Summary: Christians, you are the only ones in the world who can love the way Jesus loves. And because you can...


James 2:1-13

1 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? 8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

FRESNO — On Sunday morning at the 18,000-member Calvary Church, tithers flash green Costco-like cards at greeters, who let them in early and usher them to special seating areas.

"The seats have more padding, and they recline," says tither Dan Phelps, kicking back before the sermon. "I feel a little guilty, but you can’t knock the comfort."

Calvary is believed to be the first church in America to use membership cards to dole out privileges to certain members. First-time visitors are offered the best seats — plush recliners in the orchestra section — while non-tithing attendees carry orange membership cards and are forced to sit in hard, stadium-style seats on the mezzanine.

"We give honor to whom honor is due," says pastor Jerald Dennis. "If you tithe or volunteer in some way, you deserve a special thank you."

Churches like his are drawing wealthier "church consumers" by promoting luxury and social stratification inside the sanctuary. As rich people attend, the theory goes, tithe revenues increase and the church better promotes the gospel.

At Life Family Center in Abilene, Texas, members at all levels earn "reward points" similar to frequent flyer miles for tithing and attending. The points add up to free hotel stays, vacation packages and tickets to NASCAR events.

Ringing the church’s cavernous sanctuary are private skyboxes where groups watch the service while enjoying hors d’oeuvres and deep leather chairs. Some pay only occasional attention to what takes place on the platform.

"We compete with professional sporting events, not other churches," says pastor Lovey Pederson. "I would rather people come here than a football stadium, so I offer bigger perks."

This year, at least a dozen more mega-churches will introduce some form of "club card."

"The credit card commercial said it best: ’Membership has its privileges,’" says Pederson. 2005


I want to share something of a personal note here but I want to preface it with a point of clarification. We all seek help from people who can do what we cannot do. We go to an optometrist, for example, to find out what is wrong with our vision and to have it corrected, because he or she has the schooling and training and equipment to provide the help we need.

I can hunt. I can use a rifle and I could kill a deer. But then I would have to take that deer to someone who knows how to dress it and package the meat and so on, because I don’t know how. You get my drift.

When I was in my first week at Alameda County Sheriff’s Academy in California, an instructor asked each of us in the class to stand, say our name, and then state why we wanted to be a police officer. The answers were mostly predictable; because I want to protect people, because I want to make society better, because I want adventure in my life, etcetera.

Well, I had thought my answer through, not because I expected this instructor to ask, but because others had asked and that had forced me to do some introspection and decide for myself why I was doing this.

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