Ellis: A Dysfunctional Church — Part 2

…Those in the Reformed church community, who pride themselves on having a wholistic theology, were better equipped to understand the phenomenon of Brother Martin. Dr. King was trying to bring the reality of the biblical world-and-life-view to bear on the real problems in society, such as racism and segregation. He firmly believed that history was neither autonomous nor a chance occurrence of events, but that God was sovereign over all things He believed in the power of the Spirit of God to quicken people to respond positively to the Word. Dr.King was firmly rooted in the life of the church and saw the kingdom of God as having a broad sphere of influence in its theology and ethics.

Yet the Reformed Christians who shared Brother Martin’s outlook did not recognize him. They were caught in the “paralysis of analysis.”

When Dr.King listed the churches that endorsed the Civil Rights Movement, the so-called Bible-believing churches were conspicuously absent. Was it too much to expect them to recognize the ethical and theological nature of the movement when it was at its peak?

Without input from the Black community, the White church was unable to see the structural sin in the American system. Reformed thinkers like J. Marcellus Kik who attempted to apply theology to social problems tended to be negative. Other thinkers said things like “Immediate integration would be destructive to Blacks and Whites alike,” or “The problems of racism will eventually disappear under the present system of preaching the Word.” The same arguments were being offered by proponents of apartheid in South Africa.

Thus the mainline, Bible-believing community generally misunderstood the significance of Dr. King—the fundamentalists and evangelicals primarily because of their defective theological position and the Reformed Christians primarily because of their defective cultural position.

This dysfunctionality of the conservative churches was due in part to the nature of Western theology itself. It had developed under the challenge of unbelieving philosophy and science, and thus it was much more concerned with epistemological issues (what we should know about God) than with ethical issues (how we should obey God). The White church had generally been isolated from the African-American community for almost a hundred years, and Brother Martin was the product of the African American church—a church with a distinctly different growth and flavor. Hence, just as the kingdom ofGod had caught the scribes and Pharisees unawares, the Civil Rights Movement caught the predominantly White, Bible-believing communities unawares. Ironically, the liberals, who had apparently departed from God’s written Word, were able to recognize this move of God better than those who were supposed to be committed to God’s Word.

-Carl F. Ellis Jr., Free At Last: The Gospel in the African American Experience, 82-83.

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