In recent days, precipitated by the ongoing growth of the G3, we have launched a podcast that covers doctrinal and cultural issues facing the church in our day.
The podcast is co-hosted by me and my friend Jeremy Vuolo. We both live on opposite sides of the country. I live and serve near Atlanta and Jeremy is near Los Angeles. While we enjoy rich conversations about doctrinal and practical issues regarding the faith—we also bring on special guests to talk about various topics as well. You can find the G3 Podcast online in various places such as the G3 Conference website, G3 app, G3 YouTube channel, iTunes, Google Play Music, and more.
In today’s episode, we talk with Allie Beth Stuckey about life, faith, politics, and social justice. You will want to take time to listen and subscribe to our podcast for your commute as it drops each Thursday. Thank you for listening—spread the word.
During the advent season, when Christians are celebrating the birth of Jesus, there’s one song that is often sung by churches, choirs, and soloists—telling the story of the incarnation of Jesus with brilliant words and stunning musical arrangement that often stands out among the other carols and Christmas hymns. Originally known by its French name, “Cantique de Noël” (meaning “song of Christmas”), the song “O Holy Night” remains a favorite song of the Christmas season.
Perhaps you never knew the story of this well known carol that was penned by a nominal Catholic and the music arranged by a reluctant Jew—for a midnight mass on Christmas Eve. You might not have known of the controversy the song created in France when the author left the Catholic Church resulting in it being banned before it eventually made its way to the United States. You also might not have known that this song was the very first song to be played across the radio airwaves in world history on December 24th 1906. Even with all of this history, perhaps you have overlooked something else in the song, namely a message nestled within the third stanza that deserves our attention.
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name
It is no secret that today’s evangelical church, especially in America, is greatly divided over the social justice movement’s methods and message. Rather than promoting love and peace, the social justice movement breeds resentment, animosity, and division. Social justice by default flows out of a long history of postmodernism and with a functional goal of deconstruction—the movement itself demands reparations rather than forgiveness, penance rather than repentance, and social activism rather than unity in gospel transformation.
This beloved carol was introduced to America during a time of division over slavery. The third stanza spoke the truth with poetic power and moved the hearts of people. It was a needed message during a time of great division and darkness in our nation’s history. Indeed, in Jesus we learn what true love is—sovereign love, servant love, and saving love.
The devil is quite crafty and uses something as shallow as skin color to divide people from one another. This has been the case all throughout human history. Sadly, the world and the church are both tempted to find answers to brokenness through social justice rather than the gospel of Jesus. This leads to a hyper-focus on social activism, marches, tearing down statues of historic figures, burning historic flags, and demanding change that’s focused on the shallowness of skin color rather than the heart, the mind, and the actual abilities that people are gifted with.
Social justice, being a rather complex movement, is not only focused on ethnic division, but also on areas such as the roles and responsibilities of men and women in the home, the society, and the local church. Rather than celebrating the roles of both men and women as image bearers of God in this world and within the local church—social justice demands equality of roles and functions—something that God never intended. The social justice message creates bitterness rather than love, division rather than unity, and chaos rather than peace. Looking for freedom in a world of brokenness—advocates of social justice become slaves to ideas, methods, and ultimately doctrines that flow out of the pages of postmodernism rather than sacred Scripture. This is not the message of love nor will it lead people to peace.
Today, we are experiencing much chaos as the social justice train continues to roll through denominations, institutions, organizations, and local churches. We are witnessing a unique and trying time in our history where longtime friendships are being severed and denominations are being stressed to the point of implosion. It seems that there is no light at the end of this long tunnel.
As we consider our current place in human history and within the history of the church, we must keep our eyes fixed on Christ. The birth of Jesus was promised in the midst of chaos (Gen. 3:15). All throughout human history, God would often remind people of the coming of Christ in the midst of turmoil and chaos as was the case when the prophet Isaiah penned his promise of hope. When people needed hope—God pointed them to the birth of a King, but not just any king. The prophet writing 700 years before the birth of Jesus pointed the people to the one who would bring true justice and eternal peace.
Nestled in this famous carol is the promise of Isaiah 9:6. While we look back at the birth of Jesus, we must remember that as the prophet wrote Isaiah 9:6 long before Jesus’ birth, he didn’t stop in Bethlehem. He looked beyond, to a day in which Christ would usher in his visible Kingdom and upon his return would rule with perfect justice and ultimate peace. When Christ returns, all oppression shall cease. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord upon his return, and all forms of sinful oppression will be no more.
Only in Jesus will ethnic division among Jew and Gentile be settled. Only in Jesus will ethnic pride and divisive racism be swallowed up in victory. Our hope for a world without division, chaos, bitterness, pride, and confusion over our roles and responsibilities as men and women will only be realized fully when Christ returns and makes all things new.
Until then, we look back to Jesus’ birth with joyful hearts and long for the day of hope when our King shall descend in radiant splendor. Come Lord Jesus!
Recently, I had the privilege to watch the new documentary Spirit & Truth and I want to explain why you should take time to watch it yourself.
The Necessity of Worship
As followers of Christ, we are called to worship God. Worship is not something that’s optional. God has created us as beings who will worship God or something else. When we pause to consider the necessity of worship—that God has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light for the very purpose of worshipping him—we then begin the journey of a life of worship. Psalm 100:3 says, “Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” As sheep of his pasture, we are there for him—to serve him and to magnify him. Our call to worship God is seen clearly in the scene when John fell down before an angel in a posture of worship, and the angel corrected him – telling him to worship God.
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God” (Rev. 22:8-9).
The Confusion of Worship
In our modern day, the concept of worship has been skewed and confused from the way in which God originally designed it. It’s not just modernity that has caused the problems, even in ancient times, the human heart has always had a propensity to worship and serve the creation rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). We see it with Aaron and the Israelites who fashioned a golden calf in order to worship God (Ex. 32). We see it with Nadab and Abihu who offered up strange fire to God (Lev. 10). We see it with the church at Corinth who perverted the Lord’s table resulting in the judgment of God (1 Cor. 11).
Today, much of what is called worship isn’t really worship at all. If anything, it’s the honor of selfish desires and cravings rather than the honor of God. We see this in the way modern worship services are designed, the elements of the services, and most critically in what is often missing in the “worship” services of many local churches each week.
The Excellence of the Documentary
Les Lanphere does a great job in this documentary. From the way the storyline develops through a series of interviews—the lesson of biblical worship is communicated clearly from the pages of the Bible.
The way in which modern motion graphics are employed in the film is not a distraction, but a major addition to the way the story unfolds and the way the truth of biblical worship is taught.
I was interviewed for this film and enjoyed talking with Les Lanphere. Perhaps one criticism would be that there were not enough Baptists interviewed for the film, but the truth of the text of Scripture was certainly presented well and that’s the reason I encourage you to watch it and share it with your friends.
Questions to consider as you watch the film:
What is family worship?
What’s the goal of family worship?
Why we do organize the worship service the way we do each week?
Who or what should regulate the weekly worship service?
If we don’t sing Psalms, why not?
What are the ordinary means of grace?
Should the church be looking to the people to see what they want or should the church be looking to God to see what he wants when it comes to worship?
In 1966 John Lennon of the famous band the Beatles, made a very controversial statement that was published in a London newspaper and eventually caused a great deal of controversy around the world. He said:
“Christianity will go,” he had said. “It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I know I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first – rock & roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”
John Lennon had an elevated opinion of himself and unfortunately, an improper view of God, his Church, and the truth of the gospel. This left him believing that God’s gospel would somehow fade off into the sunset just as multitudes of pagan myths and godless ideologies have throughout history. However, for Christianity to die, God would have to die. For Christianity to vanish, truth would have to vanish. That’s simply not going to happen.
Jesus and His Church Will Never Be Overcome By Death
In Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 16), we find the first mention of the church in the New Testament. Jesus asked his disciples a very important question about his identity. He wanted to know what the word on the street was about his identity, and then he moved to ask this question, “But who do you say that I am” (Matt. 16:15)? Peter spoke up without hesitation to say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:16).
At this point, we find Peter pointing out that God is the “living God” as opposed to some dead and lifeless idol. The most common sin that Scripture seems to point out is that of idolatry. It can come in so many different forms from a golden calf to money to self-idolatry. Yet, just as Paul pointed out to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:14-16, the temple of Diana (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) was a temple of dead and lifeless idols, but the church is dedicated to the living God.
Consider the reality that all through history, religious leaders come and go, but God is very much alive. The climax of that truth is made visible in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The whole world is full of dead idols and graves full of dead men who purported to be the religious guru that people needed to follow. However, to this day, they are dead. This is true of ancient idols such as Diana, Caesar, Pharaoh, and more modern types such as Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, and Mary Baker Eddy.
Jesus went on to make the powerful statement, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Not only is God living, but so is his church. It will not fail. It will not vanish. It will not go out of business. It will not fade off into the sunset, because God’s church exists for the glory of God who will never be overcome by death.
God’s Word Will Never Vanish
In Psalm 119:89, the psalmist writes, “O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.” God’s truth will never vanish. In fact, in 1 Timothy 3:14-16, we find Paul instructing Timothy regarding the mission of the church in this world. It is the calling of the church to be the pillar and buttress of the truth.
In Ephesus, a massive structure stood at the center of the city. In many ways, the entire city revolved around the Temple of Diana. It was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. The massive temple structure stood 425 ft. long and 225 ft. wide which was double the size of other temples of the ancient world. It was surrounded and supported by 127 columns which were 18.3 60 ft. high and 4 ft. in diameter. The columns were arranged in a double row on all four sides, 8 or 9 on the short sides and 20 or 21 on the long sides. The columns on the facades were decorated with relief figures from Greek mythology.
When Paul made his statement to Timothy about the church being the pillar and buttress of truth, he had an immediate vision of the vast pillars from the temple in Ephesus that was holding up the massive marble ceiling structure. It is the responsibility of the church—not the academy, the seminary, the Bible college—to uphold the truth of the living God. The church serves as the pillar to uphold the truth and the buttress to establish the foundation’s strength which enables the truth to be held high.
While temples fall and idols crumble into dust—God never dies and his truth remains. Today, John Lennon is merely a blast from the past, but Jesus is here to stay. Unlike John Lennon, when Jesus was murdered, he rose from the dead on the third day. His Word is true and there will never be a day in human history where Jesus is forgotten. His church will be present and his name exalted high until the day in which Christ returns. Today, people have largely forgotten John Lennon, but Christ and his Word is very much known among the nations of the world.
Don’t be like John Lennon and have an elevated opinion of yourself and a diminished view of God. When you die or when Christ returns, which ever event comes first, you will know on that day that Christ is the center of the whole universe. Worship him!
When we hear the term reformation we automatically have visions of an Augustinian monk marching to the large Castle Church door in Wittenberg with hammer in hand to nail his Ninety Five Theses there on October 31st 1517. However, there’s more to the Reformation than that one event and there’s an ongoing work of Reformation in our day. The weekly responsibilities of a pastor involves reforming the church. That’s what we see in Paul’s letter to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:14-16.
The Church and Cultural Trends
There are dangerous ditches to fall into within the church. One ditch is the ditch of tradition where a church member resists any idea of change simply because he has never done it that way before. Another ditch to avoid is that of constantly changing in order to accommodate the changing culture. There is steady cultural breeze that seeks to move the church off course. It may not seem like it’s too far off at first glance, but over time the distance becomes greater and the compromise becomes more severe.
The church is under a steady assault from the world. Everything from the message to the mission of the church is being influenced by the culture. If not properly guarded—the church will be deformed little by little. Very seldom does a false teacher walk in the front door and introduce himself as the devil’s agent sent to destroy the church. But, if the message of the church is not properly guarded—the deformation of truth will take place week by week until the gospel is veiled altogether.
This is the same pattern with regard to every aspect of the church—including the weekly worship service. That’s why there is a steady need for reformation in the life of the local church.
The Pastor and the Work of Reformation
The pastor of the church in Ephesus was Timothy. Paul wrote to him and gave clear instructions for him to reform the church’s behavior (1 Tim. 3:14-15). The term “behavior” comes from the Greek word, “ἀναστρέφω” meaning — “to conduct oneself in a specific manner.” It’s a reference to the functionality of the church.
Apparently, since Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, there is reason to believe that something was off. It could be an indicator of some sort of compromise with personal relationships or within public worship—and both areas matter much to God.
The pastor’s role as an overseer is to guard the church’s behavior. Interpersonal relationships matter as the church is called to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). Likewise, weekly worship must be orderly and arranged in such a manner as to bring glory to God. When the weekly worship is filled with man-centered elements from pragmatic arrangements to entertainment focused services—the gathering ceases to honor God and in some cases ceases to be a church altogether.
Rather than entertaining the church, the pastor is to reprove, rebuke, and bring correction according to the Word of Truth (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Both personal relationships and public worship are to be regulated by the Word of God. The Scriptures are sufficient to guide us in friendships and the worship of God. It is the Word of God that provides boundaries for God’s people and it is the responsibility of the pastor to regulate the church for God’s glory. Such red lights and green lights help us to see the path of righteousness and the cultural errors which enables us to walk in obedience among the household of God.
Not only was this true in the days of ancient Ephesus, but it remains true for us today. When we hear of consumerism invading the church whereby people pack up their bags and move churches over simple disagreements, larger playgrounds at a church down the street, or because their grandchild decided to attend another church three miles from their current church—we’re reminded of the need to understand proper behavior among the church. When we see pastors entering the pulpit on zip lines and rock bands leading the people into a frenzy through secular music—we are reminded of the need for faithful pastors to guard the church and to regulate the church’s behavior both in relationships and worship in order to avoid error and glorify God.
Pray for your pastors. Pray that they will not be swept away by the winds of compromise. Pray for them as they seek to engage in tedious work of reforming the church that the culture has sought to deform over time.
The phrase ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (the church reformed, always reforming) is the call of the church as a whole and it begins with those who are called to lead.
In recent days, I’ve thought much about the providence of God. Why did God allow a doctor to be on the street at the specific intersection in Edinburgh, Scotland at the precise moment of my daughter’s diabetic seizure? That moment has promoted my examination of a thousand other daily occurrences that have caused me to explore the deep wells of God’s divine providence. Thomas Watson writes, in his A Body of Divinity, “There is no such thing as blind fate, but there is a providence that guides and governs the world. “The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is if the Lord” (Prov. 16:33).” 
Did God arrange your steps to cross paths with your spouse so that you would meet, fall in love, and eventually marry? Why did you grow up in the neighborhood where you were raised as a child, was that chance or was that ordered by God’s providence? What about the traffic problem you had on your way home from work that caused you to be late for supper last week, why did that happen?
Such questions are good questions to work through, but then we eventually come to much deeper questions such as why God allows pain in this world and why God caused you and I to be born into specific places where we would have such great access to the gospel while millions around the world have very little gospel light.
When working through such questions, there are both theological and ethical answers that people desire answers for, but none are beyond the realm of theological. For instance, who becomes president of the United States in 2020 falls into the realm of political, ethical, and theological—and at the end of the day—we trust that God is not watching CNN at midnight ringing his hands as he drinks his Double Shot Espresso from Starbucks to stay awake.
God is sovereign and as a result of his sovereign rule—he governs all things according to his providence. Notice how Paul explains this in Romans 11:36:
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
God is at work in all things and will bring about his glory. We can’t possibly evaluate the meticulous providence of God in his work of ordering all things, directing all things, and working all things for his eternal glory. Charles Spurgeon, tells a story of God’s providence where he was scheduled to preach to some 8,000 people, but a massive snow storm came and he thought that there would be nobody present in the building where he was the guest preacher for the day. Instead, when he arrived, there were some 5,000 to 6,000 people in attendance. That evening, a smaller crowd was gathered together, and that was when Spurgeon witnessed the providence of God. He explains the story as follows:
But mark the provident hand of God: in the evening, when the people were about to retire, and when there was scarcely more than a hundred persons there, a huge beam gave way, and down came a portion of the flooring of the gallery with a fearful crash. Several persons were precipitated with the planks, but still the good hand of God watched over us, and only two persons were severely injured with broken legs, which it is trusted will be re-set without the necessity of amputation. Now, had this happened any earlier, not only must many more have been injured, but there are a thousand chances to one, as we say, that a panic must necessarily have ensued similar to that which we still remember, and deplore as having occurred in this place. Had such a thing occurred, and had I been the unhappy preacher on the occasion, I feel certain that I should never have been able to occupy the pulpit again. Such was the effect of the first calamity, that I marvel that I ever survived. No human tongue can possibly tell what I experienced. The Lord, however, graciously preserved us; the fewness of the people in the gallery prevented any such catastrophe, and thus a most fearful accident was averted. But we have a more marvellous providence still to record. Overloaded by the immense weight of snow which fell upon it, and beaten by a heavy wind, the entire building fell with an enormous crash three hours after we had left it, splitting the huge timbers into shivers, and rendering very much of the material utterly useless for any future building. Now mark this—had the snow begun three hours earlier, the building must have fallen upon us, and how few of us would have escaped we cannot guess. 
The tragedy that occurred at Surrey Gardens still haunted Spurgeon in his memory when some 12,000 people were gathered for worship and a few people, prearranged and calculated, cried out “Fire! The galleries are giving way! The place is falling!” The result was a trampling rush to escape the building and such a rush claimed the lives of several people.
As Spurgeon tells the story of the beam falling and the eventual collapse of the building in the heavy snow pack, he can see how God was in complete control of the snow storm, the snow fall, when the snow fell, and the end result was that God saved thousands!
Have you considered the meticulous providence of God? It was R.C. Sproul who once stated, “There is no maverick molecule if God is sovereign.” Why did you hear the gospel preached the day that you were saved? Why did God arrange the salvation of your parents so that you would be discipled under their care in their home? God did this and it was for your good and for his glory.
You may say, as we often see in the psalms, why did God allow such pain in my life? Why have the enemies of God seemed to prevail over me? We must trust that God is wise and good. Even in the pain, we must trust God. Never doubt the fact that God is working out all things in both pleasure and pain according to his sovereign will. His providence guides and governs all things for his glory. As we pray, we must pray with confidence that God is able to turn our sorrow into a song—much like we see throughout the psalms (see Psalm 13 as an example).
Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Publishing, 1692; reprinted 2015), 119.
Charles Spurgeon, Sermon titled, “Providence” delivered from New Park Street Pulpit. Text of Scripture: Matthew 10:30, April 11, 1858.