One of my regular prayers is that I will be sensitive to the people that God places in my path each day. They might be students, seminary colleagues, church members, or people who stop by—sometimes announced and sometimes unannounced. One day I was walking from my house to the church office and I met a person taking pictures of the church and parsonage. I introduced myself and we ended talking for about 15-20 minutes. More precisely, the person talked and I listened.
The conversation finished with this person saying that we Baptists are among the most impoverished of the Protestants. The brother’s life was very interesting. He grew up as a Baptist, became a Lutheran minister, and then left the Lutheran Church and became a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In comparison with the beauty of the Orthodox icons, our Baptist church has empty walls. In comparison with the richness of the liturgy, we have simple gospel songs. In comparison with 2000 years of church history, we are Johnny-come-lately with 400 years as a denomination. This conversation really made me think. While I’m not depressed or ready to change denomination, it did make me think about the things that attract people to other sections of Christianity.
With these thoughts still on my mind, I traveled on the day after Thanksgiving. The classical station had a very creative program entitled Leftovers. It was a program about composers whose last pieces were not finished. The host talked about Borodin’s Igor and Mozart’s Requiem in B Minor. Mozart died without finishing this piece. Some of his friends completed the work because Mozart had already been paid for it. Mozart was so much in debt that his wife buried him in the pauper’s graveyard because she could not afford a cemetery lot.
Years later, Karl Barth, the greatest theologian of the 20th century, confessed that he never works without having Mozart’s music in the background. Mozart’s music proved to be the greatest inspiration for a gifted theologian. It connected him with the divine as no other composer’s music did.
As I approached my driveway on my way home, I thought about who is rich and who is poor. There have been poor people who blessed thousands through their lives and their achievements. There have been rich people who were forgotten because they lived for themselves; while people in their lifetime knew that they were rich, their impact came to nothing once they were gone.
I was reminded of a group of people who were used to having the best. The Corinthian Church was used to good things, because of their auspicious geographical position in the Roman Empire. Their wealth led to immorality and this type of behavior transferred to the church, where they created parties pitying one preacher against the other. Some claimed a connection with Peter, considered one of the original Twelve, while some supported Paul, who God miraculously transformed from a persecutor into the apostle to the Gentiles, and some supported Apollos, the most powerful orator. Paul writes the Corinthian Church to implore them to change this type of thinking. “So then no more boasting about men. All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Peter or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours and you are of Christ and Christ is of God.” (1 Cor. 3:21-23)
To my friend who stopped by—I do not think that the Baptists are the most impoverished of the Protestants. I believe this because we are a part of Christendom, the universal body of Christ and we belong to Christ and Christ belongs to us. This reciprocal belonging means that we are always rich in Christ.