Anyone who has studied 1 Peter 3:18-22 understands that it’s a challenging passage of Scripture to exegete and teach. There are some rather difficult passages to unpack and yet, there is one specific line in that section of verses that has caused many people to embrace a false teaching about Jesus.
Peter writes, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” Did Jesus go to hell?
The Death of Christ Was Sufficient
A popular heresy the circulates from heretic to heretic is that Jesus’ death on the cross was insufficient, so when Jesus died, he had to go to hell and suffer for three days before his resurrection. According to the Roman Catholic Church’s catechism, Jesus went to hell:
Jesus “descended into the lower parts of the earth. He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens.” The Apostles’ Creed confesses in the same article Christ’s descent into hell and his Resurrection from the dead on the third day, because in his Passover it was precisely out of the depths of death that he made life spring forth. 
Some renderings of the Apostle’s Creed says that Jesus “descended into hell” while others revise it to say Jesus “descended to the dead.” First of all, we must remember that the Apostle’s Creed wasn’t written by the apostles and while it serves as a summary of biblical truth, it isn’t holy Scripture. It’s also likely that some later revision altered the original to reflect a descent into hell. Either way, it’s not part of the biblical canon and should not serve as a cross reference of biblical truth when studying this subject.
Popular charismatic preacher and a modern day false prophet, Joyce Meyer, teaches that Jesus suffered for our sins in hell. She states the following:
He became our sacrifice and died on the cross. He did not stay dead. He was in the grave three days. During that time he entered hell, where you and I deserve to go (legally) because of our sin. He paid the price there. 
Following the same heretical path, Joel Osteen makes the following statement about Jesus going to hell. Interestingly enough, Osteen avoids the subject of hell in his teaching, but is willing to teach that Jesus went there. Notice what he says:
The Bible indicates that for three days, Jesus went into the very depths of hell. Right into the enemy’s own territory. And He did battle with Satan face to face. Can you imagine what a show down that was? It was good vs. evil. Right vs. wrong. Holiness vs. filth. Here the two most powerful forces in the universe have come together to do battle for the first time in history. But thank God. The Bible says Satan was no match for our Champion. This was no contest. Jesus crushed Satan’s head with His foot. He bruised his head. And He once and for all, forever defeated and dethroned and demoralized our enemy. 
What does the Bible say about Jesus’ death? Was it really insufficient? Was it necessary for Jesus to go to hell and suffer more under God’s wrath? According to Romans 3:25, Jesus’ blood served as the propitiation and satisfied the Father. That same truth is taught in 1 John 2:1-2. The most powerful verse that lays to rest the idea that God was not satisfied with Jesus’ death alone and required him to do more punishment in hell is found in Jesus’ own words from the cross in John 19:30 as John records the words of Jesus, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
What exactly was finished? It’s clearly a reference to the work of atonement that Jesus accomplished in his death. To suggest that Jesus had to descend into hell and suffer more is simply a heretical addition to the gospel that must be rejected.
Jesus’ Promise from the Cross
The Biblical text teaches that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of his people (John 10:11). It never teaches that Jesus went to hell for the sins of his people. That’s a foreign concept to the gospel.
When Jesus was dying on the cross, he was hanging between two criminals. As Jesus was suffering under God’s wrath (Isaiah 53:10), one of the criminals criticized and railed upon him saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us” (Luke 23:39)! However, one of the criminals embraced Jesus and was saved. He confessed his sin and called out to Christ (Luke 23:40-42). It’s essentially the only death bed conversion that we see in Scripture. Jesus made a promise to this criminal that echoes throughout the ages as a glorious promise of victory for all those who call upon the name of the Lord. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Jesus didn’t say, “I will be with you in paradise after I go to hell for three days.” Jesus made it clear that when he left that cross, He went directly into the presence of the Father—into Paradise. The criminal, now redeemed by Jesus’ blood, would join him. This is a glorious truth that dispels the false teaching of Jesus going into hell.
The Meaning of 1 Peter 3:18-19
What exactly did Peter mean when he referred to Jesus going to preach to the spirits in prison? Martin Luther admitted, “A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.”  The main interpretations are as follows:
- Peter was referring to the preaching of Noah and those who perished in the flood while they were imprisoned in their human depravity.
- Jesus was proclaiming victory to the Old Testament saints who died and were liberated by Christ between his death and resurrection.
- Jesus preached to the people who perished during Noah’s flood by descending to hell and offering them an opportunity to repent and be saved. This is postmortem salvation and must be rejected.
- Jesus proclaimed victory and judgment over the evil angels who had engaged in sexual relations with women and were imprisoned due to their sin (Gen. 6:1-4).
The key that unlocks the meaning which fits into harmony with the greater body of biblical teaching is Peter’s reference to Noah’s day. Peter says:
because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.
As is the case when every sermon is preached, it’s not the preacher who communicates his own ideas to the people in the audience. It’s God himself. The preacher is the herald who serves as his representative, but it’s God who is communicating the truth. When Noah preached to the people—it was Jesus who was preaching to the people through Noah, by the Holy Spirit.
Admittedly this is a difficult passage, but the reference to Noah’s day is key and one that I believe sufficiently points us to the meaning of the text. Jesus had no need to go to hell to proclaim victory to angels. His resurrection would serve as the proof that all beings will bow before Christ and confess him as Lord (Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus’ death on the cross was sufficient to satisfy holy justice and to redeem fallen sinners. Therefore, when Jesus died, he ascended to the Father and would remain there until his bodily resurrection on the third day.
Imagine the thrill of the angels when Jesus returned after his bodily resurrection to assume the throne in human flesh!
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 631.
- Joyce Meyer, The Most Important Decision You’ll Ever Make, (second printing, 1993), 35
- Joel Osteen, Easter service message at Lakewood Church, Sermon #CS_002 – 4-23-00, April 23, 2000, transcript formerly online at http://www.lakewood.cc/sermons/cs_002.htm, transcript archived online at http://web.archive.org/web/20040408215244/http://www.lakewood.cc/sermons/cs_002.htm, retrieved August 12, 2019; cf. Joel Osteen, Easter service message 2004 on Discover the Champion in You program, Trinity Broadcasting Network, April 26, 2004).
- Martin Luther, Commentary on Peter & Jude, 166.
On August 9, 2014 Michael Brown was shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson Missouri. Soon enough, the city erupted in rage against law enforcement and Twitter exploded with the hashtag #Ferguson. Today, the names Michael Brown and Ferguson are inseparably connected with the Black Lives Matter movement. Five years later, we are still divided and the social justice agenda continues to create an ever growing division throughout our nation and within religious circles. It’s time that we stop using Michael Brown as a tool for social justice.
False Narratives and Social Justice
Much of what we know about Michael Brown is a lie. Soon after the city was turned into a war zone, it was discovered that the narrative that fueled the rage was actually false. The stories that were popularized and published in newspapers and on television from the sidewalk of Ferguson stated that an unarmed black man was shot with his hands up by a white police officer.
Dorian Johnson, a friend of Michael Brown, gave a story to police officers and the media that ignited the explosion of anger and frustration— eventually turning the city into a war zone. The DOJ report states on page 44 that Johnson “made multiple statements to the media immediately following the incident that spawned the popular narrative that Wilson shot Brown execution-style as he held up his hands in surrender.” That was actually a lie. It was a lie that forever changed Ferguson and created a massive divide among ethnicities throughout the United States.
It would not take long before Michael Brown’s name would show up on t-shirts calling for justice while also being attached to the #BlackLivesMatter social media buzz that swept across our nation. Crowds marched through cities chanting “Hands up” — “Don’t shoot” in protest. It would strike a nerve in the hearts of people across our nation. Hands up poses were offered up by CNN news anchors on live television and by five professional athletes—players for the St. Louis Rams as they took the field for a game after the DOJ report cleared officer Wilson of wrongdoing in the death of Michael Brown.
The whole story of the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” was a lie. It was fabricated by Dorian Johnson who became known as “Witness 101” to stir the hearts of Ferguson with anger and division. In short, Johnson weaponized Michael Brown as a tool of division against the police officers that he despised.
According to page 8 of the DOJ report:
Although there are several individuals who have stated that Brown held his hands up in an unambiguous sign of surrender prior to Wilson shooting him dead, their accounts do not support a prosecution of Wilson. As detailed throughout this report, some of those accounts are inaccurate because they are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence; some of those accounts are materially inconsistent with that witness’s own prior statements with no explanation, credible [or] otherwise, as to why those accounts changed over time. Certain other witnesses who originally stated Brown had his hands up in surrender recanted their original accounts, admitting that they did not witness the shooting or parts of it, despite what they initially reported either to federal or local law enforcement or to the media. Prosecutors did not rely on those accounts when making a prosecutive decision.
While credible witnesses gave varying accounts of exactly what Brown was doing with his hands as he moved toward Wilson – i.e., balling them, holding them out, or pulling up his pants up – and varying accounts of how he was moving – i.e., “charging,” moving in “slow motion,” or “running” – they all establish that Brown was moving toward Wilson when Wilson shot him. Although some witnesses state that Brown held his hands up at shoulder level with his palms facing outward for a brief moment, these same witnesses describe Brown then dropping his hands and “charging” at Wilson.
Michael Brown as a Tool for Politicians
As expected, Michael Brown was used by politicians to press a narrative and connect with voters who were very much impacted by the whole story of Michael Brown. Today, the same thing continues—even though it has been stated openly and publicly that Michael Brown was killed by a police officer while breaking the law and engaging in violence against an officer of the law. Elizabeth Warren tweeted out the following:
In short, politicians are continuing to use Michael Brown’s name for their own political agenda and as a result—they popularize the lie that he was innocent. This creates further division among ethnicities, fuels racism, and fuels disrespect for police officers throughout the nation.
Michael Brown as a Tool for Evangelical Leaders
In April of 2018, several evangelical organizations including The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and The Gospel Coalition teamed up for a conference on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. The MLK50 event was held in Memphis and was intended to serve as “an opportunity for Christians to reflect on the state of racial unity in the church and the culture. It created the occasion to reflect on where Christians have been and look ahead to where we must go as we pursue racial unity in the midst of tremendous tension.”
However, during the event, a spoken word poem was offered up on the main stage of the conference before all attendees and those watching via livestream. The poem was titled, “Dear Mike Brown.” The artist who performed the spoken word poem is Preston Perry. He tells a powerful story that follows a narrative of injustice. He begins with a personal account with police officers on a chilly January morning in Chicago before moving to the story of Michael Brown.
The first line about Brown states, “Dear Mike Brown. I don’t know you. I don’t know if your unarmed body rose from his bed that morning planning to stick his hands in a squad car.” Notice how Preston Perry uses the carefully chosen language of “unarmed body” to further the false narrative of police brutality. Like politicians, even after the release of the DOJ report, Perry uses Michael Brown to further divide ethnicities and plant doubt in the minds of evangelicals in the MLK50 conference. In his poem, Perry asks the following question:
Dear Mike Brown, your death got me thinking a lot, and I wonder if Fox News ever considers you human or if they purposefully paint you beast in the minds of their viewers. Convinced themselves that every bullet that dove head first in your organs carried justice, numbed America’s conscience concerning you.
While Preston Perry promoted the false narrative of injustice by officer Wilson, it had already been established in the justice system of the United States that Brown’s death was justified. Sadly, as horrible as the scene was, and as tragic as death is, Michael Brown did receive justice. Swift justice in the streets of Ferguson.
The sad reality is that this is not merely a political event. It was a religious event for evangelicals and it promoted further doubt, division, and hatred for police officers in the name of justice. If anyone should understand what true justice looks like—it should be the evangelical community—those who call upon the Lord and have a proper biblical lens by which to look at the broken world that surrounds us.
Why Does Michael Brown Matter?
We can learn some powerful lessons from Michael Brown. We learn that truth matters, justice matters, life is precious, and racism is evil.
The Scriptures reveal to us the importance of telling the truth. When people lie—it not only distorts the facts—it can put people’s lives in danger. When Satan lied to Adam and Eve, it brought death into the world (Romans 5:12; Genesis 3). When Abraham lied to Abimelech king of Gerar about Sarah—it endangered her and Abimelech (Gen. 20:2). All through the Bible we find story after story that reveals the importance of the truth. Proverbs 12:19 says, “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.” Ferguson learned this dreadful lesson in August of 2014.
We are called to be people of justice. The very justice system of our nation is derived from the commands for God’s people to seek justice in the Scriptures (Micah 6:8). Although imperfect as a national system of justice, God’s justice is pure, righteous, and will one day be finally accomplished at the final judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). Until then, every Christian must labor in gospel ministry with peace, unity, and a commitment to biblical justice.
Racism is an ugly monster that is alive in our nation (see Article 14 on racism in The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel). We see it in specific pockets and while it moves in the shadows often—it rears it’s ugly head at times for the whole world to see. Racism is not a white thing. Racism is a sin that is rooted in the depravity of the human heart and is employed by all ethnic groups at times. When the world is stirred with confusion, we must labor to promote the imago Dei—all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. Michael Brown matters because he was created in the image of God. Black lives matter for the very same reason that police lives matter. Life is a precious gift from God, we must all recognize this truth.
The social justice agenda is not a friendly movement of peace. It has ugly political motives that lie beneath the surface. If you have a hard time grasping that as a reality, ask yourself an honest question—why would politicians continue to use the false narrative of Michael Brown as a means of pursuing justice? Furthermore, within evangelical circles, why would Michael Brown be used in a spoken word poem on the 50th anniversary of MLK’s death to promote biblical justice? Was justice not served for Michael Brown? Was officer Wilson acting out of injustice against Michael Brown? It’s past time that we stop allowing people to use Michael Brown as a tool for social justice.
What exactly is the social justice agenda seeking to accomplish? Five years after the tragic death of Michael Brown, it’s time to admit that Michael Brown has been abused. He was not abused by officer Wilson, but he continues to be abused by those who seek to use him as a tool of division in the agenda of social justice.
When you first come across the theology of God’s absolute sovereignty over all things—it’s like you see the world through new eyes. Every page of Scripture, as you turn it, it’s as if the truth of the bigness of God leaps off the pages. Soon enough, you find yourself digging deeper and deeper into God’s Word, talking with friends, listening intently to the preaching, reading books, and enjoying God in a way that you haven’t in years past.
It’s one thing to think about the sovereignty of God in salvation and the absolute sovereignty of God in creation from an academic perspective or from a Bible study perspective—but what happens when the doctor walks into the room and diagnoses you with cancer? What happens when you receive the unexpected phone call informing you that your loved one has just passed away? Suddenly, it’s time to employ that theology into action in your life. It’s there in the pain of tragedy that you realize the value of such a big God theology in ways that mere academics cannot compare.
The Labor of Application
Applying the Bible is not the job of the pastor only. The labor of application is something that every believer must engage in on a regular basis. When the congregation is listening to the sermon, there must be active participation taking place by everyone in the room as each individual seeks to take the truth and apply it to their own life.
Imagine the pastor preaching through a passage and is driving home the sovereignty of God—and he describes the omnipotence of God by looking at snapshots of Scriptures throughout the Bible. One young man is seated near the front who attends a local college. It’s his first semester as a college student and he has many fears and insecurities he’s working through. He feels unbelievably small as he walks onto the large and expansive campus, smells the books as he walks into the library, and sits in the large lecture hall to hear one of his professors teach a couple of hundred students.
On the other side of the church, a seventy-nine year old man is contemplating the recent diagnosis of cancer and his treatment options. Both individuals are at different stages of life, yet both of these men are facing challenges. It’s the same Word of God being presented to both, yet they labor and engage in the sermon to apply the grand truth to their own personal situation in order to find refuge in their big God.
While the pastor may provide a couple of general application statements, it’s the responsibility of the individuals in the congregation to hear the Word, work to understand the text, and then connect the dots from the ancient context to their present situation in order to apply the truth to their own personal life. Far too often people sit back and ask the pastor to spoon feed them while missing the point of a sermon altogether. There must be engagement and involvement and personal labor in the proper hearing of a sermon.
The Comfort of God’s Sovereignty
David declared in Psalm 27:1, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” All through the Bible, we find bold statements about our big God.
It was Martin Luther, who in the midst of a dangerous season of persecution was kidnapped by his friends after his famous stand at Worms and was taken to the Wartburg Castle. While in hiding, in the safety of the structure, he translated the Bible into the German language. He worked at the relentless speed of 1,500 words per day.
During 1527, a dark time swept over Luther’s life—both spiritually and physically. He was physically sick due to the pressures of ministry and the battle of the Reformation. He battled spells of dizziness and fainted often. He felt as if he was going to die. But then, God brought him through it.
Soon the Black Plague swept through Germany killing many people. It was so bad – many people would flee for their own safety. Luther stayed and turned his home into a place of refuge—a makeshift hospital. During this crisis, his son almost died.
It was with this backdrop that Luther penned the words to “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” which is one of the most famous hymns in the history of the church. As he faced the plague, looked at the black death surrounding him, and contemplated the frailty of his own life (and the lives of his family)—he thought about the walls of the castle and how he once found refuge. Then he considered the words of Psalm 46 and applied the grand truths of God’s sovereignty to his dark situation.
A mighty Fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
No matter what you face today as you journey through this world with devils filled who threaten to undo you—you can walk with confidence that your God is big. “Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). No matter what trial you face or what challenge is presented before you, remember to lean on the theology of the Bible and find comfort and peace that passes all understanding in the God who is big, strong, and serves as our Rock and our Refuge! If God is for us, who can be against us (Rom. 8:31)?
Psalm 46:1–3; 6-7 – God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,  though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah…The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.  The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
The social justice train continues to roll through evangelicalism, and one of the core tenets of this ideology is an elevation of lived experience. Proponents of the social justice movement are pressing the idea that a particular lived experience is necessary in order to navigate the challenges of this messy world with devils filled.
Let Me See Your Résumé
Have you sat through an interview for a job only to hear at the conclusion of the interview that according to your résumé, you don’t possess the experience necessary to perform the job that you’re interviewing for? The person conducting the interview is telling you that you need more experience and you need to build your resume in order to be given the opportunity to work and perform that specific job.
With the rise of the controversy surrounding the social justice movement, many people are demanding a particular lived experience résumé in order to grant certain people a voice into the issues and challenges facing us in our day. The idea is simple. If you haven’t lived and experienced what it means to be the subject of discrimination and injustice (on various levels, as a woman, a minority, a homosexual, and various other groups)—you can’t speak to the issues because you haven’t experienced it yourself.
In short, some voices are suggesting that unless you’ve experienced it yourself, you need to stop talking and start listening because the lived experience résumé turns specific people into social experts and what they say must be accepted as truth—without question.
How can this approach to justice be acceptable if justice is outside of us and if the Scriptures, which Martin Luther called the external word (which did not come from within us but originated with God) is our source of final authority? Should we ask for someone’s lived experience résumé or should we ask for what the Scriptures teach?
Put on These Glasses
I can remember walking into a movie that was 3D movie just a few minutes late with a group of friends. It took me a minute to get to my seat and get settled. When I looked up at the screen, everything looked blurry and certainly not high quality or high definition. However, when I got settled, put my drink in place, and slipped on my glasses, everything changed. Suddenly, the colors were vibrant, the imagery went from a flat screen to a realistic 3D image, and it was as if I was standing in the Hobbit’s hole—the book had come to life before my eyes.
In our social justice saturated culture, today people are suggesting that you you must be able to see and understand the lived experience of others in order to feel their pain, walk in their shoes, and to be awakened to the real life struggles of our neighbors. If you can’t see it—you can’t possibly understand how to fix the problem—which in most cases is yourself or as you will soon discover, you are at minimum a part of the problem.
Writing in the Huffington Post, in an article titled, “My Lived Experience of Social Justice Work” Jonathan C. Lewis states the following:
Social entrepreneurs carry two different ‘résumés of reality’. First: you and I grow up within a particular community and tribe. Possibly (because of skin color, economic hardship, gender, religion or other comparable outsider status), you have known the isolation and sting of being the Other. Your history, naturally and invaluably, will inform your social justice work. Or, maybe your life experience has been easier and more protected. Either way, we each have an inherited résumé.
The other résumé is earned in apprenticeship. We volunteer, train, intern and work to soften the jagged edges of life on behalf of the discarded and the left out—whether at home, abroad, or both. Without sharing in the world’s suffering, without feeling the sharp jabs of injustice, without witnessing the torching rage caused by inequality, without sensing the frustration of the impossible, our social entrepreneurship – like a fire waiting for a match – lacks the heat of conviction.
The common argument for those who are engaged in the grievance saturated social justice movement is that without a specific lens of experience, you can’t fully understand and you can’t possibly see the world the way it really exists. In short, you need a certain set of special glasses to see the world properly, and unless you have the right lenses to gaze through, you will remain blind to the injustices surrounding us on a daily basis. While Jonathan C. Lewis isn’t writing from a Christian perspective, that’s precisely the same language being used within evangelical circles today.
Science of Biblical Reinterpretation
When we open the Bible and read it, there are specific rules that must be put into practice in order to understand it properly. These rules and methods are known as hermeneutics – the science of biblical interpretation. A shallow and haphazard reading of Scripture can make the text say anything. For instance, a misreading and cherry picking of a single verse of Exodus 13 can cause people to claim the Bible says to sacrifice your firstborn son to the LORD. That’s certainly not the case, and we need to know how to read the Bible through a specific lens.
The meaning of the text is singular and it’s set by the intent of the human author. Therefore, the literal, grammatical, historical approach to the text is essential. It should frighten us that within today’s social justice quagmire, people are actually arguing for a reinterpretation of the Bible based on our modern historical context. This method will not only do violence to the biblical text, but it removes it from a fixed position with a fixed meaning and causes the text of Scripture to be fluid, movable, and adjustable as culture and history changes.
Consider the tweet from Jemar Tisby:
A lot of Christians reading theology but we need some more folks reading U.S. history, too. To properly apply Scripture you can’t just learn the historical context of the Bible. You have to know your own historical context as well. #historymatters
It may be true that Jemar Tisby is simply trying to know how to best apply the ancient text to his modern context, but notice one of the replies to his tweet in the thread by Bradley Mason:
I can say that a careful, honest reading of history changed my mind entirely on colonialism, race, economics, politics, & even theology. I know including theology will frighten people, but it’s difficult to tell what ideas have been supplied by your context until you study others
One of the terms that has become a staple in our social justice debate over the last couple of years is the term woke. It’s really a word filled with great baggage. It originated out of the Black Nationalist movement as an urban colloquialism and is presently employed by people such as Eric Mason, author of Woke Church, as a description of people who can accurately see the injustices of our world and know today what they did not previously know in the past. They are awakened to the issues.
In his book, Woke Church, Mason writes:
It is a struggle to emerge with a strong sense of self and dignity, while being fully aware of the perception of our people in the eyes of white America. Most African Americans have had at least two life-altering experiences that are burned into their memory—the moment they realized they were black and the moment they realized that was a problem. 
Mason goes on to suggest that this “double consciousness” is a reality for minorities in America. He argues that unless a person possesses a third consciousness which is a Christ Consciousness it will not be possible to be fully woke. Mason writes:
Our Christ Consciousness elevates our awareness to our responsibility to care for and love our brothers—even those who don’t look like us…Therefore, to be fully woke, one needs to have all three aspects of consciousness. 
We must be careful in reading the ancient text through the lens of our present context. The Bible is not about America. Doing so will lead to all sorts of confusion and errors. While the Bible was not written to America or to your neighborhood in America—it certainly does address it and must be rightly applied to it. Reading the Bible in the wrong direction and importing meaning from a modern context is a revisionist approach—which must be rejected completely. We don’t need a modified Bible—we need the Word that God breathed into existence and that accurately diagnoses the injustices, sinful practices, and points us to the solutions within the gospel of Jesus. In short, the Scriptures are sufficient and they transcend all cultures, all experiences, and serve as our final authority.
What About History?
When writing to Timothy who served as the pastor of the church in Ephesus, Paul didn’t talk about the need for Timothy to have a specific set of lived experiences in order to address the injustices of temple prostitution. While there were massive challenges for Timothy to face in how he addressed marriage, the covenant keeping responsibility of men, the picture of the gospel, the sacrificial love that men should have for their wives, among a multitude of other cultural issues such as idol worship and more—Paul pointed Timothy to the Scriptures (2 Tim. 4:1-5).
When we send missionaries to plant churches and train leaders around the world, we should train them in language, culture, and various other factors that will aid them in proper communication and provide them the necessary insight to address specific challenges with the culture—but we don’t school them in sociology or place our confidence in worldly disciplines. We send them with one message that transcends all cultures on planet earth—the sufficient gospel of Jesus!
That’s how John Paton impacted the New Hebrides. Once filled with savages who ate human flesh, and after Paton’s ministry through the gospel, the people were civilized and the islands were filled with churches who bowed to Jesus Christ. How did he accomplish it? It wasn’t through the tenets of social justice or the ideologies of the world. It was by the power of the gospel of Jesus.
Paton had never eaten human flesh nor had he built a résumé of lived experience among savage people. His Scottish upbringing was nothing remotely close to the culture of the New Hebrides and he was even called a fool for wanting to go in the first place. Although he possessed no lived experience resume from the New Hebrides culture, what he did have was the pure unadulterated gospel of Jesus—a message that is capable of addressing all cultures—civilized and uncivilized.
When will we as brothers and sisters put down our foolish sticks and return to the sword of the Spirit and address culture with confidence, love, and passion to see people bow to King Jesus?
- Eric Mason, Woke Church (Chicago: Moody, 2018), 26-27.
- Ibid., 27.
One of the great ways we’re called to worship God is by singing. All through the Old Testament, we find passages where God’s people are called to sing to the LORD. In Psalm 9:11, we find these words, “Sing praises to the LORD, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds!” It’s a common theme through the Psalms. In Psalm 30:4, we find this call to worship, “Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.”
As a gathered church, we should engage in the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs as we make melody in our hearts to the Lord. Since we have hundreds of great hymns and spiritual songs for worship that are filled with great theology, we should engage our mind and heart in the song during our worship. As we sing, it should be that the theology of the song is what produces joy in our hearts—not the arrangement or the skill of the vocalist who is leading. How often do you miss the theology of the song you’re singing?
When John Newton penned his famous “Amazing Grace”—he wrote, “Amazing grace! how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch; like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.” Although this is a familiar line to us, we must not miss the theology. Newton was pointing out the absolute inability of man to come to God on his own. Newton understood God’s marvelous grace and he put it on display in his song. Don’t miss this truth. We cannot move ourselves to God on our own—we are lost and helpless, and it’s God who comes to us.
Consider the words to the great hymn penned by Thomas O. Chisholm “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” In that first verse, he writes, “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father; There is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not; As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.” This is the grand doctrine of God’s immutability. Although a clunky theological term, the immutability of God means that he never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. As we sing this wonderful hymn, we must engage our mind and consider the never changing always faithful God who rules the entire universe.
In the song, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” we find the following words:
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood”
The author of the hymn, Robert Robinson, was pointing to the fact that we were wandering away from God. We are not seekers who are looking for God. We are not spiritually sick people who are seeking after God. The Bible is clear, there is no one who seeks after God (Rom. 3:10). The theological point is that Jesus sought us and found us and he interposed his blood in our place (substitutionary atonement). Jesus was the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:1-2). It was Jesus who pleased God and satisfied holy justice in our place. We must engage our minds and understand what it is that we’re singing as we worship.
When we turn our worship services into entertainment platforms for bands and vocalists to perform we miss the point and opportunity of corporate worship. We are not gathered for entertainment nor should we select songs for that purpose. Charles Spurgeon, in the Sword and The Trowel, once wrote these words to song leaders:
O sweet singer of Israel, remember that the song is not for your glory, but for the honour of the Lord, who inhabiteth the praises of Israel; therefore, select not anthems and tunes in which your skilfulness will be manifest, but such as will aid the people to magnify the Lord with their thanksgivings (June 1, 1870. 276-277).
Far too often people choose churches where they can find their kind of music performed in a way that makes them feel good. Worship is not for us to have a certain feeling or for a vocalist to give us goosebumps. We are not judges of performances. We are worshippers of God. If we are allowing bands and vocalists to perform and if we’re all caught up in the frenzy of our feelings—we will likely turn a blind eye to the theology of the songs within corporate worship. Before long, the church will be singing words that are so shallow they could be inserted into a Country song and performed in Nashville. Even worse is when the songs are arranged well and the congregation enjoys singing them, but they’re filled with incorrect theology about God.
Singing to God is about praising God first, but it also serves to teach us about God—especially the little ones who are with us in the worship services. Remember, words matter, songs matter, worship matters, and as we sing—we must labor to not miss the theology of the song.
The world is filled with manuals for almost everything imaginable. We have manuals for vehicle repair, lawn equipment operation, and computer usage. So, when it comes to the worship of God, we have a sufficient manual in the sacred Scriptures that we call the Word of God. If the Word of God is the central hub in the worship of God—what does it accomplish in the lives of God’s people? How does the Bible shape or affect the worship of God?
The Word of God Informs our Worship
We are called to know God. The journey of faith is not merely centered upon rituals of worship. If all of life is for the glory of God—that means that we are called to worship God on a daily basis. In Deuteronomy 6, we find the prescription for discipleship in the home where parents are to teach their children in the morning, along the way throughout the day, and before they go to bed in the evening—from the Scriptures. Knowing God in general through creation is a beautiful thing, but it’s simply not enough. God has given us the Word—the sacred text in order to make himself known in a special and intimate manner.
The Word of God is sufficient to communicate truths about God’s character. The attributes of God reveal his omnipresence, his omniscience, his omnipotence, and his immutability. These grand truths are not recorded in the Bible so that we can have material for seminary classes or doctrines for debates within evangelical circles. They are written in order that we will know God and love God.
When we sing “Amazing Grace” as a gathered church, we are not singing empty words. The verses contain doctrine about our God that originate in the pages of the Bible. Such knowledge about the wonder and beauty and love of God should lift us to the heights of praise. It’s not the arrangement or the crescendo that should stir our emotions but rather than mind and the heart being moved by the truth about the fact that a sovereign God has chosen to save a people for his glory through the blood of his Son—who were saved by the mercy of God alone—not the worthiness of the rebels.
The Word of God is like a fire according to Jeremiah 23:39. It’s like a hammer that crushes according to the very same verse. The Scriptures are like a sword that pierces according to Hebrews 4:12, and yet the Psalmist declared that they are sweeter than honey in Psalm 19:10-11.
Furthermore, the Word of God provides us the manual of worship. In other words, there are right ways and wrong ways to worship God. We do not have the freedom to invent new and fresh ways to worship God. In the Scriptures, we find the ways that God has demanded his people to worship him, and to deviate from that plan is to engage in sinful worship that’s fleshly, man-centered, and that which doesn’t glorify God. In Deuteronomy 12:4, the LORD gave the Israelites a clear command stating, “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way.” In other words, God expects worship to be carried out in a specific manner—unlike the pagan worship of the world.
In the New Testament, that same pattern exists. We find Ananias and Sapphira being judged by God for inappropriate worship in Acts 5. We see the church in Corinth experiencing God’s judgment for perverting the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. God has a standard and a plan for the way he desires his people to worship him, and it’s not to be left open ended for the imagination of man to decide. The Word of God informs our worship.
The Word of God Reforms our Worship
It is the goal of Satan to deform anything that God has created. He began this work of deforming the created order in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3). He has sought to deform the relationship between God and man. He has sought to deform the family structure. He has sought to deform marriage. He has long attempted and been successful in deforming worship. God desires for his people to honor, praise, and glorify him in worship—yet Satan desires to deform worship to rob God of glory.
In modern times, we have watched the downgrade of worship within evangelical circles. Church services have been rearranged to satisfy unbelievers and it has given rise to the entertainment model of worship that’s centered on the satisfaction of the human heart rather than the glory of God.
In recent years we’ve seen examples of this downgrade in church services such as North Point Community Church led by Andy Stanley where the band opened a worship service with a pop song from the 90s with lyrics such as, “Love the way you turn me on” and “You’ve got the right stuff baby.” The contemporary Christian music world has likewise drifted way off course today where we have songs that could be focused on the relationship of a man and his girlfriend as opposed to a believer singing to his God. If it’s so watered down that we can’t find proper theology—it’s not God honoring worship. Sadly, the church has drifted along the currents of culture and it has led to a downgrade of worship that is entertainment based as opposed to worshipful and worshipper engaged.
This is not a new development. Years ago the worship of God was so perverted by the Roman Catholic Church that the Scriptures were concealed, congregational singing disappeared, the traditions of the Catholic Church took priority over the Word of God, and the worship of God was dark and lifeless.
It was through the movement known as the Reformation that the Scriptures were brought out of the dungeon and elevated to a primary place in the life of God’s people. Modern translations brought the Bible to the people and it reformed the worship of God that had been long deformed by satanic influences and man-centered ideologies.
That’s why we have a saying that emerged from the Reformation that says, “Semper Reformanda”—always reforming. It comes from a longer Latin phrase ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (the church reformed, always reforming) that first appeared in a devotional book by Jodocus van Lodenstein in 1674. Day-by-day the worship of God, the pure doctrines of God, and the life that brings glory to God will be deformed. Sometimes it seems as if it’s only a slight movement and then suddenly it picks up pace quickly, but the agenda never stops. Satan has a desire to deform that which honors God. We must be constantly reforming our worship to get back to the straight and narrow path that glorifies God.
It’s not about being “old-fashioned” or “traditional” in our worship of God. It’s about being biblical. It’s about honoring God in the way that he has specified. The Word of God not only informs our worship, but as we continue to read the Scriptures we continue to make necessary adjustments in order to reform what Satan has deformed. Even when we think we have the external functions in their proper place and regulated by Scripture, there is a need for the church to be always reforming the heart to guard against becoming like the Pharisees that Jesus once warned when he said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8).