What Today’s Church Can Learn From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Matt Evans

Posted January 21, 2019
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As we pause today to celebrate and reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I share a portion of his Letter from Birmingham Jail. Other than the Bible itself, perhaps no other words have had such a profound effect on my understanding of the church and what it means for us to be Kingdom-seekers.

In the spring of 1963, Dr. King was leading non-violent protests against segregation in restaurants and hiring practices when the police began using fire hoses and dogs against the demonstrators. Dr. King and others were arrested. While in jail, he was shown a copy of the Birmingham News which included a letter from eight (white) Southern religious leaders criticizing his leaderships and urging more caution (Carson and Lewis 2019).

Below is a portion of his response.

I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love? — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice? — “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ? — “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist?– “Here I stand; I can do no other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist? — “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a mockery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist? — “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist? — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice …

 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 … they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment

Things are different now. The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo …

But the judgment of God is upon the church [today] 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 20th (or could we say 21st) century.

Matthew 6:33 (NASB)

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Works Cited

Carson, Clayborne, and David L. Lewis. Encyclopædia Britannica. January 16, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Martin-Luther-King-Jr/The-letter-from-the-Birmingham-jail.