Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: A Revivalist is Remembered

I just finished reading his letter to the pastors and church leaders in Birmingham, AL (found here). It was a longer read than I expected it to be, for sure. But, I couldn’t stop reading it. It is so well written and much of what he says still resonates strongly today in issues our culture is facing. Below, I put some quotes that really stood out to me with some thoughts following each. Later on, I noted some of the thoughts that weren’t “quotable,” per say, but were powerful thoughts nonetheless. 

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.Martin Luther King, Jr.

In this quote, I appreciate the heart of Reverend King, clarifying how much he loves the church, but that he has to call attention to her misdeeds (possibly a huge understatement). Sometimes, I feel frustrations about the church, in general. This is a good reminder that I need to make sure I am loving the church well, not sitting back and criticizing.

In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.Martin Luther King, Jr.

We cannot relegate the gospel to merely being good news about another world. It is good news for today as well and is meant to have a lasting, drastic impact in all areas of society including social 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.Martin Luther King, Jr.

This quote may sound slightly negative at first, but that is only because it is a quote lifted from a letter that has set a loving tone up to and including this point. When I read this quote, I was shocked! I don’t really know why, but something about it really hit me. And a thought went through my mind, Martin Luther King was a revivalist! Granted, what he accomplished in his lifetime might not be what we think of when we picture a revival. Regardless, he was a revivalist in his own right.

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.Martin Luther King, Jr.

Again, this last quote sounds a bit negative. However, I think it is a fitting warning to me today. There are seasons where I start to get a sense of entitlement, acting like God owes me something. Just writing that feels convicting and I wonder how I can even possibly slip into that mindset. But, somehow I have at times. Last week, in school, we were reminded about the call of God on the church to sacrifice. To remember that we must embrace suffering in different seasons of our lives. Not to say that we need to be gluttons for punishment, but we do need to remain constantly in pursuit of God, which will involve suffering and sacrifice at times.

Martin Luther King, Jr. referenced a couple of other things that I appreciated. “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” All too often it is easy to hear about all the issues all over the world, including in our very own back yard, and we become dull and complacent about all of them. I think it would be powerful if every single person had one thing area of social injustice that they were determined to see eradicated in their lifetime, and went for it. However, a thought just came to me even as I’m writing that. There are times, I believe, when God will bring people across our paths who are fighting a different fight than us, but will ask us to join them in that fight. I think we sometimes just say, “No, that’s not my fight. Sorry, find someone else.” There are times that is true and good. But, I think there are times we need to pick up our brother’s and sister’s causes and fight with them, lest we simply be another lukewarm soul that lets another person die or remain in bondage, because their cause didn’t line up with our passion or “calling.” Like I said, not every fight is my fight. But, I’m afraid that there are times I choose not to fight because of inconvenience, laziness, or a lack of trust in God’s ability to provide for my every need if I do join. “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” (Again, from the letter.)

In part of his comments about moderate people, he referenced one of their common excuses, “Just give it time.” To that he says, “the time is always ripe to do right.” Many, many times we hear about needs and things going on around the world, and we assume that someone else will get to it eventually. Or we pass by the same injustices every day and think, “Maybe some other day, when the time is right.” This is something I do on a daily basis. But, it makes me wonder. What if we all dealt with the injustices we come across each day? Rather than waiting for the one with our name on it, that we’d like to take. What if we take the one that is right in front of us? Granted, there are reasons for flying across oceans and continents to other regions to deal with their injustices. Probably more of us need to do something like that. But, often I’ve watched these same people come back and walk right past needs and injustices in their path. Sure, the needs are less glamorous and more thankless. Of course, it may well be that person’s fault they are where they are. That doesn’t make their situation any less of an injustice. Somehow, the kingdom of darkness is oppressing them and robbing, killing, and destroying. It is my job to bring the kingdom of light, of Heaven, to their situation and see them set free. But, the time is now. I think God puts things in front of us because we’re equipped and ready to handle them now, even if it seems like it is only in a small way.

Lastly, a thought came to me while writing this blog. I remembered something. At the age of 13, I gave the first speech I can remember. It was in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was a contest for a local group focused on racial equality. I know it’s not all that powerful, but I just thought it was interesting. One of my first acts in public was to celebrate someone who defended the rights of our fellow mankind. I hope I keep this as a constant focus, for the rest of my life.

And, for those of us afraid to fail, here’s a parting thought from the letter, “They have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”