“The rich and poor have this in common: The Lord made them both”
- Proverbs 22:2
Contemporary Christianity is enmeshed in an avalanche of enervating crisis, each capable of undoing the pioneering efforts of the early apostles who were chiefly instrumental, as used of the Holy Spirit, in the spread of the Gospel, and the establishment of the parent Church, as well as the painstaking works of some modern zealots of the faith who have not been tainted with the mud of apostasy.
Some of the issues rocking contemporary Christianity include: uncontrolled worship of mammon rather that God, unrestrained power struggles among denominations, invented doctrines promoting materialism, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, hardheartedness, immorality, vindictiveness, and plethora of other untoward conduct by some adherents of the faith, which tends to contravene the pure teachings of Jesus Christ on such matters. These negative deportments by both shepherds and flock of Christ have elicited condemnation from the puritanical segment of the faith, as well as criticism from the circular world.
However, one particular melanoma afflicting the modern Church, which has been curiously downplayed over the years, is class distinction and inequality. This is a worrisome matter that contradicts the basic tenets of a religion that was established on the humane foundations of oneness, love and the equality of all before God.
That members of the contemporary body of Christ are separate and unequal in their relations with one another is a fact that cannot be overemphasized. It is a disturbing issue that must be addressed for the Church to move forward. Ideally, the Church should be the earthly representation of the Kingdom of God in its purest form, where all members are seen as equals; not a stratified body of first and second class children of the Most High; a place of abode and refuge where the children of God dwell in perpetual freedom, safety, love, peace and oneness. So, how did inequality creep into the Church?
To trace the origin of inequality in the contemporary Church, there is need to interrogate the manner Churches are established. A brief excursion through the trajectories of the Church’s evolution would suffice as the ideal starting point for such an inquiry. The Early Church was established by the Apostles of Jesus Christ, following His ascension into heaven, sequel to the conclusion of His earthly ministry. It was a united body that catered for the common interests of ALL true believers (Acts 1:14)).
The early Christians saw themselves as equal before God, and as having equal rights in kingdom matters. There were no class discriminations of any sort, as for the first time, Christianity brought into human thought the concept that you could choose your religion, regardless of your race and class. Christianity also radically asserted that your faith in Christ became your new, deepest identity, while at the same time not effacing or wiping out your race, class, and gender. Instead, your relationship with Christ demoted them to second place. This was a radical challenge to the entrenched social structure and divisions of the Judeo-Roman society of those times.
The early Church experienced unity across social boundaries. It was a community of forgiveness and reconciliation, famous for its hospitality towards the poor and the suffering. It was also more democratic, treating all people as equals and rejecting the double standards of gender and social status. The early Church didn’t fit in with its surrounding culture, but rather challenged it in love. Can the same be said of its contemporary successor?
However, following the conversion of the defunct Roman Empire to Christianity, which resulted in the birth of the orthodox Roman Church, the religion ultimately transformed into a state religion. This resulted in the infiltration of secular ideas and practices into the administration of the Church. The Church and the state became fused, as the hitherto subsisting system of social stratification naturally became the basis of relations among adherents of the faith on its new frontier. The Emperor, Pope, nobles, priests and other privileged members of the upper class maintained their preeminent positions in the society, in the Church.
The revisionist Protestant Reformation, which challenged and supposedly sought to redress some doctrinal matters in the parent Church, preserved the stratified order. On its part, the contemporary Church, despite operating separately from the state, has sustained the divide between the haves and have-nots. Social stratification in the contemporary Church is a spillover from the secular world within which adherents of the faith function in different capacities.
In the current dispensation, establishing and growing a Church depends on the amount of social clout at the disposal of its arrowhead: who he is, what he is, who he knows, how highly place those he knows are, and how massive their financial muscles are. Thus, when these Churches are finally set up, mostly through the goodwill of its well-to-do members, who make large donations in cash and kind, the less privileged members, with lesser material stakes, are relegated to the background; they are consigned to just making up the numbers, nothing more.
Again, membership of most contemporary Churches is defined according to your social standing: What are you in the society? Who are your parents? What is your material contribution to the Church? Thus, the richer, more influential ones, regardless of the source of their affluence, are given more recognition in the Church, than those of lesser social standing. That is why unscrupulous elements are given front pews in some houses of God, while commoners, some of who are actually more dedicated in their service to God, are relegated to the rear. That is why most Church positions – Knights, Ladies, Deacons, Deaconesses, Committee Heads etc – are dished out to the high and mighty, regardless of their spiritual standing with God.
In most contemporary Churches, the poor are regarded and treated with contempt and askance. They cannot see their shepherds on short notice, even in emergency situations, which is not the same for their more affluent counterparts, who have direct access to the potentate. The poor must go through protocols to access the minutest of services from the Church, while the big guns can quickly get whatever they desire, including prayers, at the snap of their fingers. When the poor give their widow’s might, which are proceeds from their honest work, they are derided for supposedly stealing from God, while those who shortchange, kill, and maim to earn their living are reverenced for given minute fractions of their ill-gotten wealth as offering to the Most High God.
The Church has inadvertently become one of the major centers of the atrocious class war between the haves and have-nots, which run contrary to the teachings of Christ on justice; that is, the pursuit of what is right according to what God says, not what society and people say (Micah 6:8). Unlike Jesus who recognized differences, some contemporary shepherds of the flock relate to their members on the basis of distinction such as economic status, ethnicity, and gender. They show favouritism (James 2:8-9). Like Jesus and the prophets, they should be standing against greed, the love of money, and class prejudice. Both the prophets and Jesus alike condemned those who oppressed the poor, the orphan, and the widow (Amos 5:12; Mark 12:40).
Just as briefly mentioned in the earlier part of this discourse, the Early Church was a classless, united welfarist organization founded on the firm foundations of altruistic love, which did not recognise social distinctions, despite subsisting in a highly stratified society. Rather than discriminate against the poor, the rich were said to sell whatever material possessions they owned to aid the massive charity efforts of the Apostles (Acts 4:34–35; 2:45). It was a dedicated clan of zealots driven by mutual love and respect for one another.
The Bible acknowledges the diversities among human beings. Christ spoke about the differences between the good and evil, the just and the unjust, women and men, parents and children, and differing ethnicities such as Jews and Gentiles. People can be stronger, smarter, and richer than others, while all are not equal in achievement, social status, personal impairments, and intellectual capacity. People have different backgrounds, gifts, talents, roles, and responsibilities. It is God who determines these things. “…the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world. He gives them to anyone he chooses – even to the lowliest of people” (Daniel 4:17).
God’s impartiality in His dealings with humans was graphically depicted through the act of sending His only Begotten Son to the earth through a family of lowly social status. He could have chosen to bring Christ into the world through a royal or highly influential family, but chose a carpenter’s family. God, by this singular act was telling humans that all are equal in His sight; that none of His creations is superior or more deserving of His love, than others; that there are no firsts among equals among His children.
In all, since we are ALL created EQUAL in relation to God, it means we all have equal dignity as earthly children of our heavenly Father. Every human being deserves our respect. A rich man is neither more important nor entitled to more consideration than a poor man, and a Jew is not more entitled to the kingdom of God than a Gentile. The point of Romans 2:11 is to remind us that God is a just judge, and that all will face the same judgment of the law and an opportunity of His mercy (Revelation 20:12-13). God shows no partiality (Deuteronomy 10:17).
God is watching us all!