The Impartial Church
Many Americans today argue (not without reason) that we are living in an increasingly divisive culture. We are often divided by race, class, gender, religion and politics. We can even find ways to get nasty on social media about sports, music, movies, and television. But divisiveness is hardly a new phenomenon. Just think of the 1860s. Or even the 1960s. Nor is divisiveness a uniquely modern or American problem. It has always been with us, ever since Cain first heard the bleating of Abel’s sacrificial lamb.
Interestingly, the New Testament churches were not immune to the vices of partiality and prejudice. We often talk about returning to the purity of the New Testament church. But, as I heard a minister say once, the question is, which one? The Corinthians, who were divided over their favorite preachers? The Galatians, who were being duped by legalistic sectarians? The Colossians, who were taken in by philosophical arguments? And, as Pastor Matt Wireman taught on Sunday, even the church led by James, the brother of our Lord, was being divided by class and socio-economic status.
Matt noted that James addresses his readers as “my brothers,” assuming their faith in Christ and teaching us that the church is not a special class of completely impartial people. We all need to be on guard against this sin. As Matt emphasized, knowing many things about God doesn’t guarantee that we are walking in accord with his will: “Our actions reveal what we really believe.”
Matt pointed out that money isn’t the problem. The problem is a devaluing of people based on money. It is assuming that if people don’t have money, they don’t have anything to offer. But often the rich need the poor’s faith every bit as much as the poor need the rich’s financial assistance. The problem, as Matt emphasized, is a failure of judgment. We see things as the world sees them, rather than through the eyes of Christ, in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, but all are one (Gal. 3:28).
Matt cast a vision for our church being a place where rich and poor, black and white, the put together and the falling apart, are all gathered in and around Christ to find healing. I think in our newly planted church, we are already seeing those seeds germinate. But how do we grow in this? What can we do to foster a community that shows no partiality? As Matt mentioned, we begin close at hand: “Be faithful with the plot of ground God has given you” and “let go of the idea that the whole world is dependent upon you.” We can’t solve the problems of a divided culture in one fell swoop. That doesn’t mean we can’t dream big, but it does mean that we have to begin at home in the little acts of Christian virtue that welcome any and all with the same merciful embrace.