Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:20-28)
The Church is the Body of Christ, and the pastors/elders within her are to be worthy of double honor even as they preach the Word of God (1 Tim. 5:17). As the Lord sees fit, there will always be people who are exceptionally gifted with the gift of biblical prophecy and teaching, and as such would stand out above the others.
In modern day Christianity, the Lord has given such talents to certain individuals and have blessed their ministry and influence for the Lord. Such people include Pastor John Piper, Pastor John MacArthur and others like them. Others like Tim Challies may not be pastors, but the Lord has given them gifts of writing etc which are used to edify the Body of believers.
Now, it is certainly natural to admire such people, and to want to follow them even as they follow Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Yet, there is most certainly a danger here which we must look out for.
What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:12-13)
Celebrity Christianity, or the elevation of various gifted individuals especially pastors/elders to star-studded status, is a most pernicious error in this time of ours. As a great apostasy is happening within the churches of America, while most churches elsewhere are in varying stages of error and decay, even relatively good pastors shine in the midst of the growing darkness. Heretics of course "shine", but that is another issue altogether (cf 2 Tim. 4: 2-5).
The growth of the popularity of certain preachers of God's Word to cult-like status is certainly one of very much concern. When we imbue a pastor with characteristics that are more suited for God, we have committed idolatry indeed. The phenomenon of growing fanclubs of popular pastors (be they John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll or heretics such as Joseph Prince) may not a very good sign for the Church. Typical of fans, in some Christians there is an almost unquestioning following of their "idol", coupled with an inability to accept criticism of the person. If a criticism be warranted, it must be offered with kids' gloves and with tons of caveats and positive praise for the person, otherwise woe to the person offering the criticism.
It is this aspect of celebrity Christianity which is disturbing to me especially when I see it in action. Is there any person, any pastor and elder who is infallible? Is any person perfect? Why then are we so quick and willing to defend our favorite preacher instead of examining everything according to Scripture? Are we worshipping God, or Piper or Driscoll or whichever minister you love? Shouldn't we be focused on Christ, not on our particular favorite preacher, no matter how much God has used them?
Sadly to say, the pragmatism rampant in yesterday's Evangelicalism has continued on to this day. People like Mark Driscoll have won accolades for reaching thousands for Christ, and as such have been granted de facto immunity from criticism in the mind of many Christians. The numbers games it seems still continue even to this day. Yet, Christians who desire to follow Scripture rather than the opinions of men, no matter how godly, know the ultimate authority is God and His Word, and that takes precedence over the opinion and teachings and "fruits" of any and every pastor, and numerical growth of the church. Nobody is exempt from criticism, including I, but all must submit to the authority of Scripture and of Christ.
In conclusion, Celebrity Christianity as a phenomenon is antithetical to biblical Christianity. It is indeed most troubling that some people have fallen for it, and this has resulted in splits within the Body of believers instead of being united in Christ. May we recognize this error for what it is, and avoid it like the plague. Do honor godly men, but never idolize them and treat them as if they will never makes mistakes at all, not to mention putting them above legitimate biblical criticism. Amen.