This problem is touchy. Independent Baptists rarely speak of it, but if you think it over, you couldn’t deny its existence. Not that the problem of personality cults are unique to us; they have actually plagued Christianity back, at least, to Corinth.
Remember the scene in I Corinthians 1? It was a mess and Paul finally said, ‘…that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I am of Apollos; and I am of Cephas; and I am of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?….” Can you hear the bickering?
Make no mistake. It wasn’t over a doctrinal issue at all. No doubt they all claimed it was, but Scripture won’t agree with that assessment. Somehow it wasn’t even named by issues, but by personalities. One group even used Paul’s name!
What is the issue? It is about which man I follow. Whose back am I scratching? Whose politics am I pandering to? Which team am I on? Instead of Apollos or Paul, if you lowered the volume you might think you hear them saying, “I’m a Tennessee Vol”, or “I’m an Ohio State Buckeye”; or perhaps, “I’m a Republican”, or “I’m a Democrat”, and on and on. It’s like bringing a sports-fan mentality to our Christianity! It’s not now about truth and right, or what the Lord actually said, if it ever was.
That is not to say that these weren’t great men. Paul was the scholar, Apollos the orator, and Peter the practical he-man. You could make a case for any of them that would sound good on paper, but you would be wrong. In the Independent Baptist world it is always this preacher or that school. It is still wrong.
That is exactly what Paul was condemning. Even if your name of choice was his. In this case even those who said “I am of Christ” were no better. No doubt it was just the old standby of super-spirituality. We are just claiming that our team is the one Christ is on and that is rather over-the-top, wouldn’t you say?
Could it be true too that we revere our heroes too much? Have you ever heard someone brag on knowing one of the big names personally as if that proved an advanced spirituality? Like they now had the more direct line to Heaven? Do we hang on their words as if they carried apostolic weight?
I am not suggesting the big-name preachers are bad just because they have become well known, or that all of them even ask for this reverence. Some do ask for it, but that shame is on them. How do we view them? That is the question. Of course we might glean wonderful things from them, or appreciate their ministry, if we can just remember that they put their pants on one leg at a time just like we do. As I once heard it said, “There are no great men of God, just regular men who serve a great God.”
A case in point is some of our Bible conferences. (Please don’t misunderstand—I have enjoyed many conferences). At a few conferences I remember hearing from the host and several of the speakers numerous glowing praises of our Independent Baptist heroes living and dead. The problem? Those praises outnumbered praises of Jesus Christ in those same services.
Yes, that is the problem! Don’t minimize or assume it is a harmless, little thing, not worth making a big deal of. Actually it is a crime of the first degree–giving the praise that should be our worthy Lord’s and giving it to others not so worthy. It tarnishes us to belittle the Name by giving the glory to names that, at best, are frail sinners just like us. No wonder preaching suffers in such an environment as the word of man steals the spotlight from the Word of the Almighty God. Because of all Jesus is, let us just say that these personality cults are shameful and corrupting. Let us remember that the whole point of church is to hear God’s Word and worship Him. Anything else is a fraud.
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