In the Reformed Christian community, we have the following idols: seminaries, seminary staff, conferences, and conference speakers. Popular conferences are: T4G (Together for the Gospel); G3 Conference; Shepherd’s Conference; Ligonier events; The Gospel Coalition. Popular Speakers are: John MacArthur; RC Sproul; Al Mohler; Mark Dever; John Piper; Tim Keller; Tim Challies; Matt Chandler; Ligon Duncan; Phil Johnson; Paul Washer; Voddie Baucham; Alistair Begg; Ravi Zacharias.
What is the problem with these organizations and men? Its how we (or the public) perceive them.
the godliness of the conference speaker is exaggerated in the mind of the listeners because they don’t see him during the bad days and weak moments.
. . . .
This allows them to assume that his stage presence is how he is all the time.
. . . .
[they] idolize those that they don’t know & despise those they do know. They long for a pastor who that isn’t real.
– a teaching elder in the PCA
A major public figure in the reformed world is viewed as being vetted and affirmed by everyone else who is important in the reformed world. They come with a presumption of purity, innocence, and are conferred a super apostle-like status. Their books, sermons, etc. are automatically viewed as sound, and replace the study of the word of God.
These men and organizations cannot be criticized or rebuked, lest the “criticizer” be rebuked and chastised by those who know the “criticizer.” At the same time, if men in local churches committed the same offenses as these popular teachers, they would be put under discipline and/or kicked out. Celebrity pastors are not accountable to their primary audience, and their primary audience doesn’t have any recourse, other than market economics (boycotting).
I myself have been severely guilty of placing on a pedestal the people I am describing. I know many others who have as well.
It happened to me a long time ago, when I raised the issue that several Gospel Coalition pastors were not sound teachers, and pointed out what their errors were. The labels assigned to me after that point were “caustic,” “combative,” “negative personality,” etc. Fast forward several years later, when more are in tune with what the Social Justice gospel is. The same people who used the labels above now are on the same page, yet the label stuck.
Note: When you call out those who divide the flock by false teaching, the first thing that will happen to you is that YOU will be labeled as divisive. The principles found in Titus 3 will be used against the truth (Unity is also an idol in the church).
People need to stop relying on internet ministries and preachers for their primary source of learning. You and I do not know these men. We do not know what their reputation is at their church. We do not know if IRL they are not qualified to be elders, based on how they treat others. At best, we can only rely on the fact that we may know a pastor who attended an institution that is somewhat affiliated with the person, as our basis of knowledge of the celebrity-pastor in question.
The appropriate forum for teaching is your local church, where you will have established relationships. What is unfortunate is when you have a situation similar to the one I was in above, or when the teaching staff does not have time to answer your questions, disciple you, or guide you on your Christian journey. Unfortunately, it is when the church fails that many seek out pastors and ministries online as a recourse. I have been in that environment, and I know how lonely and frustrating it can be.
If you have to approach your church to discuss how you are being fed, and if it is being done improperly, address it with your church. If the time comes when you need to address the soundness of celebrity-pastors, address them.