Aren’t we flighty? I am reminded of the perverse pleasure I took in throwing gravel on the tin roof of my granddad’s chicken house. The stupid creatures within never failed to squawk, fly around and stir up dust at the always unexpected clatter of the small rocks. Every time a Christian celebrity writes a theologically strange book or explodes morally, we, like those chickens, fly around the room squawking before finally settling down to continue our business. The devils scamper in delight and we mill around in discomfort, unnecessarily I believe.
Celebrity makes us care too much about what even an orthodox communicator thinks about things way beyond what he knows. The influence of celebrity magnifies the harm when a communicator reveals that his message is not up to the standards of his delivery. Isn’t that the Rob Bell flap (see page 15 for an article) in a nutshell? Cool videos, stylish delivery and attire, when added to tired liberal dithering on doctrinal basics equals only doctrinal confusion. None of the rest really matters, or it shouldn’t. Celebrity gives Ted Haggard a reality TV show a few years after his behavioral issues disqualified him for ministry leadership. That same celebrity status rocked the ground under his parishioners and admirers when his problems became public. In some cases, celebrity?an assumed importance of a leader?has led those near him to cover up terrible problems for inexcusable years. Nothing good came of that. Well-intended delusion actually did more harm than removing a false leader could have ever done.
A moral or doctrinal crash on the part of any mere man should not result in a crisis of faith for any maturing Christian. Disappointment, yes; sorrow, yes; but not a crisis of our faith in God. The fact that it does for some?or that it doesn’t for those who simply follow him down the new path?indicates a failure of disciple making on the part of many otherwise serious congregations.
Consider the example of the unsaved Bereans in Acts 17. Notice in verses 11 and 12 that the Bereans examined the Scriptures to see if Paul’s preaching was true before they believed. How much more should we be motivated and equipped to compare the messages we hear with what God has said in the Bible after we are redeemed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit? Notice the Bible describes the Bereans as more open-minded than those who rejected the gospel outright. Those who accept the message of a preacher without testing him are also closed-minded, I think. Unthinking tolerance seems similar to knee-jerk rejection. Those who have a reason for accepting or rejecting the assertions of another will be stronger in their beliefs than those who respond without thinking.
Many will wrongly blame a prominent communicator for the lack of diligence practiced by his fans. It’s on us, whether our pastor or mentor has a 30-year reputation or if he is the edgy new kid. He must pass the test every time he writes or speaks. And we must be courageous to test him, every time. A Christian communicator who takes a defensive attitude to questions or critique is warning us to listen more carefully. It is not gossip or slander or pharisaical judgment to parse carefully the words a man uses when describing the gospel. It is simply exalting the message of God above the interpretations of men.
And a leader found false is a serious matter. Paul spoke strongly of this in Galatians 1:8, But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. There is a place for mercy and restoration of some sort when a man fails catastrophically. But the message is more important than the man; it is always more important than the man and his position. Paul considered the message more important than himself. Without the true gospel message, the preacher is a useless seller of personally aggrandizing nonsense. Examples are plentiful.
A good church will raise up Bereans who test the claims of men against the claims of the God who made men. A true preacher will welcome inquiry, will teach his people to hold him accountable to the revelation he claims to declare. A growing Christian will be increasingly uncomfortable with personality cults that exalt a man without testing his message by revealed truth.