“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”
The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. is tremendous. His prophetic contribution to the America was prolific and one can contemplate any number of social and religious issues that he covered. This past week I was introduced to the above quote and it made me think about the topic of inculturation and the prophetic role of the church.
In his book “Christ and Culture” Richard Niebuhr introduces us to five models of inculturation where the Christian faith can intersect within our cultural milieu. Among these the one that he favors as an appropriate model that is true to its Christian mission is the one he calls “Christ the transformer of culture.” In this model the Christian community is called to engage and transform the cultural values of our society in a way that is consistent with the moral vision of the Kingdom of God. Christ and the Prophetic tradition reveal this vision in their exhortation to be agents of God’s healing and redemptive love that transforms our world with the divine values of justice and peace.
Martin Luther King Jr. is perhaps the greatest American exemplar of this tradition not only in the way he challenged our society with this vision but also in the way he emulated Christ’s life giving sacrifice for this vision. As we honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. it is good to reflect on the role of us as “the church” in transforming the social values of this nation that are destroying and oppressing our human community. We, as church, need to redirect the values and policies of our nation based on the prophetic imperative of our faith.
This transformative model of inculturation is very much part of Catholic doctrine as well. Pope John Paul II shared this transformative vision of church in his 1990 encyclical Redemptoris missio:
Through inculturation the Church makes the Gospel incarnate in different cultures and at the same time introduces peoples, together with their cultures, into her own community. She transmits to them her own values, at the same time taking the good elements that already exist in them and renewing them from within. Through inculturation the Church, for her part, becomes a more intelligible sign of what she is, and a more effective instrument of mission
Our faith is not meant to be an isolated faith that withdraws from the world and the issues we face. It is an engaged faith and we must be open to the wisdom of our tradition as it informs our vision of society. In celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Let us uphold the prophetic mission of our church in transforming the cultural values that are not consistent with our Christian faith.