Who do you think wrote this quote:
There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning….
This is definitely a quote for our time. It must have been recently written in the last ten years, correct? Well, it hasn’t. In fact it is more than 20 years old. On April 16, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King penned a letter from the Birmingham jail to answer some clergy who said he was radical and impatient in what he was trying to do. Of course his background dealt with the Civil Rights movement he was leading in the South. But I wonder if these words hold true today with our situation? Are we more concerned with comfort than commitment? Are we silent because of what our “friends” will think? Has the world changed us rather than us being a light to the world?
I believe the answer for many to these questions would be yes. If we do not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the N. T. church in America we will certainly die. Dr. King wrote this during what some would consider the “Golden Age” of the Southern Baptist Church. As Southern Baptists, we look back to the 1950’s and 60’s when things were going great. Churches were growing and it seemed that the work of the Lord was progressing. Yet, we have Dr. King’s words to show us that not everyone viewed that time period as a “Golden Age.” A war was being fought for the respectability and equality of all people who are made in the image of God. Dr. King pointed the way. It was not to the “Golden Age” of the fifties or even the transformation of the reformation to which Dr. King looked. In fact in this letter he condemns the churches of the fifties and sixties for their silence on the civil rights issue. He pointed to the era of the N. T. church where pastors weren’t judged by their credentials and Christians relied upon each other rather than tearing each other apart. It was an era where the church did not have the wealth of the world, but relied upon the miracle making God who loved them. It was an era where there was neither, “Jew nor Greek,” “slave nor free man,” “male nor female,” but all were “one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:23) It was an era where “grace and truth” was not a byline tag to a blog, but was lived out among believers. It was an era where the church did not remain silent to the truth of God’s Word even though it may have cost them their own life. It was an era of sacrifice.
I know that Dr. King had his issues. He was not a sinless man. I too have my own issues as I am a sinner saved by grace, but I appreciate the fact that he and I would have agreed on looking to the New Testament church of the first century as our example.