Egalitarianism and the pursuit of excellence

Many today have left authoritarian churches where blind obedience is expected. We have seen in the scripture that the greatest in the kingdom is to be the servant of all, rather than one who controls others. Even in cases where leaders are not arrogant and controlling, there can still be this air of superiority. Paul emphasized that we are all essential members of the one body of Christ. He described gatherings where various gifts were expressed. We no longer want all of our gatherings to be focused upon one individual to the expense of everyone else.

If egalitarianism means we all have equal value in the sight of God and that we should see that value in one another, I can agree with that concept.

On the other hand, this can be taken in a direction that concerns me. Is it just me, or does anyone else see how some might tend toward equal levels of mediocrity? If someone has a greater zeal for evangelism, do others become uncomfortable? If some have a great passion to share what they have learned from God recently, do we rejoice with them? Or do we attempt to dowse the flame so they do not dominate the time? What if some of us feel the Lord's calling to leave their secular calling and enter the full-time mission field? Would we support them, or assume they think they are better than the rest of us? What about holiness? What of those who feel the need to a greater separation from the world? Are we threatened or inspired by this?

When I think about the dedication we see in the lives of great men and women of God in the past, I hope that we are all inspired by them. What would the world be like without the memories of Paul, Peter, John, Martin Luther, John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, William Booth, D.L Moody and countless others? Can our insistence on our egalitarian concepts actually discourage those of our day to rise above what is concerned "normal" in our Western culture?

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Replies (6)
    • I have to admit I Googled "egalitarian" to understand what you were talking about. I once had a disagreement with a pastor who was trying to change the church he just moved into. I told him what he was trying to do was throw all of us into a big blender and make us one uniform soup. What he really needs to do is embrace the idea that we are a hearty beef stew. A place where potatoes are still potatoes and the chunks of beef are still beef. He didn't get it.

      The reality is, a legalist mind tries to control all aspects of faith to please itself. And when that mind is in a position of leadership, problems grow like weeds in the congregation.

      If the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in Love, Gal 5:6 then how can a person express themselves if they are trying to live according to another person's faith? This can not be how the Son of man will find faith when he comes. Because if it was, then how would he judge? On a curve? sliding scale? Pixy dust???

      Authoritarians who redefine everyone's faith I feel risk a great danger before the Lord. We need to give God's kids the room to explore and make mistakes. Deep faith comes from a deep walk, and if people gain a limp along the way, well then they will have something in common with Jacob.

      • Robert, thanks for the comments. Sorry about the big word. I have found that I need to look up meanings almost every time I read these days. It is hard to keep up. Then when learn a new word I can still use it in the wrong place.

        • Hey brother Dan, you asked the following questions...

          What if some of us feel the Lord's calling to leave their secular calling and enter the full-time mission field? Would we support them, or assume they think they are better than the rest of us? What about holiness? What of those who feel the need to a greater separation from the world? Are we threatened or inspired by this?

          For me, I think that the answer is "it depends". Like everything else in Christianity, I think that we have to look to Christ for the answer. If someone is truly convicted of their sin and seek to live more righteously in response to the free gift of salvation then not only will I support them with encouragement but perhaps even possibly with financial support as necessary (e.g. mission work). Sadly, however, I find that such feelings are often driven by monastic thought based on a need for self-righteousness. Back in the 2000's, I spent much time engaging with my fellow Christians at work in a forum much like this. At the time, the company was providing high levels of income for many of its employees, to the point where retiring within 5-10 years was within reach of at least some of those who worked there. I remember reading posts from my brothers and sisters in Christ that would go something like, "I plan to make as much money as I can so that I can go into ministry later." This is perhaps the worst outlook that I can imagine for a Christian because they devalue the ministry that "normal" people have in their community while simultaneously decoupling themselves from the support and accountability to the body of Christ. One friend of mine went down this path only to squander everything that he had saved and return a few years later. He admitted his embarrassment to me, though in retrospect it was probably the best thing that could happen to him.

          I can share a similar story of friends who had little financially and gave up what they had to become Bible translators in Africa. When they asked me for financial support I asked what the husband would be doing for the organization. I did not get a clear response. We offered support regardless but placed a time limit on our giving to allow them time to figure things out. Now several years have passed and I still don't know what he does other than being some kind of "coordinator". And when their family comes to town on break every few years, the time with them is spent raising funds. Although I can't say with certainty that they are in the field for purely monastic reasons, I certainly see evidence of such. Not a single communication doesn't include words to the effect of "we are missionaries in Africa doing Bible translation". It's as though their identity in Christ is completely lost in the work that they are doing.

          So I guess my question back to you, dear brother, is whether we are doing the right thing by supporting our fellow Christians in their pursuit of self-righteousness. Should we not instead be decoupling any sense of pride and self-worth that believers gain from their work? Whether you work for an hour feeding the homeless at a soup kitchen, or move your family halfway around the world to share the Gospel, everything you do should be done for God's glory and reign (kingdom). To do otherwise would be to place a burden on God such that, at the time of judgment, He owes you something for your good works.

          • Todd, thanks for the comments.

            " Whether you work for an hour feeding the homeless at a soup kitchen, or move your family halfway around the world to share the Gospel, everything you do should be done for God's glory and reign (kingdom). To do otherwise would be to place a burden on God such that, at the time of judgment, He owes you something for your good works."

            There are certainly enough stories of people working with the wrong motives, and many continue to get support for their ministries. There are even proponents of house church who might be in it for the wrong reasons. I am usually careful about these things.

            The thought behind my post was that we should always "consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds."  (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV)

            The main emphasis was not about financial support. My concern is that lukewarm believers might use the egalitarian concepts to protect their own egos. Or at the least those who are not lukewarm might view anyone with suspicion who needs to serve God in a way that is different than the way they do.

            Who am I to say or even think that someone serves in a soup kitchen or travels around the world so that God will owe them something? In fact, Paul said that he would rejoice even when someone preached the Gospel for the wrong reason! (Phil 1:15-18)

            The history of the church is also filled with men and women who inspired others to live more earnestly for Christ and His message of the kingdom. Even monastic movements have been known to spark revivals elsewhere. In my opinion we could use a few more crazy on-fire Christians today.

            • Hey Dan,

              Sorry if I made it sound like this was all about financial support. Those just happened to be a few examples off the top of my head.

              I completely understand what you're saying about encouraging others in their faith even when they are different from us. As I've gotten older I've learned to set aside my urge to disagree and instead allow for differences. I you may well know, I've focused a lot on 1 John 4 as my guide for unity in the faith. So long as you can say that you believe that Jesus is God Incarnate, come in the flesh to save us from our sins then you are my brother/sister in Christ. All else is interesting but seemingly irrelevant.

              I looked over Phil 1:15-18 as you suggested. I'm not sure what to make of it given Paul's strong defense elsewhere in Scripture of the truths of the Gospel. I'll need to noodle on this further.

              Anyway, back to your original point about egalitarianism "tend[ing] toward equal levels of mediocrity". I certainly hope that this would never be the case. As 1 Cor 12:12-27 says...

              12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 
              13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
              14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 
              15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 
              16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 
              17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 
              18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 
              19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 
              20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
              21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 
              22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 
              23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 
              24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 
              25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 
              26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
              27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
              • Todd, thanks for bringing up the topic of the One Body of Christ. It is very close to my heart!

                26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
                27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
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