In April of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote an open letter to several clergymen who had written him in jail. The clergymen were not favorable of his “nonviolent direct action” in Birmingham to affect change concerning segregation in the city.
In his letter, Martin Luther King, Jr. took aim at several groups, but the complacent Christian church was a big target.
Although these words were written to the church of the 1960s, the words ring true as much today as they did then. I am a big believer in the cycles that take place in human history. Why? Because I know so many people who are ignorant of true history and we are doomed to repeat it.
As you read the excerpt below. You fill in the blank on what social injustice your church is not fighting to correct. You fill in the blank on what your church has conformed to in the face of fear. There is no need for me to call out all the possible options for you. I believe you will feel the conviction placed on you as you read this excerpt from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.
Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and fear of being nonconformists.
There was a time when the Church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were a “colony of heaven”, and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.
Things are different now. The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter: of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I am meeting young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail“