Irrelevant Social Clubs: Martin Luther King Jr. on the Church

January 9, 2007 by

This coming Monday in the United States, we will celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s a federal holiday and, as of the year 2000, every state recognizes it. Established in 1983, it is the newest addition to the annual holiday lineup. King is the only American besides George Washington recognized with a national holiday. For many, it’s the day off we’ve been looking forward to ever since our Christmas and New Year’s extended absences.

This holiday should be a big deal for churches. In my opinion, outside of Christmas and Easter, no other holiday represents the heart of God so much. Unfortunately, I think the pace of Christmas and New Year’s is just too much for churches to recover from in order to swing back around for Martin Luther King Jr. Day a few weeks later.

This day is not just about racial equality. This day is about justice. And this world is full of people who need it. Just as when King used them in his messages, may these words from Amos 5:21-24 (The Message) compel us to action:

“I can’t stand your religious meetings.

I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.

I want nothing to do with your religion projects,

your pretentious slogans and goals.

I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,

your public relations and image making.

I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.

When was the last time you sang to me?

Do you know what I want?

I want justice–oceans of it.

I want fairness–rivers of it.

That’s what I want. That’s all I want.”

Dr. King drives the point home further for churches, long before The Message version was even around!

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will. But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. Men far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travellers at midnight.”

It’s midnight. Who is coming to your church for light and bread?


Post By:

Brad Abare

Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it.
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11 Responses to “Irrelevant Social Clubs: Martin Luther King Jr. on the Church”

  • joe
    January 9, 2007

    “Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them, is a dry-as-dust religion.” – MLKJR

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  • Jason
    January 10, 2007

    First, MLKJR was a great man of history. No doubt divinely inspired. But, to put him on the same playing field as holidays churches should celebrate like Christmas and Easter is over the top.
    I would rather see churches make a bigger deal about Independence Day. You know, the day which we can celebrate our (diminishing) religious freedoms.
    I would rather see churches make an even bigger deal about Election Day. Heaven forbid churches get heavily involved in the government system like our Christian founding fathers.
    To me, no other day (Federal or not) should equate to the churches celebration of Christmas and Easter. And, there are plenty of other holidays that churches should hold in higher regard than MKLJR Day.

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  • Kevin Hendricks
    January 10, 2007

    The 4th of July? Please. Nothing makes me more sick than a patriotic church service that seems to herald the United States as the God-ordained Savior of the world. Bleh.
    And what other holiday should the church be celebrating? Columbus Day? Valentine’s Day? Halloween? I don’t think Brad’s saying the church needs to do MLK Day as big as Easter or Christmas, but if we give out roses on Mother’s Day shouldn’t we at least acknowledge MLK Day?

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  • Brad Abare
    January 10, 2007

    I don’t remember saying that I was putting MLK day on the same level as Christmas and Easter. If you read what I wrote, I said that “outside of Christmas and Easter, no other holiday represents the heart of God so much.” I’m all for celebrating religious freedoms and everything else the 4th of July represents, but I’m not convinced it should be one of our more revered holidays recognized by churches. The Kingdom of God can thrive with or without religious freedoms as it has for thousands of years.

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  • Matthew
    January 10, 2007

    I agree that the church should do much more to acknowledge Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And I completely disagree with the notion that we should make a big deal about Independence Day and Election Day.
    Read your Bible — Jesus cared deeply about bringing justice to the oppressed, poor and needy, but he didn’t give a toss about government, politics or religious freedom.
    The American church’s unbiblical idolization of the United States as a once God-fearing nation (it never was), and its equally unbiblical drive for political power is a major reason why the church has become almost completely irrelevant.
    God’s not glorified by that kind of stuff.

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  • Scott
    January 10, 2007

    Great post, by the way. A significant portion of the American church may not have supported MLK during his lifetime, but why not rectify that now? Excellent quotes shared by both Brad and Joe.

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  • joe
    January 10, 2007

    BTW, here is the full version of “I have a dream” that I put on Youtube Half of my pastor’s sermon was devoted to watching this speech a couple years ago when our church had an MLK service…

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  • Steve W
    January 12, 2007

    Thanks for the post. This is a worthwhile discussion. Obviously a federal holiday isn’t on par with Christmas and Easter for the church. But shouldn’t the church lead the way on a holiday honoring a pastor? Whay a way to show our commitment to the poor and oppressed.

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  • American Citizen
    January 15, 2007

    Hello, Martin is rolling in his grave! Why are the illegals rebuilding the “chocolate city” that Mayor Nagin proclaims? Why did the black people vote Mayor Nagin back in power after 225 buses flood in the waters of Katrina? Yes, Martin is rolling in his grave! Why are the illegals taking away jobs from the American people, both black and white ie. New Orleans!!! Why are the people of New Orleans moving to Houston? Why did they not rebuild their city with their own hands??? Personally, I have dug a ditch!!! Where is the NAACP? I don’t see leadership in your community that serve the American people. Your leadership should prominently display in all your literature, advertisement and the like the TRUE TRAVESTY. The taking away of millions of jobs to illegal Hispanic aliens from South of the border. Of course, this is not in keeping with the Democratic Party. Get it together folks.

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  • Anthony
    January 15, 2007

    Every church has a “personality”. That will express itself in a slightly different methodology to carrying out the work that God has called us all to. I do not mean that the Gospel is a “salad bar” and we can pick and choose what we will and won’t obey/do – but God did make us individuals — parts of the same body. Sometimes it is a matter of resources — “we would do that extra program IF we were not already stretched to the limit”. Sometimes it is a matter of no one has yet stepped up to ask the question: “why aren’t we doing such and such”.

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  • S Taylor
    January 23, 2007

    I think we had better know what MLK’s beliefs were before we endorse his motives. A quick review of his writings will reveal some very unbiblical viewpoints. That is more than reason enough for the church to stay away from honoring this man. No doubt he was a great humanitarian. However, when it comes to the Christian faith he was completely off the mark.

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