Nobody likes to be the one who is left out. Yet showing favoritism to some people while ignoring others is commonplace in this world of ours including in church settings, in the workplace, schools and colleges/universities, in the military, in politics, and in any other type of social setting including families, relatives, among friends and even strangers. And it is often done with such frequency that we don’t even give it much thought or even realize on a conscious level that we are doing it. At other times we are quite aware of what we are doing. “Favoritism is partiality or bias. To show favoritism is to give preference to one person over others with equal claims. It is similar to discrimination and may be based on conditions such as social class, wealth, clothing, actions, etc.” (Quote source here).
This evening I ran across an editorial written by A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) on this very topic of favoritism. Tozer was a pastor, author, magazine editor, and spiritual mentor from my grandparents’ generation. This particular editorial is titled, “Beware Respect of Persons,” and is Chapter 26 in the book titled, “We Travel an Appointed Way” (originally published in 1988 and republished in 2010), compiled and edited by Harry Verploegh (d. 1999) which contains a collection of 39 editorials written by Tozer during his fourteen-year tenure as the editor of “Alliance Life,” the official magazine of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. Tozer wrote in the early-to-mid 20th Century so keep that in mind as you are reading this editorial:
Beware Respect of Persons
There is an evil which I have seen under the sun–one that grows and does not diminish. and it is all the more dangerous because it is done without evil aforethought but, as it were, carelessly and without wrong intent.
It is the evil of giving to them that have and withholding from them that have not. It is the evil of blessing with a loud voice them that are already blessed and letting the unblessed and the outcast lie forgotten.
Let a man appear in a local Christian fellowship and let him be one whose fame is bruited abroad, whose presence will add something to the one who entertains him, and immediately a score of homes will be thrown open and every eager hospitality will be extended to him. But the obscure and the unknown must be content to sit on the fringes of the Christian circle and not once be invited into any home.
This is a great evil and an iniquity that awaits the judgment of the great day. And it is so widespread that scarcely any of us can claim to be free from it. So we condemn it only with utter humility and with acknowledgment that we too have been in some measure guilty.
No observant man will attempt to deny that a vast amount of Christian money is being spent on those who do not need it, while the poor and the needy and such as have no helper must often go unnoticed and unhelped, even though they too are Christians and servants of our common Lord. (The modern church would appear to be as blind and partial as the world in this matter.)
Our Lord warned us against the snare of showing kindness only to such as could return such kindness and so cancel out any positive good we may have thought we were doing. By this test, a world of religious activity is being wasted in our churches. to invite in well-fed and well-groomed friends to share our hospitality with the full knowledge that we will be invited to receive the same kindness again on the first convenient evening is in no sense an act of Christian hospitality. It is of the earth, earthy; its motive is fleshly; no sacrifice is entailed; its moral content is nil and it will be accounted wood, hay, stubble (see 1 Corinthians 3:12-15) before the judgment seat of Christ.
The evil here discussed was common among the Pharisees of New Testament times. In chapter 23 of Matthew, Christ mercilessly exposed the whole thing, and in so doing earned the undying enmity of those who practiced it. The Pharisees were bad not because they entertained their friends but because they would not entertain the poor and the common among the people. One bitter accusation which they hurled against Christ was that He received sinners and ate with them. This they would not stoop to do, and in their high pride, they became seven times worse than the worst among the sinners whom they so coldly rejected.
In spite of our lip service to democracy, Americans are a decidedly class-conscious people. The very politicians and educators and church leaders among us who sound abroad the praises of the common man and plead for equal rights for all are in private practice as aloof from the plain people as the proudest monarch could ever be. There exists among us an aristocracy composed of famous people, rich men, social lions, public figures and headliners of one kind or another, and these are the class apart. Beneath them, standing off in wide-eyed admiration, are the millions of anonymous men and women who make up the mass of the population. And they have nothing in their favor–except that they were in the heart of Jesus when He died on the cross.
Within the church also there exists a class consciousness, a reflection of that found in society. This has been brought over into the church from the world. Its spirit is completely foreign to the spirit of Christ, utterly opposed to it, indeed; and yet it determines to a large degree the conduct of Christians. This is the source of the evil we mention here.
Gospel churches which mostly begin with the lowly are usually not content till they attain some degree of wealth and social acceptance. Then they gradually fall into classes, determined largely by the wealth and education of the members. The individuals that comprise the top layer of these various classes go on to become pillars of the religious society and are soon entrenched in places of leadership and influence. It is then that their great temptation comes upon them, the temptation to cater to their own class and to neglect the poor and the ignorant that make up the swarming population around them. They soon become hardened to every appeal of the Holy Spirit toward meekness and humility. Their homes are spotless, their clothes the most expensive, their friends the most exclusive. Apart from some tremendous moral upheaval, they are beyond help. And yet they may be among the most vocal exponents of Bible Christianity and heavy givers to the cause of the church.
Let us not become indignant at this blunt portrayal of facts. Let us rather humble ourselves to serve God’s poor. Let us seek to be like Jesus in our devotion to the forgotten of the earth who have nothing to recommend them but their poverty and their heart-hunger and their tears. (Quote source: “We Travel An Appointed Way,” pp. 73-76).
Tozer was not a man who was afraid to tackle the tough topics in the church of his day. And often his words from 70-80 years ago hit right at the heart of the matter in today’s churches, too. In another book titled, “Culture” (published in 2016) which contains another twenty-four selections by Tozer, the publisher’s note at the beginning of the book states, “A.W. Tozer was a man who understood his times and who knew what to do. The twenty-four selections that follow are a small sampling of Tozer’s writing on what it means to be a Christian in a world that is largely uninterested in Christ” (quote source, “Culture,” p. 7). The following is taken from Chapter 15 titled, “Are We Evangelicals Social Climbing?”:
Are We Evangelicals Social Climbing?
Traditionally, Christianity has been the religion of the common people. Whenever the upper classes have adopted it in numbers, it has died. Respectability has almost always proved fatal to it.
The reasons back of this are two, one human and other other divine.
Schleiermacher [Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834) was a German theologian, philosopher, and biblical scholar] has pointed out that at the bottom of all religion there lies a feeling of dependence, as sense of creature helplessness. The simple man who lives close to the earth lives also close to death and knows that he must look for help beyond himself; he knows that there is but a step between him and catastrophe. As he rises in the social and economic scale, he surrounds himself with more and more protective devices and pushed danger (so he thinks) farther and farther from him. Self-confidence displaces the feeling of dependence he once knew, and God becomes less necessary to him. Should he stop to think this through he would know better than to place his confidence in things and people; but so badly are we injured by our moral fall that we are capable of deceiving ourselves completely and, if conditions favor it, to keep up the deception for a lifetime.
Along with the feeling of security that wealth and position bring comes an arrogant pride that shuts rightly the door of the heart to the waiting Savior. Our Very Important Man may indeed honor a church by joining it, but there is no life in his act. His religion is external and his faith nominal. Conscious respectability has destroyed him.
The second reason Christian tends to decline as its devotees move up the social scale is that God will not respect persons nor share His glory with another. Paul sets this forth plainly enough in his First Corinthians epistle:
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Corinthians 1:25-29, NKJV)
When God sent His Son to redeem mankind, He sent Him to the home of a workingman and He grew up to be what we now call a peasant. When He presented Himself to Israel and launched into His earthly ministry, He was rejected by the respectable religionists and had to look for followers almost exclusively from among the poor, plain people. When the Spirit came and the church was founded, its first members were the socially unacceptable. For generations the church drew her numbers from among the lower classes, individual exceptions occurring now and again, of which Saul of Tarsus was the most noteworthy.
During the centuries since Pentecost the path of true Christianity has paralleled pretty closely the path Jesus walked when He was here on earth: it was to be rejected by the great and accepted by the lowly. The institutionalized church has certainly not been poor, not has she lacked for great and might men to swell her membership. But this great church has had no power. Almost always the approval of God has rested upon small and marginal groups whose member were scorned while they lived and managed to gain acceptance only after they had been safely dead several score years.
Today we evangelicals are showing signs that we are becoming too rich and too prominent for our own good. With a curious disregard for the lessons of history we are busy fighting for recognition by the world and acceptance by society. And we are winning both. The great and the might are now looking our way. The world seems about to come over and join us. Of course we must make some concessions, but these have almost all been made already except for a big of compromising here and there on such matters as verbal inspiration, special creation, separation, and religious tolerance.
Evangelical Christianity is fast becoming the religion of the bourgeoisie. The well-to-do, the upper middle classes, the politically prominent, the celebrities are accepting our religion by the thousands and parking their expensive cars outside our church doors, to the uncontrollable glee of our religious leaders who seem completely blind to the fact that the vast majority of these new patrons of the Lord of glory have not altered their moral habits in the slightest nor given any evidence of true conversion that would have been accepted by the saintly fathers who built the churches.
Yes, history is a great teacher, but she cannot teach those who do not want to learn. And apparently we do not. (Quote source: “Culture,” pp. 119-122.)
Do remember that these words by Tozer were written in the mid 20th Century. When I read them this evening I was struck by how true they still are, and maybe even more so, today.
Back in 1992, the musical group 4Him came out with a song titled, “The Basics of Life” (YouTube video is below). I’d like to end this blog post with the words from that song as they are even more relevant today:
“The Basics Of Life”
We’ve turned the page,
For a new day has dawned
We’ve rearranged what is right
And what’s wrong
Somehow we’ve drifted
So far from the truth
That we can’t get back home
Where are the virtues
That once gave us light
Where are the morals
That governed our lives
Someday we all will
Awake and look back
Just to find what we’ve lost
We need to get back
To the basics of life
A heart that is pure
And a love that is blind
A faith that is fervently
grounded in Christ
The hope that endures
For all times
These are the basics,
we need to get back
To the basics of life
The newest rage is to reason it out
Just meditate and you can
Overcome every doubt
After all man is a God, they say
God is no longer alive
But I still believe
In the old rugged cross
And I still believe
There is hope for the lost
And I know the
Rock of all ages will stand
Through changes of time
We’ve let the darkness
Invade us too long
We’ve got to turn the tide
Oh and we need the passion
That burned long ago
To come and open our eyes
There’s no room
Lyrics compliments of AZLyrics.com
Those words speak truth to us today. May we be willing to listen . . . .
These are the basics . . .
We need to get back . . .
To the basics of life . . . .
YouTube Video: “The Basics of Life” by 4Him: