When I opened CNN.COM this morning, my heart skipped a beat when I read the headline. Ted Haggard, prominent evangelical leader, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and pastor of a 11,000 member megachurch had resigned his position. Charges had been levelled against him of almost monthly soliciting sex from a male prostitute. In addition, he admitted to having purchased methamphetamines–he claims, however, that he threw the drugs away.
This is troublesome news.
It makes me wonder about a couple of things. First, it reveals the inherent weakness of the cult of personality. Megachurch pastors are, almost of necessity, magnetic people who draw others to themselves. There have been religious personas in all of the major branches of Christianity. My mind goes to the late Bp Fulton Sheen, one of North American Catholicisms most able apologists and (I presume) their first television personality. I think also of Mother Angelica of the Eternal Word Television Network, a conservative Catholic network. But the megachurch pastor is most evident among Evangelicals and is, in some respects, a uniquely American phenomenon. It is, after all, only in a deeply religious nation that pastors can become celebrities.
What worries me is how easy it is to confuse a dynamic personality with godliness. It is perhaps easier to do among evangelicals who desire to hear “annointed” preaching. What makes the proclamation of the Gospel “annointed” is not the dynamism of the speaker, I would suggest, but the content of the message and the reception it receives. In other words, the messanger is not annointed so much as the message and the hearer are prepared to receive the Good News.
Second, it seems to me that a church of 11,000 people is too big. Ted Haggard, of necessity, took on some degree of celbrity status becuase he “built the church” to have so many members. God only knows how corrosive a statement that is. No. The church is not an 11,000 voluntary association marked by programs and buildings and lobbying. It is the new society of Christ Jesus. Pastors are shepherds and shepherds don’t wear Armani suits and make calls to the Whitehouse. They work in the muck and mire of life in a Fallen world. They preach the Gospel. They administer the Sacraments of Holy Communion and welcome little ones to the community of the Church through the rite of Christian baptism.
More thoughts later…