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Monday, April 27, 2009

the cult of personality & the mega church pastor

Some years ago while I was attending a bible study lead by Wayne Taylor at Calvary Fellowship in Seattle, after one our sessions a grad student came up to me with a question about the Greek text of 1Thessalonians. At least that was the pretext for striking up a conversation that ended up taking more than an hour. It turned out that grad student was a devotee of John MacArthur. I had never read or heard MacArthur but I could remember some fuss about his views on "Lordship" when I was in graduate school over 30 years ago. The dispute didn't hold any interest for me. I was reading a lot of Emil Brunner at the time in preparation for my thesis, MacArthur was not the sort of stuff you read in graduate school.

Anyway, it was plain to me that grad student was a fervent disciple MacArthur. For some reason this sort of thing irritates me. I get put out about uncritical devotion to christian leaders, it is cultish and I had my fill of it growing up in a church were there was plenty of this sort of thing. So I did a little baiting, told grad student that MacArthur's soteriology (doctrine of salvation) was considered by some a minor departure from orthodoxy. This discussion didn't go anywhere since I didn't remember the details of the controversy.

Some time later, grad student went to Wayne Taylor and reported that I was a despicable heretic because I dared to question MacArthur. I found this out months later chatting with one of the associate pastors at Calvary Fellowship. This illustrates a very unhealthy aspect of mega church pastors. It isn't John MacArthur's fault that grad student had this attitude but the mega church model which focuses a great deal of attention on the the super star pastor promotes a sort "big brother" scenario. If the name on the lips of nearly every member is the name of the head pastor, if most discussions center around the person of the head pastor, at some point this becomes idolatry.

For those of use who grew up with a cultural memory of el Duce, der Fuhrer, Stalin; reading 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 ... walking into a "church" which seats thousands of people with a huge stage and a projected image of "the anointed" preaching from a dvd or a live feed from the central campus ... all of this is pretty unsettling. But what is most disturbing is running into "the faithful" who like grad student are uncritical, unthinking, mindlessly devoted to a man who is a sinner saved by grace but far far far from perfection. People like grad student should give mega church pastors nightmares. But they don't seem to. These pastors seem to be more worried about their critics, how to silence them. When they should be worried about their non-critics.


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