Book Review – Let the Trumpet Sound, part 2

Let the Trumpet Sound
The Life of Martin Luther King Jr., by Stephen B. Oates

Let the Trumpet Sound
This is part 2 of my review of this outstanding book.  If you have not yet done so, head on out to the library and check this thing out.  It is on my top 10 list from last year.

Now, here is how it affected me spiritually.

Last year I was content with my Christian beliefs, and holding small group Bible studies in my home.  I had (and still have) good friends who attended.  We shared life experiences together, talked and prayed about showing Christian love to the world, then .. talked and prayed about it some more.  I went to a Baptist church which focused its energies on strengthening families and relationships, which is great.  But I was a little unsettled.  It all seemed too secure and comfortable.  Rallying our small group to go give aid to the elderly, or visit the retirement home (one of my favorite things to do) became a real chore.  We would plan, organize and plan and plan until we had planned things to death, and never do much of anything.  And I am not trashing my friends, because I was just as guilty of apathy as anyone in our group.  I had the best of intentions, but in the end it cost too much time.  Time is a precious resource.  Giving money is relatively easy – but time is very difficult.

Reading about MLK was seriously convicting to my Christian faith on that basis.  This was a man who gave up everything for what he believed, even to the point of neglecting his family (which I could never do – nor intend to do).  My brand of Christianity seemed tepid and too easy.  King, and many others gave their lives to make the world aware of the injustices of the world, and to protest for change.  King was a huge admirer and follower of  Mahatma Gandhi, who lived as Christlike a life as anyone who ever walked the face of the earth.  But how is Christ working in my life to make the world better?  No, I don’t mean to be another MLK, that is just silly.  Just doing my share to help the desparately poor who live just across the border from me, to help the handicapped children ministry, or visit the elderly and sick?  Is the Holy Spirit really empowering me or any of my other Christian friends with the Fruit of the Spirit any more than my good and respectable, but non-believing nieghbors?

In 1963, MLK was arrested (again) for peacefully protesting segregation in Birmingham, Alabama.  While he was in jail, eight white pastors from around the state wrote the local newspaper, and editorialized against King’s activism.  They figured he should be a good preacher, stay behind the pulpit, and keep his nose out of trouble.  In response, King wrote what came to be known as Letter from Birmingham Jail on scaps of paper, and smuggled out by his lawyer bit by bit while he was in solitary confinement.  This section from Letter from Birmingham Jail will stay with me always:

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

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. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Wow.  An irrelevant social club.  That hurt.  I read this powerful letter as though it were written directly to my Baptist Church, to my friends and to myself.  It really hurt.  I even brought it to my small group and read the above passage to my friends before Bible Study.  I wanted to motivate them into some kind of conviction of our condition, but it was met by my Spirit Empowered friends with general apathy.  So we fell into our routine, and read a couple of verses from the end of James about loving and praying for the sick among us.

After that, I could no longer go back to my old Baptist church.  I viewed my brand of Christianity to be empty, nearly vacuous, and not doing myself nor anyone else much good.  The Holy Spirit, I felt, was not empowering me nor anyone else to do anything.  I came to realize that if I wanted to do good for my neighbors, I needed to just stop praying, reading Bible passages and being a pious piss-ant and JUST DO IT.  Funny thing is, my wife agreed with me without even reading the book.  Some of us have natural insights that others do not.

The faith story goes on from there, and it continues to unwind to this day.  But that is how this book enters into the story.  That is a strange way to begin questioning my own beliefs.  But as a loving and charitable old friend of mine once said, “I would love to be a nun, if it were not for all that belief in God that comes with it”.

5 thoughts on “Book Review – Let the Trumpet Sound, part 2

  1. Dear Blog owner (sorry didn’t know what else to call you),

    I’ve read some of your threads but not this one. Sorry. I wanted you to be sure you saw this so I’m posting here.

    I too went through a dark time of doubting if Christianity was true. It was so dark and horrible during that time. But finally one verse in the Bible became alive to me and delivered me from my doubting and answered my questions. Here it is.

    “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
    2 Peter 1:19
    I think God wants us to use our minds! He gave us “proof” that He is alive (creation) and that He is true (prophesy). Fulfilled prophesy is that “sure word” that the verse talks about. It goes beyond our subjective experience into the objective proof. Now, I’m no prophesy expert but I’ve learned enough through the years to know they have been amazingly fulfilled and there are yet more to be fulfilled! If you want real proof that Christianity is real and true then I’d look into all the prophesies that have been fulfilled if I were you. As Christians, we are not called to have “blind” faith. That is not true biblical faith.

    Hope this helps.

  2. I wanted to comment on MLK, Jr. and give you a perspective on how to understand how the teachings of Christ could inspire him (and Gandhi, who never professed but understood the message), but how it doesn’t seem to in many churches. There is a theory of moral development developed by a psychologist named Lawrence Kohlberg, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kohlberg%27s_stages_of_moral_reasoning . It is the best we have to date, with good scientific validation. It is a stage theory, which means everyone starts at 1 and progresses after that. Here is an adaptation for Christian education: http://www.vtaide.com/blessing/Kohlberg.htm . Anyway, what is the case is that people don’t skip stages, and they only move up through stages with challenge and motivation to progress…. so, in my observation, most churches get their members to stage 3 or 4, then just sit there. Why? My opinion is it has a lot to do with the leadership, especially those in ministry. I’ve met precious few ministers who have any ambition to move into stage 5, let alone 6. Many people go into ministry for the wrong reasons: they like to be the center of attention, they like to be their own boss, they are people-pleasers, whatever. It leaves the people without the challenge and motivation to grow, so stagnation occurs. It is a shame, too, because anyone who reads the New Testament quickly will see a well integrated teaching using parables that is well designed to get people thinking no matter what stage they are in. So how does this fit with MLK and Gandhi? They made it to the stage 5 and 6 in a public way at historical times. It is those kind of people that make us all stop and consider how we ought to challenge ourselves to move along in our growth. Jesus in the gospels functioned entirely in Stage 6; some say there ought to be a Stage 7, since he is above even what we can comprehend in terms of a moral knowledge.

  3. Harmony, thank you for replying. Just call me HeIsSailing. Sorry, but I really prefer to stay anonymous at this point. I want to thank you for reading, and thank you for your reply and your encouragement. Yes, this is a doubting time for me, but the darkness is made a little lighter with the love and understanding of my wife and a few very close friends. I have always thought that, as you say, prophecy was a sure word of certainty. I will have more to say about that in future articles, so stay tuned.

  4. Ed Lyman, thanks for the very interesting articles! I had never heard of Kohlberg, nor his ethical dilemmas. Yes, I think you are right. Most churches that I have attended are in moral stage 4, but then again so are most people, Christian or not. Stage 4 being just law abiding citizens? So how does the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit become a factor? Having just read those articles, I guess Stage 5 and 6 occurs when rare people of extraordinary character are compelled to live in a completely selfless manner, or to rebel against the injustices around them. All forced by the conditions of a certain time or place.
    This is all very interesting, so I will read more about it in the future. Thanks again Ed.

  5. Regarding Kohlberg and churches, actually most of the churches I’ve been in are mostly at Stage 3, group conformity. A few people will get into following the actual commandments of the Bible, but most will be satisfied with looking like good little boys and girls, and keeping harmony in the group. When you think about what just happened with Ted Haggard, that poor fellow, on the basis of a great charismatic personality, rose to lead a big church and national organization. Then, his true Stage 3 moral development became obvious for all the nation to see, when his secret non-adherence to church teachings came to light. So, what is the response? Teach him the commandments better? Ha, ha, ha, ha, how stupid. The response should be Stage 5, at least: what should we change in the way our organization choses leadership and supports them in their mission? Much the same happened to the Popes of medieval Europe, and resulted in the drive toward Reformation, the Catholics of that time not able to mount a good Stage 5 reform.

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