Christian Elitism

A couple of months ago I wrote a blog article about Pentecostal Christians being overly suspicious and critical of the larger evangelical church body. Many people, after reading it, commended me on my insight into the matter. However, it was always my intention to analyse both sides of this apparent divide between church communities, and I now wish to put forth my experience and opinion of the flip side of that coin. Over the next few weeks, my writings will be centred around stereotypes, misunderstandings and complaints that the evangelical church make against their fellow charismatic believers. These articles, and in fact the remainder of this one, may pose a less popular opinion. Still, I invite you to read on with a soft heart and open mind; remembering the countless lost souls who have been saved, set free, and discipled into a relationship with God in the Pentecostal church.

While I was in high school, I too became sceptical of (1) large Pentecostal churches, and (2) “over-spiritualisation”. I understand the reason for concern or scepticism. Though I am passed that period of thought, I still critique many practises and ideologies in the charismatic Christian sphere. So believe me when I say that I can see your point of view. Over the past two years, however, I’ve been made aware of a culture of “Christian elitism” within more traditional church circles. Unfortunately, many people have bought into this culture – some without even realising. And sadly, it has not only been exacerbated by laypeople and students, but by ministers and teachers of the Word. To put it plainly, this “Christian elitist” culture I’m talking about is when more traditional Christians not only quietly disagree with charismatic practises, lack of tradition, and beliefs, but loudly (and often proudly) call them out and belittle other Christians who hold to them.

Many times, upon meeting new Christian friends, I’ve tried to hold off as long as possible before telling them what church I go to. This is not due to any sort of shame of my church; but because I’ve noticed that generally, people adopt certain assumptions and attitudes towards you when you tell them you’re from a large, well-known church. Or even that you’re a Pentecostal. A few times now, I’ve been in conversations where I’ve listened to Christian believers mocking my own church (before realizing that I attend there, of course). Most of the time it’s in jest, but sometimes it’s not. Even the fact that it’s only a joke wears thin when people of the same denominations make the same “jokes” relentlessly.

Though I want to handle this gently, I also want to make it extremely clear that this kind of culture is blatantly unbiblical. Paul goes to great lengths to combat forms of “Christian elitist” culture in his own time. Whether between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians (a nice comparison of tensions between traditional faith and a newer, less knowledgeable branch) or higher and lower-class Christians; Paul is clearly against these kinds of divisions and attitudes.[1]

I’m not saying that disagreement in and of itself is bad. We all have different opinions on secondary and tertiary theological principles, and most of the time we can support our individual beliefs with scripture. As long as the issue at hand is not a primary issue (salvation, sovereignty of God, etc.), differentiation is okay. Not always ideal, but not condemning either. When differentiation causes division, however, we have gone too far.

Neither am I trying to assert Pentecostal or charismatic tendencies as superior, or that other Christians should adopt them. I am simply hoping to dispel this apparent Christian class system, and promote true (not superficial) unity in the body of Christ. No believer, church, or denomination is more, or less, important in the work of God. We are of the same body; the same house, and we must strengthen one another for the glory of God.

[1] Eg. 1 Corinthians 1:10 – 4:17; Romans 11:17-24, 12:3-5, 14-15; Ephesians 4

One thought on “Christian Elitism

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  1. Being a bit of an introvert, At my very first college class, I was psyching myself up to do make an effort to go and talk to some people I don’t know. There was a group of 3 guys, so I thought I will go and say hello. They were making a derogatory joke regarding Hillsong, and then a minute later it shifted to “What church are you from?”—needless to say it was a little awkward. Interestingly enough, because I have grown to expect these types of comments and attitudes in certain contexts, it is not overly awkward for me.

    I am interested in your choice of word “Elitism”, because my assessment of it is a little different. My perception of it has always been to view it as a matter of Christian love, i.e. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35). Everyone has areas of growth in their Christian walk.

    My biggest issue is not the jokes and comments made amongst congregation members and/or students, but when this type of attitude is conveyed from “the pulpit”, or during an on campus activity that is “required” of students. While allowing for imperfection, generally I do expect leaders and teachers to be held to a higher standard.

    The most interesting part of this discussion, for me, is not to ask what to do about it (that is easy, Christians of different backgrounds need to get to know each other better), but instead, to ask why this culture exists in the first place. I have an opinion on that, but its probably too controversial to place in a blog comment.

    Liked by 1 person

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