The Dangers of Notorious Preachers

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Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
W.G.T. Shedd has some sobering words in his little essay, "The Evils of Pulpit Notoriety", in Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (thanks, Randy!).

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 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 (....)
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.

As it stands, it could be a prophecy of Ted Haggard or an analysis of Joel Osteen. But take out the bit about abhorring doctrine and loose and easy-going ethics and could these warnings not apply to the way some Reformed christians view some of their prominent preachers?
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