Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr and the Southern Church

Martin Luther King Jr Day always takes me back to a church that I served at while going to college in Tennessee. My friend was the youth minister at a small Baptist church and one night we decided to have a Q &A time with the students during the weekly youth meeting. The questions ranged from personal questions about our testimonies, some silly questions, and some deep theological questions about angels, demons and Adam’s belly button.

But it was one question in particular that opened up the flood gates: “Should a black student be allowed to date a white student?” 

We didn’t know that this was such a hot topic in West Tennessee and simply responded “According to Scripture there is no reason that a black student could not date a white student.”  Maybe hot topic was a bit of an understatement, because before the week was up my friend had a meeting with an angry and frustrated parent. A parent who was steeped more in his southern heritage than he was the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is a truly sad statement that many in the church today are just like this man. They are often more conformed to the religious and racial traditions in the South than they are to the Word of God.

What the church needs today is to be visited by the legacies of Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr.

We need Martin Luther to come and teach us the gospel. To teach us again the truth that he once discovered while wrestling with his sin and the Roman Catholic Church. The truth that “the righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17) We need this truth to expose our foolish hopes that we can be approved by God because of our bible reading, church attendance, assistance to little old ladies, feeding of the poor, or any of the false self-righteous acts that we cling to. Salvation does not come from any thing that we do but only through faith in what Christ has done.

We need Martin Luther King Jr to come and show us the gospel.  Martin Luther King was gripped by a dream when he said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  It was a dream that one day the gospel would be the lense by which we see the world. Where one day people look at the world and see only two kinds of people: sinners who need the grace of God or sinners who have been saved by the grace of God. (See Colossians 3:11) For if anybody can look at a man in the face and judge him not through the lense of the gospel but through the lense of race, sex, age, or economic status, than this person does not know the gospel.

I would love to finish by telling you that the conversation my friend had with this parent ended in  a spirit of unity and repentance, but instead it ended with the man saying “Martin Luther King Jr. was an evil man and deserved to be killed.”  It was frustrating that this man didn’t know his history, but it broke my heart even more that he didn’t know the gospel. I just pray that his son and the coming generation follows in the steps of Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr, and Jesus that are marked by grace and love. Rather than the footsteps of the South that often bring only self-righteousness and hate.

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