1 Corinthians 1:11-13: Where is the boundary between simply respecting leaders and worshipping them?

Hi, All. I wanted to kind of reflect on this passage and question. I think, in the American Church at least, we have some real problems with leader/celebrity worship. While I understand we need to honor and respect our leaders, I am wondering how we can draw healthy boundaries when it comes to our respect for our leaders so that we are able to maintain unity in Christ. How can we self-examine to make sure we are not crossing a line with this so that we ourselves do not stumble or cause others to stumble in this matter? How can crossing that line hurt our relationship with the Lord, the Church, and others? I would be very grateful for some insightful responses here. Thank you in advance!

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Great question Lindsay, one that left me reflecting on my own potential idolatry. :grimacing: @psalm151ls.

That seems to be the case. I think to draw a healthy boundary here would be to put Christ first always. This is very simple but often forgotten. I think if Christ is our walking cornerstone, our heavenly idol and friend we wouldn’t have to worry too much about making an idol of out of man.
So I think as long as our authority is primarily in the figure of Christ, and the bible, then we shouldn’t hiccup here. When we seek the teaching of prominent pastors we can come in with a God glorifying mindset, being thirsty for wisdom and biblical understanding, and avoid the tempting entertainment aspects.

I think Sometimes we find ourselves intending to glorify Christ by listening to famous Pastors but we realise that in doing so we might be idolising them: prioritising the doctrine and the teacher, rather than the target (Christ Himself). If we look at the passages, Paul suggests that if Christ is and the gospel is our sole focus, such reverence for worldly leaders can be avoided. For example, Paul ironically points out that he was not in fact the one crucified (1 Cor 1:13), thus he is not worthy (no one is anyways) of such honour and reverence among Chloe’s people. Further on in that chapter he speaks about preaching the gospel with simplicity. lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Cor 1:17). This implies that actually the gospel in its pure form is more than sufficient for fellowship: doctrine, while important, is not an absolute necessity.
Paul proceeds to speak about the importance of keeping the focus on God’s wisdom and not worldly wisdom, and how the lowly and despised are the ones who confound the wise (1 Cor 1:20-25; 1 Cor 1:28-29). Here again fancy teaching and vain doctrinal disputes are somewhat castigated by Paul, and he encourages us to look to the gospel: the bible in our hands first, and then listen to the Pastor.

Most importantly in the final few verses of the chapter Paul concludes the matter of respecting earthly church leaders succinctly. We are already wise if we have Christ Jesus, and 'let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." (1 Cor 1:30-31).

Therefore, again if we put our focus and trust primarily in the gospel of God and in the figure of Christ, such an issue of idolatry will not occur. ‘In Christ Alone’ is probably a good phrase to support this.
And this should ultimately glorify God and maintain godly unity within the church. Think about it. If we cared more about godly unity and love, rather than what famous leaders such as Luther or in a contemporary sense Joel Osteen teach or don’t teach, it would be so much more empowering. (I’m guilty here)

I truly agree that teachers of sound doctrine should be respected and false doctrine rebuked, we shouldn’t be so quick to denounce a normal slip-up or petty mistake among worship leaders. And these issues stem from guess what… treating worship leaders like gods. Its amazing how one slip-up causes outrage! Scandal after scandal, just like when a Hollywood celebrity is caught dating another celebrity. Solomon or The Teacher would label it vanity.

I think we would simply analyse our relationship with God, and compare that to our relationship with the world and worship leaders. How much time I spend in prayer? How often do I read the bible? Do I read the bible more than I listen to my church leader? Do I prioritise anything above God? Am I feeling His presence?

Answering these questions would give a general indication of whether or not we are ‘crossing the line’ and turning to man rather than the Maker.

Some final wisdom from ‘The Preacher’
“And the end of the matter is this: above any person or thing on earth, fear God and keep his commandments, for this the whole duty of believers in Christ” (Paraphrase) Ecc 12:13

This should stop Idolatry

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Awhile back I brought up a similar subject. I was concerned about Christian music artists that are walking away from their faith. I said that it was difficult for me to listen to their music any longer, even though that music had ministered to me for so many years. Someone gave me a great answer. That music and those lyrics are God’s work not the artists. I believe the same is true for ministers. It may be called “their ministry”, but if it is truth it is all God’s Word and His truth. Remembering this has helped me a lot. My own pastor makes it very evident that it is God’s work in him and through him. We have so many examples in OT and NT of flawed men that God used. I love that Paul says in the first chapter of first Corinthians “…were you baptized in the name of Paul? (certainly, NOT!).”

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Great question, Lindsay! It is particularly relevant for American Christianity because we have been suffering quite a number of leadership collapses in recent years. (I am interested in finding out what similar things may be happening in other countries.)

I quote your reference in full here because it is excellent for us to consider:

For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 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 Corinthians 1:11–13, ESV)

You chose the perfect book for your question. Leadership idolatry afflicted the Corinthians just as it afflicts us. This affliction takes several forms (I will not cite specific examples because I do not want to risk appearing to take sides. Internet searches will produce many examples.):

  • Unquestioning loyalty to a powerful personality. Sometimes congregations make the news for certain group behaviors that make me wonder if the congregants are being the Bereans that they need to be. I am particularly concerned that the elder boards in these churches may not be holding their pastors to Biblically appropriate standards. Watch followers of these personalities jump all over anyone who criticizes them on social media. Is this appropriate behavior for Christians?
  • Enshrinement of personalities for their perceived power. For example, YouTube has many videos where so-and-so “pwns” so-and-so in such-and-such a debate. Add sunglasses and, maybe, a cigar and, “Voilà!” we have coolness personified. These types of things reveal a certain insecure desire for vicarious fulfillment through the subjects in the posters and their fanbases. People treat apologetics in particular as a tool in a spiritual boxing match where the victor wears the belt and the loser lay, bloody, on the mat. People cheer for their champions, but they do not do the footwork to develop their own spiritual strength (Hebrews 5:12–14). Who is happier with this: God, or Satan?
  • Overreliance on particular personalities for insight and information. I have seen personal Bible study libraries where one author accounts for most of the books. This may be fine for scholarly work studying that particular personality, but it is not appropriate for a well-rounded general knowledge. I want to think like Jesus, not like any particular person who opines about him.

An adult Sunday school classmate once said, “I am not a fan of so-and-so.” I reacted at the time with, “Why not?” This was a harmless question in itself, but it might easily have led to a defensive line of battle. Looking back, I suspect that so-and-so would have responded, “Good! I do not want you to be my fan. I want you to be Jesus’s fan.” May we all be Jesus’s fans.

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Hi, @Lindylou. Thank you for your input! Yes, I believe I read some of the thread you put up. It was a great thread and definitely a relevant and valid concern! I am glad you got some good answers! Not exactly the same thing, though :slight_smile: . I’m talking about people’s tendency to put leaders, famous or localized, on a pedestal and blindly following them. I’m not talking about God’s working through leaders even when they make mistakes. And we need to be careful to draw a boundary even there, because wrongs are not all the same. Someone walking away from the faith is not the same as someone abusing someone. While we can say God worked through the first, the second we cannot necessarily say the same about, depending on the situation.

Also, the idolizing of leaders causes division in the body of Christ, and it stunts fellowship growth, as people are so in awe of their idolized leaders that they fail to see the full value of others in the body of Christ.

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Yes! And it does not have to be someone famous or well-known for it to happen. My concern is that this type of behavior is detrimental to the organic growth of Christ-centered fellowship, in which people are able to be lovingly and respectfully honest with each other and to constructively criticize the teachings/ideas/actions of certain leaders if need be. No matter the leader or our respect for them, the teaching always has to line up with the truth of God’s Word. And any leader worth their salt will not feel threatened by being questioned. And if we get defensive by others questioning that leader or by someone saying that leader may have done something they ought not to have, that is perhaps a red flag about which we need to prayerfully self-examine.

You made some good points, and I think I may want to come back to this and respond some more after I’ve had more time to properly gather and organize my thoughts. Thanks for responding, @blbossard!

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I’m sorry, I can see that I got off on a tangent.

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No need to apologize. I think it is important to talk about situations like well-known worship leaders/singers walking away from the faith, how that affects others and how some of the reactions and responses to that have implications that need to be taken into consideration and reflected upon. I’m glad you brought it up :slight_smile: Our tendency to put famous or locally known leaders on pedestals is harmful to not only ourselves but is also harmful for how we see what it looks like to be the church. I think people read in the Bible that we should honor our leaders, and they just run with that and end up taking it too far. So when leaders walk away from the faith, we are affected so heavily, I think, because we did not see them as being capable of falling away or making “that” mistake. This causes all kinds of issues on a more local level when people find and attempt to bring to the surface deception, abuse, or other wrongs a leader has committed. People are so protective of that person’s pedestal that there is no accountability, as if “that” leader does not need accountability because s/he would never do “that.”

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Hi, @hluke. Thank you for your great and well thought out answer here!

I think it is good to always be reflecting on that in our lives. I think there are so many things offered us in our world of creature comforts and luxuries that we will have tendencies to idolize one thing or another if we are not vigilant.

This is a good answer and should be the obvious one, but with as much of a struggle as idolatry is for so many, I think that people struggle with this simple truth. People and their reactions/responses to things are complex, and I think that the situation of idolizing answers needs a more robust response under the umbrella of the simple. I think in general, people’s lack of reflection and self-examination is a really big stumbling block. I think we are very frequently overly confident in ourselves without even realizing it, and we only assume that we are putting Christ first and looking to Him and God’s Word as our ultimate authority. There is danger that comes with assuming too much in that regard that affects our relationships with others and God.

Actually, Paul makes it clear by his constant exhortations to Timothy to keep to sound doctrine that doctrine is absolutely necessary–at least core doctrines are. Doctrine is simply teaching. We can’t teach the Gospel or pass it on without teaching doctrine. The teaching that we are saved by grace through faith is doctrine. I know that you know this, too, because down further you acknowledge the importance of discerning false teaching. I think you are accurate in stressing “vain” here:

And not just worship leaders…but any leader in the church, really.

Although I think people are definitely separated by non-essential doctrine as we see manifested in the different denominations, when it comes to putting leaders on a pedestal, I think there is something different that is at work. I think that our western emphasis on the individual is probably part of the issue, and we also value accomplishment. We can see the accomplishments of the individual leaders the most and promptly celebrate them for all that they do, which isn’t an issue if we keep it in perspective and recognize that God is working through that person and also every other person under the leader’s stewardship to accomplish His purposes.

I think the way we see doing and being the church needs to change if we want to shift away from the tendency to idolize leaders. For example, I think that we need to stop referring to the pastor’s “vision” for the church and refer to God’s vision for the church as outlined in Scripture instead. We just met with the pastor of the church to which we think we might commit, and he makes the church about the congregation, not about him…and guess what? He doesn’t feel as burnt out as other pastors I have known. There is no resentment there, no “us” versus “them” (leaders versus congregants) mentality, because he knows it isn’t his church, and he knows it isn’t his vision for the church he is following. He doesn’t make it about him. So I think there is responsibility on both the leaders’ and non-leaders’ parts in this.

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