Elitism In The Church

by Al Diestelkamp

Elitism is defined as "government or control by a select group." In the body of Christ, Jesus and his apostles are an elite group. The church in its distributive sense (universal) has no place for modern-day elitism. No faithful Christian would intentionally become an elitist.

For some time I have been concerned that a few brethren who have been very aggressive in resisting and fighting what they have perceived to be error, would begin to show signs of elitism.

Allow me to express my qualms about some practices and attitudes which seem to be evidence that my fears are justified:

The Elevation of Men

I purchased a copy of a booklet which, reportedly, has been a best-seller among brethren. It is a transcription of a sermon in which the preacher is warning of trends among brethren which he believes will lead to full-scale apostasy.

This is not intended to be a review of the actual sermon. I don't agree with every point or example, but I do have some of the same concerns as the author. I also have a problem with the way the booklet is being touted.

For instance, the back cover of the booklet contains a list of "testimonials" from six well-known preachers. The publisher, not willing to let the material stand or fall on its own merits, feels the necessity of "piling on" endorsements. I know this is a standard marketing technique, but in a book that is refuting the alleged errors of specific brethren, it has the effect of lining up disciples of men.

Which Issues Are Important?

A common technique used when trying to discourage someone who differs has been to declare the issue as unimportant. Denominationalists do this in the matter of the purpose of baptism. Institutional brethren have mastered the art of belittling the importance of "the issues." That's elitism!

A friend of mine recently contacted one of the "conservative" gospel papers to request that they consider printing a written debate on the widespread practice of offering the Lord's supper twice on Sunday. He was told that not enough people hold the opposing viewpoint to warrant such an exchange. That's elitism too!

How can these brethren possibly expect sectarians to fool around with the small minority of us who believe baptism is for the remission of sins? Why would they complain if papers like the Firm Foundation or the Spiritual Sword brush off the challenges of "the antis" as not significant enough to debate?

If the publishers of a gospel paper don't want to include articles or debates on certain subjects, they certainly have that right, but they ought to have the courage to admit that they want to avoid the controversy instead of pretending that it's an unimportant issue. And if they admit that, they ought to quit complaining about other journals which choose to limit their writing to positive subject matter.

Those Suspicious Brethren

Some brethren, convinced that the way they do things is best, see "red flags" when ever brethren choose an expedient that is not in the mainstream. This also is a sign of elitism. If a congregation uses a description other than "church of Christ" on signs or other advertising, they suddenly become "suspect." Some time back, while working with a congregation which had an ad in the back of one of the gospel papers, we changed our times of meeting. While we were changing the ad we decided to use the description, "The Lord's church" in the ad. We also called one of our services "Edification Hour." Before the paper could bring themselves to print our ad as submitted we got a call from one of the paper's staff members questioning it. Why are brethren "suspect" if they choose scriptural alternatives?

Who's Qualified To Read What?

Some have expressed dismay that many preachers are reading too much from the pens of sectarian and liberal writers. It may be a legitimate concern, but it is hollow when they admit that they read everything they get their hands on from some of the same authors. Of course, the difference lies in their ability to read with discernment. Then they can preach sermons and write articles to inform the rest of us. Elitism!

Fellowship Matters

It seems that there's a double standard in the "fellowship" issue. Some brethren who condemn having even limited fellowship with a preacher who believes error on the divorce and remarriage issue, will promote that same preacher's books on other subjects. Why is it perceived as having fellowship with a false teacher to invite that preacher to present a series on Revelation, but it's quite all right to promote his "sound scholarship" in a book on the same subject?

Closing Appeal

Let's not let down our guard as together battle every false way, but at the same time let's do all we can to make sure we do not even give the appearance of elitism. "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others" (Phil. 2:34).