A Celebrity Status to Which We Aspire
A Celebrity Status to Which We Aspire
Celebrity culture in the church certainly isn't anything new. From the very beginning of the church, we see Paul speaking out against the tendency to divide over which renowned apostle the people prefer to follow (1 Cor. 3). There was division in the Corinthian church over very good men laboring for Christ. Nowadays we seem to have a Christian celebritism* on crack. And it's being spoken against enough for us to be clear that it is not a good thing.
So you can imagine, having this truth established in my own mind, how this section of a letter I read would cause pause:
My mind, moreover, is fluctuating and undecided: for while I consider my age, sex, and mediocrity, or rather infancy in learning, each of these things, much more all of them, deter me from writing; but when I call to mind the eminence of your virtues, the celebrity of your character, and the magnitude of your favours towards me, the higher consideration yields to the inferior; a sense of what is becoming me gives way to your worth, and the respect which your merits demand usually prevails over all other considerations.
This is an excerpt from a letter that Lady Jane Grey wrote to Henry Bullinger. I am reading through some of the Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation available on Logos software, and I am still lingering on Lady Jane from earlier this week. Here we see the word celebrity toward a Christian leader being used in a very positive way: the celebrity of your character. Well this is an interesting twist, isn't it? There was plenty of celebritism in the church during the Reformation period. But here is a fame that can be celebrated.
Just like the Corinthian church, a big problem with the cult of celebrity today is that we are admiring men to a level that is inappropriate. Worship is to be given to God alone, and it is God who blesses a ministry in the way that he pleases. As Paul said, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth" (1 Cor. 3:6). Sadly, we have witnessed shameless self-promotion among some of the leading voices in evangelicalism.
Carl Trueman has spoken out about another problem in evangelical celebrity culture that is fueled even more by technology, and that is the false sense of intimacy that we think we have with famous leaders. He has used Princess Diana's death as an example. The whole world mourned as if they had known her personally. With the addition of social media now, we can tag whomever we'd like in our tweets or follow our favorite personality's Facebook page or Instagram account. Heck, we can even collect our own batch of likes and inflate our own meager status in this world.
And yet these written letters from Lady Jane Grey reveal a real intimacy, a relationship that has been invested in. When Lady Jane uses the word celebrityto describe her well-known friend, she isn't referring to swag or a Bullinger brand. She is complimenting her friend by saying that he is known for his godly character. Buliinger's celebrity of character actually points to Someone greater than himself. This kind of renown is something we all should want.
The result will be a different focus in our affections. Lady Jane did not feel worthy to correspond so freely with such a virtuous man. But she could set her affections appropriately because Bullinger attracted her to the Lord over himself. And Bullinger was pleased to invest in their relationship because he knew, like Paul, that he is not his own. He knew that real leadership involves a giving of himself for the sake of another. That was his joy. And in so doing, he was pointing to the One who gave it all:
So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's. (1 Cor. 3:21-23)
*So I just looked up celebritism to see if it is a real word. I don't think it's in the official dictionary yet, but I see it used enough on the internet to affirm I am not being a neologist here (not that there's anything wrong with that).
 Robinson, H. (Ed.). (1846-1847). Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation & 2. (H. Robinson, Trans.) (Vol. 1, pp. 10-11). Cambridge: Cambridge at the University Press.