Sunday, 18 January 2015

Is Pastor Prince more popular than Jesus?

Is Pastor Joseph Prince more popular than Jesus in his days? I pose this question because I recently read that John Lennon once claimed in 1966 that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Of course he got some flak for it. And that sets me thinking about our own larger-than-life pastors of today. Is the comparison inevitable? What lesson can one learn from it, if any? Or is this thought experiment a waste of time? If so, am I trying to be funny, in a very unfunny way? Should I then receive the same flak? Keeping all that at bay for the time being, let me just take that risk and push it a little further. So please bear with me.

Now, at this juncture, I feel that I have to set the record straight. You may ask, “Why Pastor Joseph Prince?” Honestly, I wanted to make this comparison with any megachurch pastor of our modern age. For example, I considered Benny Hinn, Mark Driscoll, TD Jakes, Kenneth Copeland and Joel Osteen as suitable replacements. They are all leading big churches with thousands in regular attendances and they are undeniably wealthy beyond their wildest dream (some even have their own private jet). And to further garnish their credibility, they humbly attributed their runaway wealth to believing in a prosperity-endorsing sovereign creator. Needless to say, they are immensely popular.

So, I could have tweaked the question to this: "Is Pastor Benny Hinn or Joel Osteen more popular than Jesus in his days?" However, for the purpose of this writing, and purely as a matter of personal discretion, I rather pick a prominent megachurch leader closer to home. It's just a convenient choice. It’s just someone whom we can identify with. And there can be no local megachurch pastor currently riding higher on the coattails of Jesus’ bestowed garment of praise than our very own Joseph Prince (JP).

Now, having cleared all that, let's return to where we first started: Is JP more popular than Jesus in his days? Well, in order to answer that question, I would have to confront (and overcome) a few rather head-banging obstacles. Let me deal with the first and major obstacle here (amongst many I guess).

As you’d have noticed, this is an unfair question (not to mention that it is rather controversial too). While we can say that an apprentice may be more successful than his master, look at Usher and Justin Bieber, how can we say the same thing (or even hint to it) when we are talking about the Son of Man as compared to a mere mortal like JP? In any event, isn't JP's outrageous fame a direct and indirect result of his courageous Savior who was crucified and later raised from the dead in victory? (I guess the only thing raised in JP's ministry is his technicolor, multipurpose stage) I mean, what would become of JP and his megachurch if not for Jesus and his finished work at Calvary right? I am sure JP readily agrees with me on this hands-down.

And here comes the second is the time and human factor. Jesus lived two thousand years ago and he still lives in the hearts of many believers today (especially in JP's heart, no doubt). To put a secular spin to it, Jesus had the first mover advantage or pioneer status (…and I know this is not a competition). In short, Jesus came, overcame and will come again.

But JP, on the other hand, is a rather new cultural phenomenon. His time in ministry is not even a fraction of Jesus’. His popularity is no doubt pervasive much thanks to his international broadcasting ministry which reaches out to about 680 million people over 200 countries. And recently, he even took America by a storm of amazing grace when he toured Newark, Houston, LA and Dallas armed with his most recent bestseller in his hand.
 But notwithstanding all that frenzy and fame, JP still has a long way to go in his grace-awakening journey (And it is safe to say that this earthly disciple will never surpass his divine Master in fame, wealth and power because we are created in His image and this fact is not vice versa-ble).

Currently at 52, JP is after all a man with all the expected flaws. No doubt we as believers are all trekking the narrow Calvary road, doing our best to simply trust and obey, I am sure JP would readily agree that no one is perfect except Jesus, the object of his faith and hope. So, as an imperfect being and having been recently born (b. AD 1963) as compared to Jesus (b. AD. 1), the above question (about whether JP is more popular than Jesus) is not only inappropriate but incredulous. Need I say more? Should I go for the last obstacle? Well, for completeness’ sake, let’s finish it. And the last obstacle leans in JP’s favor.

It is the technology factor. This is as obvious as the nose on our faces. Jesus lived at a time way before the Gutenberg press, the industrial and scientific revolutions, the technology and internet age, and the satellite broadcasting network. As such, we would expect his influence and reach to be limited. At the risk of sounding irreverent, I don’t expect Jesus to be touring with an entourage promoting his latest bestseller. Neither do I expect the Son of God to be doing late-night shows, receiving interviews and traipsing on a laser-lights-flooding stage with a leather jacket and a stardust-sprinkled hairdo.

What's more, Jesus was considered a rebel, a troublemaker and a revolutionary during his days (while JP is currently adored by thousands for his grace revolution). In a nutshell, Jesus was not well received at that time because he was very controversial, even openly hated. Nevertheless, it is still pertinent to note that Jesus led an enduring revolution in the hearts of men and the megachurches' leaders today like Benny Hinn, TD Jakes, and JP are all living out - in various very snazzy fashion - his spiritual legacy and leadership.

For this reason, the comparison will not be fair in the light of the vastly different technological backgrounds, or the lack of it in Jesus’ case. In other words, it is like comparing apple as a fruit and apple as a multi-billion dollar global company.

So, after all is said and considered, I humbly retract that question posed in the beginning of this letter. It is a lost cause anyway. The three obstacles mentioned above would have made the comparison ridiculous. Maybe John Lennon was too presumptuous (and not to mention, self-conceited) to have compared Beatles’ popularity with that of Jesus' (although sadly - and if we define popularity very loosely - he may just be correct – by a small margin - after taking into account population size then and now). Yet, even though the Beatles may still have a loyal and broad fan-base all over the world, it is undeniable that Jesus, by his works and teachings, has wholly transformed the world and his influence has gone far deeper. Personally, I don't think people will still remember the Beatles, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen or JP after 500 or 1000 years have passed (if we are still around of course).

Let me therefore end by reiterating that the question, “Is JP more popular than Jesus?” is clearly a non-starter, a nose-crasher. And if you would to ask any churchgoers whether they attend Church to adulate JC or JP, I am sure none of them would say the latter; regardless of how popular, eloquent and charismatic their beloved pastor is on stage. That much I know for sure.

But of course, the monkey wrench in the works here is the hidden risk of misattribution and the delusional cult of personality. That’s the blind ferret in the charisma pants. But then, his churchgoers are sufficiently discerning to tell the difference when it hits them, that is, to distinguish the charisma from the Hosanna, the gift from the Giver. That I know for sure too. Cheerz.

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