Growing up in our household in the 1960s was quite an experience when it came to politics and social issues. My Dad was a Goldwater Republican, which meant he had no patience for the great societal upheavals of that decade that Walter Cronkite brought to our attention nightly while we sat around the dinner table. As one example, my Dad had absolutely no use for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who he deemed to be a “troublemaker” and “rabble-rouser.” But even at a very young age I realized that my father would have had a completely different perspective on King and the civil rights movement had he been an African-American.
In the early 60s, discrimination was no longer a tenable position in American society, at least in the law books. If King hadn’t led the march against racism, someone else would have risen up. Unfortunately, more than a few pastors of White evangelical and fundamentalist churches twisted Bible passages in their sermons to justify segregation and discrimination before and during the civil rights struggle. Many more just kept their mouths shut in the face of blatant evil. King’s leadership of the civil rights movement, which required great personal sacrifice and ultimately cost him his life, is something we should honor.
This past Monday the country remembered Martin Luther King, Jr. and I have a few thoughts about the man from a believer’s perspective:
King was a “minister” but he was an adherent of the “social gospel” rather than the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Social gospel? In the 1800s, German higher criticism – denial of the divine origin of the Bible – seeped into American mainline Protestantism. Rather than upholding Biblical doctrines and salvation through Jesus Christ, liberal “Protestant” ministers taught an unknowable “god” or force that just wanted everyone to “make the world a better place.” Baptist minister, Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918), who taught at the Rochester Theological Seminary here in Rochester, NY, was a key figure in introducing the social gospel in the U.S.. The seminary eventually morphed into Colgate-Rochester-Crozer Divinity School, which currently has 90 students. Martin Luther King, Jr. attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pennsylvania, graduating in 1951 before the school was absorbed by the Rochester institution in 1970.
As a “minister,” did King ever proclaim the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ? From his writings (see below), it appears that was never the case. As an adherent of the social gospel, King was a religious unbeliever. It’s ironic that King was re-named (his original name was Michael) after Martin Luther, the Reformer who broke from Rome and proclaimed the genuine Gospel of salvation by grace through faith.
King led many out of racism’s chains but he apparently led no one to Jesus Christ and out of the the eternal chains of sin.
Papers written by Martin Luther King, Jr. reveal he was not a Christian