by Dr. Harley Howard- www.fotbc.org
Nothing provokes me more sometimes than that which arouses me out of a deep sleep! Sometimes the Holy Spirit will not allow me to rest comfortably unless the thoughts that are on my heart are placed on paper. I want to state right from the start that I have no axe to grind about any particular preacher, pastor, etc. I also realize that unless you meditate and take heed to the warning that you are about to read, you may well fall (if you haven’t already!) into this trap. I know of it from personal experience and from watching and being involved in thousands of lives throughout 20+ years of Pastoring, radio, conferences, writing and now a Seminary professor. There are others before me who have already warned the saints (and have done a far better job too). I am just one in a (sad to say) small minority of men who either have repented from our madness or who have had the sense never to get started in it. Be prayerful and objective and you will be blessed. I have had some time to meditate on the subject (or warning) that I am writing to you about—a lot of time! It is this most serious subject of what I call (and of what it is in truth) “Hero Worship”. This is a most disturbing trend, and I guess that it has been going on for some time throughout redemptive history (1st Corinthians 1:10-17). I will refer back to this passage later on. It seems to me that where you have Biblical ignorance—a lack of or absence of a “whole Biblical concept of scripture in teaching, preaching and of how one conducts all aspects of his or her own professed Christian life”, this “trend” of hero worship arises.By hero worship, I mean that it is clear that instead of the scriptures being the central focus of preaching and teaching, we have now leaned to “Heroes” for support and are not ashamed to quote as many names as possible, both of alive and of dead heroes. We have become a church of “Name Dropping!” Instead of quoting from the only reliable sources of absolute truth, the scriptures themselves, we now rely on our heroes to support the validity of what we believe or teach. Now this can easily be proven without busting a sweat gland. When was the last time you listened carefully to some young man or woman speak at any length of time relative to various subjects relative to the Christian life? They will almost universally quote from, “Dr. so and so, or what my pastor or this pastor said”, rather than the scriptures themselves. We in the ministry are absolutely notorious for this kind of mess and have probably set in motion this unstoppable tidal wave of hero worship that is literally destroying our churches and many saints (and frankly, our own ministries! – I will explain later!) Whole conferences are created around the works of men. Entire ministries, so-called, are being developed and named around celebrity based, self-styled, self-appointed, church appointed, individuals who have no business doing whatever they are doing, or who should not be heeded to or listened to at all. As I said a moment ago: “We in the ministry are absolutely notorious for this kind of mess.” Sad to say, and to my own shame, I have not been immune from this mess either, although I have since renounced this madness. As one formerly “caught up” in this trap, I now thank God that I am free from it and have indeed made the scriptures the central focus of my teaching, preaching and living the Christian life. Now, if all of this wasn’t bad enough, we are still notorious for quoting from dead men without the least bit of information of what many of these so-called “spiritual giants” actually believed FROM THEIR OWN WRITINGS! We have been caught up in the name dropping and never questioned the one(s) who gave us the quotations, or the source of where these quotations came from! When I did, boy was I surprised at not only the horrible things that I found by many (I will reveal some), but of the personal attacks and stonewalling that I encountered when I questioned some about these things! I recall a recent incident where I was talking to a brother (who is a pastor himself) who I believe is caught up in this hero worship. Unfortunately, it is with his own former pastor who has a well known seminary. I ran across a web page in which a brother in the Lord questioned the validity of things that are public knowledge concerning this pastor—his writings, tapes, beliefs, etc., and I questioned this pastor about these issues. He was adamant, outraged, angered. Now anyone who knows me knows that I know when I am being hoodwinked. I knew that either this pastor did not read the material that I sent, or had already made up his mind to worship his pastor regardless of the facts, or both. I asked him this simple question: “Brother, did you read the materials?” He said, no, I don’t need to read from a man who is a fault finder.” He went on to say that it was shameful that this saint picked on the “fallibility” of his pastor. Of which I replied that this issue was not fallibility, but credibility. If the things that his former pastor said and wrote were in extreme error, would that not in and of itself demand that he would at least investigate these matters for the sake of his own pastorate and church? Such advise was ignored. Of course, I am firmly convinced that unless this brother changes his ways, time will reveal that my advice was not only right, but sensible. I asked this pastor about his own personal integrity and how important was it to him. I made it clear to him that both he and his former pastor were engaged in exposing the errors and false statements of others while at the same time ignoring the errors and false statements made by the very pastor involved in the fray! I warned this pastor that it is an absence of any integrity for us to expose and renounce the sin in others while at the same time ignoring the same sin in our friends. Again, council ignored. I am discovering and experiencing the very same things that one brother revealed in a letter he had sent to a well known Bible teacher when he rightfully rebuked him for his displayed ignorance of the scriptures. He wrote: ”I have had literally hundreds of men cut off fellowship with me because I had the gall to sound a gentle warning about something their hero has said. I have a powerful pen. Even my enemies admit that. I could have a huge ministry if I would only keep quiet on matters such as these.”Needless to say, I wrote him back and encouraged him to continue doing exactly what he is doing. Have our “heroes” become “untouchable”? Have we become so stupid that these “men and women” can say, write, and believe things that are utterly and totally contrary to the scriptures, and we still defend and protect them under the guise of “fallibility”? Suddenly these heroes have become beyond correction from anyone. Are their doctrines, lifestyles and associations beyond questioning even when they are dead wrong. They never even have the integrity to correct publicly what they have stated to others. Do they still deserve our praise? And God have mercy on your soul if you should ever question them or their works for whatever reason. Well, I am certainly no longer going to be a fool about this matter. Everyone’s belief, works, tapes, and sermons are to be laid next to the Bible. The Bible is to be the final and only standard. I have taken my fair share of criticism, both just and unjustified, over the years and I see no need (nor ever have, or will) for personal protectionism, or to develop a “fortress mentality”, or to call in the spiritual attack police to defend me! Unfortunately, many have to the destruction of multitudes of people. If you or I think to ourselves or believe that any other speaker, etc., is excluded from correction or criticism, when our teaching, behavior or associations are wrong, you are sadly mistaken. Wrong behavior at any level needs correction for the sake of the leader(s) as well as the people we claim to love. I am not infallible and am in need continually of conformity to the image of Christ—and welcome it, as many saints can testify. I don’t see what is the problem with so many of these “heroes”. We should all take the humble position. It can only benefit ourselves are the people we teach.And let me make a point that is one of the most shameful acts of many of these men and of many in the ministry, so-called. You NEVER have the right, EVER to criticize the wickedness of your adversaries while at the same time tolerating the same wickedness (or any wickedness) in your friends!If you do this, first, you have no integrity. Second, no matter how you claim to love your friend, you most certainly do the opposite. Third, unless you repent, God cannot possibly bless what you are doing. If this means that you lose your “friend(s)” because they are living under a personal illusion that they are beyond correction, then you ought to find some new friends. Before I close this first part of this warning, I want to go to the text I referenced to earlier in 1st Corinthians 1:10-17 and make some comments from the text itself.The Problem With Division10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Paul immediately gets right into the main intent of his letter. The problem with division. In fact, I believe that these verses are one of the main underlying issues of the entire letter. Paul desired that the church at Corinth would be united in their speech (a reference to verse 5) in their thinking, and in their minds. Paul begged the church not to stay divided (schisms, parties, factions). In verse 11, Paul says that he was informed by Chloe’s household that not only were they divided into little factions and schisms, but there was contentions (strife, quarrels, fights) among them. This is as contemporary in our age today as it was when Paul wrote this letter, if not more so.The first division was over styles of preaching and personalities. Look at how this division affected the entire church.12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Now this I say, that every one of you saith: The divisions at Corinth affected the entire church. There were no exceptions. They were divided over personalities and styles of preaching. Sound familiar? Well it should since it is so obvious that this trend is all around us today. What were they saying? I am of Paul, I of Apollos, and I of Cephas (Peter) and I of Christ. Sound familiar? Well, I’m sure it does! The church was divided into at least four factions, with its own inherent dangers. It is these dangers that are evident whenever hero worship is prevalent. First, each faction had it’s own emphasis.This is by no means anything new! It is at this juncture where so many involved in hero worship take on the particular “emphasis” or “hobby-horse” of their leader. If he, or they, or she has some kind of emphasis in whatever they are doing, hero worshippers take on this task with reckless abandonment!Second, each faction was following its own leader.Need I say more? How many people buy countless books, tapes, videos, shirts, cups, pencils, pens, of their “favorite” preacher, pastor, church(es), radio, and TV “whatevers”? Multitudes travel around the country to follow their hero (their god or idol, if truth be told of many!) No longer is it the church of Jesus Christ, but the church of our hero! Well that’s what we tell others, is it not? We say, “I go to Reverend, Brother, Pastor, Doctor so and so’s church!” We say it with a gleam in our eyes, a smile on our face, and a defense of pride and arrogance in our spirit! I never knew that any of us ever had a church, nor should want one! Leader worship is at an all time high. Now let me be very quick to say that I am NOT, I repeat, NOT saying by any stretch of the imagination that true leaders of God’s people are not to be supported and loved. The scriptures are clear about that. That is not my contention and you may need to read this point over and over again until it sinks in. What I AM saying is that if we go beyond that, beyond what the scriptures teach, in so much that we foolishly believe, either by mouth, thought or practice that our leader(s) are so in tune with God that we faction off from others and form pockets of heroism, we are way beyond the scriptures and are totally wrong, no matter what the motives.Third, each faction was despising the other three.What other alternative is there? The leader becomes the standard rather than God and His word. Preachers are compared to each other in the foolishness of the spirit of “The New Corinthianism!” Others are despised because of their education, especially if our hero is smarter than your hero! Race is another tremendous (though denied) factor in many a church faction. It seems rather obvious to me that God is not using too many Negroes, Latinos, or oriental peoples as church leaders, according to the popular variety of Bible heroes today! Tokenism? Yes, but by design. Deny it if you will. Get offended, then repent because you know it’s true! We have got to stop closing our eyes and heart to the madness that is going on all around us, and learn to gather up the loins of our mind and be sober minded about this hero worship!Many followed Paul, probably because of his emphasis on ministry to the Gentiles, to which the population of Corinth was mainly comprised of. Apollos was a man who had great oratory skills. He was an eloquent speaker and must have undoubtedly appealed to those Greek intellectuals who prided on wisdom. Peter, or Cephas, had followers who hung on his coat tail because he was rugged and straightforward in his preaching. All you need to do is look at the second chapter of Acts and following and you will see what I mean. Then you had another group (and I think these were the worst of all) who believed that they had some special relationship to Christ and didn’t need anyone else at all. Now, I believe that these followings, these factions, were not instigated by the leaders themselves, but rather by the carnality of the people. I don’t believe this for the most part today because you NEVER hear these “heroes” today do what Paul did, and that was to renounce any appearance of these things. Why the very thought that people would divide and start any following over Paul was repugnant to him. Why, just a few short months ago in Southern California, a church who sponsored a conference of so-called Bible expositors actually had the unashamed audacity, the unmitigated gall to label the speakers, (are you ready for this?) “The Dream Team!” What absolute foolishness and madness! I’m sure God was well pleased! There was no objection from the speakers, no outcry from the people, nothing! Don’t try to convince me that “Hero Worship” does not exist. It most certainly does and many are not the least bit ashamed of it either! It is promoted in all fields, whether ministry or music, so-called, it matters not.The facts are that many of these heroes thrive on this pride and foolishness of the people. I had a recent conversation with a man who works in one of the most well know “ministries” in the church world today. He told me about the “fightings” between the leader of this work and at least three other well known ministries, so-called. He told me the following truth and I was not the least bit surprised. He said:”Harley, it is clear that the egos of these men have eclipsed the potential good that these ministries could do. It is their egos that are the driving force behind them all.”I asked him could he talk with the leader of this “ministry” he was involved in. His response? “Not likely”. He said that he could not figure out why these men, with all of their intelligence, could not go into an empty room and get on their knees and pray to the Lord for wisdom and healing in each of their hearts. My response to him was that these men simply didn’t want to and that their education, ministries (I use this word sarcastically) and status within Christian circles was no hedge against carnality. He agreed.Back to The Apostle PaulAll four leaders in 1st Corinthians 1 were great proclaimers of the gospel message. Neither one of them ever drew away followers unto themselves—clearly a trend that is godless, yet practiced by many today. This was a problem with the people and their refusal to operate Christ’s church God’s way. Proof of that statement is clear by Paul’s shock and response to the news that some were divided towards him. Now as I have stated before, the problems of the church at Corinth are very contemporary to today’s church. Many are interested in personalities and preaching style rather than substance. Many still hold fast that they do not need anybody other than their little teacher or preacher in their lives. This is contrary to the scriptures of the oneness and unity of the body of Christ. One member of the body cannot say to another: “I have no need of you.” And yet that is exactly what was going on in the church at Corinth, and in a large measure today.It is always sad and tragic when people place their trust and confidence in another man when their trust and allegiance should be to God alone. This is not to say that respect should not be given to God’s leaders. This would be just as bad as worshipping them. But there is a thin line between respect and worship of a church leader.13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? Is Christ divided? In Corinth, He was very much divided. In today’s church, He is divided much more. There are thousands of denominations in America alone who will not have fellowship with each other whatsoever. Each thinking that they hold some special union with Christ that the others do not. Multitudes are feeling that they have some special relationship with God because they follow some supposed Godly leader, or like in Corinth, they just follow Jesus and have no need for anyone else. All three questions that Paul asked in verse 13 demanded a “no” answer.14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; 15 Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. 16 And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. What sarcasm. Paul was glad that he had baptized not a single Corinthian, but Crispus, Gaius and the household of Stephanas, lest he should be accused of starting a following in his name. Let’s take a look at Paul’s attitude toward himself and of those who serve Christ as His ministers.
For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? 4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? 5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? 6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. 1st Corinthians 3:3-7Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.1st Corinthians 4:1 Clear enough for you? I’m sure that a number of men started out with noble ambitions who have long since lost their way and have been made into “heroes” when they should have never took the title! How many men do you know manifest this attitude in deed today?Back to 1st Corinthians 1:1717 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. Though Paul did baptize some, and though baptism is commanded of God, it was by no means a priority over gospel preaching but rather the result of it. Baptism was the next step after conversion, and it was evident that the Corinthians were confused about this also. Paul was not minimizing baptism, but emphasizing the gospel! Paul was trying to teach these Corinthians that he was not trying to get a following by means of calling attention to himself, or through some human wisdom, or human reasoning, or human philosophy, lest he cheapened the effect of the gospel. The horrors of hero worship cannot be overlooked by a wise church, pastor, preacher or saint. The effects are not only damaging to the saints but for the very cause of the gospel itself.