The Relevant, Prophetic, and Uncompromising Voice of Dr. MLK Jr.
As we recognize and celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am at a loss for words as to how brilliant, impactful and important this man’s life and ministry was to history, particularly American History and even more specifically African-American history. His book Strength to Love, which I am currently feasting on, is quickly becoming one of the most profound books I’ve read in my life. This book is filled with simple yet profound truths. I am going to share an excerpt in this blog and then share how relevant his words are for us today and how it challenges the church in 2016. His words in this book, like many of his other books and speeches, are capable of a having their broad societal reach and impact, as well as specific prophetic revelation for the church.
Here is an excerpt from chapter two entitled “Transformed Nonconformist”:
Nowhere is the tragic tendency to conform more evident than in the church, an institution that has often served to crystallize, conserve, and even bless the patterns of majority opinion. The erstwhile sanction by the church of slavery, racial segregation, war, and economic exploitation is testimony to the fact that the church has hearkened more to the authority of the world than to the authority of God. Called to be the moral guardian of the community, the church at times has preserved that which is immoral and unethical. Called to combat social evils, it has remained silent behind stained-glass windows. Called to lead men on the highway of brotherhood and to summon them to rise above the narrow confines of race and class, it has enunciated and practiced racial exclusiveness.
We preachers have also been tempted by the enticing cult of conformity. Seduced by the success symbols of the world, we have measured our achievements by the size of our parsonage. We have become showmen to please the whims and caprices of the people. We preach comforting sermons and avoid saying anything from our pulpit that might disturb the respectable views of the comfortable members of our congregations…
The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood. The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and religious freedom have always been nonconformists. In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist!
There is so much to unpack in this excerpt alone. I will focus on a few things that we can learn today from Dr. King’s timeless words as I am sharing with anyone who cares to read this blog, but I my priority is to challenge the church.When we conform we lose credibility that Jesus transforms. Click To Tweet
When we conform we lose credibility that Jesus transforms. People have lost confidence in church, church leaders, and ultimately in whether or not “Jesus can work” for them. Sure, many churches are growing in numbers all over the country. Mega-churches are popping up all over the place. But many are also growing because of the “attraction” model that is presented. People are attracted to the production, the gimmicks, and even the “prizes” (if you attend or if you give to this or that cause). Secular music in general, which serves a different purpose other than reverence for God, has been woven into the worship music for the sake of making new Christians or non-Christians “comfortable.” Here’s a couple of questions to consider. Why do I need to go to church to hear secular music? Why do I need to go to church to feel comfortable about where I am in my life without Jesus? I’m coming to church because I’m not comfortable with where I am in my life and I really want something different. Just a thought.
Beyond churches and church leadership that may endorse some of what I mentioned, in our individual lives we lose credibility that a relationship with Jesus is life-changing for the better. Not so much if I commit sin (because we all have something we struggle with), but if I am consistently conforming to worldliness, justifying it and living in it as if it is “no big deal” because God’s loves me anyway, what message am I sending to those that are really looking to my “change” as hope that there can be something different in their lives?Our silence expresses the indifference that matches the sin of conformity to worldliness Click To Tweet
Our silence expresses the indifference that matches the sin of conformity to worldliness. There are leaders in our churches and among individuals in the church that are too afraid or too uncomfortable talking about real issues that our society is facing today. There is the fear of the backlash from those who vehemently disagree with our positions. There is the fear of offending those we love or those who may attend our churches and may take their attendance and their tithing elsewhere. I once read a quote by Cornel West that said, “Indifference is the trait that makes the angels weep.” I believe that to be plausible. The Bible teaches that God was disappointed in the lukewarm faith of the church of Laodicea in the book of Revelation to the point where he would spit them out of his mouth (Revelation 3:16). This was not so much about losing their salvation as some would teach, but at the very least it was about God’s disapproval, even disdain for their indifference when it comes to living out their faith.
A church cannot afford to standby silently watching issues that impact us nationally and locally go unaddressed, especially when there are people in the church pews hurting and affected by those very issues. Across the country there have been some churches that address the issue of race relations, but there are way too many leaders silent on the matter especially when it doesn’t affect them personally. I know African-Americans who are not a part of a “black” church (where there is no fear of addressing the issue) feel invisible or uncared for when racism has raised its ugly head into 2016 like it did in Dr. King’s day, just in a more subtle and crafty form, but no real acknowledgment from their leaders. It seems to them that those issues about race aren’t important enough to warrant attention beyond and comment or two in a sermon. Silence speaks just as loudly as protests, just conveys a different message. Unfortunately, the worldliness of political affiliation as led the charge in too many churches as to what issues matter and warrant addressing and teaching from the pulpit at the expense of congregants in need of understanding and healing.
When we don’t hold ourselves to the standard of godliness we conform to the standard of worldliness by default. We’ve become way too selective in how we want to show honor and obedience to God. For example, I know men who are uncomfortable attending church because they will likely see women wearing dresses (whether on the worship stage or in the pews) that rival the sex appeal of those dresses worn in nightclubs. I actually know many women who are concerned about the issue and how there is not much taught from the pulpit to help people understand modesty. But modesty seems to be a thing of the past for many people. Yet we expect a man fresh out of the world to come to a worship service and be able to focus on Jesus, the author of this new faith of his, and with maturity be able to ignore what used to lure him into impure thoughts, sinful conversations and behavior. Not all the blame should be on the women that dress this way. Men are still responsible for purity, but there is a place for modesty that actually helps another person in their walk in purity.
This is not just in worship services, but in the workplace, at home, or wherever we represent Christ. This may seem like a small issue in light of so much horrific acts of violence and terrorism today, but it does speak to an accepted “spirit” in our churches, one that exposes conformity to worldliness.
What Dr. King said almost fifty years ago is relevant for us today. In so many ways we are rendering the church less effective than it can be in our society. We are causing the voice of the church to be heard and to be relevant only among Christians or those interested in Christianity by conforming to worldliness. The world outside of Christianity doesn’t need the church to conform, it needs the nonconformity that causes change. If doesn’t matter if it involves embracing modesty or discussing race relations and welcoming races and cultures unlike your own into your churches and homes.Comfort and tolerance, on the other hand, erode at any standard that challenges worldliness and the autonomy… Click To Tweet
I’ve been aware of areas in my own life where I’ve conformed for a while until being confronted and convicted by the Lord through my prayer time or through others (mentors and peers) in my life. I’ve seen the areas of the church where we have conformed for the sake of growing our church attendance. I’ve seen in individual’s lives who I’ve walked with as a peer and/or mentor and they conform out of fear and hoping to stay under the radar and not stir up anything with anyone. I’ve seen from afar Christians on social media or television embrace ideology that stand in stark contrast to biblical teaching. I’ve heard the deafening silence of conformity and acceptance of standards that compromise the standard of Christ. I’ve since learned to love with truth. They are Siamese twins for impacting this world. Comfort and tolerance, on the other hand, erode at any standard that challenges worldliness and the autonomy of individualism and relativism.
You want to celebrate Dr. King’s life today? Be the nonconforming church that you are designed to be because conforming to the patterns of this world (Romans 12:2) is the enemy to true revival.