Martin Luther King Jr. and The Sunday Morning Worship Service
Christians, Race, and Reconciliation
Martin Luther King Jr.’s observation about the church is still largely true, but it doesn’t seem to bother us. Maybe it should
Eleven A.M. Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. So said the man we commemorate today. Martin Luther King, Jr. was driven to confront Americans for our sins of racism, discrimination, and oppression. And yet what drove him, as we’ve talked about on BreakPoint in the past, was his Christian faith.
In fact, I dare say secularist gatekeepers today would quickly dismiss many a line from MLK as fundamentalist and theocratic if they didn’t know who said it.
This is especially true of Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which Chuck Colson called one of the great documents of the 20th century. In it, King appealed directly to a standard higher than the law of the land. He appealed to the law of God, by which we can and should judge whether or not to obey a human law.
Now while I’m happy to say evangelicals are more and more comfortable pointing to MLK as an example of Christian activism, and noting his integration of faith in engaging the evils of his day, King’s observation about the church being segregated remains true today, and yet is largely ignored.
According to a recent Lifeway Research report, 8 out of 10 congregations are basically racially segregated, and yet nearly 70 percent don’t think anything needs to be done about it. Now many would say this isn’t really a problem. But I’ve come to believe that it is. And here’s why.
First and foremost are theological considerations. Jesus, we know, prayed in the Garden that His people would be unified. This is more than a “let’s just get along” vision. Jesus said in John 13 that the way people would recognize us as His disciples would be our love for one another. We all know that love is not merely the absence of hate – it’s proactive. That seems to be missing.
The reason that unity reveals our identity as followers of Jesus is that it foreshadows what we’re told is true about the fully realized Kingdom of God. John was granted a vision of this, which he reported in Revelation 7. Before the throne of God stand people from every tongue, tribe, nation, and language – all dressed in white robes praising God. It’s a striking image is striking of the reversal of Babel. At Babel, one people were made into many nation. In Revelation 7, many nations once again become one people: God’s people. If that’s true of the Kingdom of God, it ought be true of the Church whose job is to point people to the Kingdom of God.