Snobbery is usually not something we want to be known for. Think about it. Anytime we encounter someone who thinks they are better than others by virtue of their wealth, intelligence, or looks, we tend to resent them. In movies the smug, well-to-do, upper class, white collar guy is almost always cast as the antagonist, never the hero.
Yet despite such feelings toward snobbery, we are still prone to go there ourselves. This includes, as oxymoronish as it may sound, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. So here are some signposts that can help you diagnose whether you and I might be crossing the line in to snobbery.
1. Your theology causes you to look down on others.
This is a tough one because when we encounter poor theology, it should create a sense of angst in us. I know that as a pastor, I want desperately for the people I help shepherd to grow in to a fuller understanding of what God has done for them in Christ. I’d like to think that I desire this because I long for their spiritual good. And that’s precisely where we need to keep the desire. We should want to see people make spiritual progress and grow in to healthier ways of thinking about doctrine. So the answer to this form of snobbery is not to abandon the effort of helping people grow in their understanding. We need good theology in our churches! Yet, the danger is that over time we start viewing people with an underdeveloped theology as somehow being below us.
Make no mistake, there’s a fine line between yearning to help people grow in good theology because you see them as “sheep without a shepherd” (Spoken by Jesus, Matt. 9:36) versus seeing them as “this mob that knows nothing of the law– there is a curse on them” (Spoken by the Pharisees, John 7:49).
2. You evaluate believers based on their level of “insider” knowledge.
Whether realized or not, we believers have codes. Codes which we think will help us to know if the person we’re talking with shares our theological ( or even methodological) convictions.
Now this problem likely isn’t as prevalent in the local church as it can be in seminary, where, because we’ve been exposed to much great teaching, we can easily equate a person’s “spiritual maturity” based upon whether or not they follow the right podcasts, subscribe to the right blogs, or listen to the right preachers. The danger here is that we subtly partition ourselves off from the rest of the body of believers. And that, my friends, is a superiority complex par excellence and should have no place in the life of a believer… especially for those of us preparing for pastoral ministry.
3. Your critique of your church and pastor(s) is always centered around how much better you could do it.
A word of caution is necessary here. I don’t want this to sound like if you ever offer any criticism of your church, you’re being a snob. Actually, I think critique can be a very good thing (when governed by Scriptural boundaries). Indeed, constructive criticism was at the heart of the Protestant Reformation; “Semper Reformanda”, always reforming. So if you desire to see your church become healthier, that’s a good thing!
But it becomes a bad thing when it begins to feed our pride. It’s when you find yourself harboring thoughts like (and think condescending tone here), That’s not the way I would do it. Or maybe during a conversation with another member you begin a statement with, Well if it was up to me… Or, if I was in that position… etc. These are attitudes which might have begun from a good place, but nonetheless, have given way to pride and ergo, snobbery.
So what is the antidote if we find that our hearts have given way to snobbery? Very simple. Return to the gospel.
In the gospel we are reminded of who we were apart from Christ. We were dead in our sins, enemies of God, and hopeless rebels. This truth alone should begin to peel away those nasty layers of snobberiness. All that we have and all that we are is purely thanks to the grace of God. There was nothing in us that made us worthy of God’s mercy. That’s why it’s called mercy! Instead of wrath, we have been made recipients of divine love.
So when you begin to detect these signs of snobbery in your heart, come back to the cross. Look intently to the the God-man, Jesus Christ, who received the punishment you deserved for your sin and be reminded of the extraordinary grace you’ve been shown!
The gospel is where human superiority goes to die. It is impossible to simultaneously see Christ being slain for you and have an attitude of snobberiness. You will either be blown away by God’s mercy on a wretched sinner like you or you will continue to be overwhelmed by your own awesomeness. But it can’t be both.