A-list celebrities who publicly announce that they have become Christians can be blamed for a lot of things. A lot of bad music, a lot of bad movies, a lot of bad fashion and a lot of bad relationships.
One thing they can’t be blamed for however, is the demise of Christianity. One thing they are not at fault for, by and large, is the number of people walking away in disgust and dismay from the church, having been treated disgracefully. Most of that is not down to them. Most of that is down to the sneaky little D-listers who barely make a wave, if a wave at all, in the wider world, but who rule their empires of dirt within the Christian world with an implacable belief that it is all about them.
A-list celebrities don’t go around treating Christians like dirt in churches. Especially not when they’re whisked into church by security and whisked out again before they’ve had time to drink a low quality coffee and badmouth someone from the music team. They just don’t have the time or the interest. D-Listers? Plenty of time and interest.
A-listers don’t get to preach heresy every week from the stage of a church and draw people away. Sure they get an occasional gig with the lead pastor, but it’s all carefully choreographed. Besides, if a church feels the need to get the A-lister on the stage to confirm the gospel by their very presence, there’s every chance the lead pastor is preaching heresy on a weekly basis.
But worse than the risk of preaching heresy, A-listers don’t get to preach good reformed theological, evangelistic sermons every week from the stage, yet in private treat the sheep with disdain, or sexually and spiritually abuse them. That’s a D-list celebrity job. And so many of them have done it and continue to do it.
A-listers don’t figure out ways to cook the church books and give themselves well paid comfortable roles in an organisation, and feather the nest of their own, because they’re already rolling in wads of cash in downtown Beverley Hills. D-listers are looking to all that stuff.
A-listers don’t put out books and then quite literally cook the books by buying a million copies to get it on the New York Times bestsellers list. No, they get a ghost-writer to help them write a puff piece about themselves and it goes viral just like that. D-listers? Well they live in the Christian ghetto and are constantly figuring out ways to get their publications to move from the Christian bookshop to the airport news-agency stand.
A-listers are big in London.
D-listers are, as Tom Waits sang, big in Japan.
Of course when we’re all living in “Japan” then the D-Lister seems big to us. Their opinions – and actions – carry a weight far beyond their actual influence in the wider world.
Sadly, even this week, I have spoken to crushed Christians who weep over what has happened to them in church, not because of what an A-lister did or said to them, or even how they presented Christianity to their fifty million Twitter followers. No, these Christians were crushed by D-listers who were more than happy for a circle of fame and influence that extended to the borders of a postcode, and patrolled that border with all of the zeal of an angry Rottweiler.
D-listers live in a bubble. Hence they think they are more influential than they are. And so do those who are cowed by them. And, surprisingly, they think they are as untouchable as the A-lister is. I’m constantly amazed at the lack of eschatological conviction among the D-listers who perpetuate continual cycles of abuse on their flock. Do they not believe the words of 1 Peter 5, that a Chief Shepherd will one day appear and inquire as to the health of His sheep?
Perhaps the most pernicious and sneaky D-Lister in the Bible is a man called Diotrephes in 3 John 1:9, who was taking charge of a church. Here’s what a true blue A-Lister, the Apostle John, the disciple who Jesus loved and who looked after Jesus’ mother, Mary, following Jesus’ ascension, says about Diotrephes:
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us.
Ouch! There’s a whole lot of iceberg under the tip of that comment from the apostle, isn’t there? You get your name mentioned in the Bible and the ONLY thing that is said about you is that you like “to be first”! What a slap down Especially so in a story that starts in Genesis where the prime sin is the desire to be first, instead of putting God first. It’s a capital offence. But that’s the D-lister schtick. How can I be first? How can I promote my views? Who do I have to slap down either privately or on Facebook to protect my own fragile ego?
There are too many D-listers in the fractured, self-managed evangelical church in the West who behave like that. It would be a brave move to call them out by name, but sometimes that is what we should be doing. We’re all shocked when the next D-lister name comes up in the press for betraying their Lord, his flock, and their confession, because of their ungodly behaviour. But we shouldn’t be. Not if we have a high view of sin, and the lure of power.
Plenty among us know about these goings on, but protect such people for some strange loyalty to our D-list brands. Will exposing these D-listers bring shame on the gospel in the short term? Yes, no doubt, and that’s confronting. The secular world is all too gleeful when this happens.
But will exposing these D-listers advance the cause of the gospel in the long term? You betcha! Better to have shame and exposure now than Shame and Exposure on the last day. At least this gives the opportunity of repentance and reparation.
A-list brands such as Kodak can go to the wall, but we will fight tooth and nail for a D-list church network to remain in place, often at the cost of the sheep being damaged by it.
My hope over the next few years is not that a bunch of A-listers become Christian and influence the church. If they do, so be it, and may God get the glory from them that they so carefully crafted for themselves for so long. That’s a hard road for them, if we believe Jesus words about camels and eyes of needles.
My hope is that over the next few years the church will be brave enough to purge itself of self-glorying D-listers who, for the sake of a few small crumbs of influence and fame among those living in a Christian bubble, by their actions deny the very Lord who called them.
Over to you Tom Waits: