Recently I have been troubled by what is coming out of the Christian news media. For a little over three years I have been reading a Christian internet news site called the “Christian Post”. I appreciate its reporting, as not being overtly biased in its political bent, although it leans in an obvious conservative direction. The troubling trend is the growth and dominance of a celebrity culture in American Christendom. Almost weekly I read articles of some musician, actor, or sports giant who is a “believer” and in some way shape or form becomes a spokesperson for the faith. Invariably these “Celebrity” believers are brought in to speak at various functions and churches. I believe two reasons for this method are: 1) “Celebrity” believers are brought in as a means of reaching the lost, who know these “celebrities” being avid fans of their area of sport or culture. 2) “Celebrity” believers are focused on as a means to encourage the faithful to pray for Jesus’ glory to overtake and reshape the culture of that area of pop culture or sport.
As sensible as the above reasons may seem they are easily debunked as necessary because… 1) Lost people are called out of their ungodly devotion to these things and need to encounter Jesus Christ Himself through the Word of God. He does not need and angle. 2) Jesus is not concerned with reshaping things for His glory that were not created by Him to enjoy; things which cause His people to waste time when He has called them to redeem it. For decades we have followed this pattern of parading “Celebrity” believers in front of the church, as a means of engaging culture and in order to draw the lost, with little if any lasting success. In day’s not so long ago, “Celebrity” believers were those who were celebrities prior to their being born again, who left their darkness behind as they found life in Christ. Many know of Billy Sunday who walked away from a ridiculously lucrative career as a professional baseball player to set up chairs at a YMCA, all in his desire to follow Christ. He knew his new life in Jesus was incompatible with his life in the sports culture, so sports culture lost. Many don’t know of C.T. Studd, who was a star cricket player in England. He was born again around the time of Billy Sunday, but backslid for several years, as he tried to walk the line between his old world and the new life in Christ. For five years he grew colder and colder in heart till he realized he needed to make a decision. He then walked away from old life to walk with Jesus in the mission of soul winning. Studd’s life was dramatically transformed and so were the lives of many whom he proclaimed Jesus to. His message to Christians was have a “Don’t Care a Damn” attitude towards worldly things. History and more importantly the Word of God will testify that the walk of these two men the path of all believers in Christ “celebrity” whether celebrities or common men as the Word of God declares … “Come out and be separate, touch no unclean thing”… “but as He who called you is holy, be holy in all your conduct”… “you should walk no longer as the gentiles walk” (II Corinthians 6:16-18, I Peter 1:13-16, Ephesians 4:17-24).
In light of this discussion I ask why are we so prone in our day to using “Celebrity” believers to sell Christ. I offer a few reasons: 1) “Celebrity” believers make it easier for us to justify the inordinate amount of time and ungodly love we have for many areas of pop culture. 2) “Celebrity” believers endorse our churches and ministries as relevant, being good advertisements for our own little kingdoms. 3) The results produced in numbers, covers up our lack of the intimacy with God, shows a lack of faith in the simplicity of the gospel and displays a lack of true resurrection power. Following this path has huge consequences in many different areas. Let’s consider two recent examples.
Adrian Peterson is one of the best running backs in the National Football League over the last 5 years. He runs the football with speed and power unmatched physically by those playing against him. A little over two years ago I began to hear the rumblings that he was a believer through news reports. In interviews he began to talk of how Jesus had gotten him through great adversity in his life, like his father’s absence being incarcerated for most of Adrian’s formative years. This is a compelling story line and one that speaks gloriously of the God of all comfort. As His interviews progressed, some of his references to Jesus, although immature came in sincerity, and in an environment (NFL football) where outspokenness on issues of Christian faith are punished with banishment (Tim Tebow where are you?). Peterson’s profession appeared to be a sign of hope, but as is often the case, the hope unraveled with the death of his 2 year old son at the hands of the mother’s boyfriend. As tragic as this situation is, many people were ignorant as to him having any children as he is unmarried. As further details emerged we found Peterson did not know about the boy until two months before his death and only met him the day before he died. In addition it was then reported that this “celebrity” believer has four children with four different women by the age of 28. To their credit the Christian Post talked about Peterson as a “professing believer who is having trouble walking what he professes”, even though it appeared to be a bit self-serving.
Some will claim this writing as judgmental or kicking someone when they are down, but the truth cannot be overlooked: Adrian Peterson was paraded as poster boy of faith, which was quite unfair to him. I am in no way trying to remove his personal accountability, as he has been living a sexually immoral lifestyle that God Himself demands repentance from. Nor am I ignoring the dysfunctional family wreckage he leaves behind in his lusty wake, with fatherless children seeing a broken and sinful view of God’s blessing of family. To these sin issues Adrian Peterson needs to look to Christ not only to forgive but also to empower him in turning from them. That being said others hold accountability and should answer some questions in regard to this young man’s life and practice such as…
Who allowed this “Celebrity: believer to think that sexual immorality is appropriate behavior for a follower of Jesus? Who fumbled the ball (pun intended) his need for plain biblical discipleship? How did this “celebrity” believer become so much in the forefront of the press, when his life’s practice does not exemplify the call of Christ our Lord? Why do we so easily believe a person’s profession of Jesus being their Lord and Savior, when Jesus warned we know His followers by their fruit? Could it be that Adrian Peterson’s faults were overlooked because he was being used by the American Christian culture as an advertisement? Make no mistake; as much as he tragically has been using women, he was also being used.
Dove tailing on the first example, let us consider the case of one of the most idolized young singers in the world, Justin Bieber. It is no secret that Justin has professed to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He has gone so far as to tattoo scripture on various and sundry parts of his body, including an image of Jesus on his calf. Make no mistake this young man is a “professed” Christian and a “celebrity” believer appearing regularly in Christian media. In spite of his profession, Justin has regularly been caught smoking marijuana, striking photographers, making obscene rants and gestures, being intoxicated with alcohol, breaking driving laws and menacing his neighbors. In the midst of these behaviors it is reported about his faith, bible study attendance and charitable acts and good deeds. His talent is not in question as he can sing and dance and possesses a drawing presence. What is often lost in Christian print are the very apparent contradictions to his testimony, from reported behaviors and content of his songs. Justin bares accountability to God for his sin as we all do and knows his need of forgiveness and we with him Praise God for the truth… “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). It is important to note God does forgive and cleanse for His glory and our good. The word for cleanses is present tense and progressive meaning a continuous action, and it infers transformation away from the sinful behavior. I am concerned for young men such as Justin Beiber, who like far too many in our culture want forgiven without repentance and grace without giving heed to the commands that declares “come out and be separate”. Justin’s real issue is one of fellowship, as the word of God declares “If you walk in the light as He is in the light, you have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanses from all sin” (I John 1:7). This which precedes I John 1:9 illustrates, that being cleansed from sin in our practical experience comes via the channel of accountable fellowship. This fellowship opens a channel by which we are cleaned in practice by the life giving blood of Jesus. If only Justin Bieber had some real Christian fellowship… The Christian Post has reported that he has some fellowship, if one could call it that.
On September 29th2013 a piece entitled “7 Photos of Justin Bieber ‘Bro-ing’ out with Pastors Judah Smith and Carl Lentz”, was published on the Christian Post. In the article you see the three men in various venues hanging out together. Some photos show other “celebrity” believers present. If the scriptures declare walking in the light brings fellowship that catalyzes sanctification, why is Justin Bieber still pursuing the not experiencing the cleansing he should? He is not because they are not walking in the light. The light is that illuminates that this young man’s career does not honor the Lord Jesus. The light is that Justin needs to repent and follow Jesus. The light is that men of God have a responsibility to plead (II Corinthians 5:20; means holding on to their feet begging) with Justin to heed God’s call to repent, so he can be reconciled to God through the cross of Jesus. The question is why are these men not ministering to Beiber in a way that stewards godly sorrow working repentance unto salvation? In his own words Carl Lentz tells us the reason from an article in “Details” magazine (secular publication) called, “Jesus Chris’s Superstar,(The Gospel According to Carl Lentz)”…
” Lentz is aware that endorsements from Bieber and Durant, especially when tweeted and Instagrammed, pay dividends. ” I’m and advertiser,” Lentz reasons. “you are God’s ambassador- as if He is making His appeal through you.” We’re essentially His commercial”.
The words of this “Apostle of Cool” as the article dubs him, convey a very troubling message whether he means to or not, as they declare he is using their notoriety and fame to build the kingdom. The question is what kingdom is he building? Defender will say, “I have heard him preach from the Bible” well praise God, but from his own words we can see why he and the other “Bro-ing” pastor can’t walk in the light with Justin. They cannot risk upsetting a young man whose notoriety is bringing free advertising for them, not for the kingdom of God. How sad even if they are trying to promote Jesus (As they would no doubt declare), they are going about it in a un-Christ like manner. A persons testimony from dark to light is a powerful tool in the ministry of the Gospel, but to profit from the “celebrity” of religious persons is not only shameless self-promotion, it is sinful. This practice has lasting effects on the ministry of the church in America.
In the first place this method of “ministry” grieves the Holy Spirit. Jesus delivered a demon possessed man of a legion of devils. This man’s fame was prolific, and like “celebrities” today all the details of his outrages life were know; his attire (he wore none), his “celebrity” crib (lived in the tombs), His charismatic power (could not be bound having supernatural strength). When Jesus delivered the man, he wanted to stay with Jesus and the disciples but was told to go home. What kind of glory could Jesus had accrued from this guy’s pre-delivered notoriety? Yet that did not matter to the Lord. Jesus knew that although delivered this man still needed to repent. He also knew it was wicked and rebellious living that brought this man to being possessed. In spite of the man’s request Jesus moved to protect the call to holiness in His disciples, and leads to the second effect of this kind of ministry. It breeds an apparent lack of holiness that denies the gospel as the power of God unto salvation as I Thessalonians 4:3-4, 5:23 show is a primary focus in our being saved. When we “fellowship” with the unrepentant it leads to compromise in others and diminishes the holiness of the body of Christ. Thirdly, when this is missing in the fellowship of the saints it leads to an opportunity for the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. Fourth and finally this “celebrity” believer culture leads to grieving of the Holy Spirit, which leads to His withdrawing from the body in relationship and loss of witness.
In pursuing relevance through these methods we have become more irrelevant and mastered by our culture as we run back and forth seeking to meet them where they are. Let stop the insanity and remember that God does not choose celebrities to carry His message, but the nobodies of the world (I Corinthians 1:27-29). Rejoice that He takes zero’s, makes them hero’s, who then remind all who would elevate them that they are just zeros; it is God who is to be glorified. Remember that people are not in front of us to carry out or help our plans; they are in front of us to serve and call to Jesus. Let us strive to have the mind of Christ. Don’t rejoice in “Celebrity” believers; pray for them. If they are legit follower of Jesus, they are big targets. If they are not legitimate, not only are humans using them, but the devil is living off their profession like a parasite.