Summary: We must break down the walls of racial, cultural, and traditional division in the Lord’s Church.
The following is an excerpt from a sermon preached by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1956, entitled: PAUL’S LETTER TO AMERICAN CHRISTIANS. In this sermon, Dr. King reads a fictitious letter written by himself, but he presents it as if it were a lost letter of the Apostle Paul to the churches in America. Dr. King applies the well-known thought of the beloved Apostle to the American church situation that existed in 1956. Remember, King is reading the following as if it had been written by the Apostle himself:
"But let me rush on and say something about the church. I must say to you once more, as I have said so often before, that the church is the Body of Christ. In the Body of Christ there can be no division. In the Body of Christ there can be no disunity. But I am disturbed about America and what is happening there concerning the Body of Christ.
They tell me that in America, you have within Protestantism, more than 256 denominations. And the tragedy America, is not so much that you have more than 256 denominations, but the fact that all of these denominations are warring against each other and trying to make it appear that they have the only truth. And oh, this narrow sectarianism, this narrow denominationalism, is destroying the unity of the church!
America, you must come to see that God is not a Baptist, that God is not a Methodist, that God is not an Episcopalian. God is bigger than any of our denominations! You must come to see, America, that all of this is man-made.
. . . as I look at Roman Catholicism, I’m disturbed about that. Because it stands out also with an arrogance which becomes a spiritual arrogance. Making it appear to the world that they have the only truth - standing with it’s noble Pope almost taking the place of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And so, when he speaks Ex Cathedra, he becomes infallible. I’m disturbed about any earthly creation that tends to claim infallibility. I’m disturbed about any church that refuses to cooperate with other churches - with the pretense that it is the only true church. [This problem is so prevalent] in the church that it’s destroying the Body of Christ, and in the Body of Christ there can be no division and no disunity.
But America, another thing disturbs me about your church. You have a Negro church and you have a White church. Oh! America, that is quite disturbing, for that cannot exist within the true Body of Christ! How did that thing ever get into being anyway?!?! You have allowed segregation to come into the church, America! Oh, how tragic when you stand up on Sunday morning to sing In Christ there is no East or West - isn’t it tragic that you stand in the most segregated hour of your Christian nation! They tell me there is more integration in sports arenas and nightclubs than there is in the Christian church! Oh, how tragic that is! How appalling that is!
They tell me that there are even Christians among you who try to justify segregation on the basis of the Bible! They try to argue that the Negro is inferior by nature because of Noah’s curse upon the children of Ham. Oh, my friends! Oh, America! This is blasphemy! This is against everything that the Christian religion stands for! This is against the will of the Almighty God!" (end of excerpt)
My friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, this was preached almost 45 years ago. Secular society listened to similar messages and began the process of change. Yet, for the most part, we - the church of God - have turned a deaf ear. All of us are at fault. All of us are partially culpable for the perpetuation of segregation in our churches. And oh yes, we have our reasons. We’ve spewed them forth again and again:
- "Those people are different."
- "They don’t want to integrate with us anyway!"
- "They worship differently."
- "People don’t like to cross racial barriers when they convert to Christianity."
- "We will be able to grow better if we don’t integrate."
- "Their culture is different."
- "Well, they might just take over our church!"
- "Who’s gonna be the preacher - the black one or the white one?"
- "What if our children start inter-marrying?!?!"
- "I don’t like the way they sing."
Statements like these have been on our lips and in our minds for too long. White people, Black people, Hispanics . . . the list goes on and on - regardless of race, color, or ethnicity, many of us have been guilty of perpetuating such thinking. Sadly, we will even give lip service to a more enlightened state of mind, yet when it comes to putting those words into action, we fail miserably.