The Lure of Group
the last few years, there has been a disturbing trend toward
elitism in some house church groups. This seems to be a
common temptation that presents itself to all Christian
groups, for it is a malady that affects some institutional
churches as well. As 1Co 10:13 says, "There hath no
temptation taken you but such as is common to man."
Group elitism can take
multiple forms. Sometimes it is based on falsehoods that
inflate the ego. Racism is an example of this. But Christian
groups usually donít fall for something so obviously wrong.
Typically, they are seduced by forms of elitism that involve
a statement of partial truth or even truth.
Certainly, we should
proclaim and practice the truth. Important Biblical truths
should not be ignored. But when elitist motives are attached
to them, statements of truth are accompanied by smug
superiority and sectarianism. The message is conveyed (by
tone of voice, word or practice), that "we are better than
you" or "we are legitimate, but you are not." Here are some
examples in which biblical truths or partial truths are
accompanied by elitism:
"In New Testament times, churches met
in homes. Why, I wouldnít set foot in a church building.
Havenít been in one in for 20 years. (Implied message:
"Nothing of enough value ever goes on there to merit my
"Yes, but are you familiar with
________? (You may fill in any number of names).
He is the most wonderful Bible teacher I have ever
encountered. Heís about the only teacher I pay much
attention to these days." (Implication: "Unless you are
following our leader, you are missing it!")
"Most churches are Bible centered, but
ours is Christ centered." (Implication: "Either you
follow the Bible, or you follow Jesus. We are among the
few churches that truly follow Jesus.)"
"Most churches attach man-made words
to their name. Therefore, they are sectarian and should
be avoided. But we just call ourselves the Church of
Jesus Christ (or some similar name). If you do not claim
to be in His church, then that means you are outside
of it." (Implication: If you are not a member of our
group, you are not part of the true church!")
"In the New Testament, churches were
started by church planters. If your church was not
started by one, Iím afraid it got off on the wrong foot.
Itís too bad that there arenít many real church planters
to go around. However, we have some trained church
planters that can come to your church to help."
(Implication: "We are the only ones who correctly
understand how to start churches!")
Many elitist Christian
groups began when someone recognized, at least partially,
some great biblical truth and began teaching it. But our
foes, Satan and his demons, do not sit idly by wringing
their fingers when we recognize biblical truths. In fact,
such occasions may very well incite them to fight against us
more fiercely. Nor does the realization of truth prevent our
fallen natures from having desires which are opposed to
those of the Spirit.
If Satan cannot use obvious
falsehoods against us, he attempts to misuse the truth
against us, or tries to get us to mishandle the truth. We
need only to read about the temptation of Christ in the
wilderness to recognize this. Satan actually tried to tempt
Jesus with Bible verses! So even when we think we
are standing tall, such as when we have realized a wonderful
truth (like the New Testament way to have a church meeting)
we must be on guard:
"Wherefore let him that
thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1Co
"Be sober, be vigilant;
because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion,
walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist
steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same
afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are
in the world" (1Pe 5:8-9).
How do Satan and his fallen
angels, and/or our fallen natures, tempt us to mishandle the
truth? Here are just some of the ways:
We may be enticed to reason
illogically from the truth.
We may be tempted to distort, or to
over-magnify one truth to the detriment of other truths.
We may misuse the truth to promote our
own selfish goals and ambitions.
We may incline toward elitism - our
subject at hand - becoming puffed up because we see
truths others do not, or because we do certain things
more scripturally than others.
One of the most subtle
examples of elitism that I have ever encountered is making
Christ-centeredness a pretext for elitism. Can someone
actually be sectarian over the great and essential truth of
making Christ central in oneís life? Yes, and although it
may seem hard to believe, there is a biblical example of it
in 1Co 1:12, "Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I
am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of
Christ" (emphasis added).
Is it not true for a
"Christian to say, "I am of Christ?" In fact, is this not
one of the most wonderful truths that one can realize?
Surely, those who proclaimed "I am of Christ" had a better
boast than those who said, "I am of Paul" and "I am of
Cephas." And yet Paul still accuses them of being sectarian!
Why? Because they were implying, "You are invalid because
you say, ĎI am of Paul!í But WE know that we are of Christ!"
Paulís response to this was, "Is Christ divided?"
not enough just to proclaim the truth, even the greatest
and highest truths. We must also proclaim the truth with
the right motives!
There is an important lesson
here. It is not enough just to proclaim the truth, even the
greatest and highest truths. We must also proclaim the truth
with the right motives!
And so Paulís rebuke
of the Corinthians who were proclaiming with elitist motives
the wonderful truth, "I am of Christ," was a very deserved
rebuke. This serves as an example of how Satan does not rest
when we have discovered the truth. He tempts us to mishandle
Even when others are
afflicted with sectarianism, or a lack of understanding of
things that we may clearly see, we must humbly acknowledge
that they still have a place of inestimable value in the
body of Christ. They are still a part of the true, universal
church, of which all who have accepted Christ as their
savior are members.
The Lure of Personal
next statement is a wonderful example for us. Think of how
it could have tickled Paulís fleshly ears to hear people
saying, "I am a follower of Paul." Yet next, Paul
self-depreciatingly says, " was Paul crucified for you? Or
were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" (1Co 1:13).
Sadly, there have been great
leaders in church history, men who have understood great
truths of the gospel, who have fallen for this very
enticement of the flesh and the ego, and thereby limited or
even destroyed their own usefulness. Unfortunately, this has
happened in the house church movement, just as it has in the
institutional churches. And what a tragic shipwreck of lives
it has caused!
you aware that the scripture explicitly commands us not
to seek our own vain glory? "Let us not be desirous of
vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another "
We must go about building Godís
kingdom, not our own. We should recognize that power rightly
belongs to Him, not to us. We must seek His
glory, not our own. Do we not implicitly convey these truths
each time we repeat the Lordís prayer and say, "For thine
is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory"? Are you aware
that the scripture explicitly commands us not to seek our
own vain glory? "Let us not be desirous of vain glory,
provoking one another, envying one another " (Ga 5:26).
There are higher priorities that should
occupy our minds instead. First, there is the love of the
Lord, which results in our promoting His kingdom, His power,
and His glory, rather than our own. And then there is loving
others as Christ loved us, which leads to lives of service
and self-sacrifice for others. If these are our primary
motives, and we live by them, our lives will fall into
Sometimes, when we do these things, we are
rewarded with honor. But we must not do these things with
the motive of attaining earthly honors. Then we forfeit our
heavenly rewards. If what we think is " Godís will" for our
lives is linked with the pursuit of more glory and prestige
for ourselves, perhaps something is wrong. Perhaps something
is even terribly wrong. No man can serve two masters. As
Paul pleaded with the Philippians, " Let nothing be done
through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let
each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man
on his own things, but every man also on the things of
An Example of Elitism
mentioned above, one of Satanís strategies is to tempt us to
emphasize one truth to the detriment of others. Some truths
need to be emphasized. But not to such an extent that we end
up excluding, crowding out, or distorting other truths. That
is an ego-inflating, flesh-boosting kind of thing. It
involves taking excessive pride in what God has revealed to
us, and over-glorying in what we know. Scripture warns us
that "Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth" (1Co 8:1).
Along these very lines,
there is a strategy that Satan seems to be subtly using to
lead a particular group of house churches who have a
knowledge of the importance of Christ-centeredness astray.
It is also a form of elitism, taking the form of, "You are
Bible-centered. But we are Christ-centered." It is certainly
a great truth that we must be Christ-centered. But like the
Corinthians who boastfully proclaimed, "I am of Christ,"
this group considers churches which stress closely following
the Bible as invalid expressions of the body of Christ, even
when these other churches also stress Christ-centeredness.
Thus, Christ-centeredness is being misused as a pretext for
sectarianism and elitism.
This group has little to do
with other house churches. They keep to themselves. When the
man whom they regard as their primary leader speaks at a
house church conference, many of them come only to hear him
speak. The other speakers are apparently not considered
worthy of much, if any attention. When their leader speaks,
he often discounts the validity of what is happening in the
other house churches. Only the house churches that follow
his leadership seem to be deemed valid expressions of church
life. When you speak with members of this group, they often
lead the conversation back to praise of their leader. Oddly,
they mix "I am of Paul" together with "I am of
Christ," because they believe that their leader is one of
the few men on earth who places the proper emphasis on
The book catalog that this
group publishes likens their leaderís writings to the
worldís greatest Christian authors, and even to those of the
apostle Paul. To be sure, he is a talented writer, but if I
were in his shoes, there is no way that I would allow those
under my supervision to write something like that about me!
I would be afraid that I would start believing it!
The concept this group
conveys is that if you try to start a church that closely
follows the Bible, youíll end up with outward form but no
inward life. Just seek Jesus, they teach, and He will form
the church, organically. But here we see an example
of how a great truth can be misused. It is possible to glory
so much in our knowledge of one truth, that we crowd out or
even distort other truths, and regard ourselves as more
valid than those who do not do the same.
The problem with this is
that it sets up a false dichotomy Ė either you obey the
Bible and follow NT patterns, or you seek Jesus. But who
says we canít do both? In fact, we should do both.
Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command"
I know someone associated
with this group who, together with his friends, wanted to
start a church. They met together on a regular basis for
months. But because they wanted their church to be
"organic," they didnít talk about the Bible much. Instead,
they talked about sports, the news, their children, etc.
Why? They were waiting for "it" to happen spontaneously.
But we observe something
very different in the book of Acts. When the Holy Spirit
wanted to start more new churches, He told the church at
Antioch: "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to
which I have called them" (Ac 13:2). I ask you, did Barnabas
and Saul sit around and wait for things to happen? No, God
used them as his instruments to make things happen.
How do we know this? Because He called them to "work". Work
involves purposefulness and intentionality.
Likewise, think of Heb
10:25: "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in
the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another Ė and
all the more as you see the Day approaching." If God has
commanded us to encourage one another when we meet, we must
not sit around and wait for it "to happen" Ė "it" will
happen if we just obey Him and act. Healthy churches donít
just happen Ė they are formed by God using men working in
obedience to Him.
in the Spirit does not mean waiting for God to repeat to
us afresh what He has already commanded in scripture
before we will obey Him.
This means being attentive
to Jesus when He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit, as
many promoters of "organic" church life emphasize. But it
also means obeying Him where He has already spoken in
Scripture. Walking in the Spirit does not mean waiting for
God to repeat to us afresh what He has already commanded in
scripture before we will obey Him. That reflects a
misunderstanding of being "organic."
The Apostle Paul wrote to
the Philippians: "Join with others in following my example,
brothers, and take note of those who live according to the
pattern we gave you" (Php 3:17). And to the Thessalonians he
wrote: "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the
traditions which ye have been taught, whether my word, or
our epistle" (2Th 2:15, KJV). Obviously, then, we should
imitate the traditions of the apostles. For proper organic
church growth to occur, we must love the Lord so much that
we cherish every word that comes from His mouth, and, like
beloved children, imitate the apostles He trained to teach
What is wrong with this
groupís concept of an "organic" church? It seems to assume
that being "organic" involves some sort of plantlike
passivity. Perhaps this is because we normally use the word
in connection with gardening. But the Lord does not describe
His church as a member of the plant kingdom, but as a woman!
And every young woman must be taught the word of God and how
to obey it in order to grow up right.
The church is no different:
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church
and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her
by the washing with water through the word, and to present
her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle
or blemish, but holy and blameless" (Ep 5:25-27). Healthy,
organic church growth does not occur without instruction and
obedience in the Word. Satan would love to trick us into
divorcing loving God from loving His words. On the other
hand, he would also like for us to substitute an
understanding of how to do things according to Scripture for
a close love walk with Jesus. Understanding, even deep
understanding of the word of God, is not enough. It must be
accompanied by a loving relationship with Him. This is an
even more important truth, but both are important
truths, and neither should be emphasized to the exclusion of
ultimate test of our love for Jesus is not our Bible
knowledge, or even the time we spend in joyful communion
To summarize how these two truths work out
in application, we should walk closely with Jesus. Along the
way, He will often stop to teach us. We must listen very
attentively! And then, we must be careful to quickly and
completely obey His words. Why? Because the ultimate test of
our love for Jesus is not our Bible knowledge, or even the
time we spend in joyful communion with Him. Make no mistake,
these are vital expressions of our love, but alone, they are
insufficient indicators of it. The acid test of our love is
our obedience. Jesus made this crystal clear in Jn
14:15 when he said, "If you love Me, you will obey my
the example above, we tragically see many of the forces
which seduce men into personal and group elitism at work.
But let's not condemn, lest we be judged by the same
measure. Iím sure that most, if not all of us, as we have
been considering these things, have been examining our own
lives and our own churches and seen these tendencies at work
in varying degrees. Perhaps we are grieved to realize they
have been at work to a great degree.
We must avoid elitism,
sectarianism, and the pursuit of vain glory. This means
seeing the members of the body of Christ with our spiritual
eyes, and recognizing that each has an important and vital
place. It involves not becoming puffed up with our own
importance, or the importance of our own group. It also
means not boasting "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Paul."
Lastly, it even means not implying superiority over sectarian
Christians with the boast, "I am of Christ." That is a form
of sectarianism in itself.
must guard ourselves carefully against elitism and conceit,
and recognize that all of those who are in Christ are
members of one body with us, equally important, and precious
and loved in Christ. Each has his or her own unique gifts.
Each has insights and gifts that we do not. No one of us,
and no group of us is complete in and of ourselves. We are
only complete with each other.
This is no argument for
ecumenism. Iím not a member or promoter of the World Council
of Churches. Iím not promoting the idea of church
institutions merging into an amorphous blob in which the
truths of the gospel are compromised. We should live by the
truths that God has revealed to us in scripture, and not
compromise them for the sake of unity. Iím simply arguing
against thinking we are superior to others in the body of
Christ, and isolating ourselves from the spiritual body of
Christ as a result. Iím asking that we open our spiritual
eyes to see the importance of others in the body of Christ.
Even when others are elitist or sectarian, we should not be.
We should be willing to learn from others in the body of
Christ, and recognize that they have value and validity,
just as we do. God does not reveal everything to one person
or one group. There are always more insights to be learned
from others in the body of Christ, and more examples to be
If ever a man saw the body
of Christ with his spiritual eyes, Paul did. He did "not
cease" to pray for the church at Colosse [Col 1:9], a church
he did not even start. Epaphras planted that church. Yet
Paul constantly thought of them, so much so that he took the
time to write a thoughtful letter to them, a letter that is
to be cherished through the ages. How much do we pray for
those in other churches? How much do we care for them? Do we
show our care with actions? The New Testament pattern was
that there was one church in each city: the church at
Corinth, the church at Phillipi, etc. Surely, we should not
completely isolate ourselves from other churches in our
The New Testament even
demonstrates that we should be concerned for the welfare of
believers outside of our town. Some of the saints in
Jerusalem were still struggling to understand law and grace.
Many of the Gentile Christians seemed to have a better grip
on grace, thanks to the teaching of Paul. But did Paul
encourage "us vs. them" thinking? No. He encouraged the
Gentile churches to take up an offering for the poor saints
in Jerusalem. He saw that those Jewish believers were
members of the same body with the Gentile believers.
May God grant to us the
vision Paul had of the body of Christ, that prompted him to
write, "besides the other things, what comes upon me daily:
my deep concern for all the churches" (2Co 11:28,