The Danger of Turning a Sinner into a ‘Saviour’: Toxic Faith Pt. 3

It’s always dangerous when we subconsciously create a ‘saviour’ out of a sinner. If you stand too close to the pedestal, of a venerated statue, you’ll get damaged by the cracks.

I always cringed when someone would call me ‘Pastor Barry’. If possible I would always ask them to never do this again. I would say ‘My name is Barry, and part of who I am, is I am a pastor’.

I don’t want to be considered as more special, pastoral or have a certain status than anyone else. We are all priests. Sure I may specific gifts and training that helped me to pastor, but in the end, Christ won’t welcome ‘Pastor Barry’ home, instead, it will simply be ‘Welcome Barry, good and faithful servant’.

I also know that this small step of veneration is a little step towards a slippery slope of them making me into a sub-conscious ‘saviour’. It can also fuel pride in myself, and who needs that.

We see it politics, sports, entertainment, business and the church. The extolling of someone to the heights of a type of worship.

It’s kind of like a teenage crush.

You become infatuated with someone only to discover that they really aren’t that interested in you unless for purely selfish reasons. Anger, hurt and disillusionment flood in.

Promoting a person to be the ‘Oracle of God’ grows a belief that everything they say is real or true. A dependency on them grows, and an abdication of personal responsibility slithers in.

The next stop, on this downhill journey, is that you find yourself brainwashed and in a cult.

This is nothing new

In the Bible, we find the examples.

  • Israel demands a King.

 When Samuel heard their demand—“Give us a king to rule us!”—he was crushed. How awful! Samuel prayed to God.

7-9 God answered Samuel, “Go ahead and do what they’re asking. They are not rejecting you. They’ve rejected me as their King. From the day I brought them out of Egypt until this very day they’ve been behaving like this, leaving me for other gods. And now they’re doing it to you. So let them have their own way. But warn them of what they’re in for. Tell them the way kings operate, just what they’re likely to get from a king.”

19-20 But the people wouldn’t listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We will have a king to rule us! Then we’ll be just like all the other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles.” 1 Samuel 8: 6-9, 19-20

  • People worship Paul and Barnabas.

11-13 When the crowd saw what Paul had done [miracles], they went wild, calling out in their Lyconian dialect, “The gods have come down! These men are gods!” They called Barnabas “Zeus” and Paul “Hermes” (since Paul did most of the speaking). The priest of the local Zeus shrine got up a parade—bulls and banners and people lined right up to the gates, ready for the ritual of sacrifice.

14-15 When Barnabas and Paul finally realized what was going on, they stopped them. Waving their arms, they interrupted the parade, calling out, “What do you think you’re doing! We’re not gods! We are men just like you, and we’re here to bring you the Message, to persuade you to abandon these silly god-superstitions and embrace God himself, the living God. We don’t make God; he makes us, and all of this—sky, earth, sea, and everything in them. Acts 14: 11-15

We did it then and we do it now.

So it is mentally healthy to know that every person has a dark side, a shadow, a false self. Then when the superhero sheds the skin of pretence, and we see their humanness, we will not lose heart.

8 Antidotes to the toxin of a veneration culture

  1. Make Jesus your Saviour and no one else.
    Jesus only, not any man or woman.
  2. Recognise your own special significance.
    God doesn’t love someone else more than he loves you. There is no partiality in Gods love for all. God does not have favourite children. It’s not a works thing. You can’t earn Gods love. Your significance is not tied to someone else, it is founded and rock solid secure in Gods unchanging eternal love.
  3. Recognise that everyone is the same.
    All of us, including yourself and supposed superheroes, pull their pants on one leg at a time. We are all the same underneath. We all have feet of clay and are made from dust.
  4. Watch out for the groupies.
    There will always be those that want a King (1 Samuel 8). Watch out for them.
  5. Understand that the gift of respect is yours to give.
    If others demand it, then they risk losing it. You have personal sovereignty and the freedom to choose whom you give respect to. Just because someone is a leader, guru, pastor, president, or a  king doesn’t mean you have to give them your respect.
  6. Pray for the leader, guru, pastor, president, and king.
    Pray for wisdom to discern their true motives. Pray for the integrity of their heart to seek after God. 1 Timothy 2:1-2
  7. Be wary of people who are hyper sensitive to being challenged.
    When there is a backlash, swift and certain, from either the person themselves or their groupies, warning bells need to go off. Someone’s pride buttons are being made vulnerable.
  8. Be wary of the hype.
    Underneath that hype, there may well be a superbly tuned marketing machine that knows exactly how to woo the wanderers.

This is part of a series on the symptoms of a toxic church. I love the church. That gathering of souls that come together to encourage each other to focus on God. Just be careful of anyone that wants to distract you away from this.

As the Sergeant in Hill Street Blues (showing my age here) used to say when he had briefed his police officers, ‘Let’s be careful out there’.

Quotes to Consider

  • Whenever we’re bumped, we’ll spill whatever we’re full of. David Riddell
  • People with humility don’t think less of themselves. They just think about themselves less.  Norman Vincent Peale
  • A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle. Benjamin Franklin
  • Talent is God given. Be humble.
    Fame is man-given. Be grateful.
    Conceit is self-given. Be careful. John Wooden
  • Humility consists in being precisely the person you actually are before God. Thomas Merton

Questions to answer and leave a comment below or anonymously

  1. Why do we have a tendency to want a superhero?
  2. What are the usual personality traits of those on a pedestal?
  3. Which of the above quotes speaks to you most? Why?

Barry Pearman

Image cc: Julian Lozano

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