By: Deji Yesufu
An elite can be regarded as an individual who is on the higher rung of society. Elites, today, will generally be regarded as individuals who are educated and wealthy; individuals who are in government and are influential may also be regarded as elites. In any given society, most of the time, the direction the community moves in is determined by the elites. In this article, I want to talk about something I have chosen to call “elitist Christianity”. I intend to argue that there is a growing welter of Christian churches that have become essentially elitist; and while they may be regarded highly by the world at large, there is very little reason to show that New Testament Christianity was elitist in nature.
For a long time, I have battled a kind of Christianity that espouses the prosperity message. I have joined quite a number of folks to condemn this kind of Christianity and to help people appreciate the fact that biblical Christianity was not one that turned God into a slot machine. The consequence of all this is that rather than condemn all churches entirely, I try to find gospel centered churches and help refer people to them. Unfortunately, while we may have succeeded in helping people to beware of prosperity churches, another phenomenon that is rising out of all these is the concept of an elitist church. At this point, I will endeavor to describe such a church to you.
Have you been to a church before and when you leave the place, you get the feeling that the poor will not be welcome to such an assembly? Have you been to a church where the people relate with you based on what you have: the car you drive; the clothes you wear; where you work; and so on? You know deep within you that if you had entered that church in poor clothing and was looking haggard, very few people would have paid attention to you. There are churches that are gospel-centered, bible-based, and some even profess to be reformed, but it is very clear that such churches are guilty of being elitist.
I want to remind these churches and such Christians that the Christianity the Bible teaches is not elitist and that when we espouse a Christianity of this sort, no matter how unintentional we do this, we sin against God and it is required that both pastors and congregants of such churches repent, and chart out a new course for their church life. For the rest of this article, I want to assume that people who are guilty of things like these have recognized their sins and so I will be using the rest of the article to share thoughts on what I think a true church should be like.
There is a strange scripture in the book of James that convicts me and also challenges me at the same time. It reads:
“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “you sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “you stand over there”, or, “sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into the court?” James 2:1-6
I know that this scripture is speaking to me because by many standards and comparison, I am not poor. I also find myself in a position of a church leader and I am in danger of relating to people by the standard of what they possess and not by the fact of their faith in God. So, before publishing this article, this is a subject I have had to deal with in my own heart. And I also think it is a subject that I think many of us should examine too.
Christianity is fundamentally missional. Christ calls us to share the Christian message with our families, our neighbors, within our localities and with people in our nation of birth. For those of us in Nigeria, our first mission field is this country and the first thing you discover when you begin real missions in this country is the grinding poverty in the land. Nigeria is filled with poor people but at the same time, and going by the message of James 2, Nigeria is filled with people whom God has naturally gifted with faith. Because the poor have very little else to depend on, they are usually theistic in their worldview. They are very dependent on supernatural provision and it is the reason why the gospel message would naturally flourish among them.
Incidentally, the first Christians were mostly from very poor backgrounds (1 Corinthians 1:26-29; 2 Corinthians 8:2). Jesus Christ was not wealthy. His disciples were not rich. The people that were drawn to the gospel message in the revivals of Acts 2 were mostly poor and thus the need for the communal system of living that we find in Act 2-4. The question you then ask is this: how come you enter churches today and most of the people you find are the elites of society? Where are the poor, whom scripture says are rich in faith? I leave the answer to our consciences to answer but let me hasten to conclude this article.
There are a group of people out there who are ready to receive the Christian message. They are the poor and the needy. By the nature of their circumstance in life, God has given them a heart to believe the Christian gospel. Let us take this message to them and let us fill our churches with the poor and with persons with genuine faith in Christ Jesus. Another thing we must do is that we must pay attention to the warning of James and the tendency for us, the rich, to oppress the poor. How we use our money to make the poor feel little and we compel them to respect us and do our bidden.
James mentions the fact of the rich taking the poor to court and while one might think these are happenings among non-Christians, the reality is that rich Christians take poor Christians to ungodly courts in the land even today. These are some of the manifestations of the elitist Christianity that we have in our churches and it is my prayer that God will give all of us repentant hearts: that we will cease to oppress the poor and rather receive the apostolic heart that seeks, next to preaching the gospel, to take care of the poor amongst us (Galatian 2:10). The rich Christian should remember that one other reason God has given him or her money is so that they may be able to support the poor (1 Timothy 6:17-18). The instruction is to help the poor and not to oppress them. May God give us all ears to hear what the Spirit may be saying to the churches.