At AGR we are passionate in our commitment to the local church. We do not want listeners and readers to substitute AGR for the local, visible church. Unless you are in our congregation we are probably not going to be able to visit you in the hospital, nursing home, or meet with you for lunch to talk over a challenge that you are facing. Our goal is to try graciously to guide you toward a sound understanding of God’s Word and into a solid, confessional Reformed congregation. By confessional we mean a congregation that confesses the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the Canons of Dort, or the Westminster Standards (confession and catechisms). We want you to find a solid, biblical, confessional Reformed or Presbyterian congregation and pastor. He will catechize (instruct) you and shepherd you. That congregation will care for you.
Not everyone looks at ministry and the church that way. Recently there was yet another scandal in a congregation where the minister was forced to resign because of the way he abused God’s people in the congregation. James MacDonald, of Harvest Bible Chapel was forced out after audio leaked and was broadcast by WLS AM 890 morning host Mancow Muller. We live in a weird world when a morning radio shock jock, who happened to have been a member of HBC, is able to do what the leadership in the church refused to do. A few years ago now Mark Driscoll, another of the notorious “New Calvinists” (a movement of evangelicals, mainly Baptists, who like the doctrine of predestination but who largely ignore the rest of Reformed theology, piety, and practice) was forced out of his congregation and his ecclesiastical empire was dismantled for the very same sorts of reasons that MacDonald was just fired: abusing the sheep. Since that time, however, Driscoll has re-branded himself as a “charismatic” (a person who claims to receive direct revelations from God apart from Scripture), and has formed a new congregation—where he will not have to worry about being accountable to any leadership —in beautiful Scottsdale, AZ. Tullian Tchvidjian, defrocked for multiple sexual infidelities is said to be planting a new congregation in Florida. Bill Hybels, pastor of one of America’s biggest “megachurches,” recently resigned in scandal.
These men are all disgraced pastors. Some of them are trying to make a “comeback,” as if they are ball players who have had knee surgery and hoping to get back on the field next season. All of them were pastors of “megachurches” large congregations of thousands. Some of them, notably MacDonald, Driscoll, and Hybels were all pastors of “multisite” congregations where the preacher is physically in one place (typically the mother church) but appears by video in other places. In a now notorious video, MacDonald and Driscoll both vigorously defended the propriety of appearing before multiple congregations simultaneous by video as a matter of “mission.” They stoutly denied that appearing in multiple sites simultaneously had anything to do with bolstering their “brand” (their image) and their “marketshare.” As one listens to them proudly boast the number sites, the number of worshipers, etc. one may be excused for doubting them and all the more in view of what has come to light.
The point of this essay is not “shooting the wounded” as Tchvidjian complains, but rather to instruct the uninformed and to encourage those who know better to understand that the megachurch is not normal, that a minister appearing on screen (in place of a flesh and blood pastor) is not normal. It is more Gnostic than Christian. Our Lord came to us in womb of the Virgin Mary. He was sinless and righteous but he came to us true man and true God. The disciples touched him. He gave us water for baptism, whereby we get actually wet and bread and wine, which we are to eat. In other words, real Christianity is not an illusion or a mere appearance. It has nothing to do with celebrity preachers, brands, and the like. It has everything to do with Christ crucified. The Apostle Paul did not preach himself. He preached Christ. When the Corinthians gave him a hard time about not being like the self-proclaimed “super Apostles” he rejoiced that he had not baptized many of them so that they could not say, “I was baptized by Paul.” They were already breaking up into little personality cults, which did his best to break up and discourage.
The Apostle Paul planted congregations and left pastors and elders behind to care for the congregation. He would not have appeared on a screen in a “multi-site” campus had he the opportunity because he was all about the gospel and the Christ of that gospel. He also left instructions as to the qualifications for becoming a pastor, elder, or deacon. There are also disqualifications from the office of pastor. The abuses and sins committed by the megachurch pastors disqualify them from office but that does not mean that they cannot go to church. They should go to church. They should join quietly with God’s people, hear the law and the gospel, repent of their sins, trust the Lord for salvation, and work quietly with their hands. History tells us that is not what all of these men will do. This is further evidence that they are not your pastor. They are businessmen. Their brand has become a commodity to be marketed and you are that market. They are selling a sense of euphoria, not what Luther called “the theology of the cross.”
Leave the celebrities behind. Find a real congregation. Get involved. Pray for your faithful local pastor who visits your home, who catechizes you and your children, who will visit you when you are ill, and who will preach your funeral when you die. That is a real pastor of a real church, a Christ-confessing covenant community.
—R. Scott Clark, Escondido