Favoritism in Church: Is it really a problem?

Yesterday we looked at how Christians are called to be different, and that being different when compared to the world is a good thing. Every day this week we’ll be looking at examples that Jesus and his followers left us of just how different we are supposed to be in this world.

Today we look at both the early church, and the modern church. James, Jesus’ brother, gives us a view of how the early church struggled with this very thing. Apparently the early Christians were treating some of their members and visitors in a way that God didn’t appreciate. Here’s what he has to say:

James 2:3-4 If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well,doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

Now to fully understand what was going on here, we have to understand where these Christians were coming from. Virtually all of them were Jewish converts, and as such carried their Jewish customs into their new Christian faith.

If we look at the example of the temple worship, it was all about people being treated differently. Only the high priest was allowed in the Most Holy Place once a year. There were other sections of the temple where only priests could go. There were areas where only men could be present. There were areas where only ethnic Jews (non-Gentiles) could worship. There were areas where Gentiles could be present. And the ceremonially unclean could not be present.

Additionally it would seem that worshippers were treated differently based on how they prayed in public, as well as the offerings they gave. This was common practice.

And in many ways it still is. Men and women aren’t allowed to sit together in some synagogues. And other synagogues today where you sit depends on how much you can pay.  This practice of treating people in an uneven way was very common.

As James tells us, Christians should be different! We are not supposed to show favoritism!

James 2  – Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin…

I think churches still struggle with this. In most Sunday morning gatherings one can look around and see far more similarities than differences. Everyone has about the same income. Everyone dresses about the same way. Everyone looks about the same.

What James was calling the early church to do, and what we as a modern church are still being called to do, is to not be afraid to take the Gospel to those who are different. Yes, it’s easier to share our faith with the people we spend the most time with…the people who tend to be the most like us. But we are to treat everyone as if they have equal value to God. Because they do!

This is different. And Christians are called to be different. In a world that thrives on labels: outcasts, awkward, rich, poor, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, liberals, conservatives, gay, straight, black, white…it shouldn’t matter. EVERYONE needs the Gospel, and needs to feel welcome in our assemblies because every person we meet is a child of God, and he wants his love and his message and his salvation to reach everyone.

It’s time to be different. It’s time for each of us to share the Gospel, and to share it with everyone.

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