once witnessed someone leave a church over a doctrinal difference because he could not accept that his favourite celebrity pastor might be wrong.
Third, you may be guilty of celebrity worship when you value the disembodied ministry of your favourite Internet preacher over the embodied ministry of your own local church. God intends us primarily to submit to our spiritual leaders and benefit from the ministry of the brothers and sisters in our own local church. If we undervalue what God has given us in person in favour of something “better” on the Web, it may be adoration rather than appreciation.
As you reflect on this text, ask yourself whether you might be granting greater credence than is warranted to the celebrity status of your favourite Internet theologian. Appreciate these brothers and sisters for the way in which they benefit your walk with Christ, but realise, ultimately, that we are followers of Christ, not of Christ’s servants.