The Celebrity Church: Part 1

One time, when we were among some Christians, Chui and I mentioned about the possibility of watching the delayed telecast of the Academy Awards upon returning home that night. A Christian retorted that he found no purpose in viewing such an event and gave the impression that watching the Oscars was contradictory to his faith. While the Academy Awards is about honoring the players in the film industry, it is also a 3-hour fashion extravaganza. So whether it is about grasping those golden statuettes or donning the designer apparels of Armani to Vera, it is solely about the celebrities, for the statuettes and apparels will bear no significance without the one that carries it. So much about giving recognition to the artistry of those who write, direct and act, the award show that has arguably an international viewership of a billion people, is basically an annual celebration of the celebrities.

The celebrity culture that has plagued our world is equally prevalent in the church. In fact, in the recent decades, we have witnessed the rise of the celebrity church, resulting in the tension between faith and culture. The church and the world, two spheres that supposedly have no commonality with each other, are now made cousins by their celebrity ties. The connection lies not only with celebrity culture but also with the audience that fuels the culture. For the Oscars, it is a billion viewers.

The Bible tell us in Genesis 4:26, “At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD”. In other words, we see an innate response of humankind to relate to a higher being from the beginnings. Although the audience knows that celebrities share the same mortality conclusion, they continue to assign a celestial status to them. Craig Detweiler in his book, A Matrix of Meanings, informs us that, “Celebrities serve as our vicarious heroes, going before us on the ultimate journey we all desperately want to take. They give us a taste of immortality, a preview of eternity”.

It is this desire to adore, idolize or worship that has become one of the vehicles for the church to connect with celebrity culture. The church of which for centuries has symbolized an institution that epitomizes ethical living for our society, now wants to break free from this image and perception. Celebrity culture that was never part of the church is now welcomed in an increasing fashion. I once attended an Australian church in the early nineties that had a slogan “the church for people who don’t like church”. On reflection, its intuition to disassociate itself from the failings of the institution was ahead of its times. The marriage between celebrity culture and the church has been pronounced, and megachurches in Singapore, are expressing themselves through this marriage. Is the Singapore megachurch a celebrity church? If yes, my Christian friend then may have to take back his retort for the Oscars are now within the walls of the church.

[The above is a post migrated from a previous blog. It was reported by the Singapore Edition of The Christian Post:]

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