January 21, 2008

MLK Day and the Gospel

Today is Martin Luther King Day. I was thinking about this column and looking through some old papers when I ran across a letter I had written on January 16, 2003. I had received several enquiries from a university professor wanting to survey me, in light of the 2002 riots in Over-the-Rhine, about race relations in our church…and what we do (mainly socio-politically) to promote racial reconciliation. Here is an excerpt of my reply, with a few supplements that reflect, I hope, four more years of wisdom:

Dear Dr. _______,

I have completed the survey but feel it necessary to write you concerning my views on this issue.

I feel your survey is perhaps missing the point a little bit. You see,
[genuine, heart-level] racial reconciliation has no lasting correlation with politics, governments, speeches, marches, etc. None of these things can change a person's heart one ounce. Only the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ can change the hearts of people and rid their lives of racism. "If any man is in Christ, He is a new creature. The old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is the Bible that [first of all] teaches that all men are created equal, not U.S. governmental documents (See Genesis 1:26-27). So I submit to you that all [I would now rather say “most of”] the political maneuvering done by ministers in the name of racial reconciliation is a lot of "sound and fury, signifying nothing." Only Jesus can change the stubborn hearts of men.

Having said all this, I want you to know that our church
is quite diverse, in my mind. On a normal Sunday, 12-15% of our congregation will be black—both African-American and African. Why is that? Not because we are better or more astute than other churches. Not because we make a big issue out of race relations. Not because I preach on the issue often or encourage people to get involved politically. The reason we are more racially diverse than most churches in our area is because we preach the full, unbiased gospel of Jesus Christ who died and was raised to redeem all manner of people from a life of slavery to all manner of sin—including racism. People who have been forgiven and reborn in Christ are free from racism. “If the Son makes you free, you are free indeed." And it is this freedom that motivates us to want to minister to all types of people and to create an environment where, indeed, all are treated as equals. By the grace of God that is happening here.

I hope and pray that we will see it happen on a grand scale for the glory of God. And I pray that the Son may indeed set you free as well.

So while we celebrate (and we should!) the political gains that have been made...let us remember that there is much work to do - most of it in the heart, and by the gospel.

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