It was August of last year when John Cooper, leader of the Christian rock band Skillet, wrote, “We must STOP making worship leaders and thought leaders or influencers or cool people or ‘relevant’ people the most influential people in Christendom.” He was writing in response to two popular Christian leaders who had publicly renounced their faith within a few days of each other: mega-church pastor and author Joshua Harris (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and Hillsong’s singer-songwriter Marty Sampson. His words quickly went viral. In the days that followed, there was widespread concern over a generation losing their faith in Jesus.

It was only a few weeks later that Justin Bieber led worship in a Los Angeles church after opening up on social media about how the love of Jesus helped him through a season of drug abuse and anxiety.

Not long after, Demi Lovato shared on social media about a recent trip to Israel where her Christian faith was renewed. A photo posted to Instagram of her baptism in the Jordan River garnered 3.5 million likes.

Then Kanye West’s album, Jesus Is King, was released in October, igniting interest in his gospel transformation and eliciting responses that are as emotionally charged as they are polarized.
The most influential person in Christendom should be—and is—Jesus.

It would appear that just as some celebrity Christians are publicly walking away from the faith, others are discovering Jesus and doing so just as publicly. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the ways in which these celebrities are expressing their new or renewed faith, what cannot be denied is that their public presence is sparking interest in Christianity across mainstream culture. While this is to be celebrated (what could be bad about having the words “Jesus Is King” on a billboard in Times Square?), there is a risk of falling right back into the habit of making “cool people … the most influential people in Christendom.”

Because the most influential people in Christendom should not be mainstream celebrities, just as they should not be Christian authors, mega-church pastors or denominational leaders. The most influential person in Christendom should be—and is—Jesus.

Writing on his website in March 2008, Billy Graham indicated that faith always implies an object. It answers the question, “What do you believe in?” For Christians, that object is Jesus. If you are a Christian, your personal faith is in the gospel of Jesus as defined in the Bible which saves you from sin. This faith is the catalyst to a personal relationship with Jesus himself.

However, when Jesus is not the most influential person in Christendom, the object of our faith is replaced with celebrity, which is idolatry. If we are putting our faith in someone like Marty Sampson or Kanye West or even a pastor/officer or denominational leader instead of Jesus, we find ourselves in a very perilous situation.

Let’s not be confused about what the truth is. Let’s not value fanatics over facts. If “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1), then our certainty is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

I’m not sure why or how someone like Marty Sampson would choose not to identify as Christian anymore. Perhaps doubt starts to creep into their thoughts. If we are honest with ourselves, I think we all question the facts at some time or another. Providing space to express and explore these thoughts can actually correlate with an increased maturity of faith. The questioning itself isn’t toxic. But in the exploration, Jesus and the gospel facts must remain central. We cannot give these or other celebrities positions of influence in our lives and in our church communities that are greater than that of Jesus.

Captain Laura Van Schaick is the women’s ministries program and resource officer.

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