More popular than Jesus?

Published 9:12 pm Friday, April 22, 2016

By Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr.

On Aug. 11, 1966, the Beatles’ plane touched down in America for what turned out to be their final tour. By all accounts, the band did not enjoy it.

“Rubber Soul” and “Revolver,” their two most recent albums prior to the tour, featured complicated songs that did not lend themselves to a concert setting. Unable to play their new material and mobbed everywhere they went, they determined never to tour again.

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Actually, the tour had gotten off to a rough start. That hot August day when the band landed in America, they had landed amid a firestorm of controversy. Back in March, John Lennon had stated to a British magazine that the Beatles were now “more popular than Jesus.”

In a world without social media, this did not hit the American press until late summer, just before the tour. Some radio stations had stopped playing their records, and others were holding events where Beatles records were smashed or thrown into bonfires.

So the first order of business was to call a press conference so Lennon could speak to the issue. And speak he did. Lennon told the assembled press, “If I had said television is more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it. I was pointing out that we meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion, at that time. I wasn’t knocking it or putting it down. I was just saying it as a fact. I’m not saying that we’re better, or greater, or comparing us to Jesus Christ.”

What Lennon meant was that pop culture was now having more influence on young people than religion. And, in most cases, he was right.

By 1966, lots of young people were leaving churches, but they were mobbing the Beatles. They were gathering around their TV sets far more than they were gathering at church.

It would have been wise if the church had listened humbly and carefully to what Lennon was saying. Instead of burning records, they should have been sharing the Good News of Jesus with young people.

The Good News about Jesus, which we call “the gospel,” is described in Romans 1:16 as “the power of God for salvation.” When we winsomely share this Good News, the Spirit of God works to supernaturally draw people to Christ. In fact, the Greek word for “power” is dunamis, which is where we get the English word dynamite.

In the gospel, the church possesses something far more explosive, far more powerful, than pop culture. But the Good News must be shared in order to have its effect. In 1966 and in 2016, if Jesus is less popular than TV or bands, the church needs to do some soul-searching and ask why that is the case.

Has the gospel changed? No. Has the power of God’s Spirit lessened? No. When Jesus is lifted up, he still draws people to himself.

Is the church lifting up Jesus? Are we winsomely and lovingly and boldly proclaiming the message of the cross and the resurrection? Are we living with a sense of contagious joy and peace and love, so people will listen when we speak of Jesus?

Those are questions for every conscientious Christian to ponder.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.