Significant is the question ‘what’s in a name’ when it comes to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a second generation pastor/preacher named for the history making churchman Martin Luther who is credited with cause for the first and greatest divide in Christendom, his mission was a ‘before you were born!’ (Yes we are aware that they were born Michael Luther King and that Martin was 5 when Daddy King changed their names to Martin) so, ‘before you had consciousness!’
I am convinced that an injustice is perpetuated in only knowing his ‘I Have A Dream’ message. For this Vision for Black Church Reformation in a Post Covid world, a fitting contribution is a study of excerpts from his ‘Guidelines For A Constructive Church’ which is published in ‘A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr’.
“I would like to preach from the subject: ‘Guidelines for a Constructive Church’. Over the last several weeks now, we’ve been reading a good deal in our newspapers about guidelines. … This morning I would like to submit to you that we who are followers of Jesus Christ, and we who must keep his church going and keep it alive, also have certain basic guideline to follow. …There are some things that my church must do. …And if we in the church don’t want the funds of grace cut off from the divine treasury, we’ve got to follow the guidelines.
The guidelines are clearly set forth for us in some words uttered by our Lord and Master as he went in the temple one day, and he went back to Isaiah and quoted from him. And he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” These are the guidelines.
You see, the church is not a social club, although some people think it is. They get caught up in their exclusivism, and they feel that it’s a kind of social club with a thin veneer of religiosity, but the church is not a social club. The church is not an entertainment center, although some people think it is. You can tell in many churches how they act in church, which demonstrates that they think it’s an entertainment center. The church is not an entertainment center. Monkeys are to entertain, not preachers.
…Let us first think of the fact that if the church is following its guidelines, it seeks to heal the broken-hearted. Now there is probably no human condition more tantalizing than a broken heart. …I would say broken-heartedness comes basically from the trying experience of disappointment.
…Secondly, when the church is true to its guidelines, it sets out to preach deliverance to them that are captive. This is the role of the church: to free people. …Some churches aren’t concerned about freeing people….Some white churches face the fact Sunday after Sunday that their members are slaves to prejudice, slaves to fear. …And the preacher never says anything to lift their souls and free them from the fear. And so they end up captive. You know this often happens in the Negro church. You know there are some Negro preachers that have never opened their mouths about the freedom movement. …God has called me to deliver those that are in captivity.
…And then the church, if it is true to its guidelines, must preach the Acceptable Year Of The Lord. …The Acceptable Year Of The Lord is any year when men decide to do right….when men will stop lying and cheating…. when men keep their theology abreast with their technology. …when all of the leaders of the world will sit down at the conference table and realize that unless mankind puts an end to war, war will put an end to mankind. …”
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