By Joseph R. Fields
Martin Luther King, Jr., demonstrated to the world that you find the soul of a prophet at the heart of black preaching.
Dr. King served churches in Montgomery, Alabama, and Atlanta only a short time (1954-1968), but the impact of his preaching stretched around the world and continues in time.
In 1979, Henry H. Mitchell wrote, “Fifty years ago, the African American (or Black) preaching tradition was looked down upon, even scorned by Western (or White) culture and indeed by many black intellectuals and some self-styled radicals young and old.”
Black preaching was viewed as an unstructured, emotional outburst of uninformed rhetoric, devoid of value to the masses and relegated to the culture into which it was born.
The world is richer because, by the will of God, the sentiments of yesteryear regarding black preaching have taken a turn for the better. As humanity takes time to pause and to reflect upon Dr. King’s life, it should not escape our attention that he helped to turn the tide for black preaching to be accepted and to be seen as a prophetic voice to which God has given breath.
Dr. King was by no stretch of anyone’s imagination the only prophetic voice being amplified in the black church. The roster of effective, impactful sages are too numerous to mention, but in my opinion King’s voice was one of the loudest, clearest, and most concise of the last 75 years.
On April 4, 1968, that clarion voice was silenced by an assassination that still hovers over the country like a wet blanket. Regardless of how you try and get comfortable with it, there is no relief from its existence.
The prophetic voices of God are chosen by God to deliver a message and often times the chosen prophet does not want the assignment. At some of the darkest times in the ministry of Dr. King there were days when he did not want to go any further, his body was wrecked with pain, his emotions were as fragile as paper, yet he still summoned the Lord for the strength to complete the mission.
Dr. King’s preaching has taught the world that at the heart of black prophetic preaching you could find a message that the preacher was experiencing. Prophetic preaching is experiential preaching; it is preaching that is inspired by the Spirit of God. Prophetic preaching will always hold the Scriptures as the center of all they build upon. It is the Scriptures that are to be used as the main sources of inspiration above all other sources.
It was the rightly dividing of God’s Word to a nation that had lost its way as it relates to the treatment to minorities that helped establish King as one of this generation’s prophetic black preachers. Nevertheless, King with evidence of desiring to be a pastor served two of several purposes. Functioning dispensationally as a catalyst for civil rights, while elevating substantive black preaching on the world stage.
The assassination of Dr. King took his life, but it could not take his voice. As a minister of the gospel, my ministry has been enriched because of the life of Dr. King. It is with great honors that I salute the preacher with a prophetic voice, the drum major for civil justice, and the pastor with a heart for God and God’s people.
Joseph R. Fields is senior pastor of New Beginnings Church in Lewisville and first vice president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.