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"Propagandizing Christianity," Sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

King, Martin Luther, Jr.
Montgomery, Ala.
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Career in Ministry


King preached this homily, one of his most overtly evangelistic messages, during his first month as Dexter's pastor. Encouraging his listeners to become “propaganda agents” for the cause of Jesus, he poses this challenge: “If Hitler could do all of this with an evil idea it seems that we could rock the world with the truth of the saving power of the gospel.”

Text: Acts 1:81

Introduction: For the average person, the word propaganda has evil and viscious overtones. Propaganda is considered something used by the demagogue to spread evil ideologies. Because of the high state of development that propaganda has reached in totalitarian nations, it is readily dismissed as something to be condemned and avoided. But propaganda does not have to be good or evil. There is a noble sense in which propaganda can be used. Remember that the term originated in the Catholic Church. Propaganda is simply an attempt to disseminate principles or ideas by organized effort. And so when Jesus says to this disciples “go ye into all the world and preach my gospel,” he is saing int in effect, propagandize my word, spread it, dissiminate it, push it into every nock and crock of the universe.2

On one occas In the 1 chapter of the book of Acts Jesus is reported to have said to his disciples, “ye shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judae, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” I would like to use this text as a basis of our discussion this morning, for it in these words Jesus is calling upon his disciples to propagandize his word be true propagandizers. He is saying in effect, propagandize my word, spread it, dissiminate it, push it into every nock and crok of the universe, carry it to every tribe and every race, every nation and every village; Propagandize my word to the uttermost part of the earth. This command comes to every generation of Christians. Jesus is still saying to Christians everywhere, ye shall be my witnesses, ye shall be my propaganda agents, ye shall be the spreader of my truth in all the world.

Now let us look at this text more closely and see what Jesus means by our being his witnesses. How are we to propagandize Christianity. The word witness goes through has three meanings in the New Testament, and these three meanings of the words witness set forth our responsibility in propagandizing Christianity.

  1. The first meaning of the word is found in the Gopels and Acts. Here witness means simply to go out and talk about the resurrection. In other words it means verbal affirmation. Now this is important. We are forever confronted with the pressing demand to go out and [strikeout illegible] talk about Christianity. Never underestimate the power of words. (Advetizing has discovered it; Hitler discoved it). If Hitler could do all of this with an evil idea it seems that we could rock the world with the truth of the saving power of the gospel. If the advertizers can convince the men that they cant do without their products, we ought to be able to convince men of the productive power of God in Christ. (I can remember as a little boy how my grandmother cooked biskets and how I would run around the community and share them. They were too good to hold.) Do you really believe in this thing called Christianity. Do you believe that herein lies the solution to the world's problems. Do you believe that Christiainty has the power to give new meaning to life. Well tell the world about it. Tell your collegues about it, your workers, your franternity brothers, your playmates.

    And Don't be afraid to defend the Church where necessary. Certainly the Church is not perfect, It has often stood in the way of social and scientific progress and as I will show in a few minutes I am often ashamed of the Church, but in spite of its errors I would hate to see what the world would be like without it.

    1. If someone tells you that all preachers are racketeers and insincere, go
      back and tell
    2. If they tell you that the church sanction ingnorance, go back and tell them.
    3. you dont have to be a philosopher [or?] theologian to talk about it. Be able to say as the man of old, “I was blind but now I see3
  2. The second meaning of witness comes from Paul. For him witness means living a triumphant life. Its not enough to talk about it but we must live about it. (Quote Edgar Guest)4 The most indisputable fact in all the universe is a pernal example. As we look around we see divorces rampant, the liquor traffic on the march, gambling almost legalized, sex turned into an immoral plaything. And involved in all of these is Christians—
    1. The Church has been too soporific
    2. The ministers are not to be excused.

{Preached at Dexter Sept. 10 1954}5

1. “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

2. Cf. Mark 16:15. In another sermon with a similar theme, King wrote an alternate introduction that refers to Harry Emerson Fosdick's sermon “The Fine Art of Making Goodness Attractive” (Fosdick, The Hope of the World, pp. 195-203). King's introduction reads: “In these days of modern transition confusion, when the forces of evil seem to stand before us like the beaming sun and the forces of good seem to be lost behind the dim fog of obscurity, one is almost forced to question the validity of religion Xtny. Has religion Xnt lost its power of directing and guiding the spiritual life of society? Has religion Xty been relegated to a mere creedal system with no transforming power? These are serious question. They are questions which are probbably lurking in the minds of all well thinking Christians and even non-Christians. Amid this situation I am lead to ask another question which to me is all important: Have we as Xns properly and adaquately propagandized Christianity? I can imagine that many of you are now quite astonished after hearing me use the word propaganda in relation to religion. The word propaganda for most of you has usually carried an unpleasant connotation. We often think of propaganda as a means of propagating evil and vicious ideologies. Yet we can by no means limit the word propaganda to such narrow confind. Propaganda may be good or bad depending on the merit of the cause urged. If you will turn to your Funk and Wagnalls' Dictionary you will find the word defined thus: ‘1. Any institution or scheme for propagating a doctrine or system’” (King, “Propagandizing Religion,” 1948-1954).

3. Cf. John 9:25; see also John Newton's hymn “Amazing Grace” (1779).

4. King probably refers to Edgar A. Guest's poem “It Couldn't Be Done”: “Somebody said that it couldn't be done / But he with a chuckle replied / That ‘maybe it couldn't,’ but he would be one / Who wouldn't say so till he tried. / So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin / on his face. If he worried he hid it. / He started to sing as he tackled the thing / That couldn't be done, and he did it!” (Guest, Breakfast Table Chat [Detroit: n.p., 1914], p. 148).

5. King wrote this date, a Friday, next to the sermon's title. He probably preached this sermon on Sunday, 12 September. He was also scheduled to deliver a version of this sermon on 2 July 1950 (“Ebenezer Baptist Reveals Slate,” Atlanta Daily World, 1 July 1950).


CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon file, folder 55, ''Propagandizing Christianity.''