The Evils Of Pulpit Notoriety

Excerpted from Shedd’s Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy:

“It is here that the evil influence of mere pulpit notoriety upon the church and society is apparent. The declamatory and sensational preacher gathers around him only a particular class. It is a class marked by defects that require to be removed rather than strengthened. They are commonly the very same defects which the preacher has himself. Like priest, like people. He abhors doctrine, and they abhor it: He talks metaphors, relates anecdotes, and raises laughter, and they like metaphors, anecdotes, and laughter. He favors loose and easy-going ethics, and they enjoy the same. In this way, the preacher speedily becomes the ‘great man’ of his congregation, and then

‘Like Cato gives his little senate laws,
And sits attentive to his own applause.’

The injurious effect of notoriety upon the individual himself who is so unfortunate as to have it is manifold. It is almost fatal to personal piety. The devout and saintly men in the history of the Church, have not been local celebrities. No deep and pure character is formed under the intoxicating stimulus of a crowd of partisans. On the contrary, infirm virtue, sad lapses, and great scandals are apt to come in connection with such influences. The effect upon the preacher in puffing him up with self-conceit is remarkable. It is very difficult for him to think others better than himself, and to condescend to men of low estate. Bolingbroke tells the story of a popular member of a French parliament who being overcome by his own eloquence was overheard after his speech muttering devoutly to himself, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.’ This extravagance in secular oratory can be matched in the records of ecclesiastical. Some preachers have had as absurd notions of their own superiority as this French deputy had, and some congregations have been as crazy about their idol.

It is a dark day for a church, and it betokens great spiritual decline when the people cease to be content with thoughtful, devout, and scriptural teaching, and clamor for celebrated preachers. The demand will create the supply, and the church will be filled with declaimers and ecclesiastical charlatans. There will be no truly great men produced; and what is far worse no truly good men. There will be abundance of notoriety, but no fame; and what is worse, no piety. In thus foolishly and wickedly trying to find their life, both the preachers and the people will have lost it” (W.G.T. Shedd; underlining mine).

While Tolerant Calvinists do not abhor doctrine per se, they do abhor the essential doctrine that constitutes the core of the gospel message. See: