The temptation to control people is often Christianized by spiritual strong men who present a benign persona.

A well-known Christian educator and commentator has described the current evangelical scene in the context of what he calls the “Balkanization of discipleship.” Just as American society is comprised of numerous regional, political, ethnic, and economic interest groups, the evangelical subculture increasingly is being defined in terms of its particular personalities, movements, organizations and causes. This trend poses a danger, and—to follow through with the analogy—presents itself as the “soft underbelly” of an outwardly strong church.

Denominational differences have subdivided American evangelicalism into a spiritual patchwork. However, there still have been clear evidences of unity within the diversity.

In recent years, evangelicalism has given birth to numerous “transdenominational” enterprises and parachurch organizations. Aided by mass market advertising and given exposure via the ever-expanding Christian media, they have produced the slogans, seminars, and celebrities with which millions of American Christians identify. But just as single-issue politics so often leads to tunnel vision and lack of wholeness, the evangelical equivalent—whether the “one-man show” or the cause célèbre—can have damaging consequences for those immediately involved and for the larger Christian community.

Many Christians no longer find their badge of belonging in the church universal, but in a person or a movement. There seems to be an unprecedented hungering for adjunct affiliations with those Christian organizations providing shepherding, marriage enrichment, inner healing, motivational impetus, financial success, conflict resolution, or political guidance.

While the seeking of spiritual and personal improvement is always praiseworthy, the search can be subverted by the uncritical and unquestioning pursuit of techniques and teachers. The making of religious empires and the elevating of evangelical gurus has been facilitated by an unending supply of trusting followers who invite disaster with their almost cult-like devotion to popular Christian figures. As one observer put it, “We want heroes! We want reassurance that someone knows what is going on in this bad world. We want a father or a mother to lean on. We want revolutionary folk heroes who will tell us what to do until the Rapture.”

In recent years a string of Christian celebrities has experienced divorce. The disillusionment and disappointment these events have caused rank-and-file Christians only underscore the perils of hero worship and the need to develop inner spiritual resources apart from fallible humanity. When widely respected leaders are found to have feet of clay, it is time once again to acknowledge the potential for abuse that exists in all organizations that are essentially “one-man shows.” Institutions (and even churches) that focus on the ministry of one person run the risk of vulnerability to exploitation—financial, spiritual, and psychological. The temptation to control the lives of others is often rationalized and Christianized by spiritual strong men who present a benign persona to the world at large.

This does not mean that we do not need heroes or trusted leaders whom we can boldly follow with ready heart and unflinching loyalty. God has always used “charismatic” men and women with great gifts of leadership to carry on his work in this world. The author of the Book of Hebrews recognized God’s hand in raising up heroes of faith when he wrote: “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”

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But ultimate commitment is safely made only to God. No man or woman can be ultimately trusted. Therefore the same biblical author warns us to look to Jesus, who alone is the author and perfecter of our faith. We follow imperfect human leaders because they are the only ones we have. But we do not follow them blindly. We subject their fallible guidance to the perfect and infallible guide God himself has given us in Scripture. In the final analysis we obey God rather than men (Acts 4:19).

The church today desperately needs strong heroes whom we can follow gladly to the ends of the earth. But we cannot follow our leaders blindly. We must select leaders with spiritual discernment, illuminated and informed by the Word of God. God will hold us who are followers responsible for choosing our leaders rightly—both spiritual and political. He also holds us responsible for following our leaders with a commitment appropriate to leaders who are less than perfect.

The Scripture also has much to say about the special responsibility of leaders—the guards upon the walls of the secular city and the shepherds of the flock of God. Leaders are to be above reproach, men and women of integrity, dedicated to justice. They will be judged by a higher standard of righteousness because of the greater consequences of their actions.

Some Christian organizations have enjoyed untarnished reputations under the godly leadership of a single man or woman. Many others have been less fortunate.

In an age when television and jet transportation have combined to produce Christian personalities with the potential to exercise even greater power over people, Christians might do well to remember the examples of at least one organization that has been quietly serving God and humanity in the United States without a hint of scandal or need for recognition and power: the Salvation Army. Its leaders are seldom guests on Christian TV talk shows, nor are their names household words in evangelical homes. Salvationists rarely write Christian best sellers or conduct workshops. Respected by both saints and sinners, they continue to give a cup of cold water in the Savior’s name as they have for the past 100 years. They provide a model of Christian unity and leadership that is needed and yet too often goes unnoticed in today’s mainstream evangelicalism.

W. (for Walton) Maxey Jarman’s earthly life was intensely filled with business and the Bible. But the Bible and Christian service always took priority in a long career sealed off by his death at the age of 76 on September 9 in Nashville, Tennessee.

As a red-headed boy, one of Maxey’s jobs at home was to wrap and mail Bibles to persons who had responded to newspaper ads placed by his father, James Franklin Jarman. The elder Jarman was a partner in the J.W. Carter Shoe Company and served as chairman of the board of deacons and superintendent of the Sunday school at First Baptist Church in Nashville. He ran the ads systematically, offering a free Bible to anyone who would covenant to read a chapter a day for at least a month.

Fascinated by science, the shy southern boy wanted to study electrical engineering at the University of Tennessee, but his father sent him to Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Meanwhile, his father, progressively more disturbed by the unchristian behavior of some of his business associates, decided he could not remain “unequally yoked with unbelievers” and formed the Jarman Shoe Company in 1924. At the end of Maxey’s junior year at M.I.T. his father urged him to come and help out in the new business. Some eight years later, Maxey became president and the company name was changed to General Shoe Corporation. Under his leadership the company went into foreign operations in the 1940s, bought out U.S. shoe firms in difficulty after the postwar boom had slumped in the 1950s, and transformed it into Genesco in the 1960s, buying into apparel manufacturing and retail sales—including Bonwit Teller, Tiffany, and the S.H. Kress & Company variety stores.

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During the same period, Jarman continued to read through the Bible once a year, served as a deacon at First Baptist, and conducted a “Good News Bible Class” in his own home every other Sunday afternoon. Annually he far more than tithed his $93,000 salary, as well as his investment income. He set up the Jarman Foundation to support overseas missions, orphanages, and Bible institutions. His father, who died in 1938, left his stock, at Maxey’s suggestion, to this foundation rather than bequeathing it to Maxey. Jarman also found time to write two books: O Taste and See, a daily devotional compilation of Scripture verses, and A Businessman Looks at the Bible.

Like most movers and shakers, Jarman was complex. Although his faith was at the center of his life he would not attempt to foist it on others. He refused to have a chaplain or allow religious services in his plants, despite the entreaties of various religious groups.

A lifelong Republican in the Democratic South, Jarman ran Thomas E. Dewey’s campaign in Tennessee in 1944, and afterward served as treasurer of the state Republican Committee. But he warned his Southern Baptist ministers to apply themselves to evangelism and avoid political and social issues. “The obligation that we have to serve God by witnessing to others of the new life through Christ is so much more important than our earthly responsibilities that it is like the difference between love and hate,” he declared. His deep conservatism did not extend to art, however: he collected modern nonobjective paintings.

Maxey retired as president of Genesco in 1969 at the mandatory age of 65, a limit he himself had set. Although as a board member he then ran into sharp disagreements with his successors, including his son Frank, he prayed daily about his reactions to the pressures. Maxey Jarman thereby had a remarkable lack of bitterness about personal and business reversals, and his joy in Christ stemmed from his “love of the Word,” for he read it extensively every day. He retired from the Genesco board at the end of 1974, and devoted himself exclusively to his Christian ventures from an office in the company’s headquarters.

These endeavors have been many. For one term he was a vice-president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and served on state and regional Baptist boards and foundations. He served as a trustee of Moody Bible Institute. A close friend and supporter of evangelist Billy Graham, he also was among the original board members of CHRISTIANITY TODAY and became chairman of the executive committee.

In his closing years, Jarman was the primary force in launching the Christian Bible Society, a Nashville-based organization dedicated to promoting Bible reading. He continued actively serving on CHRISTIANITY TODAY’s board, giving highly effective leadership.

His intense energies were curtailed only this summer by the heart ailment that felled him last month. CHRISTIANITY TODAY salutes a Christian layman known as tough but fair in business, and as single-minded and disciplined in Christian service.

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