Seeing Grace in Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Of all our American national holidays, none has been as devalued in my Christian experience as tomorrow’s. Martin Luther King Jr. was a polarizing figure in American history. Depending on who you ask, he was a saint or a scoundrel, a brave hero or a dangerous revolutionary. Regrettably, in my own life it has been the conservative Christian voice that has often painted him as the second of the two options. I cringe and sorrow over these words, but to illustrate what I mean I can still hear the voice of a well-respected preacher and leader in my past referring to King as “Martin Lucifer King.” Regardless of any of Martin Luther King’s personal failings or the conflicting interpretations of past history, why should we rejoice today to be Christians in a country with a Martin Luther King Jr. day?
1. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded a nation of its founding principles.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” In hindsight, it’s hard to imagine how we got to the Civil War, let alone to the segregation battles of the 1950’s, 1960’s, and into the 1970’s, with a founding principles with such sweeping equality for men of all ethnicities. When founding principles are just and right, it’s good to have a voice calling a nation into accountability for following those principles. Martin Luther King was one such voice.
2. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded the church of its Gospel priorities.
It’s one thing when the unrighteous act unrighteously, when they live with jealousy and hatred, when they perpetuate injustice and fail to love their neighbors. It’s quite another when the church not only allows but also condones and practices the same. The voice of history reveals that the American church, specifically the white conservative kind, was all too guilty of a lack of love. The Gospel should teach us that God has cursed all of His creation, that all of mankind needs a Savior, that Christ died for all. But while the American conservative church was busy sending missionaries around the world, it was also busy alienating and abusing its own neighbors. If the Gospel of Jesus Christ is your most passionate heartbeat, the color of a person’s skin matters not at all. If seeing God’s glory on display in the redemption of sinners is one of your purposes for existence, you are thrilled to welcome people from every nation as an American so you have even more Gospel opportunity. The Gospel should have been reason enough for Christians to hate segregation, and so the church should be grateful for Martin Luther King’s fight against racial inequality and its embarrassing but needed call back to living worthy of the Gospel. And we should be learning from that fight even still.
3. We live in a country that allows us to affirm with Scripture that all men are made in God’s image.
Racial discrimination is ultimately an assault against God. God, the Creator of all, made man and woman in His own image. Adam and Eve are the parents of us all, of one entire race we call “human.” And every time a black man or woman was forced to use a different drinking fountain, moved to the back of a bus, or barred from certain restaurants, jobs, and offices, God’s image was being insulted. With the same mouth we bless God and curse man who is made in the image of God. These things ought not be, not in our past or in our present or ever. Thankfully, we are fully free in our nation now to affirm that all men are made in God’s image. That alone is a grand reason to celebrate tomorrow.
4. We live in a country where the church is free to imitate the multi-ethnic worship that awaits us in eternity.
There is a glorious day coming when redeemed men and women from every tribe, and tongue, and people will join a heavenly host and say, “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” An eternity of multi-ethnic worship awaits us. Yet we also get to live in a country where we can enjoy worship based, not on the color of our skin or country of origin or ethnic identity, but on the Gospel unity found in the person of our precious Savior. What a privilege to be free to anticipate what we’ll enjoy in perfection forever. I’ve often wondered about Christians who struggled/struggle with racism. Do we envision a throng of worshippers in eternity, no doubt with our particular ethnicity closest to the throne in one group, while all others cluster in various other groups farther and farther away from Jesus? God speed the day when one redeemed people, one chosen people, one holy race join in perfect unison to declare glory to our great God. Until then, let’s celebrate the glimpses of glory we get here, even the glimpses in the American celebration of a hero like Martin Luther King Jr.