Friday, October 10, 2014

The Elite Set

From the August 2011 E-Block.
A reader requested that we have a look at an item by Stan Telchin titled, "Messianic Judaism is Not Christianity", and the quote marks should be noted, as the title is reputed to be a quote of what is said by some Messianic Jews. I'd have to sum up this item by saying it is an extended exercise in making a mountain out of a molehill: Telchin makes rather too much out of what he perceives to be "elitism" (that in quotes in him, too) that he thinks inconsistent with the Bible.

I'd like to use this opportunity to both briefly evaluate Telchin and expand upon similar perceptions sometimes had over other matters -- such as, for example, the believer who chooses to inform themselves as an apologist might. I'll illustrate that with a personal example.

There was a trying time not long ago for my beloved and I when one of her relatives -- a professing but insincere Christian -- justified some outrageous behavior of his with a particular Bible passage. I corrected him, appealing in the process to sound contextual scholarship, but he dismissed me and my explanation on the grounds that I was being prideful.

Telchin also raises the specter of pride against messianic Jews, and does so in an equally clumsy and unjustified way. He remarks upon one woman who said she would "feel as though" she was being "discriminated against" and was stunned when one man said, "If you don't read the Old Testament in Hebrew, you really cannot understand what is being said."

Stunned? Why? It's a given that every language has nuances lost in translation; thus, the man's statement, if intended (as is most likely the case, as hyperbole) is nothing to be "stunned" about and is not in any sense elitist. You do either need to read the Hebrew, or the works of someone who does, to get the bigger picture; all else is filtered through what is called "bilingual interference" and while not entirely incoherent, will at least be lacking in potentially important contextual parameters.

At the heart of all this is a matter that may pain some modern ears: The Bible teaches equality and elitism in the Body of Christ. It should be recalled that Jesus taught two parables which show this. One showed men being hired throughout a workday, with all being paid the same at the end (Matt. 20:1-20). The other (more than one, actually – example, Luke 19:20-27) has people being rewarded proportionately according to effort. It would be correct to say that the former parable represents salvation, and few have problems accepting this, but the idea of rank and honor in heaven by works tends to grate on the modern ear – and we seldom hear as much about it.

It was C. S. Lewis who once remarked that “democracy” is badly taken to mean that everyone should be equally untalented, ungifted, and unaided. We can see the dark shadow of this kind of “democracy” in Telchin’s protests, and they are supported, as Lewis also predicted might happen, by appeals to how the other person “feels” by not being part of the gifted group. To not recognize unique giftedness has manifest results in the church at large: Unless your gift happens to be to entertain people in some way (eg, as a singer, or a musician), you’re very likely to end up looked down upon for having a gift, to be supposed to be putting on airs, or end up not being trusted or given a chance to exercise your gift.

The result, as Lewis predicted, is a democracy of the lowest common denominator. It has also been a recipe for inactive Christians. Assured that all are equal under salvation, without the complementary message that works will be rewarded in kind, the result is a broad exercise of the gift of being seated, with little if any awareness of larger issues which affect faith – and paradoxically, believers who take a sort of perverse pride in being equal to everyone else.

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