Sunday, January 15, 2006

Martin Luther King Jr. on the Church and the State

The not the master or servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Today there is a culture war between the Christian political "right" and the political "left" often called "secular humanism", and with some good reason.

Here in the United States evangelical Christians are making bold statements and stands to be change agents of the state. Martin Luther King Jr., from a different standpoint did the same. But in so doing, he in no way wanted the church to become either a master over or servant under the state.

As master over, the church's role would be in an area in which the kingdom of God is not concerned. The kingdom of this world will not become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah (Revelation) until Jesus returns. Until then we live as those of another kingdom, not of this world.

The church as a manifestation of God's kingdom on earth is salt and light in this world. And this world benefits from them never in the terms of this world and its kingdom. But only in God's terms and as participants together in the kingdom of God.

This means no more confidence in either the Democrat or Republican party as our ally. To do this means we're either attempting to lord it over a party or we're simply compliant to them. This is a generalization, but yet seems all too often true on both sides.

Instead we must carry on the same kind of work that Martin Luther King Jr. was engaged in. As those belonging to the kingdom of God in Jesus we must ever be the conscience, guide and critic of the state. Such a work never ends until Jesus comes and brings in God's kingdom as the new and final "state" of this earth.

We need to learn the lessons of Martin Luther King Jr., not just in reference to racial harmony, though we have much more to learn there. But more fundamentally with the tension that will always be present as we, the church of Jesus, challenge the kingdoms of this world, including the United States, according to the plumb line of another kingdom. Until we get that "edge" in our thinking and actions, we will be in danger of being salt to be trampled underfoot, rather than to be what we are to this world: the salt and the light.

God help us learn these lessons. Any thoughts here? Am I wrong?


Lukas McKnight said...

I think part of being a democratic society (and a Jesus follower, for that matter) is that we must point out when leaders and laws or wrong. That doesn't often go over well, but it is what we need in our checks and balances. I think this is one of the great things about Dr. King; he saw an injustice, and he challenged people about these injustices. And he didn't back down when things didn't change...

Scot McKnight said...

I agree that the Church's role is to offer an alternative society, both supporting and criticizing the State.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

Great post. Well said.


Ted Gossard said...

Lukas, Thanks for your good thoughts. I admire that about him as well, how he stood firm even in the face of danger. Certainly wasn't easy.

Scot, Thanks for reading and for your helpful sentence. Supporting the State: I need to reflect more on that. How we're alternative and supportive at the same time.

Jamie, Thanks for your encouraging comment!

RonMcK said...

You said, "The kingdom of this world will not become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah (Revelation) until Jesus returns. Until then we live as those of another kingdom, not of this world."

Does that mean we are living in the devil's kingdom. I hope you are not on his side:-)

Do the scriptures really teach that Jesus didn't win much of a victory, and that the Holy Spirit is a failure. What will Jesus return achieve that his cross and resurrection did not. :-)

Ted Gossard said...


A very good question. I see you take that verse from Revelation as applicable in this world and age through Jesus' victory by his death, resurrection and ascension at the right hand of God until all his enemies be destroyed.

I would say that even if the kingdom of this world is not of Jesus in some sense, we live as those of another kingdom. The kingdom of God. And that God's kingdom continues breaking in through Jesus' body, by the Spirit, in this world.

I have trouble seeing Scripturally and experientially how the nations of this world are the kingdom of God, except that he is sovereign over all, and will work out all things after the counsel of his will (Eph 1). I know Jesus' victory at the cross/resurrection/ ascension is Satan's defeat. Satan is defeated, but he seems still active in the Acts and in the letters of Paul and Peter and James.

Yes. I believe he reigns without a doubt. In this present age. Maybe my futurist outlook of that verse in Revelation misses a present aspect. I need to study and think on that further.

I will say that though Satan is defeated and in a sense bound, because of the cross, he is still active in deceiving the nations. And in that sense, he is still exercising some kind of authority as "the ruler of the kingdom of the air" (Eph 2; also note Eph 6:10f).

I believe that someday Jesus will be King of kings and Lord of lords manifestly and openly. He is so now, but in a way that still sees the horror mentioned in a recent post on this blog.