According to dictionary.com, an elitist is “a person having, thought to have, or professing superior intellect or talent, power, wealth, or membership in the upper echelons of society.”
Last summer, when I start running, I began to hear advice from “elite” runners. Those were the people who could run faster or longer distances than most other people.
But, it seems there is a difference in connotation between the word “elite” and the word “elitist.” The term “elitist” usually refers to someone who looks down on other people because of their (assumed) superiority in some aspect of life or society.
Throughout Scripture, life with Christ is described as a process of growth and maturity. We do not start perfect in our understanding and life in Christ. Instead, we start as “babes,” and are intended to continually grow as the Spirit works in and through us.
If any of us look back on our lives with Christ, we will probably see changes in our beliefs, love, actions, spiritual gifts, relations with other people, etc. This is normal growth in the Spirit. Even Paul recognize that he had not yet attained full maturity, but he pressed on toward growing more and more in Christ.
But, it’s possible for any of us to forget where we once were and begin to look down on others who are not where are currently. In fact, there are a couple of passage of Scripture that indicate the same thing was happening even then.
For example, in Romans 12, Paul seems to address the possibility that some Christians thought less of others based on spiritual gifts:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:3 ESV)
Some parts of 1 Corinthians 12-14 indicate that some of the believers in Corinth may have had elitist thoughts regarding spiritual gifts as well.
Plus, when writing to the Corinthians, Paul indicated that some of them made have thought more highly of themselves (in comparison to other believers) because of their knowledge in certain spiritual areas:
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. (1 Corinthians 8:1-2 ESV)
Before we look down our spiritual noses on the Corinthians (and perhaps demonstrate our own elitism), we should recognize that we can all fall into this trap. It’s easy to look down on others, even when they are demonstrating the same beliefs and/or actions that we demonstrated only a few years, months, or days before. But, just as God worked in us to bring us to where we are today, we must trust God to do the same in others. And, on top of that, we must remember that God is also still at work in our own lives. Tomorrow, he may reveal (and we may finally accept) that we are wrong about something we believe or do today.
There is no room for elitism among the body of Christ. Instead, as Paul wrote, we must always consider others as more important than ourselves – which is the exact opposite of elitism.