My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name.
- 1 Corinthians 1:11-15
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
- 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
“More and more I am becoming aware of the truth the people change people as much as ideas change people. The power of personality is strong. One could find many illustrations to prove that often personality is greater than the idea. Such is the case with Christianity. The secret of the power of Christianity is not in its ethics. It is not in Christian ideas or philosophy, although Christianity has a philosophical set of ideas. The secret of Christianity is found in a Person, and that Person is the Lord Jesus Christ. Men have discovered other philosophical and ethical systems, but they have not found another Jesus Christ. No one in history can match Him.”
- Billy Graham, Day by Day with Billy Graham (May 26)
Billy Graham wrote this in 1965, or before since the devotional was largely pulled from the newspaper advice column that he wrote for several years. Rick Warren, in The Purpose Driven Church, wrote about a variety of churches that lost their focus. Among them was the Churches Driven by Personality. David Robertson, the Wee Flea, in a recent post, about a week ago, discussed “Is Convenience Christianity to Blame?” He brings up several types of churches or forms of Christianity that take the focus away from Jesus Christ, one being Celebrity Christianity.
Billy Graham, and the others for that matter, places the focus on Jesus. But from the first Scripture above, the problem of personality or celebrity has been in existence since the early church. People would brag over who had baptized them, as if the hand that dunks you is more important than the spiritual baptism of Jesus entering your life, bringing with Him the Holy Spirit who starts working in every recess of your soul. Even the water is not totally necessary, even less the human hand that guides you in and out of the water or sprinkles or pours.
When I started pondering this devotion, I thought of a church in our area. It was one of those large evangelical churches, maybe not big enough to be a megachurch, but it was big for the South Side of Pittsburgh. For those not familiar with Pittsburgh, there are four Pittsburghs, divided by the three rivers. People mostly stay in their area of Pittsburgh. There is downtown, pronounced dahntahn, and it lies north of the Monongahela river, but south of the Allegheny river, and it is the portion nearest the confluence of the two rivers to form the Ohio river. There is the North Side, north of both the Ohio and Allegheny rivers. There is the South Side, south of both the Ohio and Monongahela rivers. The fourth area is east of downtown, north of the Monongahela river, toward the Squirrel Hill Tunnel and Monroeville beyond the tunnel.
Okay, geography over, this big evangelical church had two notable early members, both former football players, former Pittsburgh Steelers. Both did local football commentary on television and/or radio. One became one of the pastors giving sermons in a round robin fashion. The church grew and grew. To this new church, our church lost many of our Spirit-filled born-again believers who were excited about Jesus. As our church went through a few transitions, this church picked up the ones with strong Christian beliefs.
Yet, this new church met its capacity, reached market saturation to use a business term. Then, the membership started to decline. Why? Did people flock to the church to rub shoulders with a former Steeler? Or did they go to the church for a more Spirit-filled worship service? Did any go there to see Jesus?
And why did the church that my wife and I attend have transitions? About the time we became members, having attended for a year before then, the church announced a lot of money that had been left by a member, a banker, money in the millions. The church had become the local “rich church” overnight. The church built an extension. People who thought the church was being foolish with the money left. Others flocked into the church to ‘get a piece’ of the money. The senior pastor left, and his cronies left to go to other churches or just stay home, only interested in hearing their friend preach. The associate pastor left, with the same thing happening with his cronies. We’ve gone through one more senior pastor since then, presently with an interim, waiting to hire someone new. We’ve gone through two associate pastors since then. Each time, with people coming and others going.
I think David Robertson said it best with Celebrity Christianity instead of a Personality Driven Church. It’s not the church, it is the individual. Yes, the church is not the building, although many think it so. The church is the collection of believers, although there are many more members, sadly voting members.
The key is that all churches should be Personality Driven Churches, if and only if the Personality that drives the church is Jesus. Sorry, you who preach on Sunday, you might have your followers, but the ones that stay after you find a new church, retire, or pass away, will contain the people who worship Jesus. There will also be those who will stay in that building until they die, because the building gives them comfort. There are others who stay for other reasons. I know of a few who left their last church because people would not listen to them, and they wanted people who would do as they say when they bossed people around, not good Christian values, but at least they were honest.
But then, sometimes the Jesus followers are the ones that leave. Could it be that the church has slipped so far away from worshipping Jesus that it has sunk into apostacy?
Regardless, people can cause action in other people. People can change people. Some people can draw people in, but is their message one that glorifies themselves? Or does it glorify God?
Ask yourself, regardless of the motivations of those in the worship service who are around you, “Why am I here? Am I worshipping my Lord Jesus Christ, or do I have other reasons for being here?”
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.