Making Much of Men
Whether we are prepared to admit it or not, most of us have 'celebrity pastors,' or at least people to whom we offer a measure of unqualified and uncritical appreciation (or even adulation). We go beyond that properly Berean spirit which "received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so" (Acts 17.11). Our chosen big cheese has only to press the 'publish' button or produce another book and—on the assumption that his or her unmatched insight and wisdom is once more on display—we immediately begin to uncritically consume the latest offering. And so we give them a pass.
There is no party or tribe that is immune to this spirit. And this problem is not restricted to the internet age. The elevated individual may be alive or dead. Indeed, some of those who shout loudest against celebrity pastors are in danger of fostering the same attitude in their own circles. "Of course, we don't follow Celebrity Pastor Jones; we show a proper, measured and appropriate appreciation of Gifted Pastor Smith." Trouble is, it looks, sounds and feels almost if not entirely identical.
At the same time, a reasonable antagonism to the mindless adulation given to a man can become a personal animus against the man himself. Because others do not show a measured spirit in regard to him, he himself now becomes suspect.
William Gurnall, writing about the Belt of Truth in The Christian in Complete Armour, makes this appropriate comment:
Enslave not thy judgment to any person or party. There is a spiritual suretiship which hath undone many in their judgments and principles. Be not bound to, or for the judgment of any. Weigh truth, and tell gold thou mayest, after thy father; but thou must live by thy own faith, not another's. Labour to see truth with thine own eyes. That building stands weak which is held up by a shore, or some neighbour house it leans on, rather than on a foundation of its own. When these go, that will fall to the ground also.
Let not authority from man, but evidence from the word, conclude thy judgment; that is but a shore, this is a foundation. Quote the Scripture rather than men for thy judgment. Not, so saith a learned man; but thus saith the holy Scripture. Yet, take heed of bending this direction too far the other way; which is done when we contemn the judgment of such whose piety and learning might command reverence. There is sure a mean to be found betwixt defying men, and deifying them. It is the admiring of persons that forms the traitor to truth, and makes many cry 'Hosanna' to error, and 'Crucify' to truth.
Eusebius, out of Josephus, tells us of Herod's—that Herod whom we read of, Acts 12:23, as being eaten up of worms—coming upon the theatre gorgeously clad, and that while he was making an eloquent oration to the people, his silver robe, which he then wore, did, by the reflex of the sunbeams shining on it, so glister, as dazzled the eyes of the spectators; and this, saith he, occasioned some flatterers to cry out, 'The voice of God, and not of man.' And truly the glistering varnish which some men's parts and rhetoric put upon their discourses, does oft so blind the judgments of their admirers, that they are too prone to think all divine they speak, especially if they be such as God hath formerly used as instruments for any good to their souls. O it is hard then, as he said, amare hominem humaniter—to love and esteem man as a man, to reverence him such so, as not to be in danger of loving their errors also.
Augustine had been a means to convert Alypius from one error, and he confesseth this was an occasion why he was so easily by him led into another error—no less than Manicheism. Alypius thought he could not pervert him here that had converted him. Call therefore none father on earth; despise none, adore none.
Let none of us, then, be so foolish as to imagine that we are immune to this spirit. We should endeavour to rest our judgment always and ultimately on the Scripture, and not solely on the opinion of any man, no matter how gifted he is or how much good he has done us: "despise none; adore none." By all means appreciate those men with evident credibility, but give God's word the place which he has given to it.
Jeremy Walker has been the pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church in the United Kingdom since 2003.
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Editor's Note: This article was originally published on reformation21 in October of 2013.