As we focus upon the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., I share a thought from Dr. Lewis Baldwin, professor Vanderbilt University:
"The pastoral role was central to everything, virtually everything, Dr. King achieved or sought to achieve in the Church and in society as a whole."
I am in complete agreement.
We often forget that Dr. King was a Pastor, specifically, an American Baptist Pastor. We tend to focus upon his work as a social activist, or social change agent. I am convinced; the driving force behind his world presence was his calling as a preacher of the Good News.
In his first address to those preparing for the bus boycott, we see evidence of the preacher first and then he activist. In 1955, he declared:
"We have no alternative but to protest. For many years, we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice."
I believe it was Dr. King's pastoral spirit and life-style that profoundly influenced race relations in the United States and the world. He spoke and acted.
What message would Dr. King preach for the church today?
I recently read a 1954 sermon of Dr. King: The Religion of Doing. The focus of this message concerns an active rather than a passive religion or faith. When religion is active, you do, when you religion is passive you talk.
Dr. King drew his thoughts from the well of the Sermon on the Mount...
Matthew chapter seven:
"not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but
only he who does the will of my father who is I heaven."
From this resource, Dr. King drew saw several truths:
The first concerns belief and action.
The ultimate test of what we believe is how we act or behave. If our faith is passive we act, if it is active we do. We may agree something is true, intellectually; however, real belief is to act or behave in a way consistent with what we believe. For example, many will say Jesus rose up from the grave, but denied the same by their actions.
There is no need to lift up our hands, stand on our feet, and shout praise the Lord, if we fail to love God with all that we are and our neighbors, as we love ourselves.
The ultimate test of our faith is in doing God's will, not by accident, but on purpose. It is good and commendable to speak: Be blessed and warm my sister. However, it more an act of faith to say, take this coat or blanket and be warm. The church needs more doers and less talkers.
Secondly, authentic faith is not about a form but a dynamic force.
If we are a Christian nation, as we claim, the condition of our nation should be better. In fact, faith for many is like a garment worn on Sunday and placed in the closet for the rest of the week. Our faith should be a garment we wear every day; and lead us to see the God of Sunday is also the God of the whole week.
Paul addressed this concern with timothy, describing those who practice their faith in this fashion as those who practice the form of religion, but deny the power or force thereof... If our faith is real, it should be a dynamic force in the world of, politics, economics, and the social matrix. Our faith should flow through that which we encounter in the world. One of the things that keep the church from being the dynamic force in our lives and the world is the divisions within. While we debate over rituals, creeds, and denominationalism, the forces of evil are marching forward.
If we can look, with the eyes of faith, beyond our creed, rituals and such, we will be able to confront the forces of evil with the forces of good. We spend too much time seeking news ways to say, "Lord, Lord", and not enough applying faith force to solving problems.
Finally, Dr. King believes that many are worshiping Christ, emotionally, and not morally, or substituting esthetics for ethics. There is the danger of becoming so involved in in singing lovely songs and ritual, that our adorations is crying out Lord, Lord. For example, the strongest advocates of segregation in America worship Christ on Sunday mornings. Many of the economic exploiters worship Jesus. These are the same worshippers who perpetuate much of the degrading conditions in our communities and cities.
Historically, many of the enemies of the Christ movement have come from worshippers who cried out, Lord, Lord! Be assured, Christ is more concerned about prejudice and war than our rituals. He is more concerned about how we treat neighbors, than our music. He is more concerned about living ethical lives, than knowledge of creeds and rituals. It is refreshing, to read this passage in light of the present century, and note the only change is the people listening and receiving the truth from Jesus:
"Not everyone that says my Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."
James, perhaps remembering Jesus, exhorts 2:15:
"What good does it do, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but does not prove it with actions?"
These were insights shared in 1955, but also appropriate for 2016. Dr. King's social agenda was grounded in preaching, and practiced what he preached. It was his ability to capture the imagination of people through preaching that altered how many in America saw themselves and one another in the struggle for equality.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was a doer, and he challenged others to do:
"If you can't fly, then run.
If you can't run, then walk
If you can't walk crawl, but whatever you do
You have to keep moving,"
On this celebration day, I rename the message, "Back to Basics", in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. William Thurmond Associate Executive Minister January 16, 2017