What it will take to accomplish Dr. King’s dream for the church

On May 29, 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. preached at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York. He was invited there by the pastor, Dr. Sandy Ray. It was a pretty special occasion because Cornerstone Baptist Church had just completed building a Family Life Center to minister to the community, and this was the grand opening sermon. Dr. King titled his sermon “Guidelines for a Constructive Church.”  Dr. King preached this sermon again at Ebenezer Baptist Church the following month.[1]

I don’t need to remind you that 1966 was the midst of the “Civil Rights Movement,” but this sermon also brings a stirring challenge for us today. A lot of time has passed since Dr. King delivered this sermon.  In some areas the church of King Jesus has made great strides since 1966 but even to the casual observer, it’s obvious to see that we have a long way to go.  In this sermon Dr. King describes the “acceptable year of the Lord”.  Check out the link below.  Dr. King said a lot more in this sermon than I have time to cover in this blog.  However, I want to highlight a couple of comments he made 54 years ago in an effort to see where the church still has some work to do.

If you live in an ethnically and racially diverse city, and your church doesn’t look like the demographics of your community, I’d like you to ask yourself and your church leaders a hard question- What’s wrong inside our church that keeps us from looking like the people outside our church?  The rest of this blog is designed to challenge church people on this question.  This is not an attack against the church.  I love the church and have devoted my life to serve the church.  However, I love Jesus’s church too much to overlook this glaring issue. 

When men live together as brothers

Dr. King said, “The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when men will learn to live together as brothers.” When you watch the nightly news or read the newspapers it won’t take long to see that men don’t dwell together as brothers.  I long for unity and brotherhood in communities across America.  However, as much as I’d like to see this in cities across our country it must start within the church.

Human nature unfortunately focuses on the differences between men and often overlooks the similarities.  This sad reality comes as a result of the sin condition that all men and women were born into.  It’s not until we are set free from sin, that we can truly start to appreciate what unites us as humans and celebrate the differences in skin color and culture- rather than letting those differences separate us. That’s why Dr. King was challenging the church on this issue.  Galatians 3:28 describes the unity that church men and women now have in Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the bond that unites men and women.  This is a blood bond that goes far below the skin.  It is an offense to the Gospel of Jesus Christ when a church doesn’t look like it’s community. When culturally different people are united under the blood of Jesus Christ, but they don’t act like brothers it shouts that something is wrong with our faith.

When theology is as important as technology

“The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when men will keep their theology abreast with their technology.”  Keep in mind that Dr. King made this statement in 1966. It’s hard to fathom how much technology has advanced in those 50 plus years. I don’t know anyone who’s life isn’t being impacted by technology today.  Unfortunately, I can’t make the same statement about theology.  Perhaps Dr. King was thinking about Jesus’s words in Matthew 15:17-18 when he made this statement. 

Even church leaders have grasped for the latest technology hoping it will help the church.  Other church leaders are looking for technology to rescue their church from death.  Don’t get me wrong- I’m not against technology- I’m using it to write and promote this blog.  However, I think Dr. King is suggesting that we’ve placed our hope in the wrong area if we’re expecting technology to change the church.  The church will only start to act different when we start to think different.  In other words, our belief will always drive our behavior.  There’s no website or mobile app that can help a church that isn’t serving its community.  There no amount of code that you can write for a church that doesn’t look like it’s community.  And the next mobile device or computer upgrade can’t fix a church that isn’t growing in unity.  These things are behavior issues that always flow out of a belief problem.  This is why technology can’t fix a theology problem.

When the ends are as important as the means

“The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when men will keep the ends for which they live abreast with the means by which they live.”  In my opinion this is one of the most powerful statements that Dr. King made in this sermon. You don’t have to go to a church for very long to figure out what’s really important there. I get the chance to travel to a lot of churches and I have noticed that what the church says is important and what they show is important to them are not always the same thing.  When I read what they say is most important on their marquee and their church bulletin isn’t always what sounds like it’s most important during the church service.  This is exactly what Dr. King was saying in this sermon. The ends are just as important as the means in Jesus’s church.

Dr. King preached this sermon to describe what it looks like to build the church. Obviously, he wasn’t talking about raising money and constructing a building.  He was describing building up the believers in King Jesus into mature followers. If Dr. King were alive today, and you were to ask him what it would take for his dream for the church to become a reality, I believe he would say it’s going to take two things for this dream to become reality- a supernatural move of the Holy Spirit to break that hard hearts of men inside the church, and a lot of hard work to show people outside the church how much has changed with the people inside the church.  This is not just Dr. King’s vision for the church.  This is also Jesus’s vision for his church in John 13:34-35.

[1] https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/publications/knock-midnight-inspiration-great-sermons-reverend-martin-luther-king-jr-5

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