For many of us our socio-economic class is one of the key points of our identity. The values are often derived at least partially from it and often look to be secure based in it. Our identity shapes our actions as a whole as well as the situations and people that feel comfortable to us. However, this can be problematic for the church and for Christians.
There is a problem for people if they place their identity in their social or economic class. Firstly, for a general problem applicable Christians and non-Christians is the insecurity of class. Classes change and their natures change. Many examples of this occurred in nineteenth century in Europe. The abolition of serfdom and the new, industrial and increasingly urban proletariat show that class is not stable. People had to change the ways they lived and many had to forge new identities, this was not always good and rarely easy.
More problematic, and more specifically a problem for Christians however, is the dividing nature of class. While the upper-classes may have seen themselves as protectors of human welfare since Plato's the Republic, by the nineteenth century most of the middle-classes despised them for their all too common corruption and then by the middle of the century more and more of the working-classes viewed the middle-classes as oppressors. As such to hold yourself as one class is to divide yourself from other people. The very idea of classes can be dividing.
In many of our churches today, there is too often a link between who feels welcome and which socio-economic class they seem to match. I say this because there is nothing which makes one class or another greater in the eyes of the Lord, rather it is the person's relationship with Jesus Christ that will be judged. In fact, if we limit the people we accept as a church because of their socio-economic class, we will be denying the nature of salvation in Jesus Christ.
This appears to be what was happening in the church in Corinth when Paul sent the letter of 1 Corinthians. Paul writes strongly of this error in chapter eleven: "Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not." (Verse 22b, English Standard Version)
The poorer members of their church had been treated as outcasts but, as a church, we are to show the unity we have because we all share in one salvation and one Holy Spirit. We should not reflect the culture of our surroundings in which people are divided.
Jesus reached out to both the privileged and the outsiders of society and we should seek to do so as well. In Mark chapter five, Jesus healed a bleeding woman who was shunned as unclean by her society, then immediately went, and healed from death the daughter of a ruler of the synagogue. (Verse 25-43)
Furthermore Jesus' death on the cross was for "Whoever believes in him..."(John 3 verse 18a ESV). How then might we emulate this? The early church in Acts supported each other, "...they were selling their belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need." (2 verse 45 ESV) This, along with their other actions of meeting, praying and eating together, helped to ensure that they included all their fellow believers.
We should also continue to meet together and look to each other's interests rather than our own selfish ambitions because of the love and humility that Jesus calls us to (Philippians 2 verses 2-5). Do not leave people unwelcomed when they visit you or your church and make effort to ensure that you do not exclude people from any conferences and camps because of the financial burden.
In conclusion, the concept of social and economic class is not a secure identity for anyone. We as Christians should not allow our identity to be founded on class because we do not want to divide people, especially in the church context because we all share in the same faith. If we do divide in this way, we are not reflecting the unity God calls us to and nor are we following the examples given to us in the Bible. So make effort to address the needs of others even though it can be uncomfortable.
Alexander Gillespie is an Arts Honours graduate of the University of Sydney. Particular fields of interest include Nineteenth-Century migration history, conceptual philosophy, social policy and ecclesiology. He currently lives in Sydney with his wife and enjoys researching and writing.