James has some harsh words for those that show favoritism in church. The church has not always been quick to pick up on his ideas. Historians Will and Ariel Durrant made these remarks about 18th Century worship in England:
Class distinctions prevailed in the churches; the rich had special pews near the pulpit, the tradesman sat behind them, the common people sat or stood in the rear; and when the service was over, the commoners remained in their places while their superiors filed out in slow dignity. In some London churches, when too many of the poor came to worship, the periwigged members fled, locking their pews behind them, and seeking fresher air. (The Age of Voltaire, p. 117.)
Locked pews, ranked seating, a parade of wealth to end a service… not what we are used to in this day and age. But are we imune to favoritism? Do we have friends among the poor? Do we hang out with the less fortunate? Do we just have a check book relationship with them or an investment of their lives? James says to show favoritism for any reason is to “slander the noble name of Him to whom you belong.” The consequences for favorism might cost us more than we can imagine.
The devotional Our Daily Bread tells this story: “In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India.
So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior. (Our Daily Bread, March 6, 1994.)
Time to unlock the pews!