The Danger of Elitism in the Church

John Stott one time preached that “Pride is your worst enemy; but humility is your best friend.” That phrase has always stuck in my mind. While we may look at our culture and the pride and arrogance that seems to mark so many, I can’t help but remember a sermon by Alistair Begg in which he announced to his congregation that he would preach next Sunday on the person who gave him the most problems. Turns out that person was himself.

There is no shortage of things in this world to be proud of, but in this passage of Scripture, we see that even those closest to Jesus struggled with pride. Think of it: we know the one true God, know the one True Savior, we have accesses by His Spirit to His Word, and He has given us His salvation. We can grow contented and even proud of those facts—well founded and grounded as they may be. We may be close to the Savior positionally (being citizens of the Kingdom), but the more we trust in ourselves to guide and move us along, the farther away we are from him.

Look at Luke 9:46-48:

46 An argument arose among them [that is, the disciples] as to which of them was the greatest. 47But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side 48and said to them, "Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great."

Hudson Taylor was scheduled to speak at a Large Presbyterian church in Melbourne, Australia. The moderator of the service introduced the missionary in eloquent and glowing terms. He told the large congregation all that Taylor had accomplished in China, and then presented him as "our illustrious guest." Taylor stood quietly for a moment, and then opened his message by saying, "Dear friends, I am the little servant of an illustrious Master."

We fail to recognize the depth of our pride, especially when it becomes so much a part of who we are and how we operate. It can grow so deep that even those in the presence of Christ and His work can struggle with it without even realizing it. Sadly, we see it all too clearly in others.

In verse 46, Luke wrote about an argument that arose among them. They were arguing over their status. This here gives evidence of how deeply our depraved heart runs. Consider what had happened just previously. Through the Spirit, Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ. Jesus then laid down the requirements of following Him: “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” Then Peter, James, and John entered the glorious Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. Then they, frustrated at their inability to heal the boy with the unclean spirit due to their lack of belief. Even Mark said they couldn’t do it without “fasting and prayer.”

Christ called them to humility, and even ordained various things to help facilitate their humility (denying self, taking up a cross, surrendering to Christ, seeing His glory, seeing their frailty to conduct ministry and life in their own power). Yet, the disciples would need more and more lessons—just as we do!

Could Peter, James, and John have been arguing over their greatness at seeing the transfiguration? Could the others have used that occasion to knock them off their pedestal?

Jesus brings over a small child, considered the most powerless individual in the Hebrew culture. Even the Talmud (the Jews’ spiritual instruction manual) called spending time with children a waste of time. We see this when people began bringing their children to Jesus how the disciples tried to run them away.

Children were considered lowly and powerless, but Jesus is saying, “If you receive the lowly and powerless in his name, receives him.” Sadly, many Christians have bought into the idea of getting to know the powerful and elite—the politicians, the Christian celebrities, getting autographs at Christian concerts, knowing famous ministers. Kent Hughes says,

Are we reaching out to and serving the poor, those who speak little English, international students, the mentally handicapped, ex-offenders, those struggling to leave their immorality behind? If all or nearly all our friends are the “great”—the well-of, the educated, the accomplished, the comfortable—we are not the men and women our Master wants us to be.[1]


[1] R. Kent Hughes, Luke, Vol. 1, 366.

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