Christians get sucked into this celebrity mess with the rest. Many Christian men and women know more about pop culture than they do Christ and His Word. Some know more about these people they don't know than the people they do actually know.
Celebrity is not just a commodity in People or TMZ, either. The Christian community has their own set of celebrities. A pastor who might die a thousand deaths if someone thought he was "keeping up with the Kardashians," may very well know the latest greatest news about his favorite celebrity pastor, seminary guru, or theologian. Pastors and Christians spend beau-coup dollars buying into their particular brand of Christianity through conferences, books, audio and media downloads, and the like. Much like the Corinthian church in the Apostle Paul's day, many contemporary believers and Christian leaders identify with their favorite teachers in order to inflate their own status or egos (see 1 Corinthians 1 - 4).
Never has this phenomenon been more obvious to me than in recent days as I have observed from afar the situation regarding Sovereign Grace Ministries (headquartered in my own Louisville, KY) and the alleged sex abuse/cover-up scandal that has been brewing. If you are unfamiliar with the situation, I invite you to "Google" the ministry name and read the many articles available online regarding the allegations and stories of cover up. If you have a strong stomach and the time, you can find the actual filed civil suit here. Suffice it to say, you will not come away from your reading without great nausea and even greater indignation. Sexual abuse of any kind is horrid. The many, many accounts listed in this document should drive us to prayer for the alleged victims and to seek justice regarding the alleged perpetrators. May the Lord grant peace and healing to these victims (and those everywhere) of the horrors of sexual and spiritual abuse. May God grant swift and unyielding justice to those in positions of leadership and authority over children who harm their precious little souls by such despicable acts of impropriety and violence (especially in an organization claiming to be God's church).
As these allegations surfaced, many in the Christian community remained in silence. Of particular notice was the silence from many of the notable in the neo-Reformed movement, of which Sovereign Grace (SGM) and her founder, CJ Mahaney, are a part. CJ Mahaney is one of the founders of the Together for the Gospel conference and ministry, along with his long-time friends and fellow ministry leaders Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan. He is also one of the council members of and actively involved in friendships and ministry with The Gospel Coalition. Earlier this week, a Maryland judge dismissed the case, citing only that the statute of limitations had expired. Upon this verdict based solely upon a legal technicality, both the Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel (Mohler, Dever, and Duncan) issued separate statements within about a 10 hour time frame of one another (found here and here). Both statements, in my opinion, were very soft regarding SGM and Mr. Mahaney. Both statements also leaned toward minimization of the sinful stench of the alleged child victimization. In response to the statements, Boz Tchividjian, law professor and follower of Christ (you can learn more about him here), penned a clear and helpful blog at netgrace.org, chastising these Christian leaders for their poor handling of the entire situation. He also posted an abbreviated version of his blog as a comment on the Together for Gospel Facebook, which was promptly removed by the page administrator. Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary, Dr. Scot McKnight, has also posted a short blog synopsis of Boz's response here.
You may read the filing and the blogs by these experts, who are much smarter than I, and draw your own conclusions. I have drawn my own. I do not know CJ Mahaney. I am not part of Sovereign Grace Ministries, or any other denomination for that matter. I have no stock in the Gospel Coalition or the Together for the Gospel organization. I have great respect for the theological minds of Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, DA Carson, Justin Taylor, and Kevin DeYoung. However, I have NO RESPECT for their obvious lack of ability (or desire) to apply their great understanding of theological truths to this situation with Mr. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries. Many of these same men have spoken out very ardently against the hideous abuses at Penn State. Well and good. Many have stood firm on the issues surrounding God's plan for marriage according to Scripture, homosexuality, and even the Boy Scouts recent decision to allow professing homosexual boys to participate. Good and appropriate. As a follower of Christ in the Reformed tradition, I believe I correctly understand that these brothers are advocates of some form of church discipline. SO, where is the accountability with their friend and cohort, CJ Mahaney? Where is the exercise of discipline in regards to this situation? Where is the ardent speaking out against abuse and coverup in the church? Where are the strong stands? The cultural crusading? The hearts for the hurting? The rubber-meets-the-road application of well-developed theology?
I am angry and sad over the whole situation.
I am angry because I do not have what I believe are satisfactory answers to my questions above. I am angry because, as a bivocational pastor and nurse in child psychiatry, I regularly encounter abused children and their perpetrators. I am angry because I regularly see failures of the system to protect these children. I am angry because I see perpetrators walk free with their children, only to further harm them and damage their precious little bodies and minds. I am ANGRY! The church is supposed to be different. Christ's people are supposed to know that those who lead a child astray are better off having a millstone hung around their neck and being thrown into the sea (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2). We are supposed to be better, or at the very least different from the world.
I am sad because we are not. We are not showing ourselves to be the redeemed that Christ has called us to be. I am sad that under the guise of "healthy church discipline," children are being broken. I am sad that the brand of Reformed seems more important than truth. I am sad that loyalty to friendship at all costs overcomes loyalty to "the least of these." I am sad that in the name of pursuit of good teaching, we have made men heroes who have not earned the title. As one writer put it, "We have made untried conference preachers our heroes and forgotten about the missionaries and martyrs." I am sad, because I, like you, wrestle with these same issues.
The problem with the celebrity pastor is this: He has no right being a celebrity, and we have no right to worship him. Alistair Begg said, "The best of men are men at best." Human beings will always let you down. Christ, on the other hand, will not. 1 Timothy 2: 5-6 says, "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time." Our Triune God alone deserves our worship. Christ is the only Man to be placed on a pedestal. As a matter of fact, He is to be placed on THE pedestal, and ALL other men are to bow at his feet. If they do not come and live as humble servants, no matter their theological prowess, be wary of them. If they do not come at least attempting to display the characteristics of the One "who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:6-8), you don't want to follow their example. Since "the best of men are men at best," your primary and greatest loyalty must be to Christ. He is the only Celebrity. All others are, at best, followers pointing to Him. At worst, distractions or hindrances in actually following Him.
Lift up the Celebrity, Jesus the Christ, the King of Glory, and not men.
Never let your worldly affections blind you to at least the possibility that a beloved teacher or leader has made a mistake. When they do mess up, lovingly correct them, firmly hold them accountable, and graciously restore if and when (and to the level) it is Biblically appropriate.
Take a stand for those who are too weak or hurt to stand for themselves.
AND, if you shepherd or lead others, by all means and in all ways that you can by the power of the Holy Spirit, point them to the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember always: You will be judged with a greater strictness (James 3:1).