January 22, 2008

Celebrating a fictional legacy

Posted in Christian culture, Commentary tagged , , at 4:32 pm by Matt Porter

This is part one of a four-part series:

Celebrating a Fictional Legacy
One Body, One Lord, One Faith
Dealing with Differences
Individualism vs. Unity for Baptists

It’s too bad the inspiration for this post came today instead of yesterday. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day is traditionally a celebration of the life and work of the great civil rights advocate. King argued that blacks and whites should not be treated differently because of their color, but should be allowed the same opportunity to make of their life whatever they could. Unlike many modern activists, he was less interested in making up for the past than in fixing the future. His goal was equality, not retribution.

When I hear King quoted today, my reactions range from the ironic to the irate. It is confounding, though no longer shocking, to hear his legacy used to promote nearly any political agenda, regardless of its harmony with his message. Special privileges based on race, forced racial quotas in hiring and school admissions, monetary reparations for slavery—no issue, it seems, is too far-fetched to connect to King. Racially divisive issues can be made viable using King’s name, completely ignoring his exhortations to interracial unity. King’s true legacy is routinely bypassed in favor of a fictional legacy associated with someone’s politico-social agenda.

The tactic of using a famous dead guy’s legacy to prop up a belief system has been around a while—probably as long as there have been famous dead guys. Our churches are no stranger to this tactic; the existence of the thousands of denominations bears witness to that. The Body of Christ is fragmented, with fingers, toes, spleen, kidneys, and the rest locked in heated combat with one another, each claiming to be most closely following the Head. Few denominations are comfortable admitting that they likely are wrong on many things, and church members who appreciate honest ignorance are just as rare. Everyone is required to have an opinion on everything. Every issue must be discussed dogmatically.

Naturally, each different opinion claims a Scriptural foundation. When the differences and disagreements become too heated, separation is justified through Scripture. We throw out the old leaven, we mark them which cause divisions among us, we hate him that soweth discord among brethren, we hold fast to that which has been delivered unto us, and we exhort the heretic brother who has erred from the truth to repent and become like us Christ. How sad and ironic that we all try to associate our sects with Christ and His work. (Ever hear that Jesus would be a Baptist if He were around now?)

What happened to the Body of Christ? You know, the one in John 17?

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. (John 17:20-23)

Yeah, that church. The one that Christ prayed would be one in Him the way the Godhead is one. Seems the church at Corinth wasn’t the only church to have that issue. “I am of Paul,” “I am of Cephas,” “I am of Apollos”…what about “I am of Luther,” “I am of Wesley,” “I am of Piper,” “I am of Driscoll,” “I am of Lewis”? (Or for us independent Baptists, “I am of nobody else, holding to no one’s teaching, but managing to sound an awful lot like each other.”) Let’s not forget to look pious as we claim “I am of Christ” (and imply “You must not be, or you’d believe like me”). Top it all off with a verse or two about discernment, or he which is spiritual judging all things, and we’ve pretty much got today’s fractured Church in a nutshell. We’ve rewritten Christ’s legacy to endorse our set of beliefs.

I’ll continue this tomorrow with an exploration of Christian commonalities. I’ll follow that with a discussion of how to handle our differences, and I’ll finish up with some observations on independence and individualism in Baptist culture.

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3 Comments »

  1. Lisa said,

    Mom told me that you had written again today, and that it was about MLK, and I said, “PLAGIARIST!” 🙂 (Remembering the internet monk’s article from a couple years ago….) But I see you’ve taken a different tack…. I look forward to the continuation!

  2. Diane said,

    i am also looking forward to your continuing thoughts on this subject! pretty interesting stuff……………..it’s true that lisa falsely accused you of plagiarism, but i see she repented.

  3. paarsurrey said,

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