From the Archives: Lord or Celebrity?

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By Dan Harman

The magazine pages were dazzling with the color photos of the great event: a reception for the public by the queen of England. One photo showed a reigning star of the movies bowing low before her majesty. Another showed a tall military leader standing in awe before the queen. The long line was filled with the famous people of our day. Each one thrilled to touch the hand of the great lady.

One photo and its caption were different. It showed a man in common clothes. Instead of the usual, “Your majesty,” he addressed the queen as, “My queen.” What a difference! To all the others in line she was a great celebrity, perhaps the most important they would ever meet. To this humble man she was his queen. They held her in awe; he gave her his allegiance.

Is there a parallel in the church family? Aren’t there people who treat Jesus Christ as some sort of secular monarch instead of their Lord and Master?

Paul phrases Jesus’ proper place in the life of this world, and especially in the lives of his people: “Our Lord Jesus Christ…who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim 6:14–15*). This is the rightful place of God’s only Son: Lord of all on this earth. If people will not allow him to come into their lives, then the least the Christians of the world can do is ensure his place within them and their fellowship as Lord of their lives.

Yet many seek help from him in salvation, in times of sickness, in times of great feelings of worship and awe, yet never accept him as reigning Lord of their lives. Many treat him as a super-celebrity, without once allowing him to be monarch of their destiny.

What is the difference between Christ as celebrity and as Lord, in the lives of his followers?

First, to make Christ Lord is to put him ahead of ourselves, not to make him a means of self-glorification.

The person who views Christ—or the church, the fellowship of the saints, the program of the kingdom—as a contact with something akin to the pomp and glory of a celebrity, is seeing things from a self-centered perspective. To attend church, be a Christian, try to serve Christ “for show” is to be like the autograph hound who seeks constantly to boost his ego.

“I’ve touched the president!” or “See that tie? It was once worn by the king of Spain.” We gain inner importance by the brush with greatness. We can “modestly” remind our friends that we once came face to face with someone of historic proportions. The fan clubs of Hollywood have thrived on this principle. The “George-Washington-Slept-Here” beds have kept the antique dealers of the country in business for years. Personal status built on a contact with a celebrity is part of our way of life.

In contrast, the lordship of Christ in our lives has the opposite effect. Bowing to his control means foregoing the wants, dreams, desires, and self-centered decisions that we cherish so deeply. As his people, we do his will. It’s a basic fact of Christian life: one can’t treat Jesus as a celebrity; he must be Lord or nothing. As Christ asked, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).

We cannot brag to anyone of the skill, persistence, and clever maneuvering which resulted in our touch with the celebrity. We must rather humbly take up our cross and follow him who holds the right of decisions in our lives. We have claimed a Lord, not an autograph of a famous movie star.

The Christian cannot dwell long on the bright, exciting, and soul-searching experience that brought him to Christ. He must have his live taken up with the ongoing lordship of the Master. The initial contact and decision to follow the Savior come as great moments in our lives, but if we dwell spiritually there at the altar of our souls instead of enthroning him in our hearts in a continuing experience, we have made him a celebrity instead of Lord.

The second difference between Christ as celebrity and Christ as Lord is that as Lord we follow him wherever he may lead, regardless of the consequences.

There are those who have had their futures changed by one touch from an important person, but the usual result of a brush with greatness is that it lingers in the mind as a long-remembered occasion of high importance.

A talk with Dr. Schweitzer is an occasion to be nurtured and cherished for a lifetime. It must be told and retold in all circles.

To have a private audience with the pope to many is the event of a lifetime. A special hue or scent clings long after the event.

Such things seem to elevate our stock as person in the minds of others. Did you notice how quickly some people hurried to the Near East after the brief war between the Jews and the Arabs? Each wanted to become an overnight “expert” on the situation by walking the shores of Galilee or visiting the Gaza strip. Friends, neighbors, business associates, and people in high places respect a firsthand expert. Knowing as celebrity is a mark of importance in the world’s eyes.

The difference between a celebrity of this world and the Lord Jesus is that contact with the Lord Jesus may more often result in disgrace, humiliation, or at least a rough road that no one in the secular world would envy for a minute. Yet there are those who want to be “important” by being good, church-going people. They want the stature, prestige, and public acclaim that they feel comes by being known as solid, Christian citizens. They want the goodwill that can come from being associated with such a giant of the celebrity circles as Jesus Christ.

To make Christ Lord is to flirt with danger. To accept his values as our own, to move in the circles where he moves, to do the patterned things he has set before us, these are matters that cannot be mistake for popular acclaim.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus promised that those who follow him will be treated in the same manner as he was treated. “If the world hates you it has hated me before it hated you.” And, “If they persecuted me, the will persecute you…” (John 15:18, 20).

If a person is seeking worldly popularity, he cannot assume the yoke of Christ to get it. The yoke carries the implication that we are ready to follow him to Calvary. There was no public acclaim of greatness on that hill.

One can easily brush off a touch with greatness if that celebrity falls into disrepute. “Oh, I knew him when he was great,” we might say, “but I never was impressed with his worth.” We can detach ourselves from the fallen idol when we treat him as a celebrity. But once we are attached to the Master, we have already pledged ourselves to follow him through the darkest hours of our human experience. “Lord” entails complete surrender, no matter what the world thinks.

Finally, the difference between treating Christ as a celebrity and accepting him as Lord is that while the thrilling contact with a great personage somehow fades as the years go by, the Christian pilgrimage through life serves to enhance, brighten, and make more valuable the lordship of Christ in the life. Jesus becomes more “real” to us as the years go by. His companionship becomes more meaningful the longer we walk with him.

The details of our brush with a celebrity may fade: we forget the tint of the hair, the color of the dress, the exact height of that lady author we met. We forget the pitch of the voice, the color of the eyes of that politician who “whistle-stopped” at the railroad station those years ago. And, with many people, their brush with the Master becomes a dim memory as time goes by. “A Christian? Oh, yes, I gave my heart to Christ years ago.” But never have they established him as Master of their lives.

What about you? Does your Christian experience grow “sweeter as the years go by?” or has your celebrity treatment turned life sour in your heart? There’s a vast difference between a burst of faith that makes Christ your Savior and the day-to-day enthronement that it takes to have him be Lord and Master of your life.

Test it by the ring of the testimony. The world desperately needs a vital, wide-awake witness to what Christ is now doing for the Christian. But, like the contact with a celebrity of yesteryear, it often becomes hard to find someone who will stand still long enough for us to tell about that “magic moment when I shook hands with the governor.” Stale, out-of-date remembrances of a touch with some great hero aren’t needed.

But the lordship of Christ not only revives the soul each day, but carries with it the assurance that when this life is over, the Lord will assure us of another. Making Christ Lord may entail severe consequences in this present world, but it makes sweeter the relationship and the existence in heaven. No celebrity can assure his fans this future.

Heaven was made for people who make Christ Lord. Settling for Christ, the celebrity, carries no ongoing assurance. Disappointment and heartbreak follow him who makes Christ a celebrity only.

The church needs a revival of the lordship of Christ. It needs to let him be Ruler of the institution and its membership. Such a lordship begins with individuals who will voluntarily make Christ the head of their destines.

Longtime pastor, writer, and former editor for Church of God publications, Dan Harman is a brother and friend to many in the movement. Article originally published in the April 7, 1968, issue of Vital Christianity. Republished by permission. *All excerpts of Scripture taken from the King James Version.

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