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Paparazzi

Adventist Celebrities and the Idiocy of it All

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Celebrity culture seems to follow us like the paparazzi follow the celebs themselves. The obsession with beautiful and wealthy strangers is odd, but we rarely think about it because it’s ubiquitous. The celebrity culture is waiting for you at every check-out aisle. It stalks you at bus shelters, follows you on Twitter, shows up (inexplicably) on the evening news, endorses your breakfast cereal. Everywhere you look there’s a celebrity celebration happening.

. . . Even in the church? Yep. What can you call Joyce Meyer or Tony Evans or John Piper but Christian celebrities? (Any books that sell more copies with the author pictured on the cover are written by celebrities!)

. . . Is there a celebrity culture even in the Adventist church? HAHAHAhahahaaahaaaa! If you’ve been an Adventist more than a minute then you know the answer to that question is “Undoubtedly.” You could probably even name a few: CD Brooks, Mark Finley, Alejandro Bullon, Doug Batchelor.

There’s something in human nature that likes to make celebrities. You hear a series of great sermons by a speaker you really connect with and you want to hear more; when a lot of people have that same experience, the next thing you know you’ve got a preaching celebrity.

I’ve been a Christian long enough to have heard hundreds––even thousands––of sermons, and let’s be real: not all sermons are created equal, not all preachers are equally eloquent, not all pastors are equally likable. And our own individual experiences and personalities do influence what we connect with and who has power to influence us. But how quick we are to make it into a competition––(reality show idea: THE REAL PREACHERS OF ADVENTISM!)––and that’s where the evil enters.

When Paul wrote the Corinthian Christians, his heart bore the heaviness of worry. “I’ve heard you’re fighting,” he says (1 Cor 1:11). “What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another says ‘I follow Apollos’; another person says ‘I follow Peter’; and yet another person says ‘I follow Christ.'” They were getting in arguments and pitting the ministry of one Christian leader against another. Can you believe it? I can. Because it sounds pretty familiar! I see this happen far too often in our family arguments about worship music or women’s ordination or [pick your issue].

Paul points out that this is stupid. “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Christ?” (1 Cor 1:13) The reality of the cross shows this divisive celebrity culture as the vapid idiocy it really is. True wisdom and true power are seen in the mighty God on the cross, so that those who boast can only boast in the Lord Jesus (1 Cor 1:18-31), not in Paul or Apollos or Peter or Doug or Dwight or Carlton…

Using Christian leaders as arrows in our religious arguments, aggrandizing one preacher or one ministry over against another—these are indications that we haven’t let the reality of the cross go deep deep deep within us to shape our thinking. Whether it’s Rob Bell or Randy Roberts, David Asscherick or Sam Leonor, the One project or GYC: stop boasting in these people and these things. It’s stupid! Was Randy Roberts crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of David Asscherick? Brothers and sisters, this is wicked foolishness. We have to stop.

The greatness of our crucified Savior overshadows the charisma of any of His servants. “Therefore, as it is written: Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord!” (1 Cor 1:31)

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Nelson Fernandez

Nelson serves as a pastor in a growing in a bilingual and multicultural church district in Greenville, South Carolina in the Carolina Conference. He is married to the love of his life Sarah, who is Venezuelan and American. Born and raised in Miami, FL, he is a second-generation Hispanic of Dominican-Salvadorian decent. He loves reading, learning and blogging about leadership, church growth, discipleship and practical Christianity at www.nelsonsblog.com

This Post Has 10 Comments
  1. I used to work at a conference office in California. I don’t think I ever put any of the workers on a pedestal and after working there I surely didn’t think anyone belonged on a pedestal. We are all sinning human beings and sometimes we get a little big headed. I’ve prayed for our Adventist leaders to always be humble.

  2. Kessia I’ve written this article many times in my head, using the same references. Thanks for giving us the slap we need. Yuck makes me kinda sick. Jesus. All.

  3. I have often thought the same thing. But let us be clear — it is not the fault of the person who is looked at as though he or she were a celebrity. They are just successfuly performing the work they believe God called them to do and the people on the sidelines make a big deal out of it.

    1. Dale, you’re so right. Just as with Paul, Apollos, and the other apostles: it wasn’t their fault that the Corinthians were dividing into factions with their names attached. This is why Paul prescribed a new, true conception: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1 Cor 4:1)

  4. Was Paul a celebrity? Off course. How about the other apostles? Yes, yes yes… I think is in our human nature to mimic/ applaud/ follow people who are in the center of attention for what they did or what they are…

    1. Yes, Ovidiu — Paul was a celebrity in Corinth. People were so attached to Paul’s stature as an apostle, his deep theology, his great reputation that they identified themselves as followers of Paul, and they boasted in him, and they compared him to other apostles so that they could celebrate one as better than another. People were using Paul as a celebrity in their own selfish status games.

      And that’s the exact issue that Paul is confronting in 1 Corinthians 1!

      It is human nature to “mimic/applaud/follow people,” but human nature is not our standard of righteousness—Jesus is! Hallelujah! So let’s be sure to set our sights higher than God’s human messengers and turn our eyes to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

  5. I read this article out of curiosity given the title but quickly felt like it was an article written by a disgruntled Adventist. This impression only changed after reading the comments. I, for one, am ministered more effectively by one preacher than by another. I’ve always assumed it’s the case with every Christian. The tease being, one preacher’s manner of articulating the word seems to touch the deep recesses of my mind and set on fire than the other. I don’t necessarily consider one better than the other, nor “follow…” That preacher.
    The only reason, in my opinion, any of pastors and lay people fit the “celebrity ” list is because of their active public ministry: radio/TV/public outreach programs that takes them into different audiences every week.
    I just came back from Soquel camp meeting in CCC, it really doesn’t take one to be popular, at least in my own experience, for a preacher to speak to my heart more than another. I attended several serminas during camp meeting and found myself drifting more towards certain speakers more than others because those speakers spoke to my heart more than others, even though it was my first time hearing some of them. While some who are on your list didn’t.
    Failure to appreciate this basic human attribute; that we are ministered differently by different styles of preaching, puts your article in questionable light. If celebrity = popularity then how do you propose people relate to so many different MINISTRIES if not by how each one reaches their individual needs? I’ve been around Adventist long enough and participated in some of the heated topics from position in prayer to the most recent one, WO, in all these touchy subjects I never saw “celebrity …” Head mentality, rather an albeit raw emotional engagement and sometimes pretty scary attitudes between opposing proponents.
    I therefore find the title “….. Idiocy of it all” misplaced if not maligning in essence.
    Just my point of view.

    1. Sakana,

      I have to say that I didn’t give this post its title, someone else did. But I stand behind the message of the post, which is simply this: it’s natural, even inevitable, for us to prefer some preachers over others (a fact I acknowledge explicitly in the body of the post), but it is un-Christian for us to aggrandize one preacher over another or participate in a culture of preacherly competition.

      From your description, it sounds as though you have not observed such un-Christian behaviors, and I’m glad for that. I hope the phenomenon disappears completely! But in the mean time it does happen and the Scriptures (in 1 Cor 1, for example) compelled me to speak out against it.

      To be more clear: I did not write this article to condemn popularity or personal preference. Instead of speaking out against popularity per se, I wrote this to speak out against certain abuses of that popularity. I encourage you to re-read this piece and let that be clear (see especially paragraphs 4 and 5). “Using Christian leaders as arrows in our religious arguments, aggrandizing one preacher or one ministry over against another…” –These are the types of behaviors I was addressing.

      Peace!

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