elitism - n.
- The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.
- The sense of entitlement enjoyed by such a group or class.
- Control, rule, or domination by such a group or class.
While the definition of "elitism" above clearly refers to a ruling class, it is also found in the realm of faith. Elitism is a far greater danger in the area of faith as it deals, ultimately, with the eternal prospects of man. How unfortunate that doctrinal error can, and does, lead to a belief that a select group can hold the only true key to heaven, hope, and eternal peace. An elite group holding to a doctrine that excludes all others from the blessings that Christ paid for would be an abomination to the God of the Bible.
Jesus said in John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Some individuals and groups have ignored the "whosoever" in favor of the elect, or chosen. Others claim to be the sole repository of faith and possessors of the key to heaven. There are those who make the gift of salvation conditional, usually requiring an adherence to some elitist teaching or tradition.
2 Peter 3:9 "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." If God is not willing that any should perish how is it that so many believe they are of the elect few? The problem in some cases is a misunderstanding of the intent of Christ the Saviour. He came, not that all would be saved, but that all could be saved. Jesus paid the price for all sin, for all men, for all time. A person can only go to Hell by refusing to accept the gift of redemption paid for by the sacrifice of Christ. John 3:17-18 "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." Note the word "might" (emphasis mine) in verse 17, it is not the word "will" as it would have been if that is what Jesus had meant and if grace was irresistible. Notice also the phrase "because he hath not believed" (again emphasis is mine) in verse 18, not believing is a choice, the result of a decision.
Elitism often robs men of the desire to share the Gospel message with the lost, it is hopeless and pointless if they are not among the elect or chosen few (this doesn't mean those holding to elitist views don't evangelize, some do in obedience in the Great Commission). I want to look at some examples of elitism with the understanding that each is representative of a type and that with some variations others take the same doctrinal positions.
Calvinism: Because of the total depravity of man, man is incapable of making a decision that would lead to his salvation. Election or pre-selection by God seems to be the only logical explanation for salvation. The underlying problem here is a misunderstanding of the sovereignty of God and His ability to make man capable of making sound moral decisions in a lost condition. Another issue is not having an understanding of the purpose of Christ's redemption and His making a sacrifice sufficient for all. Some Calvinists believe that the purpose of Christ's coming was to assure salvation for the elect, and since all men are not saved all are not elected to salvation. The purpose of the Holy Sacrifice is to make it possible for all men to be saved and to insure that each person would be able make that decision themselves. "For whosever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" Romans 10:13 - and all men have the opportunity to call. The Bible teaches that it is the rejection of Christ that results in an eternity in hell and the Lake of Fire; "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." John 3:36, a failure to believe in Christ indicates the opportunity to believe.
An additional problem with Calvinism is their redefining the meaning of the word all, it becomes a word that is interpreted situationally rather than taken simply. All means "ain't nothin' else" it is all1 encompassing in scope. Think of the potential confusion if we allow for this situational redefining. "For all have sinned" could become all those in a certain circumstance, such as only those who heard this statement, rather than simply everyone. All is the word that brings equality to the condition of sinners, and makes everyone a sinner. Romans 5:18 states "Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." Since the Calvinist accept that all men came into condemnation. Why then is it so hard to understand that the free gift of salvation is also for all men.
Roman Catholicism: Believes itself to be the only true church, the repository of faith, and that it alone is guided directly by God through His emissary the Pope. There is no hope of salvation apart from the one true church, a position that is elitist and unscriptural. This is not an article dealing solely with the doctrinal problems of Catholicism; there are enough doctrinal errors available for study in the RC Church that it is a study unto itself. Paragraph 181 of the Roman Catholic Catechism (1984 ed.) states "'Believing' is an ecclesial act. The Church's faith precedes, engenders, supports and nourishes our faith. The Church is the mother of all believers. 'No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother' (St. Cyprian, De unit. 6: PL 4, 519)." Clearly apart from the Roman Catholic Church there is no hope of salvation, according to the preceding quote. While there is a great deal more that could be taught about the elitism of Roman Catholicism, I believe this is sufficient for our purposes here.
Baptist Bride(r/ism) - this is a group that shuns the name of Baptist Brider but holds dearly to the elitist teachings. Rick Schworer wrote on his website/blog "The Baptist Bride doctrine is one of the most scripturally ridiculous things I've ever heard. It is an elitist idea that because the Baptists can trace themselves all the way back to the first century, that they are in fact the only true bride of Christ and all other Christians, though saved, are something inferior." I agree with most of this quote, there is an error that the Baptist can trace their history to the first century. Both the Briders and the Catholics claim an unbroken succession from the apostles to modern times. Both often refer to the same verse Matthew 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The Catholics point to Peter as first pope and the Briders to the church (or The Church meaning Baptist) and in both cases it points to the danger of pulling proof texts from the context in which they are found. Mathew 16:18 refers to the confession of Peter that "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" found in verse 16, this is the rock on which the church of Christ is to be built. The companion passage for Matthew 16:16 is Mark 8:29 "And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ." The fact that this confession is found repeated in another Gospel is a testimony of its importance, and those parts not repeated would seem to be of lesser importance.
A point of interest to me is this simple fact/question; the one true church didn't exist in history until the 4th century if the Catholics are right and the 17th century if the Baptist Briders are right. Why did God hide His "one true church" for centuries? The fact of the matter is that neither the Catholics nor the Briders are the church referred to in Holy Scripture, that church is made up of all believers and is the Body of Christ according to the Word of God (see Ephesians 5 and Colossians 1). There are other religious groups who claim to have the only true church/religion, but these will do as an illustration of the danger found in elitism. When individual congregations or local assemblies are referred to they are named (see Acts 8:1, 3 and Acts 13:1 are examples as well as 2Timothy 4:22 and Titus 3:15). The validity of some of my statements in regards to church ages can be checked, this requires a study of history and the Scripture.
Elitism is a hazard to be avoided no matter what name is on the building that houses it. To a lesser degree elitism within the body can cause division and render the church fruitless. We are all children of the same parents, elected to salvation by a single vote, none better than another. The equality of the human race is assured at the foot of the cross, why does anyone need to believe that they are of the elite few? Like the lies of Satan that lead to a belief in races and racism, elitism can only divide; it panders to the vanity and pride of those who hold elitist views and adds nothing to their faith or service.
The truth is that every born again believer is both in the body of Christ and a part of the Bride of Christ. There is no denomination that is free of error to one degree or another, there is no organization operated by men that can get anyone into heaven, there is no group that has a monopoly on holiness, salvation, truth, or hope. God saves individuals that personally ask to be saved and trust Christ alone for their salvation. That is the most important truth in this article, all may be saved and all may be saved apart from any organization.
A few helpful verses from the King James Bible:
Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
9That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. 12For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
If you have never trusted Christ as your Saviour, now would be a good time to do so.
1 [a: the whole amount, quantity, or extent of b: as much as possible - All defined @merriam-webster.com]