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Summary: Favouritism dishonours God and destroys the Body of Christ.

JAMES 2:1-4

DISCRIMINATION IN THE SANCTUARY OF THE LORD

“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?”

Christians are immersed in the culture in which they live, and to greater or lesser degree, fallen creatures that we are, though citizens of heaven, we import our culture into the church. Tragically, we tend to transform the church of the Living God into a reflection of the prevailing culture without even being aware of what we are doing. Without planning for the transition, the church is one day more Canadian than it is Christian. Nowhere is this transformation more evident than when we seek to become respectable within the communities wherein we worship. Soon, our desire to be liked overwhelms our desire to please God.

At one time I pastored a Chinese congregation. The Christians in that congregation were good people who longed to honour God. However, the congregation struggled to move beyond being Chinese. I was often frustrated by the tendency of church leaders to exalt Chinese culture over the instruction of the Word. For instance, it was more important that missionaries be Chinese than that they be in doctrinal agreement with the church. In a final message, I pleaded with the church to choose Christ over culture, a plea which in great measure fell on deaf ears.

On yet another occasion, I was approached by a black congregation seeking a pastor. During exploratory discussions, I was somewhat taken aback when one of my interlocutors raised a concern that white people might come to the church. Lynda and I asked whether they were Christians that happened to be black, or whether they were blacks that happened to be Christians. The pulpit committee was nonplused and asked for time to consider the question. After some weeks, a committee member phoned. Apologising profusely because he was the one appointed to deliver their answer, he informed me that the congregation had come to the conclusion that they were black, and Christianity would need to be subservient to race.

Sadly, I have witnessed too many Canadian churches that have more pride in being Canadian than in being Christian. Many churches in Canada have consciously, or unconsciously, decided that it is more important to align with the culture than it is to be Christian. I briefly pastored a congregation in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Though God was blessing with growth and the salvation of many souls, a conflict which required the attention of the church leadership arose within the church. I pointed to the Scriptures as the final arbiter for resolving the dispute, but the chairman of the deacons arose and said, “We are Canadian. If there is a conflict between the Bible and our constitution, we must obey the constitution.” I was astounded, concluding that his arrogance was exceeded only by his ignorance. Tragically, the deacons agreed with him in this matter, unconsciously declaring themselves to be infallible; they deemed the documents they had drafted superior to the Word of God, which was rendered in this instance inferior to their own imaginations.

In the ensuing years I have come to realise that the assertion of that arrogant man grew out of the common practise of “electing” church leaders. Evangelical churches have developed the cult of democracy, imagining that democracy is divine. Nothing could be further from the truth. Moses, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, warned, “You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing” [EXODUS 23:2 NRSV BIBLE]. God expects His people to seek the truth and then to do what is true. Fifty percent plus one does not make an action right or justify a decision. That self-important man, as is tragically true of too many who imagine themselves to be approved by God as church leaders, was chairman of the deacons simply because he had advanced himself as someone of importance and was willing to “let his name stand” for election.

The natural tendency for all mankind is to gravitate to the familiar; we are by nature uncomfortable when asked to accept the unfamiliar. There is a level of trust demanded that we do not naturally extend to those representing what is in our estimate strange and different. We prefer certain foods, and often refuse to try what we deem to be exotic primarily because it is different. It is one thing when discrimination is toward foods or other similar, though less vital, matters of life. However, there is grave danger to the church when people begin to discriminate toward other people, treating some with undue deference and treating others with disdain.

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