How Christian Celebrity-ism Promotes Abuse in Churches
UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.
And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)–those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. (Gal 2:6)
Christians reflect the world more often than we realize, and one example of this conformity is the celebrity status that we endue certain “big name” personalities with. We do this to our own harm, and I want to explain here how this person-worship spreads a contagion of error and promotes abuse of all kinds in our churches.
We begin with some facts from church history. What has church history to do with the subject of abuse? Read on and I will show you. (Most of these facts were taken by the way from History of the English Calvinistic Baptists – 1771-1892, by Robert W. Oliver. Excellent book).
John Gill was a leading English Baptist pastor and theologian who ministered at Horsleydown Baptist Church in Southwark from 1720 to 1771. Gotta love those English names – Horsleydown, with a British accent. (If I had those things going for me everyone in America would listen! Pastor Geoffrey Crippen of Tillamook-on-the-Down). But to return. John Gill was a remarkable man (Charles H. Spurgeon would be one of his future successors in that church by the way) who was an expert theologian and Bible expositor. You can still use his commentary on the entire Bible (the first to be completed in the English language) and his systematic theology called A Body of Divinity. And they are very useful tools.
But Gill had his problems. Depending upon whose opinion you read, John Gill is described as being anywhere from a full-blown hyper-Calvinist (probably an exaggeration) to just a Calvinist who had a couple of unorthodox positions — at least unorthodox in respect to the mainstream of Calvinists. Robert Oliver says that Gill believed in the eternal justification of the elect. That is to say, Gill concluded that the elect were not only chosen by God in eternity past (sound Calvinism) but that God also justified them in eternity past. Along with this eternal justification notion, Gill either denied (depending upon who you read) or was soft on the requirement that sinners must repent and believe in Christ to be saved. He even wobbled then in ways when it came to the question of whether preachers should call upon particular sinners to repent and believe the gospel.
Now, without going into a lot more detail about these doctrines (which are certainly not without importance), what I want us to take note of is that Gill’s brand of what I suppose we could call a form of hyper-Calvinism, spread. It spread through the English Calvinistic Baptist churches and had a significantly negative effect upon the preaching by the pastors of those churches. If you go on to read about the days of William Carey (missionary to India), you will find that his desire to go to the mission field was opposed by leaders in his church because they held that God didn’t need Carey in order to save His elect in India. Andrew Fuller, who was a contemporary of Carey’s and became a leading pastor and writer in the same group of churches began to speak out against this distortion of biblical teaching. He said that all sinners were required to repent and believe in Christ and that this gospel invitation was to be boldly preached to them.
Why did Gill’s teaching, including his errors, have such an effect on the other churches? Robert Oliver believes it was because Gill pastored one of the larger churches (his building could seat 1,000), and his writings and preaching resulted in his becoming well-known to many. That is to say, to some extent we might conclude that Dr. Gill was something of a celebrity. Certainly not popular with all, but known by many. If a more minor figure, though he had been a pastor, had expounded these teachings, would they have been embraced as readily? Probably not.
And so we come back to where we began — the current Christian celebrity-ism that we see so much of in our day. John Piper. Voddie Baucham. John MacArthur. Books, books, and more books printed by the big-name publishing houses. Some good. Some not-so-good. Some very, very bad — like those that send abuse victims back to their abuser, forbidding divorce for abuse and sometimes forbidding divorce for any reason at all. Why do we listen to these people? Why are their teachings so widely accepted even when they are just plain wrong? I suggest that it is because we are guilty of exalting man and as a result we make the traditions of men superior to the Word of God.
Isn’t it about time that we stopped all of this? The next time you walk into a Christian bookstore, or the religion section of Barnes and Noble, or start browsing at some bookseller’s website, why not just keep walking right on by the featured, big-name, Christian celebrity author’s display that has lights shining all over it, and search more judiciously. Maybe, possibly, just perhaps, back there in the corner on a lower shelf is a book by someone you never heard of who is saying things that will actually set you free. After all, that is what Jesus’ Word does, right?
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Joh 8:31-32)