By Thomas Williamson
3131 S. Archer Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60608
We live in the age of superstars and hero worship. We are
known for our adoration of sports stars, rock performers, actors
and actresses, popular politicians and entertainers. There is
even a new category of female superstars called "celebutantes"
who are known and admired mainly for their wild partying and for
being caught driving drunk.
This spirit of hero worship is alive and well among conservative Christians also. Whether falling into the fundamentalist, new evangelical or charismatic camp, it seems that most Christians have their heroes and superstars that they worship and identify with. These heroic demigods, whether they be megachurch pastors, televangelists, right-wing politicians or radio personalities, are considered to be above criticism and to be worthy of the adulation of every true Christian believer.
Followers of these evangelical celebrities are very militant about their hero worship, and are bold in their opposition to any fellow believers who choose not to worship and blindly follow these anointed, privileged leaders. It is not enough to just follow Jesus - one must also follow the "Mannagod" with the same fervor.
This spirit of hero worship is nothing new - it was around in the First Century Church of Corinth, and the Apostle Paul condemned that type of attitude as carnal and babyish: "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. . . . For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
"For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos, are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?" (1 Corinthians 3:1, 2-5).
The tendency of modern evangelical Christianity is to line up with certain religious celebrities who are to be followed without question, and whose doctrine, however unscriptural, must not be questioned. This tendency is carnal and it is dangerous to modern Christianity.
Once it has been decided that this or that televangelist or evangelical superstar has achieved infallible status, then he can propagate false teaching or practices within the churches, without challenge. Those who protest or express disagreement with that teaching are loudly condemned and silenced, while those who taught the false teaching to begin with are lionized and their false teaching, immorality and personal scandals are covered up.
We haven't really progressed much in maturity since the Middle Ages. In those days, if any theological dispute arose, the matter would be settled by appeal to a mere human authority, such as Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Peter Lombard, etc.
Nowadays we still appeal to human authorities that are regarded as authoritative, such as C.I. Scofield, James Dobson, Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsay, Jack Van Impe, Pat Robertson, John Hagee, Jack Hayford, Joel Osteen, Jim and Tammy Bakker, Rush Limbaugh, Rick Warren, Joyce Meyer, etc. Christians are eager to identify with such leaders as these, to regard them as infallible, and to pounce with anger on anyone who disagrees with them or dares to disregard their authority.
Not only is no criticism allowed of the anointed leaders, but we have a positive duty to follow them, endorse and commend them, watch their TV shows, listen to their radio broadcasts, subscribe to their newsletters, and attend their mass rallies. Those who fail to render the due reverence to these preachers are accused of "attitudinal sins" and of disrespect for God's man.
Over the years, I have been pressured and bullied by people who wanted me to become followers of such men as Jack Hyles, Peter Ruckman, Billy Graham, Benny Hinn, Coach MacCartney, Jimmy Swaggart, Henry Blackaby, Kenneth Copeland, etc. When it has become apparent that I was not going to become a follower of any such mere men, then I have sometimes been bitterly condemned as a reprobate renegade, rebel and infidel.
This spirit that demands divine hero worship of mere men, and that harshly condemns those who do not align themselves with our designated hero, is a carnal spirit. It causes envying, strife and divisions in our churches. Those who go around clobbering and fighting against Christians who do not worship these heroes are exposing their basic carnality and immaturity.
In Galatians 2:6, the Apostle Paul expressed his disdain for the anointed "big shots" of his day: "But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me."
Nowadays, of course, we are expected to bow down in adoration to those preachers over us who "seem to be somewhat." Many churches make it clear to their followers that they are expected to pay homage to these "somebodies." In some Baptist church directories on the Internet, churches identify themselves by naming a certain luminary who in their minds holds "He Who Must Be Obeyed" status.
When Hyles-Anderson College created a shrine using the house that Jack Hyles was born in, which was moved from Texas to Indiana at great expense, Hyles supporter Ray Young said, "Pastor Hyles was adored and venerated by independent Baptists across the country. It should be a major attraction for them." Which raises the question, is it enough to "adore" and "venerate" the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, or must we add Jack Hyles to the Holy Trinity, just as Catholics for all practical purposes have done with the Virgin Mary?
Meanwhile, there are reports of some churches booting out members who refuse to identify with Rick Warren's Purpose Driven teachings. (I do not know if Rick Warren approves of such expulsions carried out in his name).
Please note that there is nothing in this article that is intended to criticize, by name, any of the preachers and Christian celebrities mentioned. That is not the purpose of this article. However, I realize that by merely naming certain famous preachers and stating that I do not feel under obligation to follow, obey or align myself with them, I will be regarded by some as being guilty of a critical spirit and of having attacked the anointed authorities that God has set over me. Is there a scriptural basis for such a reaction, or is this the carnal spirit of man-worship that creates division and discord in modern evangelical Christianity, by condemning good Christians who are guilty of no other offense than failing to worship at the shrine of someone else's "Mannagod?"
Excuses and Justifications for Modern Day Hero Worship
"Look at all the numbers of followers this preacher has - therefore you are obligated to follow him." Where is it taught in the Bible that we are obligated to follow the religious teacher with the most numbers of followers?
Did Christ have the most numbers at the end of John Chapter 6, when many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more?
How did the number of 120 Christian disciples in Acts 1:15 compare with the number of Jews, or of the worshipers of Jupiter, Mithra, Isis or Serapis in those days?
If you are going to use the numbers argument, then have you submitted yourself to the one preacher today who has more followers than any other preacher of all time? Of course I speak of Pope Benedict XVI who has more than one billion loyal followers. If you have not become one of Uncle Ben's Converted Romanists and submitted yourself completely and blindly to his authority, then do not use the "numbers" argument on behalf of some megachurch pastor with a mere 30,000 members.
"Look at all the souls he has won - therefore he is beyond question and you must follow him." This is a variation on the "numbers" argument. Because a certain evangelist has had large numbers of people walking in the aisle in his meetings (even though the vast majority of them never show up in church) we are obligated to recognize the evangelist as a superstar and his teachings are now held to be above question.
By all means let us adore and venerate the greatest soulwinner among us, but notice what the Apostle Paul says about who is really responsible for the winning of souls: "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase." (1 Corinthians 3:5-7).
Paul here directs our adoration away from the mere human instruments by which God has worked in order to win souls. The real soul-winner is God. Reserve your hero worship and blind obedience for Him, not for any mere man.
So much, then, for the argument that we must follow certain preachers because "God has blessed their ministry so abundantly." No one's ministry was more abundantly fruitful than Paul's, yet in Galatians 1:8 Paul advises his followers to reject even him if he turns away from the truth of the gospel.
"The televangelists are anointed preachers, and therefore we are obligated to support and obey them because of the anointing they have received from God."This is a really weak argument - according to 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 and 1 John 2:20, all Christians are anointed by God.
Meanwhile, if the personal lives of the so-called "anointed preachers" is considered, it would appear that many of them are vastly less "anointed" or sanctified than the run-of-the-mill Christians who send them so much money.
Without naming names, many of the anointed preachers who are regarded as untouchable and unassailable authorities have been guilty of greed, covetousness, misappropriation of funds, arrogance, lust, adultery, sex perversions, multiple divorces and remarriages, drug abuse, compromise with false teachers and all manner of scalawaggish rascality.
Then there is all the false doctrine preached by men who are blindly accepted as infallible authorities, such as: "If you are sick, you are guilty of lack of faith in God."
"We should not preach the Gospel to the Jews because they are already saved by being Jews."
"If a Baptist preacher tells you to drink poisoned Kool-Aid, then you must do it."
"It is proper to have Catholic priests taking part in an evangelistic crusade, and to send converts from such crusades to the Catholic Church."
"If you were saved out of any Bible other than the King James Version, then you are not really saved and will go to Hell."
These are the kind of errors we must accept without question, once we accept the notion that there are certain preachers who are "anointed" and therefore to be blindly obeyed. Call me an infidel and renegade if you wish, but I confer infallible status on no one except God.
When the men of Lystra offered to worship Barnabas and Paul as gods, they decisively refused and rejected such adulation, Acts 14:11-18. It is time for us to reject the cult of Christian hero worship that has arisen among us. One God, in Three Persons, should be enough to adore for all of us.
Should We Line Up With Christian Colleges?
A variation on the spirit that causes believers and churches to line up with big-shot preachers, is the policy of fiercely loyal identification with certain Christian colleges.
There is nothing wrong with a local church promoting and supporting one or more Christian colleges that are known to and trusted by the leadership. Nor is there anything wrong with encouraging young people to attend certain colleges, as long as they are not pressured or ostracized if they pick a different school.
However, this spirit of lining up with colleges is sometimes carried too far. Sometimes we judge and condemn fellow believers and churches because they do not identify with the college that we identify with. or do not hate those who are condemned by the college we align with. Their policy is "You Have to Hate the People We Hate," and anyone who runs afoul of that policy is hated also.
When our favorite college does a complete "about-face" on some controversial topic such as Calvinism, Bible versions or the Ecumenical movement, then we have to change with that college. Alumni are expected to forget what they were previously taught at their college, and walk in lock-step with the new teaching which is 180 degrees removed from what they previously asked to pledge allegiance to. Those who fail to change with every whim of their college administration are branded as troublemakers and cast into outer darkness.
One college administration issued a policy statement identifying Masons as followers of a "Luciferian religion." When it was pointed out that 2 board members of that college were Masons, the college did not remove these "Luciferians" from the board. Instead, they issued a new opinion stating that Masons were not such bad fellows after all. Alumni who had taken a strong stand against Masonry were left hanging.
Our Christian colleges deserve respect for the work they have done in educating young people over the years. However, we should not let our loyalty to our colleges allow us to be used by them, to set us to fighting each other and dividing among ourselves into sects based on decrees from a distant college. All churches are autonomous and are not bound by the latest papal edicts from any college, any more than we have to obey some trendy televangelist or megachurch preacher.
(Note: These remarks are not directed against any BMA-affiliated college. I am talking about other colleges that are mostly non-denominational, that have done a good job of defending the faith over the years, but in some cases have been responsible for creating factions and divisions when they demand undue allegiance from their alumni, while condemning other colleges in an attempt to increase their own market share of student applications).
Caesar Worship Among 21st Century Christians
Another variation on the hero worship and party spirit among evangelicals is the tendency of Christians to demand reverence for certain politicians, who in some cases are deemed to possess at least some of the attributes of deity.
In the old days, Christians were known for their refusal to worship Caesar and were thrown to the lions for that reason. Today it sometimes seems that we are pressured from within our own movement to give adoration to various Republican politicians, most notably President Bush.
Many Christians, even some who voted for Bush, are upset and repulsed when they go to church and hear everyone singing the hosannas of Bush. It seems that some of our churches are in danger of becoming Republican clubs where anyone who does not share complete faith in Bush would not feel welcome or comfortable.We are told that we cannot disagree with Bush because he is all-knowing, he loves Jesus so much more than the rest of us, and that as Christians we are simply not allowed to withhold support from his wise policies. We are dangerously close to idolatry, when we ascribe God's attributes to any mere man, however worthy.
The people of Tyre and Sidon gave similar hero worship to King Herod, saying of him, "It is the voice of a god, and not of a man" (Acts 12:22). Actually Herod was a pretty good king, especially compared to his murderous grandfather (the one who tried to have Christ assassinated as a child) and thus may have been considered worthy to be added to the pantheon of gods. However, the real God was displeased with Herod for accepting such hero worship, and killed him for not giving God the glory.
Bush-worshipers say they are not honoring the man; they are honoring the office of the Presidency. Why then did they not give the same honor to Bill Clinton? Why then was Bush's father trashed by the Christian Right for his allegedly insufficient support of Israel, while he was President?
If we are obligated as Christians to render unquestioned obedience to whoever is President, then in theory we should always support the re-election of whoever happens to be the incumbent President. Therefore, how many of us supported Jimmy Carter when he ran for re-election in 1980, or Bill Clinton when he ran for re-election in 1996? Uh oh, our hypocrisy is showing!
It was not always believed that evangelical Christians had a doctrinal commitment to support and adore the President and other esteemed Republican political figures. In the early 1980's, the administration of a leading fundamentalist college issued statements denouncing Republican President Ronald Reagan as a "traitor," calling Republican First Lady Betty Ford a "slut," and placing a hex on Republican Secretary of State Alexander Haig, calling on God to "smite Alexander Haig, hip and thigh, bone and marrow, heart and lungs and all there is to him."
Obviously in those days it was not considered a sin to criticize or express disagreement with a Republican politician. (The cult of Caesar worship was not yet established to the extent it is today, so much so that Christianity Today recently felt compelled to publish an editorial beginning with the words, "George W. Bush is not Lord.")
In the old days some of us may have been guilty of uncharitable and disrespectful language against those that God has placed over us in authority, and that was wrong. However, we do not want to go to the opposite extreme of demanding uncritical adulation and obedience to Republican politicians who are mere men and women and who are capable of making mistakes. To the extent that we as evangelical Christians have become known for saying "I am of Bush" and demanding adherence to Republican political orthodoxy as a test of fellowship, then we are out of balance.
Christians who are sound in doctrine, living a godly life, and have a credible testimony of salvation, should be able to join our churches and fellowship with us, regardless of whether or not they are followers of any particular preacher, Bible teacher, traveling evangelist, politician or radio entertainer. If that is not the case, then we have a problem. Paul identifies that problem as "carnality."