Written by Keith Strohm
As we celebrate the memory Martin Luther King today, I think it is appropriate to reflect on his life and work. I spent the morning reading his Letter From Birmingham Jail. It is a powerful letter, a response to critics who thought that King's direct civil disobedience was the wrong way to go about gaining recognition of the Civil Rights of African Americans.
Among many prophetic statements, this one jumped out at me, and I ended up re-reading it like five times:
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century
There is an intentionality that we must bring to our lives as followers of Jesus Christ--a willingness to give of ourselves from the very core of our being, an openness to sacrifice. Without this sacrificial spirit, the Church will, indeed, become irrelevant. I will argue that, for many tens of millions of people in the United States, it is already irrelevant. And that number grows each day.
By abrogating our responsibility to form intentional disciples over the course of at least three generations and turning our back on the full spiritual patrimony of the Church (the sacraments and the gifts of the Spirit), we have become, by and large, ineffective. We are salt that has, indeed, lost its flavor.
Yes, the Church (and para-Church organizations) are active in aid to the poor, acts of charity. But that is only one half of the equation. How effective have we been in transforming the cultures and structures of our societies so that they foster all that is truly human? How effective have we been as radical witnesses of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
I would submit that many, if not most, members of the Church are followers of an obligation rather than a person, The Person, Jesus Christ. That isn't a slam on those individuals. The blame--the judgment (to use Martin Luther King's words)--falls upon us. As the apostle Paul wrote in his Letter to the Romans:
For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him ofwhom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? (10:13-15)
A time is coming when we, as followers of Christ, will not have the luxury to sit idly by with our denuded, culturally compromised Christianity. We must prepare ourselves so that, strengthened by the sacraments, nourished by the Word of God, and united in a common witness, we can embrace our cross as we live out our apostolic mission fully--no matter what the cost.
It. Must. Start. Now.
God has given the Church everything it needs to build generations of intentional disciples who can embrace their apostolic identity--and we are, indeed, our brothers' keepers.
In the words of another prophet, telling forth the Heart of Christ:
The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God's creation, says this: "I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:14-16)
Which will it be?