But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not being merely human?What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. - 1Corinthians 3: 1-7 (ESV)
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. - 1Corinthians 2: 1-5 (ESV)
The City of Corinth. A hub of commerce and industry in the days the Apostle Paul walked the earth. Multicultural, multiethnic, and multi-religious. Historians agree that the cultures of the Hellenistic and Roman eras loved great orators. They loved polished speakers. It was a sought after form of entertainment. They were far more enthralled with flash than substance. Glitz, glamour and the show. They eagerly pursued those who had these skills. These people were put on a pedestal and applauded for their mastery of the spoken word. Then along comes this average speaker named Paul preaching for another's glory and not his own. Preaching the risen Christ. While many followed and he successfully started the Corinthians Church, we can see from his letters to them that they still had to grow out of this propensity to elevate men. This penchant for extolling celebrity and the cult of personality.
Fast forward to today and we see that the American church has a lot in common with our Corinthian ancestors. The Warren Theology, which has created monster mega churches across our landscape, thrives on the cult of personality. It only truly works with a celebrity pastor at the helm, casting vision. Acting as a CEO instead of as a shepherd. The recently resigned Mark Driscoll once said that he was "the brand" at Mars Hill Church. He is far from alone. Joel Osteen is the brand at Lakewood. Rick Warren is the Brand at Saddleback. The Potter's House is really The Jakes' House. Here is the problem though. It is not supposed to be their church. It is supposed to be His church.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, - Ephesians 4: 15 (ESV)
And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. - Ephesians 1: 22-23 (ESV)
I saw a quote one time from a congregant of Lakewood who said that "Pastor Joel gives me just what I need to get back to him next Sunday." What a horrible way to live your life! It is not about Pastor Joel or any pastor. It is supposed to be solely about Jesus Christ. I do not mean lip service either. I do not mean a casual shout out or the name Jesus in big letters on the jumbotron behind the speaker who is telling us stories about himself. Listen to a typical Osteen message and I guarantee you will hear more personal anecdotes than Bible verses. What's the problem preacher?
Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, - John 6: 68 (ESV)
Only Jesus has the words of eternal life! This is far from just an Osteen problem. It is rampant throughout mainstream Christianity today. All of their best selling books have their faces on the cover and deal with self help, motivation or some other form of carnality. Sure there may be a reference here or there to Jesus or the Gospel but it is a drive by at best. After all, you must stay focused on the brand. Let us look at the two sets of key verses for today that deal with the celebrity worship in Corinth and see the parallels in our own churches and lives today. Paul opens up this discourse by pointing out the result of a celebrity driven system of Christianity. I could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh. Infants in Christ. Still needing spiritual milk because you are not ready for the real meat of the Word of God. This is what we see across celebrity Christianity today. The truly sad thing is that many people believe themselves to be "spiritual" when all they display is utter carnality. Just watch the absolutely heretical movie "Holy Ghost" and you will see it on display. If you want to see carnality, just say something critical about their celebrity pastor. The truth about milk versus meat is never more obvious because you cannot even use the Bible to make your point. I saw someone recently defend their favorite celebrity pastor by claiming there are too many ways to interpret the Bible so no one can claim to know truth from it. How absolutely absurd. Just this week we saw Mark Driscoll worshippers defending a man who stole $200,000 in tithes to cheat the NY Times and ensure he became a "best seller"; which made him a personal profit in excess of one million dollars. The same man who absolutely bragged about the people he was hurting in his own church. Positively giddy over mutilating the sheep of God by referring to them as a "pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus." The fact that there is any discussion at all indicates how much milk is still being fed to the body. You point to 1Timothy 3, which lists the qualifications for being a pastor, and are greeted with ridiculous charges of sowing discord. Just look how many people and pastors do not understand the "judge not" verses from Matthew 7! No beloved; it is clear. Celebrity Christianity breed spiritual infants who cannot handle the meat of the Word of God. Instead they flock to mega churches across this land to hear about themselves. How much God loves them. How this is their best life now. How they can be significant and discover their purpose. Jesus? Yeah, He gets thrown into the mix but not the actual Gospel.
The second lesson from the first set of key verses is that celebrity Christianity is evident by the presence of jealousy and strife. This is an important distinction to understand because many miss the true point here. Christianity is supposed to be about Christ. The Bible is supposed to be His story. It is the active and living Word of God:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. - 2Timothy 3: 16-17 (ESV)
Jesus is His Word. That is what our faith is supposed revolve around, not the celebrity status of the speaker. The jealousy and strife come in not because people oppose the pastor but because the pastor opposes the Word. The Bible teaches us that division in the church is caused by contrary doctrine, not those who correctly point it out. This trend towards "Kumbaya Christianity"; where we all hold hands while skipping down the broad path that leads to destruction is going to consign millions of people who think they are saved to hell. But God is love preacher! Yes and He loved us so much that He sent His only Son to die in our place. You cannot strip mine the Bible for verses about love and remove the wrathful side of God. Here are some sobering verses you could not possibly preach in most mega churches today:
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. - Matthew 10: 34-39 (ESV)
Babes in Christ will simply choke on this Word. They cannot process it yet because they are still of the flesh, following around the latest hot speaker in Christendom. The hipster pastor dude in the faux hawk, leather jacket and exposed tats. All flash and little substance. Jesus Christ did not come to bring Kumbaya to Christianity. He brings a sword and that sword divides us. The Gospel is meant to offend! This is not a love fest from Woodstock! I see the Christian youth today taken in by hucksters and charlatans every day. Rushing to concerts and conferences that tickle their ears, dazzle their eyes, and completely feed their flesh. Sure Jesus is mentioned, sung about, and sold on tee shirts and hats. But you will never hear any of the all star orator lineup preach on Matthew 10: 34-39. You will never hear them preach about what it means to take up your cross daily or you are not worthy of Christ. About losing your life for Christ. On the contrary, you will get the flesh feeding milk that this is your best life now.
Back to the first set of key verses we see Paul spell out the problem of celebrity in the church. It seems the people in the Church of Corinth were following men and not Jesus. Some said they followed Apollos and others said Paul. Why would that be? Well, remember they came from a culture that celebrated great oratory and the Book of Acts reveals that Apollos was an excellent orator:
Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. - Acts 18: 24 (ESV)