I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. (Galatians 2:2)
The Christian culture we live in has superstars. You know who I am talking about. There are almost too many to count. These are the famous pastors, circuit conference speakers, the prolific authors, the big names with the big followings. If you and I are really honest, we have our personal crushes. We have a couple of these supernovas picked out and we like to gaze at them from time to time.
There is nothing new under the sun and that includes Christian superstars. The Apostle Paul mentions the original religious rockstars in the book of Galatians. In Galatians 2:2, he says the Apostles “seemed to be influential.” In 2:6, he repeats this phrase a second and third time. In fact, Paul calls them “Pillars” of the faith in 2:9. Back in the day, the Apostles were the real Christian celebrities. They were not only famous, they had authority endowed from God to speak to the church. Paul in Ephesians 2:2 says that the church was built of the foundation of the Apostles and prophets. These guys were famous, influential, titanic pillars for the kingdom of Christ. They walked with Jesus and learned directly from the Son of God. John Piper, Billy Graham and Matt Chandler have nothing on these guys.
How should we think about contemporary public power-house Christians? Is there an appropriate way to admire these Christian superstars without making them idols? We should think about Christians Celebrities in the same way Paul thought about Christian giants in the book of Galatians. We should not esteem them too highly or too lowly.
Don’t Esteem Them too Highly
Paul recognized that the original twelve Apostles were significant and important. Yet Paul did not let this cloud his clarity or his convictions. Paul held all the Apostles under the microscope of the gospel. In Galatians 1:8, Paul says “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Paul was so committed to the words of Christ, that nothing could deter him – not even angelic beings. If Peter, James or John had changed their minds ever so slightly about a biblical truth, their teaching would have been out of line. The words and work of Christ kept the Apostles in check. The Bible should dictate our convictions, not Christian celebrities. Paul grounds all his authority in the words of God. The words and work of Christ are immovable.
If a Christian celebrity deters from the Scripture, then he should not be followed. We are only to follow Christian celebrities as they follow Christ. We should imitate Christian supernovas only as they reflect the glory of God. We should gaze in wonder only as they submit their lives humbly the the authoritative word of God.
The sufficiency of Scripture should be our lens through which we view Christian figures. The Scriptures are the only certain rule of faith and obedience. Paul was not afraid to confront the “pillars” of the faith. In fact, he says in Galatians 2:11 that he opposed Peter to his face because he stood condemned. Out of a love for Peter and the truth, Paul held Peter accountable to the Scripture.
This is immensely important to us today because it shows that even the most iconic Christians are still sinners. We must be careful not to esteem the “pillars” so highly that we are blind to their cracks. If the foundational men of the New Testament had chips and cracks, we should never expect today’s celebrities to be infallible. Megachurch pastors sometimes need to be rebuked in love. Presidents of major evangelical institutions are capable of horrific sin. We do a disservice to the spiritual superstars of our day we when place them on a high pedestal. If we place unrealistic expectations upon Christian leaders, then we will get burned when our supernovas become falling stars.
We cannot follow any Christian leader blindly. We must examine all teachings in light of the Scripture and we must remember that all have fallen short of the glory of God. We should not believe something just because “so-and-so” believes it. Instead, we must tether everything to the Scripture and follow leaders as they follow Christ.
Don’t Esteem Them too Lowly
Galatians 2:1-12 is a fascinating passage to examine because Paul is very particular in how he views the Apostles. He is writing to defend his Apostolic authority against a group of Jews who taught that circumcision was essential for the Christian life. In one breath, Paul comments on the Apostles and says “what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality.” In another breath, Paul says the Apostles “who seemed to be pillars… gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me.” Paul used the confirmation from the Peter, James and others to defend both his ministry and his gospel. Paul did not dismiss the teachings of the Apostles because they “seemed to be influential.” He was more than happy to receive their commendation in the gospel and use their affirmation it to endorse his ministry. What the Apostles said was not final, but it did matter. He did not esteem their significance too lowly.
When an influential Christian speaks, we should listen. If someone had a fruitful ministry for 30 years, we would be wise to give them our ears. If someone has been married for 40+ years, we ought to pay attention to what they say. We prove ourselves to be fools if we reject the counsel and teaching of someone just because they are famous. Fame does not equal sin. We should not be ashamed to sit at the feet of key leaders who have spent years in the Scriptures and follow them as they follow Christ. If someone is reflecting Christ in a stellar way, it is a good thing to imitate them. Supernovas are usually bright for a reason.
Fruit of the Spirit Never Fails
One final word of caution from the book of Galatians on the topic of Christian Celebrities. We should desire to produce fruit of the Spirit more than we desire to become influential. It can be very tempting to want to be like our Christian heroes in every way. We may deceive ourselves into thinking that a successful ministry means being simulcast into five buildings and flying across the country five times a month. Instead, we ought to make it our goal in life to be faithful fruit bearers.
I know of Christian supernovas who have soared high in the sky but exploded upon everyone along the way. There are leaders in evangelicalism who are one thing on camera and another thing at home. There are megachurch pastors who are unqualified for ministry according to 1 Timothy 3. There are countless Christian leaders who have failed millions, but bearing fruit of the Spirit has never failed anyone. Paul says the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:23)
Every star eventually burns out – even the Christian ones. Fame is fleeting, but the word of God endures forever. We need to be men and women who are bearing fruit of the Spirit that lasts into eternity. Spend your days drawing near to the God of the Bible and becoming a bountiful tree that bears fruit in secret and in every season.
This article was originally published in the September 2014 Issues of The Seminarian. You can view the article here.