Martin Luther King Predicted the Decline of the Mainline Church


FIFTY years ago this April, Martin Luther King, Jr. sat in a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama and wrote a letter to moderate clergymen in white mainline churches. In it he expressed his disappointment in the church’s inability to be a people formed more by a vision of Jesus than by fear of cultural rejection.

Luther King wrote:

 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..


6 thoughts on “Martin Luther King Predicted the Decline of the Mainline Church

  1. But I’ve always felt Church was a club that I didn’t seem to fit into, no matter how much I tried to. It’s refreshing to find out that others feel the same way…..and sad too, I think. I always thought it was my problem. But it’s a subject I’ve found that church-going Christians do not want to talk about.

    Have you ever watched that animated children’s movie called ANTZ? That’s how I felt in the last church I attended for several years, trying to fit in and tow the line. I don’t ever want to feel like that again! Anyway, God knows…….


  2. The church as a club is declining in certain cultures, gaining strength in others. Perhaps just going through different stages at different times. It’s often easier to imagine you love the starving in third world countries, than to actually love your neighbour. After all, you know your neighbour’s irritating ways, their faults. They’re not your kind, you don’t want to be in the same club

    I’ve heard it said you can’t love God until you can love your neighbour. I wonder what the general opinion of that might be? Of course love has little to do with liking, but involves caring, compassion and forgiveness.

    If I join an online spiritual group, how does that count? Am I content only when interacting with people of my own persuasion? That’s a joke, I think!


    • If you were to pose that question to a pastor I know, “If I join an online spiritual group, how does that count?” he would tell you it amounts to nothing—that’s what he told us the last time I was there at his church……which left me feeling rather flat.


      • Yes, that was the view of one I also knew (and respected). He was strong on the aspect of God wanting us to relate well to others.


    • And just two months ago I visited the Catholic church I was very much involved with, and volunteering for St Vincent’s de Paul, seeking if I may be considered for volunteering again even though I no longer see myself as Catholic. All was going really well, I met the parish priest who was all smiles…..until I mentioned I was no longer a Catholic. You mentioned people who scowled? OMG, he couldn’t even bring himself to say goodbye to me. Needless to say I haven’t received the promised phone call from the local St. Vinnines rep. And I wonder why my supposed brothers and sisters in Christ can’t seem to see my heart but only judge instead. Nothing seems to have changed in all these years, sigh!


      • That is sad, Monica. Are St.Vinnies volunteers supposed to proseletise for the Church? Or was he frightened that you would ‘infect’ other workers with ‘heretical’ ideas? Perhaps his instructions, protocol, forbad non-Catholic volunteers, but his own attitude could have been better. Perhaps he is more to be pitied than judged.


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