We live in a modern society in the West where Personality has become more important than a person’s Character. This has filtered into the church as well. We see the mega-churches where worship leaders are more performers than worshippers, with choreographed routines, lights and even in extreme cases smoke machines as a part of the service. There are teachers whose appearance is more important to the masses than the message. They have their costumes – white suits and coiffed hair are popular – with whitened teeth and showbiz-style smiles. They preach what people want to hear and miss the point of the Gospel in their pursuit of popularity.
Jesus didn’t set out to be popular. He didn’t go for the personality and acclaim – the Pharisees did enough of that. He went for the jugular of the spirit in each person – their character. It’s apparent in His dealing with the rich young ruler:
“Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth.What do I still lack?”Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”(Matthew 19:16-22 NKJV)
The issue was not really the man’s money, but the fact that his money was first in his life. His character was one based in idolatry – money being his idol. Jesus recognised this and was telling him to surrender his idol and follow Him.
My grandfather was a Salvation Army Bandmaster in England. He used to remind me that character is who we are when nobody’s looking. That’s what we need to get back to. Showmanship is all very well if the heart behind it is sincere, but if the leader got the following only because of his looks and persona then watch out. He may not have the character to truly be a spiritual leader, and there is the danger of him (or her) being obsessed with self instead of in Love with Jesus.
A few decades ago this atmosphere of personality-driven churches was unthinkable. The minister and elders needed to be above reproach in their conduct and the way their families reflected them. If they couldn’t guide their own family, how could they guide a church? Today we have leaders whose moral integrity has been called into question, so they go into their TV show and shed tears of “repentance”. We, the viewer, buy the act and they go back to cheating on their wife, fiddling their taxes and fleecing the flock.
Where has our sense of the need for character gone?
We rebuke the minister who tells us to live a life of absolutes, that God is a God of Righteousness who cannot abide sinful behaviour and that any Christian should seek to be Christ-like in his behaviour. That means no adultery, stealing, jealousy, or any other immoral behaviour: not because we have to live by a set of rules, but because the Spirit of God lives inside us and urges us away from those ways. Instead we listen to “progressive” ideas that suggest Jesus is just one route to God instead of The route to God. Messages that dilute the Gospel and make a mockery of the concept of moral absolutes by suggesting exceptions or that “modern” ideas have somehow disproved the standards God established several millenia ago as irrelevant. We lean on our own understanding and wisdom. God sees it as a joke – and not the funny kind.
Personality is what matters in the World. We see people of no moral character as “leaders” in the shape of politicians, self-help gurus, actors and pop stars. The desire to emulate them and follow their example, then delight in pointing when they fall because they are lacking the moral backbone of true Godly Character a genuine leader needs.
The church is not immune to this form of personality worship. While it’s true we need to understand the personality of God, and recognise the twinkle in Jesus’ eyes as He spoke to some of the people in the Gospels to grasp the truth in His words, it’s the character of God we need to cling to. His nature of Love more than His sense of humour is what’s important. This is not the God as shown in “The Simpsons”. He’s no charicature sitting on a cloud, but living in and around us, influencing everything we do and see. His character would make the very rocks around us cry out if we fail to worship Him in Truth.
My character is flawed. I’m short-tempered a lot of the time. Whilst writing this I received a call from a bank telling me I was just a few Rand (about $6) short on a home loan payment made last week. The call probably cost them more than the shortfall. My response was not the way I’d like my character to be. I’m working on it.
Who each of us is varies in each situation. We adjust the personality we show. But it’s time we get rid of that and make a conscious choice to focus on our character consistently. We need to be the same person in public as we’d like to think we are behind closed doors.
And we need to stop worshiping the personalities we see on our televisions and get back to the truly deep nature of our character.