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Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.’s Heresy, Denial of Christ’s Deity and Physical Resurrection

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While Evangelicals — and Southern Baptists in particular — are all in on Black History Month to talk about what a great “Christian hero” Martin Luther King Jr. was, it’s important to remember that King denied several essentials of the faith that placed him outside of the bounds of orthodox Christianity and that if he actually died believing these things, he did not receive the Kingdom of God.

A few years ago, the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) held a joint conference with The Gospel Coalition (TGC) on the 50th anniversary of MLK’s assassination. The conference, dubbed MLK50, featured several social justice pastors from Evangelical churches and social gospel movements around the country to celebrate MLK’s legacy. Further, professors at Southern Baptist seminaries have defended King’s heresy as well.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor who received his seminary training at Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, PA in 1948 where it is said that he “strengthened his commitment to the Christian social gospel.” Martin Luther King Jr. was the pastor of the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church from 1954 until 1960. It is from here that he began his civil rights movement.

On March 29, 1959, Easter Sunday, King preached a sermon titled A Walk Through the Holy Land. This sermon calls into question King’s biblical fidelity and his commitment to essential Christian doctrines. In this sermon, King denied the importance of believing in the physical resurrection of Jesus stating that it doesn’t matter if one believes in the physical resurrection or a spiritual resurrection.

Whatever you believe about the resurrection this morning isn’t important. The form that you believe in, that isn’t the important thing. The fact that the revelation, resurrection is something that nobody can refute, that is the important thing. Some people felt, the disciples felt, that it was a physical resurrection, that the physical body got up. The paul came on the scene, who had been trained in greek philosophy, who knew a little about greek philosophy and had read a little, probably, of plato and others who believed in the immortality of the soul, and he tried to synthesize the greek doctrine of the immortality of the soul with the jewish hebrew doctrine of resurrection. And he talked, as you remember nad you read it, about a spiritual body. Whatever form, that isn’t important right now. The important thing is that that resurrection did occur. Important thing is that that grave was empty.

Attempting to pit the Apostle Paul against the Hebrew writers of the Old Testament, King asserts that Paul tried to “synthesize” Greek philosophy with the “Hebrew doctrine” of the physical resurrection. King’s heresy, however, is the exact Gnostic heresy that Paul is refuting in 1 Corinthians 15 calling it of “first importance.”

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. —1 Corinthians 15:3-5

Notice that Paul doesn’t say that it “isn’t important,” instead, Paul says it is of “first importance” — that it is an essential doctrine. King denied that this was an essential doctrine placing him into the realm of heresy.

But that isn’t King’s only heresy — he also denied the orthodox view of the Divinity of Jesus. In a paper he writes in November 1929 titled The Humanity and Divinity of Jesus, he writes,

The orthodox attempt to explain the divinity of Jesus in terms of an inherent metaphysical substance within him seems to me quite inadequate. To say that the Christ, whose example of living we are bid to follow, is divine in an ontological sense is actually harmful and detrimental. To invest this Christ with such supernatural qualities makes the rejoinder: “oh, well, he had a better chance for that kind of life than we can possibly have.” in other words, one could easily use this as a means to hide behind his failures. So that the orthodox view of the divinity of christ is in my mind quite readily denied.

While many Evangelicals argue that King only held these views in his early years and suggest that we have no reason to believe that he still held these views in his later years, the fact remains that there is no evidence whatsoever that he ever recanted these views. In fact, King was given over to the social gospel — a false gospel that places the emphasis on Christ’s work on social, temporal issues rather than the eternal. Further, his fruits of sexual immorality place further evidence on the lack of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Should Evangelicals be lauding Martin Luther King as a “Christian hero”?

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