Michael King was his given name in 1929. After a trip to Germany in 1934, his father changed it to Martin Luther in honor of the great German reformer of the 1500’s. King was only 5 years old at the time. Did he have a clue that his life would be greatly used for the cause of freedom and that he, like the German monk, would be a reformer of his own time?
The life of the Rev. King, Jr. was marked by victory and defeat – joy and sorrow, but the cause he lived and died for was worthy of it all. His theme was freedom and equality under God. His famous speech at The March On Washington cried out for unity and brotherhood among all races of our earth, recognizing that all men are created in the image and likeness of a loving God. Were there mistakes and misguided turns along the way for Rev. King? There absolutely was, as there is with all of us, but here’s the lesson we learn from his life: stand up. Stand up for the causes that are born out of God’s heart. Stand up for what you know is true and good and right on this earth, even if it means harm and difficulty may come.
The German reformer, Martin Luther, (the inspiration for King’s name) was made famous by the publication of his “95 Thesis”, a letter written to the Roman Catholic Church protesting the practice of selling indulgences. These indulgences were in direct correspondence to Catholic doctrine stating that faith alone cannot save man and that justification is based upon the accompanying works of charity. Johann Tetzel famously said, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” This was the slavery of Luther’s day, the slavery he fought to end; men, women, and children in bondage to their sin and given no hope of finding a way out. The ones who were supposed to be their spiritual leaders were actually their taskmasters. Every-day-folks were kept in the dark under the lie that only the priests had the right to interpret Scripture. Salvation through faith in Jesus was marred by the greed of the Roman Church, but in the midst of this injustice stood a young monk who simply read and believed the Word of God, and desired that all men be given the right to do the same.
Romans 3:21-24 “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”
Like Martin Luther, God’s plan for Dr. King would change the world as he knew it. He led a charge against evil by standing up for truth. His nonviolent approach, the stance of winning an opponent to friendship, rather than to humiliate or defeat him, took much heat, but there he stood turning the other cheek; motivated by His love for the Gospel. King said, “Before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment.” We have this to thank for his tenacious attitude for freedom. He knew the unconditional love of His Savior.
Before his death, he said, “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” The very next day he took a sniper’s bullet while standing on his hotel balcony. His death did not end the fight for civil rights but instead thrust it forward. Though Dr. King did not make it to the “Promised Land” he foresaw for the black community, we see the fruit of his love and labor today in America and in much of the world.
Luther and Luther are heroes and worthy to be compared side by side. They believed in a great God whose strength is larger than all evil, who empowers His people to stand for injustice without fear. Both of their hearts were motivated by truth and love for God as supreme Creator, and man as His pinnacle creation. We are indebted to their efforts, enjoying the freedoms we know today because of them. The work is not done. We need more Luther’s in our day, both in the Church and in the public arena. We do not fight under the false pretense that this world is our forever home, but we fight in accordance to the Spirit that is within us and the love that has been placed in our hearts. We need reformers who are willing to uncompromisingly devote themselves to the Word of God and apply it in the real world. There will always be opposition to our freedom as humans under God and as new creations in Christ, but the battle is in the hands of the Almighty God.
Joel is a husband, father of four, church planter and the pastor of New City Church in Bath, Maine. My desire for writing is that many would respond in love and faith towards God, and bring glory to Jesus.