The Celebrity Cult and the Abuse of Matthew 18:15-17

I have always said, “We don’t have a problem with socialism in America; we have a problem with our Christian celebrities.”

I have been asked by readers who have been surprised by this statement, “Really? You really believe we don’t have a problem with the socialists here in the US?”

My answer is, “Yes, really. The socialists here in the US are a weak bunch, even when they are in power. Socialism in America is still only political, not cultural, as it is in Europe. Like every political structure without cultural support, it will collapse the moment the people in this culture figure out they can do something about it. I have seen Communism fall, and it had all the guns, and all the food, and all the tools of production. This here socialism has even less. It is an easy game.”

But the people do not do anything about it. They are passive. The problem is not in the power of socialism; it is in the passivity of the Christians in this country.

And why are they passive?

Because their pastors, preachers, and seminary professors keep them passive, and obedient to the political establishment.

That’s why I say, “We don’t have a problem with socialism in America; we have a problem with our Christian celebrities.” Dennis Peacocke seems to agree with me: “Put away your blazing guns against the Left. The major problems we face today were caused by Christians in the Church.” Dennis is a wise Christian teacher. I learned a lot from him in my early ministry.

And that’s why my writing is directed not against the socialists in this country but against the Christian celebrities who continue using their positions of power, authority and influence to mislead Christians. Especially those of the Two-Kingdoms crowd. But others as well: neo-Reformed, dispensationalist, liberal, etc.

And of course, by doing that, I have brought upon myself the ire of their followers. There is an unofficial, but very real cult in the churches in the United States: The celebrity cult. It has one main commandment: You never criticize a celebrity, even if you are right and they are wrong. A corollary of that commandment is this: When a celebrity takes a position that so far has been declared unacceptable, or heretical, the position immediately becomes acceptable and orthodox. All it takes for a heresy to become orthodoxy is to be espoused by a celebrity. Sodomy has always been a moral choice and therefore a sin; but once a celebrity says it is not just a choice, and therefore it deserves a different treatment, then a whole denomination changes its view on sodomy. Christians have never voted for a Satanist; but now, since a few celebrities declare that it is good to vote for a Satanist, the unthinkable becomes OK, and then even a “moral obligation.” We all believe in the Gospel and its redemption here and now; but this can easily change when a celebrity declares that – for political reasons – we never make a choice between good and evil but only between two evils, and redemption ceases to play any major role in our considerations. Because you never criticize a celebrity.

But I do. Because I have lived through one such cult: The personality cult under Communism. And I can see it clearly in the churches in the US. And I am determined to never allow to be under it again. So I have to speak up. It won’t make me Mr. Popular. But it will help me remain Mr. Pure Conscience.

I am getting all kinds of criticism for my stand against the personality cult in the US churches. That’s OK; I expect it. This cult has a powerful magnetic force; people do not easily break free of it. In fact, it usually takes a generation change to deal with it. But I will continue speaking up anyway.

Of all the criticisms I get, one is most prevalent of all. Prevalent, because it is more of an instinctive, mindless reflex, rather than well thought-out argument. The defenders of the celebrities never think before they publish it; they immediately resort to it automatically, whether it is applicable to the situation or not.

It is the argument from Matthew 18:15-17: “Before you wrote this article about Mr. Celebrity, did you first contact him personally and inform him of his sin?”

Think what these people would say to Martin Luther, if they lived in his time: “Before you nailed those theses to the door, did you go to the Pope to talk to him personally?” Yes, that’s how much sense is there in that argument. Also, keep in mind that of the more than two hundred times I have received that criticism, not more than three (1.5 %) were sent by a personal email. The rest were in a public discussion, for all to see. Apparently, Matthew 18 has only a limited application: in defense of celebrities.

Of course, the critics don’t believe their own argument. The use of Matthew 18 in such situations is simply a manipulation device, to silence criticism of celebrities by imposing higher cost on it – first write him personally, then, talk to two or three other people, then to his church, and then, may be, you can get to public criticism. The celebrity can publish his error right away; the defense of truth must jump through multiple hoops. Sounds like a double standard? Not for the celebrity cult.

This time I got it for my short criticism in a FB forum of Joel Beeke’s article on why his conscience would not let him not vote for Romney. Beeke’s article is nothing spectacular; he just repeats the same old arguments we have heard from the other “Reformed” taskmasters in service of the political establishment. If anything is remarkable in it, it is his ability to avoid even the simplest rules of logic while constructing his case; the others who defended voting for Romney at least did use some logical connections. Beeke uses none. Anyway, I don’t need to write a refutation, for Nathan Eshelman has done a wonderful job, replying to Beeke’s lack of logical thinking with clear Biblical arguments and coherent and principled Biblical reasoning. I have that nagging suspicion that Eshelman, like me, didn’t go through the whole ritual of Matthew 18. There is more and more of us.

With Beeke having his reply, it’s more important for us here to decide this: Is the argument from Matthew 18 valid in situations like this, when celebrities are being criticized for their betrayal, or for their deviation from the faith or from the Gospel or from the principles of the Biblical Law and worldview? Or is it just cheap manipulation, used to silence those of us who have not bowed their knee to the celebrity cult?

To find the answer, we need to remember that Matthew 18 is not the only method of rebuke mentioned in the New Testament. There are at least two more:

(1) The public rebuke of Peter by Paul told in Galatians 2:11-21. In v. 14 Paul says that he specifically rebuked Peter “in the presence of all.” If Matthew 18 had the universal application the critics claim it does, why didn’t Paul abide by it? If he acted in a different manner, then a different principle was in action there. What is that different principle, and how does it affect our present situation with Christian celebrities whose words and actions hurt the church and mislead the faithful?

(2) The public rebuke of Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5, where they were confronted before the whole church, and then were immediately punished by the Holy Spirit. Apparently, the Holy Spirit did not consider the immediate public rebuke as a violation of any Biblical principle from Matthew 18:15-17. To the contrary, He immediately confirmed the apostles’ verdict by executing it Himself.

These are two very well known examples, not some obscure details in the Bible unknown to most people like, for example, who the Queen of Israel was. There are numerous sermons and teachings on these two cases. No regular church-goer can be legitimately excused that they didn’t know about these two examples. And yet, they never consider them as legitimate Biblical procedures when they criticize me.

Let’s see now, someone needs rebuke, and instead of following the Matthew 18 procedure, the apostles do exactly what I do in my articles: harsh public rebuke. Why? What’s the difference?

The difference is in who the victim of the sinful act is. One case is about private sinning of an individual. The other case is sinning against the church and the sound doctrine. This makes all the difference between the two cases. Matthew 18 is very clear: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private.” Obviously, if his sin is a public sin, against the church (e.g., an article for all to read), showing him his fault in private makes no sense. In the other case, Paul specifically says about Peter and the others in Galatians 2:14, “when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel,” indicating that Peter had committed not just a private sin but a sin against the very Gospel message. And in Acts 5:3 Peter accused Ananias of “lying to the Holy Spirit,” again indicating that more than just a private sin was the case. A very significant difference, apparently, if two different procedures are involved.

So, which category does Beeke’s sin fall into? Are we talking about committing a private sin in private? Or are we talking about committing a sin against the Holy Spirit and the church? A man of renown in the Reformed Christian circles is cashing in his reputation to convince Christians to hand their political vote over to an avowed enemy of Christ who has a thoroughly anti-Christian policy record and a self-conscious anti-Christian ideology, publicly using anti-Biblical arguments and replacing fear of God with fear of man. There is no way that can be classified as “private sin, in private.” This is a public sin, sin against the church and the Holy Spirit, just as Peter’s sin was. If the chief among the apostles could suffer harsh public rebuke, Joel Beeke – or Albert Mohler, or Gary DeMar, or any other celebrity who cashes in their reputation to mislead Christians – will have to suffer the same fate as Peter. They may ignore such rebuke and prefer not to pay attention, and continue in their betrayal and deception; but harsh public rebuke against leaders has a necessary function in the church, and we better not stifle it, no matter what our celebrity cult tells us.

Therefore, there is absolutely no ground for accusations that I didn’t obey the procedure for rebuking a brother for his sin, given in Matthew 18. That procedure just doesn’t apply to this case, or to any case where a public person is criticized for not being straightforward about the truth of the Gospel. And, to answer my questions above, the use of that argument in such a case is not Biblical, it is Pharisaical to the core, and its purpose is not to defend the truth but to silence the truth, in favor of celebrities who for one reason or another have been elevated to a pedestal, far above criticism and correction. While Matthew 18 has its important place in the church, the truth of the matter is that in the majority of cases where it is invoked, it is rather to send an innocent person on a guilt trip, rather than deal with sin in the church.

So, from henceforth let no man trouble me when I continue being faithful to my conviction that it is the celebrities in the church who have become the main enemy of the faith, and criticize them publicly. There is a Biblical procedure to deal with celebrities who have betrayed the faith, and that is Galatians 2: harsh, courageous, face to face, uncompromising public rebuke. Anything less than that is disobedience to God. And I am not planning on being disobedient, and so help me God.

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