This week, the 2017 G3 Conference will be held in Atlanta, Georgia. As we pray, plan, and prepare for the attendees to arrive, we would ask that you pray with us for this conference. If you aren’t able to attend the conference, you can join us through the livestream option on the website. Thank you for your prayers. May the Lord use the G3 to educate, encourage, and equip through sound biblical teaching.
2018 G3 Conference Registration (watch the G3 website and social media for announcements this weekend).
*I will resume my normal blogging schedule next week.
The present evangelical church culture that we live in is, in many ways, hitched to the train of pragmatism. Whatever works is what the church practices because it brings about results. What if a church grows larger and looks successful from the outside, but did it all without any functional church discipline taking place in the congregation? It would be like an athlete growing really large by eating something other than protein and lifting weights. If an athlete takes steroids, he can bypass the normal way of growing muscles, but in the end, it’s very unhealthy.
In some church circles, the practice of church discipline has been relegated down to the level of an ancient method of church life that’s been placed next to the old river baptismal services where the church gathered down by the river because they didn’t have a modern baptistry. In those same circles, the idea of practicing church discipline is not even a consideration, because it’s believed that church discipline somehow prevents a church from growing. Is that a helpful way of looking at church discipline?
The Purpose of Church Discipline
Although some cases exist in church history of people abusing authority and misusing the practice of church discipline, the real purpose of discipline is reconciliation. This is the loving thing to pursue in the life of the church. Contrary to popular opinion, church discipline is not a means of retaliation against someone who has wronged you. The overarching purpose of church discipline centers on the goal of reconciliation.
- Reconciliation between the church member and God.
- Reconciliation between the church member and the body of the church.
Therefore, as the church sees this practice taking place on a regular basis, it causes the church to grow. What type of growth comes from the practice of church discipline? First, the church will grow spiritually as sin is confronted and properly dealt with. Next, the church will grow in unity together as sins that have caused divisions are properly exposed and disciplined. Last of all, numerical growth will take place as the healthy church demonstrates a passion for God, a love for one another, a hatred for sin, and a love for their community. The church will be known as a genuine church in the community rather than a “bunch of hypocrites” as the world often labels the local church. Church discipline is not antithetical to church growth.
The Necessity of Church Discipline
If we read theologians and scholars from church history, we will see that the common belief among the church in former days was that if a “church” didn’t practice church discipline, it was not a true church. It may have a steeple and stained glass, but it can’t be a true church if regular, biblical, and functional church discipline isn’t being practiced. Gregory A. Wills who is a professor of Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and noted historian commented, “To an antebellum Baptist, a church without discipline would hardly have counted as a church.” 
In the early church, Jesus commanded church discipline to be practiced in Matthew 18:15-20. Paul urged the church at Corinth to practice it. A man was sexually involved with his father’s wife and the people of the congregation knew about it. Paul told the church at Corinth to “purge out” and to “deliver his soul to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved” (1 Cor. 5). We see similar language in 2 Thessalonians 3 and in Titus 3 regarding the need to separate from those who persist in sin. In other words, church discipline is not an item on a spiritual buffet that we can choose if we believe it to be appealing. It’s an absolute necessity.
Having walked through painful situations of public church discipline and having seen it work as Jesus intended it to, I can firmly state that not only is the practice mandated by Christ, but it’s for the good of the church and the glory of God.
What if my church is not practicing church discipline? Don’t become a rogue church member who seeks to lead the church by usurping authority that was never given to you. Take time to sit with your pastors and discuss the subject and ask healthy questions. Try to work through the need for discipline in the life of your church by starting with your pastors. Don’t be divisive over the subject of church discipline.
What if I’m looking for a church, but the church we feel led to doesn’t practice church discipline? The simple answer is—don’t join it. Perhaps you “feel” led to the church for some other reason, but if they aren’t practicing church discipline, the health of the church has been greatly compromised over time. It will only be a matter of time before things compile and become much worse.
Albert Mohler has written, “Without a recovery of functional church discipline-firmly established upon the principles revealed in the Bible-the church will continue its slide into moral dissolution and relativism. Evangelicals have long recognized discipline as the ‘third mark’ of the authentic church. Authentic biblical discipline is not an elective, but a necessary and integral mark of authentic Christianity.” 
- Gregory A. Wills, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South 1785-1900 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 12.
- Albert Mohler, “Discipline: The Missing Mark” In Polity (Center for Church Reform: 2001, 43-62), 2001.
This week, Passion 2017 was held in Atlanta. The Passion Conferences are aimed at the 18-25 age bracket and have impacted many people over the years. The present day Passion Conferences are connected to the One Day event held in Memphis, Tennessee in 2000 where I was confronted with my sin in a sermon by John Piper. Over the years, the conference has stood against sex trafficking and sought to encourage young adults to find their ultimate passion and joy in Christ.
Although some really good things have come out of the Passion movement, there have been some questionable things emerge through the years as well. This year, another strange thing happened at Passion that’s causing people to ask important questions. No matter how passionate we are, if our passions are unbridled and not submissive to the Holy Spirit, it will lead to sin. Passion without knowledge is deadly.
On Monday evening, a special guest appeared on the stage at Passion 2017. Previously unannounced, Carrie Underwood, the extremely popular country music star emerged onto the platform and performed her song titled, “Something in the Water.” She was invited by the Passion staff to sing a song that’s full of false doctrine to thousands of young impressionable college students. What’s even more sad is the fact that the entire Georgia Dome erupted with applause. They loved it. Were they applauding the performance? Were they applauding the doctrine of baptismal regeneration (a false gospel)? What exactly were they applauding?
College Students Still Need Parents
If you have a college student, remember that it wasn’t so long ago that you were assisting your child in the basic functions of life such as putting on their shoes and brushing their teeth. Just because your son has graduated from high school, that doesn’t mean it’s wise to let him navigate life all on his own. He still needs you. He is still under your care. You still have a responsibility to disciple him in truth and lead him in the right direction theologically and biblically. He still needs you to lead him to a sound church and to help him formulate sound biblical doctrine.
If your son or daughter was at Passion 2017 this week, it would be good to have an honest conversation about the music and the preaching. Your college student needs to know that Carrie Underwood is not a good example to follow. Regarding practical living, you don’t want your daughter to imitate her dress attire. Regarding theology, Carrie Underwood has openly supported the agenda of homosexual marriage. When asked about her position, she said:
“I’m in favor of acceptance…And I am a Christian person, and I do love the Lord, and I feel no matter who you are, what you believe, how you live your life, it’s not my place to judge.”
To hold the applause is not to be a killjoy as a parent. It’s necessary at times. Not everything is worthy of applause. This decision by Passion is one that must be addressed by parents in order to help college students avoid disastrous mistakes in practical living and theological formation.
College Students Need Faithful Pastors
We must not fool ourselves into believing that the entire Georgia Dome was full of college students and their pastors had absolutely no idea that event was taking place. The college students, in many ways, were organized and assisted by pastors in order to get to the event. Not everything that happens at a conference would be advocated by every speaker at the conference or embraced in a worship service. I get that. I understand that conferences have their place, but they must not be left unchecked.
College students are forming their doctrine of God, their doctrine of salvation, and their doctrine of ecclesiology (the church) at a rapid pace while moving through their college years. It’s essential for faithful pastors to shepherd them with care. College students need to hear pastors teach and preach with a certain discerning eye to the culture and a faithful tongue that speaks truth. The truth is, Carrie Underwood sang heresy to thousands of college students and the students let everyone know that it was acceptable. College students need to know why it’s really not acceptable. The lyrics to Carrie Underwood’s song, “Something in the Water” point to an age-old heresy—baptismal regeneration. A repetitive line in the song states:
There must’ve been something in the water
Oh, there must’ve been something in the water
Many pastors may have supported their students in going to the Passion 2017 event, and all of this was a complete surprise. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to see college students have a greater passion for God, but there is a need to make sure that passion is rooted and grounded in the pages of Scripture. College students need to be taught the book of Galatians and learn that any additive to the pure unadulterated gospel is a damnable heresy (Gal. 1:8-9). That’s exactly what Paul taught and it’s what we must teach and preach in our present day.
Passion for God is needed in our day, but passion without biblical truth will lead to disaster. That’s exactly what Paul once said about Israel as he wrote Romans 10:1-4. College students need diligent and faithful pastors to stand for truth and hold the applause at times, and this is one of those critical moments. When a country music star sings to the tune of baptismal regeneration at a Christian conference, it’s proof that the Reformation isn’t over.
Recently in our elders’ meeting, we discussed the need to rethink and restructure our order of worship early in 2017. What’s the reason for such a move by the pastors within our church? The goal is to craft the most healthy worship service that makes the best use of the time given to us each week. As we rethink the restructuring of our order of worship, certainly this must be approached with care and doctrinal precision. Some things are certainly optional elements, but other things must never be tampered with. Front and center is the idea that our worship must be God-centered, Christ-exalting, and built upon the firm foundation of God’s sufficient Word. When was the last time you honestly looked at what’s included in your worship service? Why are specific elements included, or in some cases why are some elements excluded?
Young Pastor—Don’t Overlook Old Traditions
One of the first things I did when I was called to serve a small country church in Kentucky was to change the decorations in the church building. This particular church had many cheap pictures of Jesus hanging on the walls that I immediately removed. Although I had a biblical foundation to stand upon for removing the pictures, I didn’t have as much of a theological foundation to support my removal of the “number” board from the front wall of the sanctuary. This board was used to report the weekly attendance and offering. I felt as if it was a distraction, so I removed it. It was not a popular decision.
I stand by those decisions to this day, but I also made other decisions that I’ve been forced to rethink over time. As a younger pastor, I once looked at the responsive reading as an awkward time in the service because I witnessed it being done in a less than edifying manner. In the same way, we once had a prayer of confession at the beginning of the church that was accompanied by other unhealthy practices that I replaced with Scripture reading. However, I never replaced the prayer of confession or restructured it. Just because it looks like an old tradition, before it’s removed, perhaps a younger pastor should think twice (maybe three times) before scrapping it.
Make Preaching Central in Your Order of Worship
That may seem like a strange appeal, but we in our local church want to continually ensure the primacy of preaching in our church. That should be something that is revisited and evaluated among elders on a yearly basis. Most of the time churches don’t drift miles away from biblical worship overnight. It’s typically a slow progressive trend that moves a church to replace preaching with drama, or at least place preaching on a lower level of importance. It was D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who soon after going to serve as pastor in Sanfields, instructed the church leaders to heat the church by using the wooden stage used by the dramatic society in his church as fuel for the furnace. Preaching, as Lloyd-Jones would remind us, must be central.
Pastor—Music Is Your Business
Worship matters, and singing is a central aspect of weekly worship among the church. Not only is the order of songs important, but the selection of the songs and the number of songs are likewise important for worship. Not all old songs are good songs, so the age should not determine the usefulness of songs. Not all new songs are worthy for use in the gathered worship service of the church. Some songs may be full of sound biblical doctrine, but the arrangement and tempo is not conducive for singing among the church. Pastors should honestly speak to this and exclude certain songs on the basis of doctrinal impurity and congregational usefulness. It is the duty of pastors to think, examine, pray, and make wise choices for the weekly singing of the church.
We Need More Scripture and Prayer
I recall visiting a Roman Catholic worship service when I was in seminary. It was a required subject for my semester. I walked into the building expecting that they would get everything wrong, but I walked away humbled. While they did get worship wrong in many ways in the mass that day, they got some things right. The preaching was not good and certainly not expository. The Lord Jesus was blasphemed through their doctrine of transubstantiation, and I did not participate in the observance of the Lord’s Supper for that reason. However, they had more Scripture reading and more intentional prayers than we typically have in the average evangelical worship service.
As 2017 begins, we are rethinking how much Scripture we will have read in our worship services and the intentional place of those Scripture readings. We want to establish the primacy of God’s Word in our worship, so the placement matters. Likewise, we don’t want to appear to be using prayer as mere transitional pauses in the worship service. As we rethink and craft a new worship service, we want to have planned and intentional prayers on a weekly basis that will be led by the elders of our church.
As we think honestly about our corporate worship, specifically the order of worship, we must strive to craft the worship service that best honors and magnifies our God. As Sinclair Ferguson points out, “The foundation of worship in the heart is not emotional (‘I feel full of worship’ or ‘The atmosphere is so worshipful’). Actually, it is theological. Worship is not something we ‘work up,’ it is something that ‘comes down’ to us, from the character of God.” 
- Sinclair Ferguson, A Heart for God, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1987), 110.
Throughout 2017, we will remember the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It was during the dark days of the sixteenth century that the light of God’s Word came bursting forth from the dungeons of the Roman Catholic Church. Each year at the end of December, many people choose a reading plan for the upcoming year only to find themselves failing to keep pace as the weeks pass. It may surprise you to know how many people in your church have not read the entire Bible. This year would be a wonderful time to read the whole Bible. Consider these three important reasons why you should read the whole Bible in 2017.
The Reformers’ Sacrifice
Although the Reformers had no idea that we would turn on our Bibles in smart phone applications 500 years later, they embraced a new technology in their day called movable type and the advanced printing press. As Johannes Gutenberg learned how to create books, the Protestant Reformers harnessed this breakthrough technology to get their Bibles out to the general public.
It was William Tyndale who worked tirelessly to translate and print the New Testament into English. The Roman Catholics hunted him down, arrested him, and then burned him at the stake. His friend, John Rogers, would take up his Old Testament manuscripts and work to complete what Tyndale had started. Eventually, Rogers was caught too and he would become the first of the martyrs under the reign of Queen Mary I, known as Bloody Mary.
When we consider the labor, sacrifice, and commitment of the Reformers to get us our Bible—why would we deprive ourselves of opening the book or turning on our Bible and enjoying the precious Word of God in our language?
The Reformation Principle — Tota Scriptura
One of the five latin slogans known as the Solas of the Reformation is, sola Scriptura. This phrase means – Scripture alone. The Reformers were committed to reading, preaching, and submitting to the unadulterated Word of God. They were opposed to the additives of the Church of Rome. They stood courageously upon the Scriptures as their authoritative guide for life and worship.
Another slogan that was often repeated by the Reformers was the principle of tota Scriptura. Although the slogan was never as popular as its cousin—sola Scriptura, it was at the very core of the Protestant Reformation. Tota Scriptura means—all of Scripture, or the totality of Scripture. The Reformers were men of the Book, and they believed in preaching the full counsel of God’s Word.
Consider how many congregations have not heard a single sermon from the book of Deuteronomy in years. Those same congregations would likely go back for decades before finding a time when a preacher expounded the entire book. It may be discovered that the church has no record of going verse-by-verse through Deuteronomy. That’s why men like John Calvin were systematic and faithful in their preaching. Calvin’s preaching was straight exposition year after year.
- Nearly five years in the book of Acts.
- 46 sermons through 1-2 Thessalonians.
- 186 sermons through 1-2 Corinthians.
- 86 sermons through the pastoral epistles.
- 43 sermons through Galatians.
- 48 sermons through Ephesians.
It was on Easter of 1538 that Calvin was banished from his pulpit at St. Peter’s. He would not be allowed to return by the City Council until September 13th, 1541. When he entered the pulpit on the Lord’s Day, he literally picked up in the next verse where he left off over three years before. He was firmly committed to not skipping lines, phrases, vocabulary, and difficult doctrines. It was believed that the totality of God’s Word should be proclaimed.
Rather than skipping and hopping through the Bible on a devotional journey, why not read the whole Bible this year?
Paul Preceded Luther and Jesus Preceded Paul
Before there was a Luther and a Calvin, there was a Paul and Jesus. When Paul was preparing to leave Ephesus, he gathered the elders of the church together to bid them farewell. He warned them and he charged them. In doing so, Paul said the following:
You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:18-21).
Paul understood the importance of not leaving doctrine behind. He proclaimed the full counsel of God’s Word to the people in Ephesus. It was Luther, Calvin, and Tyndale who would eventually stand upon the shoulders of Paul. However, before Paul ministered in Ephesus, Jesus made a very important statement in Matthew 4:4. Jesus, when being tempted in the wilderness by Satan, said—“It is written: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Jesus was quoting from Moses in Deuteronomy.
It doesn’t matter if you focus on Jesus, the apostle Paul, or the Reformers of church history—they were all committed to the totality of Scripture. If Paul ministered today, you wouldn’t find him skipping over doctrinal depth in order to put together a little series for seekers in his community. As we consider the love Jesus and the Reformers had for the Bible, why would we not possess that same love too?
It was 500 years ago that the Reformers were giving their lives and working diligently to get the Bible to the people in their language. When we consider the sacrifices, the advanced technology, the privileges we enjoy, and the fact that many people still don’t have the Bible in their own language, it makes sense that 2017 would be a wonderful year to make the commitment to read the entire Bible in twelve months.
So it doesn’t matter if you prefer to open a book or turn on your Bible app, there is a plan for you. Make this the year. If you’re up to it, there are some excellent plans available for you over at ESVBible.org.
Yesterday, we had the distinct privilege to gather with our church family on Christmas. As we gathered for worship, it wasn’t just any Lord’s Day, it was the day set aside on the calendar each year to remember the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. I preached from John 1:1-18 and the focus of the sermon was the incarnation of Jesus.
Not only did the eternal Logos become a man, Christ also dwelt among His own people. What a unique truth to behold in John’s Gospel. In a masterful way, moved by the Spirit of God to communicate with precise doctrinal clarity, John the apostle connects the dots from the Tabernacle of the Old Testament to the incarnation of the New Testament. When we consider the fact that God became a man, taking upon Himself human flesh, He not only did that in reality, but He dwelt among His very own creation.
Just as it was profoundly wonderful for the radiant glory of God to descend upon the tent-temple of the Old Testament tabernacle, in a far greater weight of glory was the arrival of God in the flesh of Jesus. What a miracle to behold. Wayne Grudem writes:
It is by far the most amazing miracle in the whole Bible – far more amazing than the resurrection and more amazing than the creation of the universe. The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join Himself to a human nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe. 
The text explains that Jesus “dwelt” among us. The word translated dwelt comes from the Greek word σκηνόω, meaning, “To pitch a tent or to tabernacle.” When we pause to think about the fact that Jesus, the highest King of human history, was not born in a palace or behind the walls of a massive castle as royal babies typically are, but he instead was born in a stable for animals—it’s overwhelming. Jesus, the Son of the living God, became a man and lived among His very own creation in a cruel sin-cursed world.
This was the purpose of the incarnation, Emmanuel—God with us. As God, Jesus would minister in a way that no other human could possibly do. Jesus would come to seek and save the lost, and to fulfill what the angel spoke to Joseph in Matthew 1:21. Jesus was born to die. Through His death, God and sinners would be reconciled, as Charles Wesley so eloquently described it in his hymn, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.
God became a man, yet He didn’t cease to be God. He was God when He was conceived in Mary’s womb, He was God when they laid Him in the stable, He was God when He preached His first sermon, He was God when they nailed Him to the cross. He was man, yet God at the same time, and after being brutally killed on the cross, He was raised from the dead proving His divinity.
What is the incarnation? It’s when God became a man. Why did He become a man? He came to save His people from their sins. Have you been rescued from your sin? Have you been saved? God motivated Caesar Augustus to make a decree regarding the registration which forced Mary and Joseph to travel 90 miles to Bethlehem so that she would give birth to Jesus in that particular city in order to fulfill the prophecy of Micah 5:2. Could it be that the same sovereign God has ordained that you come to understand what Christmas is all about this season, in order to save you from your sin?
Unlike the most holy place within the Tabernacle of the Old Testament that was sectioned off and unapproachable by every person, when God became a man He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Consider these words written by Charles Wesley:
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King!”
- Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 563.