In Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert’s book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself, I came across a story from the ol’ South of the 1960 and the dilemma of a Baptist pastor preaching the gospel in the seat of racism and oppression.
The pastor in the story was an honorable man serving a First Baptist Church. His focus during those dark days was “packing pews” and preaching people into heaven while making sure they avoided the vices of alcohol and sexual immorality. Meanwhile, he was manning the ship during a sea change unlike any see in decades.
As Martin Luther King Jr. and others fought and died for civil rights, the pastor continued to focus his preaching and ministry on personal piety rather than public policy and of course he avoided politics at all costs.
Meanwhile young men and women flooded into the ol’ South from the North pushing the civil rights agenda–and a few gave their lives for this cause. Many of these young men and women claimed little or not Christian faith.
In frustration the pastor preached a sermon entitled “The Sorrow of Selma”. In the sermon he called the civil rights workers “unbathed beatniks”, “immoral kooks”, and “sign carrying degenerates” who were hypocrites in his eyes because they did not believe in God.
Corbett & Fikkert observed the stark contrast between these two opposing forces writing:
Both Reverend Marsh and the civil rights workers were wrong, but in different ways. Reverend Marsh sought the King without the kingdom. The civil rights workers sought the kingdom without the King. The church needs a Christ-centered, fully orbed, kingdom perspective to correctly answer the question: “What would Jesus do?”
I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with this observation. Jesus taught us to pray “Thy Kingdom Come and Thy Will be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
Our work is to bring the reality of heaven down to the dusty streets of earth. It is not “either/or” but it is “both/and”. I find it much easier and cleaner to preach a gospel of personal piety and to avoid the struggles of the world around me, but for the gospel to be the gospel I believe it must speak to the hurts of our society.
I pray I will work for and serve the King and His Kingdom all the days of my life.