Question of the Week: How Far Is Too Far With Worship Ministry?

There are usually two ends of the spectrum when it comes to worship ministry.

On the one hand, there are those who see the modern influences of technology, modern music, multi-media, and other production elements as extremely negative. I’m not just talking about the King James only, Retirement Community only churches of America. There are people of all ages and backgrounds, in churches all over who fear the modern shift in worship ministry. They go out of their way to avoid the modern eases.

On the other hand, there are those who embrace every aspect of the modern. They have multi-media presentations on the highest quality projectors money can buy. Their bands are made of all studio musicians and the light shows rival broadway.

As a worship pastor, sifting through what’s right and wrong with regard to method is important. I think anyone attending church, especially with any role of leadership needs to ultimately wrestle with this issue. What is the balance? Should we refrain from any modern influence for fear of going too far? Just because we can do something with regard to production and technology, should we?

How far is too far with worship ministry? In a recent article in Relevant, they asked ten worship leaders questions along these lines. Be sure and check it out as you work through this and weigh in below with your thoughts. Has worship ministry gone too far with technology and where is the balance?


5 Reasons People Still Predict the End of the World

Even in Jesus’ day, his followers were obsessed with knowing when his promised return would be. While sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples approached him and asked when the end of the age would be (Matt 24:3). Right before ascending up to heaven in the beginning of Acts, his disciples ask if it was the end of time when he would restore the kingdom completely. In both instances, Jesus responded with the most challenging answer human ears can hear: “You will never know!” Jesus tells them that there will be certain indications that it is near, but we will never know the exact time of his return. Jesus describes his Second Coming as a thief who breaks into a house in the middle of the night. No one will expect it. This is what the Bible guarantees.

Jesus’ promise of our ignorance has not stopped people from predicting it. The Seventh Day Adventist were formed when William Miller predicted the end of the world would be in 1843. Harold Camping originally predicted the end of the world would be in September of 1994. When September of 1994 came and went without any sign of apocalypse, Harold re-predicted the end of the world as May 21, 2011. If you have been driving down a major highway in America, you have probably seen the billboards guaranteeing it.

I am baffled that despite the incredible clarity in the Bible that we will not know when Jesus is coming back, people still predict it and are believed. What is it that drives so many people to buy into these predictions? What is the motivation behind the billboards seen all over America?

Here are 5 Reasons why people predict the end of the world:

1. We Can’t Stand Not Knowing – From the oracle at Delphi saying, “Know thyself,” to Nietszche’s famous quote, “Knowledge is Power,” knowing has been one of the most significant driving forces for progress and sin in human history. It’s what got Adam and Eve in trouble. They wanted the power behind behind the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. People just can’t stand not knowing. So instead of accepting Jesus’ promise that we will never know, we turn to all kinds of kooky numerology and other strange methods to predict it.

2. We Want to Control Our Fate – It brings chills down the spine of most Americans to hear the last two lines of the famous poem, “Invictus.” “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” Unfortunately, this line just isn’t true. There are certain things in life we can control. Our ultimate fate is not one of them. By predicting the end of times we take what was meant to be hoped for in faith into something we control. If we know when the world will end, we can plan accordingly. We can control things.

3. We Want to Make Money – I know this might seem strange to you, but there is a lot of money in end of the world predictions. Harold Camping is currently worth 25 million dollars with his company, Family Radio, netting over 177 million dollars. Once you predict the end of the world, you ask people to give all their money to the cause of getting the word out, which doesn’t cost nearly as much as is earned through people’s donations. Thus, profits. People predict the end of the world in order to prey on the above mentioned impulses of other people. It may seem sleazy, but it works.

4. We Don’t Read the Bible – At least, we don’t read the Bible in its entirety. If you already have an idea of what you want the Bible to say, you can make it say just about anything. However, anybody who reads the Bible in its entirety and without a severely debilitating preconceived notions would predict the Second Coming of Christ. Jesus himself tells us we can’t. However, if we don’t read the Bible, it is not difficult to claim that it supports our whack job theories.

5. We Want the Publicity – Nobody in America should know who Harold Camping is. But we do. Enough said.

Jesus doesn’t want us knowing because the Christian life is supposed to be lived by faith. If his return is immanent but unknown, it should cause us to be constantly living in expectation and sharing the good news of salvation through Christ. I look forward to seeing you all on May 22, 2011.

On a related note, the zombie apocalypse is totally legit. Watch out!

The God of Love in 3-D

I was struck by something today.

While working on some homework in the crowded Koine coffeehouse on the DTS campus, I was listening to  John Mark McMillan’s album The Medicine. The final song on the album is one that I have been doing frequently in worship, How He Loves. Although repetition can be the key to learning, it can also be the enemy of profundity. Every night Lauren and I sing “Jesus Loves Me” to our son before he goes to bed. A common mantra in our church is “Jesus loves us.” No doubt, we worship a God of love. But how often do I actually feel it? How often do I affirm the two dimensional phrase “Jesus loves me” and also experience it in 3-D?

Knowing God is a God of love is one thing. Feeling it is something completely different. Today I was struck by how little I let myself feel that God is a God of love.

My wife called me earlier to give me an update on our son. Apparently today he learned how to take his diaper off during nap time. This is one of the many little fears that new parents have. We know it will happen, but we still dread the day. As my wife walked into his room and saw what had happened, she walked right up to Kyler’s half naked little body without hesitation, picked him up and cleaned him. She didn’t close the door and hope he would some how learn how to put his diaper back on. She didn’t put newspaper over him. She didn’t shame him and yell at him. She gently brought him into her arms, braving pee, poop, and any and all of the other disgusting things our cute baby creates, and showed him love.

We tell Kyler that we love him all the time, but today Lauren got the opportunity to show him that love in 3-D. He may not have fully understood it, but in his own way, he felt loved. Just like Lauren entered the mess of a diaper-less nap time, Jesus entered into the mess of our world. He didn’t close the door. He didn’t try to cover us up. He didn’t shame us. He just loved us.

In those moments when I feel distant from the love of God I affirm, I think of Jesus. The God of love is not merely a theological proposition. It is not a tagline in a song, or a meaningless platitude we tell ourselves to assuage the pain of a fallen world. The God of love is 3-D in Jesus. Through him we can feel it, experience it, and know it beyond words.

Do you sometimes have a hard time feeling God’s love? What helps you?

““For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16–17 ESV)

A Theological Look at Worship Pastoring: Part 2

Over the last few months, I have been researching and writing a paper for an independent study entitled “Teaching Theology through Worship Ministry in a Postmodern Context.” As a worship pastor, this has been the most important academic study I’ve ever done as far as influencing my personal ministry. Now that I have turned in my first draft of the paper I’m excited to share with you bits and pieces of the paper (It’s 30 pages long, so don’t worry, I won’t be sharing all of it). Overall, I argue that worship ministry is the perfect medium to teach theology to a postmodern culture because it is a ministry characterized by a dialogue with an incarnate God. Part 2 is the last section of the paper in which I propose four strategies for teaching theology through worship ministry to a postmodern generation. I break every blogging rule in the book on the length of this post, but I would really challenge you to read through this critically and give me your feedback. Part 1 is posted here.

Singer/songwriter genius Sufjan Stevens is a unique blend of spiritual and postmodern in his approach to God in his music. Although he claims no major religious affiliations and certainly does not manifest clear orthodoxy through his songs, there is a sincere desire in his music to engage with a God he longs to be near. In his song, “Oh God, Where are You Now,” Stevens begins by asking God to hold him, to draw near to him as he walks through his draught of faith. In another song off his 2004 album, Seven Swans, entitled, “To Be Alone With You,” Stevens explores the great depths of the implications of atonement, but does it in a very personal, interactive way, that is honest about the underlying doubts inherent in trusting through faith.

I’d swim across lake Michigan
I’d sell my shoes
I’d give my body to be back again
In the rest of the room

To be alone with you
To be alone with you
To be alone with you
To be alone with you

You gave your body to the lonely
They took your clothes
You gave up a wife and a family
You gave your goals

To be alone with me
To be alone with me
To be alone with me
You went up on a tree

To be alone with me you went up on the tree

I’ll never know the man who loved me[2]

            It is a mistake to believe that just because postmodern culture has rejected Enlightenment epistemology, that it has no interest in knowing God. As Stevens’ songs express, there are many in the postmodern context who want God to hold them, who want to be alone with the only man who can ever love them completely. But many feel like they can’t know God through the tired recitations, the practiced bullet points, and the reason-entrenched liturgy of the institutional church. But is this the only way to do church? To understand true things about God, is it necessary to recognize them in an auto-legitimizing knowledge system rooted in Enlightenment epistemology? A look at the means by which Ancient Israel and the Early Church engaged with God liturgically and learned about his character says otherwise.

The great hope for the church in the midst of the seemingly hopeless and nihilistic world of the postmodern is the doctrine of Incarnation. Postmodernists can reject metanarrative all they want, Christians know God through Christ! There is no need to fear the multiplicity of interpretation if the interpretation is coming through a walk of faith with an interactive Savior. In order to teach theology in a postmodern context, pastors need to approach it in a way that recognizes our knowledge of God comes through the manifestation of his presence, not the systematic theologies, tomes of dogmatic didactics, and rhetoric driven information. Worship pastors have the opportunity to re-orient and reshape the liturgical structure of the church in such a way that people can dialogue with God. In order to meet the needs of a postmodern culture and teach theology, there must be a reprioritization of dialectic, incarnational liturgy through which the church can know God through interaction.

Before concluding, there are four brief suggestions for practical steps towards a dialectic liturgy that can teach a postmodern church theology. (1) Return to Pre-modern liturgy, (2) contextualization of songs with narrative, (3) the use of deconstructive aesthetics, and (4) the aesthetic of justice.

The sacramental imagination begins from the assumption that our discipleship depends not only—not even primariliy—on the conveyance of ideas into our minds, but on the immersion in embodied practices and rituals that form us into the kind of people God calls us to be.[3]

1. A Return to Pre-modern Liturgy

            James Smith, in concluding his discussion of postmodernism and the church writes, “The outcome of postmodernism…should be a robust confessional theology and ecclesiology that unapologetically reclaims pre-modern practices in and for a postmodern culture.”[4] Pre-modern liturgy is one founded on Incarnation, not Reason. Before the Enlightenment, people could know things without knowing them objectively, they could embrace faith without fear of it seeming unreasonable. Now that the man behind the curtain of Modern thinking has been exposed, Smith concludes that there is nothing stopping the church from returning to a dialectic liturgy centered on Incarnation and driven by faith.

As is seen in a look at Ancient Israel and the Early Church, there is great precedence for knowing God through dialectic media. A return to practices such as the interactive taking of the Lord’s Supper, the dialectic interaction that takes place through participation in the traditional church calendar, and the communal sharing of stories about God’s interaction in their life can create strong dialectic liturgy that both praises God and forms believers’ understanding of him. As Marva Dawn writes, “The church’s catechumenal process forms us all—both the new in faith and the more mature—to be a people who drink exuberantly of the satisfying Water of life to quench our deepest thirst.”[5] The Lord’s Supper causes the church to interact with the God who saved them and the church surrounding them in a way that forms an understanding of God. Participating in things like Lent can teach Christians their poverty that led to the cross and the value of sacrificing for Christ, much like Ancient Israel knew God through the daily habits formed by Law-living. Recounting stories, both biblical and personal, can promote a dialogue with an interactive God that teaches truths about Him.

2. Contextualize Songs With Narrative

            Music as a mode of both worship and teaching of theology, as discussed earlier, is an important part of both modern worship ministry and historical liturgy. However, modern worship music can often times feel like stars floating aimlessly through space, unaware of the galaxy surrounding them. It is good for the church to sing, “Our God is greater,” but the phrase doesn’t mean as much when understood outside of the context of the narrative that expresses that truth about God. Without the narrative surrounding the songs sung in a liturgical setting, musical worship becomes rhetorical, merely affirming truths about God and not truly interacting with the God of truth.

In order to connect worship songs effectively to a postmodern culture in a didactic way, the singing of them must happen in a dialectic context. This means contextualizing songs with either the biblical narrative surrounding them or the narrative of the church. Lee Wyatt, although writing primarily about preaching in a postmodern context, still makes an appropriate point. “If we allow the shape of the Story to inform our preaching, then we will be primarily storytellers. No longer will we simply dip into the Scriptures to find a text, or use lectionary readings in isolation from their larger contexts. Specific texts will be embedded in a larger Story.”[6]

Likewise, specific songs need to be embedded in the larger Story of faith. As a worship pastor, before leading the church through a series of songs about God’s faithfulness, I might try and share the story of God bringing his people back from exile, or talk about Jesus’ faithfulness to Peter despite Peter’s denial of him, or have a member of the congregation come and share her story of God’s faithfulness in her own life. By contextualizing songs in narrative, a liturgy that is currently rhetorical becomes dialectic again. Just as Moses sang out of response to God’s presence and interaction, the church is singing in a response to the narrative they inhabit. This simple addition to the current worship form of many Evangelical churches would turn music into a strong dialectic liturgy and a powerful didactic tool to a postmodern culture.

3. Deconstructive Aesthetics

John Caputo describes deconstruction as the “hermeneutics of the Kingdom of God.”[7] What he means is that the kingdom of God, the advent of Jesus in the world, is the deconstructive force that tears down the systems of self and idolatry characterizing the world and reconstructs it in the image of Christ. He writes, “In my view, deconstruction is good news because it delivers the shock of the other to the forces of the same, the shock of the good (the “ought”) to the forces of being (“what is”), which is also why I think it bears good news to the church.”[8] In Caputo’s conclusion, he describes a “church” in Ireland called Ikon, which exemplifies the idea of incorporating a deconstructive aesthetic to create a dialectic liturgy. In its service there are interpretive readings and dance, plays expressing the darkness preceding the resurrection, dramatic iconography asking questions about forgiveness and acceptance of gays and lesbians, pallets and paints available for people to respond and an ultimate suspension of judgment for the sake of all entering into God’s presence.[9]

This, even by Caputo’s admission, is an extreme example of postmodern liturgy that would be difficult for many Christians, even Liberal ones, to enjoy participating in. However, it does show the powerful effect deconstructive aesthetics can have in helping people engage with God. A more palatable example of deconstructive aesthetic is Rob Bell’s series of devotional videos called Nooma. The videos range from two minutes to thirty minutes and usually consist of a series of questions or statements that invoke the viewer to work through the truth of God for himself. In these videos, theology is not normally explicitly expressed but rather inferred through its deconstructive presentation.

Deconstructive aesthetic is any form of art that causes the receiver to actively engage with God. It is a prophetic voice calling the church out of her slumber into an active dialogue with her Redeemer. In order to create a dialectic liturgy in a postmodern context, art must not merely be used as passive reflections on truth, but active deconstructions that invoke interactions.

4. The Aesthetic of Justice

            Smith in his conclusions about a radical orthodox church writes, “The Christian ekklesia must be not only liturgical but also local; it must transform not only hearts but also neighborhoods; its worship must foster not only discipleship but also justice—indeed, disciples who are passionate about justice.”[10] During the research for this paper, I was surprised by the descriptions given by postmodern theologians like James Smith, John Caputo, and Merold Westphal of what postmodern liturgy should look like. It seems the assumption they make about postmodern culture is that it is a culture filled with highly educated people with nuanced artistic tastes. Although that does describe a small part of them, it is not characteristic of them all. In fact, the majority of postmodern culture is comprised of people who would find radical forms of deconstructive art off-putting. It is for this reason that I would like to suggest something new to be thrown into the discussion for what postmodern liturgy should look like. It is the aesthetic of justice.

I am currently a worship pastor at a church called Fellowship White Rock in Dallas, TX. It is a new church started a year ago as a parish offshoot of the church Fellowship Bible Church Dallas. As an attempt to engage a postmodern culture with a dialectic liturgy, the teaching pastor and I decided to change the traditional structure of Sunday services to incorporate the aesthetic of justice into our common liturgy. Every fourth Sunday of the month, instead of the preaching and singing, instead of communion and story, we serve the community in which we inhabit. Since we meet in an underprivileged, underachieving school, there have been numerous ways to serve the community in meaningful ways. Doing things like planting a vegetable garden, hosting block party celebrations for the school kids, and even refurnishing the home of a student who lost all he had in an apartment fire, our church is actively engaging in making right the physical, community wrongs we see around us.

The people who go to our church, for the most part don’t look like radical postmodernists. Although educated, they are mainly young professionals who couldn’t recognize the beauty of a Jackson Pollock painting if it punched them in the face (which could happen). However, they are postmodern and recognize the beauty of seeking justice for the people around them. They are learning that God is a God who transforms people groups, that God’s grace seeks justice, that God’s people should be blessings to those around them. They are learning that the Gospel is both a now and not yet transformational force. In order to create a dialectic liturgy through deconstructive aesthetics, pastors need to think beyond the traditional realm of art and explore the more accessible aesthetic of social justice.

[1] Sufjan Stevens, “Oh God, Where are You Now? (In Pickeral Lake, Pigeon, Marquette? Mackinaw?),” Greetings from Michigan, comps. Sufjan Stevens, 2003,.

[2] Sufjan Stevens, “To Be Alone With You,” Seven Swans, comps. Sufjan Stevens, 2004,.

[3] Smith, 140

[4] Ibid., 116.

[5] Marva Dawn, A Royal “Waste” of Time (Grand Rapids: WIlliam B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), p. 251.

[6] Wyatt, 160.

[7] Caputo, 26.

[8] Ibid. 26-27.

[9] Ibid. 131-133.

[10] Smith, 142.

A Contextualized Gospel

Below is a video I made of me sharing the gospel using postmodern philosophical language. As a pastor, I always want to be careful that I am both speaking correctly about God while at the same time speaking in a language that the culture can understand. This is something seminary folk call contextualization.

The balance is tricky though. I honestly am not completely convinced that I didn’t go too far with this experiment in contextualization. What do you think? Does this communicate the gospel, or does it lose the gospel in an attempt to contextualize?

Also, I am just becoming reoriented with Final Cut and apologize for the editing of this video. This will either be received well for its content or become an embarrassing viral video. Either way, I guess the gospel will be shared…

Is Gay Marriage Really The Greatest Threat to Marriage in America?

I want to tell you up front that I am nervous about writing this post and very concerned that I will be misunderstood. I ask that you will read this with humility, as this is the posture it is written and that you at least consider what is being said and not be blindsided by the emotional convictions surrounding the discussion.

On February 23rd, President Obama had Attorney General Eric Holder issue a statement to Congress and the Justice Department telling them to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. After considering it in light of two recent lawsuits in New York and Connecticut, the President decided they can’t in good conscience defend the Act since, at its core, it is discriminatory and only serves to continue the legal marginalization and prejudice towards homosexuals. In effect, the federal government no longer has a blanket Act that can deny the recognition of homosexual marriages.

This was heralded by many Gay rights advocates as a huge victory. Meanwhile, the Conservative Right (which somehow also means the Evangelical Church) is loading their artillery and preparing for war. Many conservative/Christian groups are preparing to step in to defend the law in lieu of the federal government. Although this recent edict from the president is not necessarily saying that the Executive branch supports gay marriage (his stance is still to support civil unions), this is a step in that direction and it is bringing the issue to the political and religious forefront.

Many Christian leaders (I won’t name them specifically, just use Google), have come out in strong attack against the gay marriage movement and call it the greatest threat to the institution of marriage the church has ever seen. They have lobbied, they have picketed, they have made signs, and a few have even done all of these and put them on youtube. Although, many are not as extreme as the crazy youtubers, there is a general consensus amongst Evangelicals today that gay marriage poses a serious threat, if not the most serious threat, to marriage in general.

I would like to propose something different.

Gay marriage is not a serious threat to heterosexual marriages. There, I said it. That is not to say that homosexuals should get married or that the church should support it. What I’m saying is that the act of them being legally recognized as married for tax purposes and other legal considerations does not affect or pose any real problems to heterosexual individuals who are married now or hope to get married in the future. In many states, homosexuals can already adopt children and if they desire to live in a monogamous relationship with their partner, they are doing so with or without the blessing of the federal government. Regardless of whether it should be done, the act of it being done doesn’t change or significantly impede the ability for a man and wife to love each other well and have a healthy marriage.

Now before you start to print off my picture and burn it in effigy, let me get to the point of what I’m saying:

The greatest threat to the American institution of marriage is not gay marriage, it is HAPPINESS.

I know, this doesn’t seem to make sense. It would seem that happiness in a marriage would be a positive thing. And in one way, of course, it is. It is definitely a good thing to be happy in a marriage.

What I mean is that the desire for people to be happy, specifically the overwhelming desire for married individuals to be happy above all else in a marriage is the greatest threat to marriage the church has ever seen. Maybe I should say that it is the pursuit of happiness that is the real threat.

The underlying motivation for people to have affairs, ruin their marriage with debt, destroy trust with pornography, neglect each other with work, or just kill the life of the marriage with busyness is the pursuit of personal happiness. People go into marriage thinking that as long as they marry the right person, that connection will make them completely happy. As anyone who has been married for any extended period of time knows, this is not true. So men and women begin to pursue happiness elsewhere and in effect, divorce rates climb.

So here is my question. Where is the religious right’s artillery in light of the impending and proven threat of happiness on American marriages? Where is the picketing? Where are the conservative religious leaders standing in front of TV screens condemning the rise of individual happiness as a motivation for marriage?

Gay marriage is an issue the church does need to respond to and the teachings in the bible as to the morality of homosexuality is clear. Regardless of what the government recognizes, the church doesn’t have to follow suit. But if this is our response to the tomato of gay marriage being thrown at the giant that is the church, why isn’t our response to a true threat even greater? It seems to me that the overwhelming anger seen in the church attacking gay marriage is really a smokescreen for the guilt of letting the pursuit of happiness run amuck in our churches and infect the integrity of our marriages.

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3–5 ESV)

Sermon Sneak Peek: Christlike Compassion

Update: If you want to listen to the sermon, you can listen to it here.

“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14 ESV)

This Sunday I am getting another opportunity to preach, this time at Fellowship White Rock. As part of our series, The Journey, I will be preaching on Matthew 13:53 – 14:21, focusing especially on Jesus feeding the five thousand. It is amazing to me how strong and driving Jesus’ compassion was in spite of all the opposition he faced, especially in this passage. Jesus first gets rejected in his hometown (Matthew 13:53-58), and then he hears of the death of John the baptist (Matthew 14:1-12), which was a sign for what was to come for Jesus himself. After meeting some of his strongest opposition to date in his ministry, Jesus tries to retreat away from the crowds and the tension and find some solitude.

Instead, the crowds follow him. He gets no quiet refrain to recover from his wounds, he gets no solitude to be with His Father. He is met by a massive crowd of needy and hurting people, the same people who within a year would reject him and support the decision to crucify him. Jesus had every reason and right to respond with anger, indifference, or hostility. He could have seen the crowds on the shore, and just rowed the boat back out to sea to find rest somewhere else.

But that’s not what Jesus did. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them and he healed them. The main point that I will be making this Sunday is that Jesus’ response to opposition is compassion! The kingdom of heaven that Christ preached, the very reign of God that Jesus heralded, is one where compassion triumphs over persecution. It is a kingdom where the drive to seek justice for those in need overpowers the resistance put up by the needy.

Seeing that Jesus responds to opposition with compassion, this Sunday I want to take time looking at the feeding of the five thousand (the only miracle apart from the crucifixion and resurrection that is included in all four gospels) and see what we can learn about the compassion of Christ. These are the main points that have stood out to me:

1. Jesus’ compassion actively seeks justice

2. Jesus’ compassion desires our participation

3. Jesus’ compassion is not limited by our scarce resources

In preparation for the sermon this Sunday, I have been looking over the life of Martin Luher King Jr., specifically the events surrounding his open letter, Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I had read bits and pieces of it before, but never the whole thing. What an example of a man responding to opposition and hardship with compassion! I don’t typically like to just copy and paste large chunks of things others have written into my blog, but this section is just too good to not share. It is important and relevant not only to the sermon this Sunday, but also to a modern church who, if we do not take seriously the call of Christ to have an active compassion, will sink into irrelevancy.

“I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they whenGovernor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? l am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

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 for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.” -Martin Luther King Jr. from Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.