In the last posting, we discussed The Great Omission, in which we wondered if, culturally, we have maybe disqualified Jesus from important societal discussions. I want to continue the conversation today, January 18, 2021, which is the 35th anniversary of Martin Luther King (MLK) Day. MLK Day is a federal holiday in the United Sates, set aside to celebrate the life and achievements of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. This year, we commemorate King’s 90th birthday.
I wonder what Dr. King would have to say about the increased racial tensions evident in America today. I wonder what he would say to the Christian community about the role we have played (or not played) in addressing the racial disparities and tensions we face today…
I recently read a rather disturbing study by the Barna Group. Their research showed that practicing Christians – self-identified Christians who say their faith is very important in their lives – are no more likely to acknowledge racial injustice than they were prior to the tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others this past summer (cf Barna, September 2020). I wonder what Dr. King would say to us?
Here is another interesting Barna study which I find equally disturbing in light of the Great Omission post: According to their research, over half of American Christians have never heard of the Great Commission, and over 37% of those polled couldn’t identify the Great Commission out of a list of various Bible verses. As a reminder, in what we refer to as the Great Commission, Jesus said:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:16-20)
The Great Commission was Jesus’ “marching orders” to his followers, trickling down to the 21st Century. It’s our mission, vision and core values rolled into one statement. And half of us are unaware of its existence? I think we’ve discovered the disconnect. How are we to do what Jesus wants us to do if we don’t know what Jesus want us to do? If we don’t know what Jesus wants us to do, then we are “free” to pick and choose whatever we want. It would explain how external ideologies and rhetoric are free to affect our thoughts and actions. Isn’t it imperative that we know/discover Jesus and his desires for us as followers?
Over the years I have always pointed people to the Gospels. How else will we possibly know the Jesus of scripture? (I use the term “Jesus of scripture” in opposition to the “Jesus” of culture.) This is what is frustrating and deeply disturbing for me: I suspect a very high percentage of those who claim to be Christians have never read through the Gospels even once.* That leaves us susceptible to cultural ideologies contrary to our commission.
Prior to the inception of watermarks in our currency, do you know how bank tellers were trained to distinguish between real and counterfeit bills? They spent time familiarizing themselves with the real thing so that when a counterfeit shows up, it’s obvious to them. I hope and pray that we are willing to spend significant time in the Gospels, doing the heavy lifting necessary to know the difference between the Jesus of scripture and all the counterfeits running around these days.
Otherwise, we can be duped! And who wants to be duped?
* ADDENDUM 1/31/2023: Annie F. Downs has created a podcast that will help the listener experience all four Gospels twelve times during the year 2023. It’s called Let’s Read the Gospels. Enjoy!