The lure of christian mysticism. The goal of many congregations is to grow into a mega-church, making the pastor a celebrity within the Christian community at large. Celebrities created by the media, through sports, television, movies, or other pop culture outlets are often promptly paraded before the public to demonstrate how cool it is to be a “Christian”. The result of the dependence on celebrity is at best a shallow conversion, and, tragically often, disappointment, when the celebrity returns to a life of depravity after his short experiment in “Christian living”.
There is nothing inherently wrong with celebrity. Billy Graham achieved celebrity status by maintaining his integrity, and remaining steadfast in his service as an evangelist. The pastor who achieves celebrity status through church growth may in fact build a deep spiritual strength into the members of his church. The singer, actor or sports phenom may have a deep understanding of the truths of scripture, and he may live out the Christian life as it is portrayed in scripture. Celebrity is not the necessary ingredient to effecting the culture for the kingdom of God.
Case in point; how many of you have ever heard of the fourteenth century character Gerhard Groote? The son of wealth in Deventer, in the Netherlands, Gerhard Groote rejected the corruption in the church and spent his youth on the debauchery of the world. It wasn’t until he was restored to health after a serious illness at the age of 34 that he began to spend his life for Christ. In the ten years from his conversion to his death Gerhard Groote built a foundation that shook the world and affected all of Western civilization.
Groote emphasized such topics as penance, contempt for this world, the final judgment and love for heaven. Though influenced by Christian mysticism, Groote followed a more practical path in his teaching. Along with his emphasis on Bible study and meditation, Groote taught the necessity of confessing Christ before the world in word and deed. It is through conformity to the life of Christ that Biblical doctrine would change the world. While rejecting the medieval doctrine of justification by works, he taught that works were a necessary outcome of regeneration.
It was not sufficient for Groote to invest his life in teaching the laity of his time to live a reformed life. Groote taught leaders to teach leaders. After his death Houses of the Brotherhood, and houses for The Sisters of the Common Life were started by Groote’s followers to teach the principles of imitating the life of Christ by all believers, whatever their calling in life might be; farmer, merchant, churchman, or any other pursuit. Dozens of these houses were founded throughout the Netherlands and Germany. Luther and Calvin both received some early education in the Houses of Brotherhood tradition because second, third and fourth generation followers of the Brotherhood continued to build schools for the training of youth in practical Christian living.