Thursday, October 13, 2011

Christians, the Church and the siren song of influence and outreach

Back when I first started blogging, there was the temptation of fame, of influence. The nature of the blogosphere is such that just about anyone with a keyboard can gain instant recognition just by posting about any type of content whatsoever. Technological advances tend to influence how we behave even though the technology itself is amoral, and the idea of self-publishing — through first the blogosphere, then Facebook and Twitter — democratize and revolutionize communication such that every Tom, Dick and Harry with an Internet connection can gain influence and followers, regardless of whether he has anything worthwhile to say.

I am sure much has been written about this social phenomenon, and anyway my focus is not focused on the impact of technology on people, which has not been something I am knowledgeable about (besides personal observation). Yet what such technology has done is to enable our desires including sinful desires of the heart to manifest itself. The Christian blogosphere is thus hardly less civilized at time, to our shame, compared to its secular counterpart. Note that this is not an indictment of anyone and anything. As I have said, technology is amoral; what is sinful is not technology per se but the people using the technology. In other words, don't blame technology for the sinfulness of men!

My focus here however is on the facilitation of the sinful desires of our hearts arising from the need for significance, which lies behind much of our lusts for fame and influence. I am not here pointing the finger at anyway, as I myself have fallen prey to it. With the ability to gain a following at the ease of the click of a button, the temptation for self-aggrandizement is greatly multiplied. Even those of us with a message and burdened with the need to help others can be contaminated with this sinful desire for fame. Who does not after all love to be respected and have their opinions highly esteemed? Are any of us even the most selfless and godly free from the temptation to seek glory and honor for ourselves?

I speak of this of course from my self-identification as a member of the ODM (Online Discernment Ministry) tribe. We desire after all for God's truth to be made known and obeyed, but we need to periodically examine our hearts that we do not become the mirror image of that which we despise. Dare we think ourselves free from the snares of Satan? Do we think that Satan only works for the formal embrace of error? Satan is happier if we formally denounce error while materially embracing it. Not only will Satan have us, but to the world we are seen as hypocrites, which we will have become, and the truths of the Gospel are mocked at because of our hypocrisy.

The desire for fame and influence is the snare of the devil, regardless of how one wants to parse it. It robs God of His glory, because we desire to share the limelight too. It makes "fame" and "influence" the idols that we embrace, and it gets even worse when it masks itself as our service to God. "We want to make God famous," says one. "We want to impact more people for God," says another. Do we see how pernicious and tenacious these sins are? We see this in the so-called celebrity pastors where personality cults are cultivated intentionally or unintentionally ("I am of Piper." "I am of ___"). But it does not stop there. And for those of us who are against such: are we doing it because we covet that same influence but we don't have it? Again, no finger pointing here, but a question to reflect on.

As I reflect on this, it dawns on me that this is probably one of the reasons why Christians and churches fall. The road to hell, after all, is marked with good intentions. Why do we do what we do? Why do I blog? Why do you twit? Even in doing church, why do we want to "impact more people for God"? Or conversely, why are we against people "impacting more people for God"?

If we cannot give a Christian response to these, then we have a problem. The siren song of influence and fame clouds a man's path and ministry. Will we sacrifice obedience to the Bible just for a chance for a voice "for Christ"? Or to appear magnanimous? To appear loving to fellow "Christians," regardless of whether said persons are truly believers as defined by the objective standard of the Bible?

Church history is littered with the wreckage of apostasy, which starts with small compromises based upon good intentions. What's wrong with compromising on the "minor things"? What about just inviting someone who is not that sound, but deemed to be relatively orthodox except for the error of being "just a Presbyterian," to be a speaker at a Christian conference for pastors? Surely nobody is going to be so stupid to just follow that guy blindly? What's wrong with just having a friendly dialogue with a heretic, as long as one does not deny the Trinity and makes plain to everyone that denial of the Trinity is soul-denying error? Is anyone after all that dumb to think that anyone I dialogue with is a Christian leader to look up to? What's wrong with adopting a "missional attitude"? After all, as long as we make plain that we do not compromise biblical teachings (as we interpret them), aren't we after all asked to be "all things to all men"?

The diving line is razor sharp. What seems reasonable to us and of little difference now may come to result in apostasy in the future. This is especially so in the area of influence, since it feeds into our natural desire for significance which has however been distorted by the Fall. The Devil is all too willing to allow us short-term victories as long as we lose in the long term, and that has seemingly been his modus operandi for a long time. Satan capitalizes on our weak spots in his attacks, never our strong ones.

We must not allow our desire to impact people for Christ therefore be an idol. Christian ministry is not about "changed lives." Satan can give you some changed lives to sate your lust for influence, then waylay you with the lure of more in exchange for compromise, little by little destroying the Gospel influence you bear, while you are totally unaware of what is going on because the compromise is called for little by little. Just as the frog in a pot of slowly boiling water will not perceive the change in temperature before it is cooked, Satan is very patient in attacking us. Satan is not stupid! While overt error is always present, Satan gains more with subtle error slowly luring people away from the purity of the Gospel — little by little slouching towards Sodom and Gomorrah.

How do we fight the Devil and his snares? The only way to do so is to die to self. We must die, and our ambitions also. Even our goals and dreams of ministry must die with us. Stop having dreams of revival. Reformation and revivals may come and hopefully do come, but it is not our job to create them, which we shouldn't anyway if we believe in the predestination of God. Serve God without regard to reputation or the number of readers and followers you have, as if that is ever important in the first place. Be indifferent to statistics in general — you are not holier or more godly if you have a big church or a small church; many followers or little followers. So what if you have more influence for now? So what if you have none? What does God calls us to do? To be "world-changers"? I challenge anyone to find where God ever tell us to be such in the Scriptures, because it just isn't there.

So resist the siren song of influence and fame, even if and especially if done in the name of outreach and evangelism. Crucify the flesh, and die to it. For only in so doing can we overcome the world, as Jesus has done.


mwhenry said...

I have no problem with anyone writing, blogging, or speaking in general, I believe in freedom.
When it comes to Christianity, the standard is not mine though, it is the very one all who would claim to be Christian must follow faithfully. That standard is not just honesty and integrity, it is faithfully reporting and speaking about God in every form and action as he has revealed it, whether it is popular or not.
What I do have problem with are those who become famous, do nothing to ever dissuade being a celebrity even thought they have no choice because they are one, postulate, then wring their hands when someone in their camp is questioned. Not attacked, not maligned, but simply questioned. When a blogger tweets x-rated visions or invites a heretic to one of the chummy "see me on a big stage" shows, they cease to be just a blogger. Their entire being as a leader, pastor or whatever career or stead they are in comes into question. Being Christian is not compartmentalization, we don't get to choose when to turn it off and on.

PuritanReformed said...


I agree. There is a big problem with these too-big-to-fall pastors. Reminds me of the too-big-to-fall banks somehow.

terriergal said...

Oh, man, that more of our solid teachers would heed this.

I find it odd that Sproul himself has commented on this practice and the danger of it but does not actually say anything when his brothers and colleagues trample all over this principle: (such as Rick Warren at DG 2010 and so forth - in which Sproul also took part by video).

R.C. Sproul from his book Willing to Believe, pp. 19-20:
Robert Godfrey, president of Westminster Theological Seminar in Escondido, California, recently suggested that I write a book about “the myth of influence.” I was startled by the suggestion because I did not know what he meant. He explained that this phrase refers to the modern evangelical penchant to “build bridges” to secular thought or to groups within the larger church that espouse defective theologies.

The mythical element is the na├»ve assumption that one can build bridges that move in one direction only. Bridges are usually built to allow traffic to move in two directions. What often happens when we relate to others is that we become the influences rather than the influencers. In an effort to win people to Christ and be “winsome,” we may easily slip into the trap of emptying the gospel of its content, accommodating our hearers, and removing the offense inherent in the gospel. To be sure, our own insensitive behavior can add an offense to the gospel that is not properly part of it. We should labor hard to avoid such behavior. But to strip the gospel of those elements that unbelievers find repugnant is not an option.

Martin Luther once remarked that wherever the gospel is preached in its purity, it engenders conflict and controversy. We live in an age that abhors controversy, and we are prone to avoid conflict. How dissimilar this atmosphere is from that which marked the labor of Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles. The prophets were immersed in conflict and controversy precisely because they would not accommodate the Word of God to the demands of the nation caught up in syncretism. The apostles were engaged in conflict continuously. As much as Paul sought to live peaceably with all men, he found rare moments of peace and little respite from controversy.

That we enjoy relative safety from violent attacks against us may indicate a maturing of modern civilization with respect to religious toleration. Or it may indicate that we have so compromised the gospel that we no longer provoke the conflict that true faith engenders.

I would also heartily recommend listening to Robert Godfrey on Office Hours talking about the Myth of Influence.

And his article here:

So why are these guys, who talk a good game, so unwilling to stick their necks out and actually walk it?

PuritanReformed said...