Apparently the idea of big-name Christian ministries is not a new one. The Apostle Paul himself seems to have struggled with some of the same sorts of problems all the way back in the First Century.
Paul himself was, of course, a big name ministry himself; probably one of the biggest. And reading between the lines of this passage in Philippians chapter 1 a little, it seems like some of the other contemporary big names were trying to take advantage of the fact that he was in a Roman jail to build up their own ministries.
The tendency towards personal empire-building does not magically vanish just because you are serving the Lord. In fact, it might be that it’s an even greater temptation, because we can justify building our own little kingdoms as “building up God’s kingdom”: God has given us certain gifts, and He expects us to use them to His glory. We’re not trying to magnify ourselves, we’re just trying to be faithful with what He’s given us.
It’s a fine line, and I’m deliberately naming no names because I’m not in the place to make that judgment about any individual. God knows.
But it’s something to watch for.
As a blogger, I see the empire-building tendency in my own desire to increase the number of views and likes my posts get. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself; far from it. But what are my motives for doing so?
Without kidding myself, is it an honest desire to be faithful with what I’ve been given, or a desire to make a name for myself (even a small one)?
Or to take an alternate example, there are some very visibly successful “ministries” out there with, let’s be honest, dubious theological underpinnings. Prosperity teachers, populist authors with 18 books all saying much the same thing, Gospels of human effort and a hyper-focus on Me And My Bit rather than God And His, “church growth experts” with the apparent Bible teaching ability of lard. Not that every big name falls into that category, but am I jealous of their successes? Why should they be so apparently blessed with huge crowds and vast numbers reached by their ministry, when I’ve got such a better handle on the Scripture?
The short version of the lesson here is watch your motives. So I think this or that big-name preacher is courting personal fame? Building their own little empire? To a certain extent, so what? Christ is being preached.
However, this does not negate the need to watch your theology. Paul was rather less hands-off with those he considered to be bringing false doctrines into the church. He says that such have “lost connection with the Head” (Col 2:19), that they “want to be teachers of the law but… do not know what they are taking about” (I Ti 1:7), even saying at one point that if anyone, even himself or an angel of God, should preach a different Gospel, let them be accursed (Gal 1:9).
This is not a light accusation to throw around. This is the theological equivalent of nuclear weapons; that’s how seriously Paul took his responsibility to make sure those in the church heard sound doctrine.
We who are mature in the faith have a responsibility both to call out error when we see it, particularly in those claiming to be teachers, and to not throw this theological nuke around without cause. The one damages the work of Christ as surely as the other.
We need to keep a close scrutiny on our motives, taking care that our motivation is at all times and as much as possible love for God and love for other people. Sometimes the loving thing to do is indeed to speak out. If you see someone running headlong over a cliff, it’s negligent to do nothing about it. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to recognise that this might be an issue of personal envy and that we need to come back to the cross. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to realise that we are just nitpicking in an unloving way, and keep our mouths shut. Jesus was full of truth, yes, but He was full of grace first.
But we all ought to be growing in our knowledge of God and of His Word, so that we will all become fully mature in Christ, conformed into His image. We none of us are there yet, but if we aren’t making at least some progress in that direction, then our faith is worthless.