Martin Luther King was a great man in terms of dedication to his cause and the results he achieved. The pertinent question we answer here is whether it was the cause of Christ to which the “Reverend” gave his life, and the answer is “no.” It was his own quest to reform this temporal world, not the ushering in of the Kingdom of God, which comes from within.
Using Christ as a Lever to Move the World
A man holds up Martin Luther King as one who personifies the incarnation of God, Jesus Christ, in our times. Paul writes:
It has taken us a while to get back to you, but I wanted to answer you more fully regarding what I said about Martin Luther King.
I had written you: “Your trust has been in men, such as the atheist ‘Christian,’ Martin Luther King, and not in the victorious Lord and Father of spirits.
‘Do not put your trust in princes, nor in the son of man in whom there is no salvation’ (Psalms 146:3 MKJV).”
You scoff at my description of Martin Luther King as a “Christian” atheist, but he isn’t really the issue. You are the issue, because you are the one who puts his trust in man, which makes you an atheist at heart, though you profess Christ with your lips:
“The fool has said in his heart, There is no God! They acted corruptly; they have done abominable works, there is none who does good” (Psalms 14:1 MKJV).
It’s not what a man says with his lips that tells the true story, but what he says in his heart, by his actions. That’s what Jesus meant when commanding us not to judge by appearance, but to judge righteously. Where is the person coming from in what he says or does?
I will show you that King’s works are abominable in the sight of God.
You extol and praise King because you think so highly of yourself, trusting in your carnal mind and natural ability. You have put your flesh on a pedestal, calling it “Christian” and expecting men to honor it as Christ. This we see in your letters to us and in all your communications with David Thompson.
The Lord Jesus Christ came to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts, but you have enthroned your carnal thoughts and ways.
By defending Mr. King’s Christianity, you are really defending and justifying your own, one that is based on the presumed power of human goodness and virtue (yours in particular). But because mankind is neither good nor virtuous, your Christianity is a sham and a lie.
The most offensive of atheists aren’t those who boldly claim there is no God, but those who claim to believe in and represent Him while vaunting themselves. They leave Him out of the picture altogether. It was these whom the Lord rebuked with Isaiah’s words:
“This people draws near to Me with their mouth, and honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. But in vain they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9 MKJV).
In my reply here, I will refute the arguments you present to prove Mr. King’s status as a Christian, and in doing so, I will be refuting your own Christianity. By exposing your false religion, the foundation will be laid for your future deliverance from delusion, destruction, and death. Only the truth can set men free, and the truth will prevail in the end.
The seeds of destruction are sown in the lies that people embrace about themselves and God, which they do in order to preserve their pride and the freedom to do as they please. The seeds of life are sown in the truth that lovers of pleasure reject, because they don’t want to be held accountable by God for what they do. There is no avoiding accountability, however. Eventually the truth will prevail through the judgment of God on all wrongdoing and wrongdoers because He does hold all accountable.
You write of King and others whom you consider servants of God:
“I look to them for inspiration to continue to do all I can to make sure my own works and ways are as conformed to the life and teachings of Jesus as was their own. ‘Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.’ (Phil. 3:17)”
And what example was that? Was it one of social works, the forte and raison d’être of Dr. King? What does Paul say? Let’s start with what example he says it wasn’t:
Philippians 3:17-20 EMTV
(17) Be fellow imitators of me, brothers, and look out for those walking this way, just as you have us for a pattern.
(18) For many walk, of whom often I was speaking to you, and now even weeping I tell you, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:
(19) whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame–who are mindful of earthly things.
(20) For our citizenship exists in heaven, from which also we eagerly await for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul obviously wasn’t talking about Christian life being one of seeking earthly justice or mounting a campaign for equal rights. This is easily verified by reading the Scriptures, where we find that Paul never set such an example, and neither did Jesus.
If social justice and equal rights were the manner of expressing the life of Christ, why weren’t His disciples seeking those things from Rome, rather than testifying of Christ and inviting their “human rights” to be violated, even unto death? “The foolishness of preaching…”?
Did Rome treat the Jews and other peoples as equals, with equal privileges and voice in the running of state affairs? Far, far from it! Some Jews in Rome were slaves, and most did not have the rights of Roman citizens, particularly in the Roman territory of Israel. Yet we don’t hear one word of complaint calling for resistance to establish independence from, or equality with, the Romans. We don’t see the Lord Jesus Christ or any of His followers doing anything to attain this end, one which you have deified and used to make an idol of King.
“Jesus answered, My Kingdom is not of this world. If My Kingdom were of this world, then My servants would fight so that I might not be delivered to the Jews. But now My Kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36 MKJV).
Despite the total absence of support for the notion that pursuing a social agenda to transform the world is the essence of godliness in action, you make this outrageous claim: “If Jesus had come in 20th century America, instead of 1st Judea, one hardly sees how he would have looked, sounded or acted any differently than Dr. King.”
What we actually see is quite the opposite: We don’t see anything about Dr. King that resembles Jesus or His disciples. Even the title of “Dr.” is a giveaway of what side King was on. Those who called themselves “Doctor” were the ones who persecuted the Lord and His disciples. Here is what Jesus said about them:
“Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend’” (Matthew 23:5-7 MSG).
Until he was turned from his sin, the apostle Paul was one of those “doctors,” and here’s what he said about such degrees after he met Christ:
“The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash–along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant–dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8 MSG).
And what does our Lord and Master say about active or passive disobedience and willful demonstrations of rebellion, through the wisdom He gave Solomon?
“My son, fear the LORD and the king; and do not fellowship with those who are given to change” (Proverbs 24:21 MKJV).
And through Paul:
“Let every soul be subject to the higher authorities. For there is no authority but of God; the authorities that exist are ordained by God. So that the one resisting the authority resists the ordinance of God; and the ones who resist will receive judgment to themselves” (Romans 13:1-2 MKJV).
“For the rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the bad. And do you desire to be not afraid of the authority? Do the good, and you shall have praise from it. For it is a servant of God to you for good. For if you practice evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword in vain; for it is a servant of God, a revenger for wrath on him who does evil” (Romans 13:3-4 MKJV).
Even if King was willing to lay his body down to be burned for the agenda of human rights (as he perceived it), he wasn’t laying it down for the Lord Jesus Christ. King was doing it for himself and man, and we know that it’s Satan who savors the things of man.
The cause of human rights has the cart in front of the horse. God’s rights come first, not man’s. We owe it to Him and ourselves to serve Him and not our own interests, as we perceive them. We are wrong in our perceptions, in our thinking and ways:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways My ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 MKJV).
The truth is that men suffer injustices because they don’t put God first or walk in His ways. Seeking to force change on the authorities of the land is to come against the judgment of God through the powers He has ordained. (I am not saying there isn’t a place to speak the truth or take a stand, when given the opportunity, but that isn’t the same as pursuing an agenda of change in the Name of God when He hasn’t sent you.)
While King was willing to suffer for his narrowly defined cause of human rights, true Christians suffer only for the Name of Christ, the Ruler of Heaven and earth Whom they worship in spirit and in truth:
1 Peter 4:14-16 MKJV
(14) If you are reviled for the Name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of God and of glory rests on you. Truly according to them, He is blasphemed, but according to you He is glorified.
(15) But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evildoer, or a meddler in the affairs of others.
(16) But if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God because of this.
“Then they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing because they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the Name of Jesus” (Acts 5:41 EMTV).
Where do we see this example in King’s life? Where do we see him suffering for the Name of Christ? We don’t, unless you wrongly label social activism “Christ.” And that is indeed what you have done, Terrance, creating an idol and false god.
The world loves its own and admires those who suffer for championing its causes, as King did for some. But the world, in its selfish and destructive wisdom, despises as utter foolishness the notion of suffering for the Name of Christ:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the understanding of the prudent I will annul’” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19 EMTV).
“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom did not know God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21 MKJV).
So if King wasn’t following Jesus Christ or His apostles in preaching the Gospel and the message of the cross, whom was he following? Where did he get his inspiration for social reengineering? Who served as his role model?
Interestingly enough, that turns out to be Mohandas Gandhi, a great man in this world, but one who didn’t profess to know Christ or preach faith in Him. Gandhi was a political leader, very unlike Jesus Christ or His apostles and prophets.
King was introduced to Gandhi at a time when he said he had, in his own words, “despaired of the power of love in solving social problems.” I continue his story by quoting from Gandhi’s Influence on Martin Luther King by Placido D’Souza:
“King was so moved that he immediately bought a number of books on the Indian nationalist leader. He read with fascination of the life of one who had successfully transformed the ethic of nonviolence into a political instrument against British colonial rule.
The impact they made on him is best described in his own words: ‘As I read, I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance. As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform.’
‘The “turn-the-other-cheek” philosophy and the “love-your-enemies” philosophy,’ he went on, ‘were only valid when individuals were in conflict with other individuals; when racial groups and nations were in conflict, a more realistic approach seemed necessary. But after reading Gandhi, I saw how utterly mistaken I was.’
King came to realize that Gandhi was the first person in history to re-invent the Christian ethic of love as ‘a potent instrument for social and collective transformation.’ It was a short journey thereafter to unreserved acceptance of the Gandhian technique of nonviolence as the only viable means to overcome the problems faced by his people.”
Perhaps D’Souza, an admirer of King’s, takes some liberty with his interpretation of events, but it’s clear to see in King’s own words that he thinks nothing of Christ’s power of love, and all of man’s. King couldn’t see how Christ’s love could save the world, so he found his solution in the power of unregenerate man’s love rather than the Regenerator’s.
A man who sees Christ’s love as powerless or lacking hasn’t experienced it in his own redemption and forgiveness of sins. The problem for King was that he was only looking at the outer, trying to fix the world superficially because he never had the faith of Christ to deal with the root problems and transform the inner. Once the inner is taken care of, the outer will no longer be a problem.
This is what the preaching of the apostle Paul was all about, the very thing he was citing to the Philippians as the example they should follow:
“For we are the circumcision who worship God in the spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh…. I also count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for Whose sake I have suffered the loss of all things… that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death” (Philippians 3:3,8,10 MKJV).
This isn’t political philosophy and tactical strategy for social gain. It is the forsaking of those means and goals, in order to receive the inner treasure and peace from God that will truly transform the outer world.
King’s works were geared toward saving the world without saving the soul of man. Of what use is that? Jesus said:
“For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26 MKJV)
King’s knowledge of Jesus was historical and philosophical, which the Bible calls “carnal,” or “knowing Him after the flesh.” King never had a supernatural and personal revelation of Christ, as did Paul, as do we, and as do all who are born again of His Spirit.
(It should be no wonder that, as a product of the religious institutions of this world, such would be the case.)
Only with this knowledge, an intimate and personal relationship with Christ (which can never come by reading about and contemplating Him from afar), can one preach the Lord Jesus and prevail over the world. Christ is our life, and our words are formed by His life in us, bringing the Bread of Heaven to men on earth.
In King’s writings you gave me to peruse, I find selections where he flatly denies the deity of Christ, His virgin birth, and His resurrection. Let’s look at one section (emphasis mine):
“The last doctrine in our discussion deals with the resurrection story. This doctrine, upon which the Easter Faith rests, symbolizes the ultimate Christian conviction: that Christ conquered death. From a literary, historical, and philosophical point of view this doctrine raises many questions. In fact the external evidence for the authenticity of this doctrine is found wanting. But here again the external evidence is not the most important thing, for it in itself fails to tell us precisely the thing we most want to know: What experiences of early Christians lead to the formulation of the doctrine?
The root of our inquiry is found in the fact that the early Christians had lived with Jesus. They had been captivated by the magnetic power of his personality. This basic experience led to the faith that he could never die. And so in the pre-scientific thought pattern of the first century, this inner faith took outward form.”
In other words, the first believers who saw Christ after His resurrection and reported what He said, on more than one occasion, were having shared psychotic hallucinations. Either that or they were, in their “pre-scientific thought pattern,” making up stories so that their “inner faith took outward form.” In other words, they were lying. Is the faith of Christ a lie?
There is a far simpler explanation. The eye witnesses were telling the truth. And we know this is true because Christ has confirmed this in us, as He did for the apostle Paul, who was initially vehemently opposed to the report. And here’s what Paul said about what denying the resurrection means:
“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:17 EMTV)
And that’s exactly what I have said about King’s faith – it is worthless, nonexistent! To him Christ is not God, or the Son of God by miraculous birth, and has no power over death by His resurrection. That makes King a “Christian” atheist. He was still in his sins.
The reason King thought Christ’s disciples were “captivated by the magnetic powers of his personality,” is because that’s exactly what he experienced with his own followers. King fostered a cult of personality, but not so with Christ. Here is His record:
“He is despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as it were a hiding of faces from Him, He being despised, and we esteemed Him not” (Isaiah 53:3 MKJV).
And that has been King’s attitude toward Christ. The argument you use to show King’s works came from God is actually proof positive of the opposite, that King’s works came from corrupt man. The christ whom King served, which you describe as follows, was a false one made in King’s own image:
“As far as Martin Luther King’s atheism is concerned, I’m quite sorry but that is utter rubbish…. His writings are infused with the call to social justice in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets and moral teachings of Jesus. All of his preaching and self-sacrificial social action centered around the moral ideals of Jesus….”
Not true; King’s preaching centered on his moral ideals. Jesus Christ is not a moral idealist with a social agenda. He came to fulfill the Law, and now He requires that of us – to walk with God by His grace. He didn’t come to teach us how to exert moral ideals to get what we wanted from others, gathering en masse and demanding compliance through passive resistance. Show us in Scripture where He or any Hebrew prophet ever did such a thing. They never did; they spoke the truth and taught all men (the rulers and the ruled) to love their neighbors, not to organize themselves into divisive coercive forces in order to bend the will of others.
You continue about King:
“… and like Christ, he was martyred by wicked men who wished to silence his Kingdom movement. Atheism never has and never will produce a man like Dr. King. Only real power from God above can produce a King, a Mother Teresa, a Savonarola.
‘Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.’ (Ps. 37:37)”
There is no comparison between the betrayal of Christ by the Jews, a public execution on record, and the murder of King by a secretive lone gunman. Even if there were a government conspiracy to kill King (which isn’t proven), that wouldn’t be martyrdom. King was embroiled in the politics and affairs of this world, whereas Christ died for the testimony and Kingdom of God.
King was a politician who used the pulpit to gather the masses to effect social change. That was his stated strategy and goal. It wasn’t a matter of faith to him, but of emotionally appealing to the senses of dissatisfaction, injustice, entitlement, and heroic camaraderie, by which he and his followers would bring the Kingdom of God (as they presumed it to be) to earth through human willpower and action.
That wasn’t the Kingdom of God, however. Jesus said the Kingdom of God comes without observation, because it is within. King replied (by his actions), “Phooey on that hooey, let’s get ours now; you come and follow me, and we can make it happen.”
When the people wanted to follow Jesus as king to set up their version of the Kingdom of God on earth, here’s what happened:
“Therefore when Jesus perceived that they would come and take Him by force, that they might make Him a king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain alone by Himself” (John 6:15 MKJV).
King was a religious man of this world, not a stranger because a citizen of the next. So it goes for many religious figures. And the mistake their followers make is to assume that their murder is martyrdom. For example, the Mormons believe that Joseph Smith was martyred when a lynch mob in Missouri got to him, but Smith didn’t die for the testimony of God in Christ (which he never had). Like King, Smith was a political agitator after power in this world, who stirred up strife and suffered the fallout. Like King, Smith was an unregenerate sinner who reaped what he had sown.
Are you not aware that King was an unrepentant adulterer and whoremonger, even according to his friends?
“But let not fornication, and all uncleanness, or greediness, be named among you, as is fitting for saints” (Ephesians 5:3 LITV).
Yet you say of this man, who never repented or lived as a follower of Christ:
“Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace” (Psalms 37:37).
The more appropriate Scriptures are those preceding:
“I have seen the wicked in great power, spreading himself like a green tree in its native soil. But he passed away, and behold, he was not. Yes, I sought him, but he could not be found” (Psalms 37:35-36 HNV).
You mention “Mother Teresa” and Savonarola as inspiring examples of God’s handiwork. But these two are products of the Catholic Church, which has nothing to do with the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s why they are praised by those who don’t know Him:
“And He said to them, You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15 MKJV).
“I just wanted to share this excerpt from the Kings Papers Project, as but one example of Dr. King’s total commitment to genuine Christianity….”
The example you gave of King’s “total commitment to genuine Christianity” is nothing of the sort. The Montgomery Improvement Association is an excellent example of King’s commitment to his agenda of social equality for black people. And as we have pointed out, that is not to be confused with following Jesus Christ. Christ didn’t come to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, but to put away sin and the sinner altogether, making a new creature from within.
In God’s ordering of the affairs of men, He has used even slavery as a way to do His work with people. He put Israel under the yoke of slavery in the iron furnace of Egypt, forging them into a nation and not releasing them until the time was fulfilled, and then only by His own mighty arm and doing. It wasn’t by Moses and Aaron forming the “Goshen Improvement Association,” discovering an effective method to push Pharaoh’s buttons by training the Israelites in the principles of passive protest. That is not God’s way.
It’s understandable that men would want to undertake a mission to relieve a people of any amount of suffering, and we aren’t condemning all such efforts. Here is the issue, however, with King: Let’s not confuse man’s works and ways with God’s judgments and ways. King was mixing the two, doing the former in the name of the latter. Here’s what he said to the people he was organizing:
“We believe in the Christian religion. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest.”
For one to truly believe in the teachings of Jesus, he must first believe in Jesus Christ Himself. By belief we are talking about the Biblical definition of total commitment of one’s life, trusting in Him for everything. If King had this kind of belief, how could he say that the only weapon in their hands was the weapon of protest? Protest is geared toward moving man by man’s machinations, but faith is geared toward trusting God Who does the impossible. And He never calls men of faith to protest in the manner of King.
“For though walking about in flesh, we do not war according to flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4 MKJV).
King went about his protest in the most admirable of ways among men, but what has been the end result of his works? Did the justice he obtained free the black people from the bondage of sin?
“But I want to tell you this evening that it is not enough for us to talk about love, love is one of the pivotal points of the Christian faith. There is another side called justice. And justice is really love in calculation. Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love.”
Did King bring justice and correction to those whose behavior revolted against love (whether to his protesters or to those against whom they protested)? Did he bring them into the faith and obedience of Christ, Who is love incarnate, the Judge of all the earth, Who alone can correct? Did Martin Luther King bring true liberty to the oppressed by the correction he sought to apply on their oppressors?
The answers are self-evident to the one who has experienced genuine liberty in Christ. The one whose eyes are opened need only glance around today to see the results of King’s handiwork. Black people, while better off materially and socially in many cases, are worse off morally and spiritually in many ways since King (not that it can all be laid at his feet, but he bears some responsibility). He fostered a legacy of victimization and entitlement mentality, destructive twins born of man’s pride.
The roots of destruction are internal. Only Jesus Christ effectively deals with the sin nature, creating a new man in His image who is just and walks in the love of God. Expecting (and demanding) one’s own version of love and justice from unregenerate man, as King did, and calling that following the “Christian religion” and the “teachings of Jesus,” is deceitful. It is man’s version of Christ, which has nothing to do with Him, but only uses His Name for selfish purposes. Indeed, it is anti-(instead of-) Christ.
Martin Luther King trusted in his carnal mind, in man’s natural ability and goodness, which is the enemy of God:
Romans 8:5-8 MKJV
(5) For they who are according to the flesh mind the things of flesh, but they who are according to the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
(6) For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace
(7) because the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can it be.
(8) So then they who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Following King’s ways brings death and destruction, but following Christ’s brings life and peace.