Recently, Hillsong “Pastor” Carl Lentz was seen knocking back stiff drinks with Justin Bieber. Not only that, but apparently Carl is making news for being a “hot, shirtless pastor.” Oh, and Biebs was taking off his shirt and pulling down his pants for the female bartenders while Carl sat with an approving smile.
Bieber isn’t the only celebrity with whom Carl and the other so-called pastors at Hillsong rub elbows. Carl has photo-ops with well-known rappers and celebrities of all stripes. And it’s all in the name of “spreading the gospel.”
Unless you think this is an aberration, many of these mega churches are well connected with celebrities. Even if it isn’t a “Hollywood” celebrity, it could be a well-know Christian celebrity, like Tobymac, or maybe a former contestant from American Idol, or The Voice. If it isn’t those level of acts, it will be strong men who rip phone books in half and do other stunts, claiming it is done in the “power of the Lord.”
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a new phenomenon, either. I enjoy reading books by F.B. Meyer, a preacher from the late 1800s. In one of his books he commented on how some churches would do comedy skits and shows to attract members.
This is nothing new. Ever since the fall of man, we’ve admired our own images and followed the charisma of human leaders, looking to be close to some celebrity. This is the world’s method. We should wonder whether it is to be used by the disciples of Jesus Christ.
Put another way, are we to engage in “friendship evangelism?” The answer is somewhat less black and white, which is why we need discernment.
One form of friendship evangelism is what we see in mainstream evangelicalism. We see it when the pastor dresses like a biker, uses a lot of trendy cultural references, turns his sermons into a comedy monologue with a point (hopefully). It shows up when Christians celebrate with a friend at a pagan rally or ceremony that flies in the face of what the Bible says is good and true, hoping that their winsome attitude will encourage their friend to consider becoming a Christian. It looks like Hillsong with their creepy animal masks, Naked Cowboy, and celebrity instagram feed.
Rather than comment on this myself, I’ll let the Bible speak for itself:
“Ye adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4
Do you think Carl Lentz wants to be friends with the world?
I know, they’ll point to this verse:
“I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:22b
Notice, that’s the last part of the verse. Often, it is important to know the whole verse, and maybe even the context of the chapter or even book.
“For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; for woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.
For if I do this of mine own will, I have a reward: but if not of mine own will, I have a stewardship intrusted to me.
What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel without charge, so as not to use to the full my right in the gospel.
For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more.
And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, not being without law to God, but under law to Christ, that I might gain them that are without law.
To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak: I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:16-22
I underlined a few key parts. First, Paul was compelled to tell the Gospel as someone who was entrusted with something. It would be dangerous for him NOT to preach the whole Gospel. And he did so without charging money! He admits that a preacher can claim a right to have their needs met (a far cry from the salary demands of many pastors in America, or the idea that they should have the median income of the average person attending their church–so let’s get those churches in wealthy communities, shall we?). No, Paul saw the Gospel not as a form of gain, but a duty to preach for the glory of God.
Paul bore these standards upon himself willingly as a duty to Christ, his Master. He considered himself in bondage to all those around him, which is a sign of his humility. Read his letters! He never once demands things based on who he was, or based on the fact that he saw Christ. He mocks such an idea that he would do so.
Then he says he would become like a Jew–under the law–or like a Gentile–not under the law. He clarifies that he’s no longer bound by the letter of the Mosaic Law, and he’s never without God’s law. The meaning here is that he doesn’t go out of his way to offend people. So, if he’s witnessing to a Jewish man, he won’t serve him bacon. If he’s preaching to a Gentile, he won’t insist that everything should be Kosher.
He goes on to say that he becomes weak to gain the weak! Paul identifies himself with those who are not powerful, attractive and influential. He’s meek and humble.
Paul’s attitude is the polar opposite of the friendship evangelist’s M.O. Paul wasn’t taking selfies with the elite and posting them on his Facebook page. He wasn’t re-naming his sermons to sound like trendy titles of the day. He wasn’t making T-Shirts that look like the latest fashions from Rome.
In fact, Paul was brutally persecuted by the elite and powerful. He was despised by the influential people of his day. No sooner did he leave a congregation did others come in and badmouth him. Read 2 Corinthians where he makes his defense against such things.
Paul is not a poster boy for Friendship evangelism.
On the other hand, if we mean that we are to be friendly, showing the love of Christ, that is true. Christ called all manner of people out of sin to follow him. In that way He clashed with the Pharisees who looked down on various classes of people. Jesus offered rest for our souls, promising to lift the burden of our sin if we turned from our rebelliousness and followed Him.
Peter didn’t have silver or gold, but he offered the Gospel to the cripple at the beautiful gate in Jerusalem. By the power of Christ, the man’s legs were healed, too. But the greater miracle was over 3,000 people repenting and turning to Christ.
As Christ’s ambassadors we are to love our enemies, do good to them that hurt us, and pray for those who spitefully use us. A good example of this was the early church, of course. More recently (relatively) we can look to the Anabaptists who sought the welfare of those who were killing them. They would feed and clothe their enemies. One Anabaptist was being pursued. If he were caught, he’d be executed for his crime of being an Anabaptist. His pursuer fell through the ice and was going to drown. The Anabaptist couldn’t allow that to happen. For his goodness he was killed.
That is the way we shine. That is how we should be seeking the welfare of the world around us. That is how we should be a friend to the world.