The Gospel and the Least of These

“A religion true to its nature must also be concerned about man’s social conditions. Religion deals with both earth and heaven, both time and eternity. Religion operates not only on the vertical plane but also on the horizontal.

It seeks not only to integrate men with God but to integrate men with men and each man with himself. This means, at bottom, that the Christian gospel is a two-way road. On the one hand, it seeks to change souls of men and thereby unite them with God; on the other hand, it seeks to change the environmental conditions of men so that the soul will have a chance after it is changed.

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. Such a religion is the kind the Marxists like to see – an opiate of the people.”

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Stride Towards Freedom:  The Montgomery Story)

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2 responses to “The Gospel and the Least of These

  1. Tom Robinson

    Even in men whose aims and means are/were questionable at times, there comes pockets of truth. This is one of those rare nuggets, from MLK, Jr., whose socially-motivated goals were more zealous that his platform of Biblical truth, and authentic Christian character traits.

    What would he think of our government ordained, welfare state, over the past 40 yrs, which has allowed people to live-low, encouraged several generations of single-parenthood and has been linked to so-much criminal activity among this group?

  2. Tom, I don’t want to go too far into speculating what a deceased pastor would think, but I wonder if he wouldn’t say that the social issues you mentioned were the result of that dry-as-dust religion he mentioned in the statement.

    In large part, we as the body of Christ in the west, have passed the buck when it comes to the “least of these”. As a missionary friend recently explained it, “We have abdicated to government our responsibility as individuals, civic organizations, and faith communities to live in community with and provide meaningful assistance and aid to those in need.”

    You’re right, the Government shouldn’t be taking care of the poor- but if we as followers of Jesus won’t, somebody has to. Leslie D. Weatherhead explains the Will of God as three components: 1)God’s Intentional Will- what He had intended for man all along. 2)God’s Circumstantial Will- His will adjusted for our mistakes since the fall. 3)God’s Ultimate will- what will eventually be regardless of how He has to work around our ways.

    I believe that for generations now in America, as we’ve pushed away more and more responsibility for the poor, God’s Circumstantial will has been evident in programs that many people describe as entitlements. I don’t think it was as God intended, but His word clearly states that He always hears the cries of those in need, and I feel He’s doing something to fulfill His Ultimate will.

    Now look at where universal healthcare is already up and running- all over Europe, Canada, Australia. All of these locations can easily be described as post-Christian. Could it be that those programs are in place because Christians in those areas set aside their responsibilities to the poor as well? It’s something to consider.

    So if you look at, could the government actually be more obedient than the Body of Christ when it comes to the poor? I think government assistance to the poor is very flawed- but if we’re not stepping up to do our part, I can only support the government attempting to take responsibility where we haven’t. It’s better than nothing.

    As far as your statement that MLK’s social goals are not found in authentic Christian character, I’d say I disagree.

    I’ve just sent an article to your email. It’s written by Richard Hughes, Senior Fellow at Messiah College. In it Hughes states that many of us read our Bibles through an American lens, which can obscure our understanding of the Kingdom of God.

    “…millions of conservative Christians in the United States read the Bible through a variety of American perspectives that are utterly foreign to the biblical text. And they read the Bible in this way because they so often identify the kingdom of God with the United States of America. Based on that conviction, many confuse the principles of the Bible with the principles of the Constitution, biblical morality with capitalism, defense of the Christian religion with militarism, and fidelity to the kingdom of God with patriotism. Indeed, they often view the Bible as a manual on how to live one’s life as a good American. With those convictions, it’s no wonder they read the Bible through distinctly American perspectives.”

    “…Bill McKibben reported in 2005 that “three-quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that ‘God helps those who help themselves.'” The truth is, these words are not in the Bible but come from the mouth of Ben Franklin. And, as McKibben noted, “not only is Franklin’s wisdom not biblical; it is counter-biblical,” since the core message of the Bible focuses on laying down one’s life for one’s neighbor, not on helping oneself. But Christians who read the Bible through the lens of American capitalism will inevitably read self-help into the biblical text and will seldom discern in that text the biblical vision of the kingdom of God with its emphasis on peacemaking and justice for the poor.”

    So I’d attest that MLK’s goals were far more in line with the Christian character than the ones displayed by many we share the pews with on Sunday mornings.

    As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the article.

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