Several years ago, The Shack by William Young made headlines because of his use of “God” as a character in his story that did not align with the clear teachings of the Bible. It likewise denied key doctrines such as hell and the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross. When William Young was asked during an interview if he believes that Jesus Christ was the punishment for sin and a sacrifice on the cross, he responded by asking, “Uhuh…by who?” The man conducting the interview said, “By the Father.” Young responded, “Why would the Father punish His Son?”
Why was the death of Jesus on the cross significant? What made his death stand out over the multitudes of others who were put to death on the wooden cross that was known as “the infamous stake” among the Romans?
The Wrath of God was Satisfied
Although the cross has become the iconic symbol for Christianity and many people wear it as a piece of jewelry, for the first century Jew the cross was nothing more than a symbol of death. Everyone knew that the Roman cross was a sure death penalty with zero possibility of survival. The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Egyptians had all practiced torture and death penalty with the use of a cross, but it was the Romans who perfected it.
Some seven centuries before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah, the greatest prophet of the Old Testament days of Israel, penned these words:
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief (Is. 53:10).
For many skeptics, the scene of the cross is nothing more than cosmic child abuse. They cannot imagine how a good and loving God could put his own Son to death in such a ruthless manner. Famed atheist Richard Dawkins writes the following:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. 
However, the reason why the death of Jesus on the cross doesn’t make sense to atheists like Dawkins is because they have an improper understanding of the wrath of God as connected to the justice of God and the need for holy justice to be perfectly satisfied. Since humans are all guilty of sin (Rom. 3:23), there is no means of reconciliation to God outside of a perfect sacrifice.
The sacrifice of bulls and goats is insufficient to take away all of the sins of all of God’s people—which brings us to the reality that such a dilemma required the death of God’s Son as a substitute for sinners. J.C. Ryle writes, “The sufferings described in it [the crucifixion] would fill our minds with mingled horror and compassion if they had been inflicted on one who was only a man like ourselves. But when we reflect that the sufferer was the eternal Son of God, we are lost in wonder and amazement.” 
Sinners Were Reconciled to God
When we celebrate Good Fridayas Christians—it’s not because we enjoy the image of Jesus dying on the Romans’ infamous stake. The picture of Jesus’ butchered body nailed to a cruel cross on a hillside is hardly a joyful image. The reason Good Fridayis so good is because of what actually happened on that day.
The grand truths related to our salvation such as justification, sanctification, and glorification—are all possible because of the death of Jesus in our place. Without Jesus’ substitutionary death, we would never be welcomed in God’s sight. Instead, he would look upon us as enemies. Peter writes these words to encourage believers who were struggling under intense pressures and persecution, “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” (1 Pet. 3:18). Isaac Watts described the death of Jesus with eloquent precision:
Alas, and did my Saviour bleed?
And did my Sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
As Christ died on the cross in our place, he became a curse for us (Gal. 3:13) in order that he might bring peace between guilty sinners and our sovereign God (1 John 2:1-2). As Jesus died on the cross, while in immense pain and agony, he cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). As Peter made clear, Jesus’ death was necessary for the great exchange—where he would receive our sins and where we would receive his righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24). As the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion reached its culmination with darkness covering the sky in the middle of the day—Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “It is finished” (John 19:30)! This was the announcement that every one of the sins of all of God’s people were paid for in the suffering death of Jesus.
Through the death of Jesus, we are brought near to God and our position changes. We are no longer enemies of God! Jerry Bridges observes the following about the cross of Jesus:
It is at the cross where God’s Law and God’s grace are both most brilliantly displayed, where His justice and His mercy are both glorified. But it is also at the cross where we are most humbled. It is at the cross where we admit to God and to ourselves that there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn or merit our salvation. 
- Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion,(London: Bantam Press, 2006), 51
- J.C. Ryle, Mark (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels), (Wheaton: Crossway, 1993).
- Jerry Bridges, The Gospel for Real Life: Turn to the Liberating Power of the Cross…Every Day, (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2003).
It seems that many people would rather quibble and argue about the doctrine of election than rejoice in the great truth. When we read the Bible and we see the doctrine of election emerging from the pages, it should be a reminder to us that this wonderful truth was never composed in order to form a debate or to prove a theological point in a seminary classroom. Instead, it was presented as a means of encouragement to the people of God. Be encouraged by the doctrine of election. Consider these four reasons why you should rejoice in the doctrine of election.
The Doctrine of Election Is Based on God’s Will
Have you ever considered how temperamental we are as humans? We change our minds often and we make adjustments to our goals, but that’s not true with God. From everlasting to everlasting—he remains unchanging and sure. When we hear people debating passionately about the doctrine of election, it’s typically centered upon the issue of who’s will is involved in the choice of salvation. Is it man who has free will and merely chooses God or is it it God who has free will and chooses man?
In Deuteronomy 7, we find Moses providing the people of God with a repeating of the Law just before they crossed the Jordan River. It’s in this book that Moses unveils the truths of election for Israel in order to crush their pride when they took possession of their land. In Deuteronomy 7:6-7, two different times it states that God is the one who chose Israel. The choice rested upon God’s sovereign will—not the will of the people of Israel.
As we move to the New Testament, we find that same language in Ephesians. Paul writes the following to the church in Ephesus:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him (Eph. 1:3-4).
As Paul makes clear, the choice of God’s people occurred before the foundation of the world. The doctrine of election teaches that God “chose” or “elected” his people before time—centering everything upon his own will rather than the performance of the people or their perceived value. Just as Moses made clear to Israel, they were the fewest and weakest—yet God chose them.
The Doctrine of Election Reveals God’s Love
If you go back to the passage in Deuteronomy 7, you will find four times in one chapter Moses speaking of God setting his love on his people. Moses writes:
It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt (Deut. 7:7-8).
In that same type of language, Paul reveals God’s love for his people in Ephesians 1:4-5 as he writes, “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” The doctrine of election involves God setting his love on his people. Literally speaking, he foreloved people as he foreknew them even before they were born. We find that language in Romans 8:29-30. Any study of the word “foreknown” will clearly demonstrate that it doesn’t mean that God looked through time to see what choices people would make. That idea has many problems, for one, it would mean that there was a time when God didn’t know everything and had to look through time to learn something. To foreknow is to forelove and it involves the will of God to set his love on his people.
The Doctrine of Election Demands a Response
In Deuteronomy, God is revealing his divine love and faithfulness to his people and reminding them of this grand truth before the cross the Jordan River. Yet, at the same time, he is placing before them blessing and curse as he demands the people to choose him. God’s choice of his people always precedes our choice for God—but God demands a response from his people. Since God has chosen Israel, God demanded that Israel would choose God and submit to him. Otherwise, they would experience judgment. When Joshua declares, “Choose you this day whom you will serve…as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:!5)—he is making his choice based on the knowledge that came through Moses in Deuteronomy 7—God had chosen his people and as a result his people were called to choose him!
In the New Testament, we find similar language as John the apostle writes, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). In Mark 8:34, Jesus is calling people to follow him. We find language of repentance in the preaching of Jesus and the apostles—which is an imperative. God demands a response from his people. The people of God will not remain neutral, they will hear the voice of the Shepherd and come.
John 10:27 – My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
The Doctrine of Election Secures our Future Salvation
If you study the doctrine of salvation, you will find that it has different layers and parts that must be considered. Furthermore, when you study the doctrine of salvation you will see that it’s a Trinitarian work—involving all three Persons of the Trinity. Every one of the people of God who were chosen before the foundation of the world were given to the Son as a love gift (John 6:35-40; John 17:2-24; John 10:28-29). It was the Son who came and suffered in their place as a satisfactory sacrifice for sin (1 Pet. 2:24; Is. 53:10). it’s the Spirit of God who secures the salvation of all of God’s elect and promises to bring them all the way home (Eph. 1:11-14; Romans 8).
Many theologians have referenced passage in Romans 8 as the “Golden Chain of Salvation” since it describes the work of salvation from eternity past to eternity future. Since God has chosen to set his love upon his people (foreknew) and then predestined them—not one of them will be lost along the way. Every last one will be glorified in the future. This is a glorious hope and a wonderful promise. The next time you are studying the doctrine of eternal security, remember, the only way that you can be assured of your salvation in the future is through the knowledge of your election in the past. God never loses one of his own!
Romans 8:29–30 – For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Yesterday, in our ongoing series through Romans, I preached Romans 8:12-13. As I’ve previously stated, I believe that Paul is the greatest church planting, pastor, theologian in church history. I likewise believe that Romans is the most important book in the Bible. In addition, I believe that Romans 8 is the most important chapter in Romans—and the most important chapter in the entire Bible. Therefore, we find ourselves in a rich study through Romans and it’s amazing what God is teaching us about salvation.
In many ways, Romans 8 is a commentary about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In a very unique manner, the Holy Spirit who most often places the focus upon Christ, pulls back the veil just a bit for us to see the role and responsibility of the Spirit of God in our salvation from beginning to end. The Holy Spirit is involved in our regeneration and his indwelling role involves the work of progressive sanctification.
In Romans 8:12-13, we find that the Holy Spirit is leading believers to put to death the deeds of the body. The language of “put to death” is what has previously been translated, “mortify” and entire books and studies have been written on this very subject throughout church history. In his great work on mortification, John Owen states, “A man may easier see without eyes, speak without a tongue, than truly mortify one sin without the Spirit.”
The Christian life is not pictured as a “lazy lagoon” ride toward heaven. It’s a life of great trial, difficulty, and an ongoing war within to overcome sin, pursue holiness, submit to God, and progress in sanctification. This is not a passive calling. This is an active engagement by the believer and it’s here in Romans 8:12-13 that we see our calling as Christians to engage.
The difficult work of mortification of sin involves the engagement into the dark places of a person’s heart. This type of introspection and self-evaluation is not always exciting work. However, it’s necessary. Like black mold growing in dark places—if left unchecked it could become a serious and potentially deadly problem. Suppose you were seated on your couch on a Friday evening and something caught your eye and as you turned, you saw a Diamondback Rattlesnake crawling around the corner of your baseboard in your living room. What do you do at that point? Well, you certainly don’t reach for more popcorn and reengage into your latest Netflix episode. You immediately engage because of the threat the snake imposes.
The same thing is true with sin. We must never be at peace with sin, or it will demonstrate that we are not at peace with God. We must view all sin as venomous and deadly intruders into your hearts and lives. The calling is to war. We must engage. We can’t afford to wait. We are called to put it to death.
Psalm 139:23 – Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
This week, I was reading Wayne Mack’s book—Life in the Father’s House in preparation for my men’s book study, and one line hit me and made me think. He writes, “Praying specifically for the church services is another way of preparing ourselves for them.” 
Sure, you pray for the church. That’s what we are called to do as Christians. You have been taught the difference between the church building and the church body. However, as we devote ourselves to praying for the individuals and the families of our church—along with the leaders—when was the last time you prayed for the worship service?
If you’ve been in the life of the church for any length of time, you’ve probably come to the reality that people have various and sundry opinions about every detail of the worship service. Sometimes these opinions are expressed in form of compliment, but still others are offered in the form of complaints. For some, the preacher preaches too long or he uses confusing vocabulary. For others, the music does not suit their needs. Still others have complaints about the fact that we’re standing too long in the worship service.
At the end of the day, some of the complaints may have merit, but how much of the complaining would be solved by a simple prayer each week that centered upon the worship service? I recall arriving early on Sunday mornings and gathering with men from our church to pray for the worship service each week. I remember that as a college student, I was made aware of the seriousness of the worship service and the need to commit it to prayer every week. How would this change our view of what’s happening in the worship service every week?
Prayer Can Change Your Priority
When we read Psalm 95 and Psalm 96, we see language that demands God’s people to take seriously the gathering for public worship. We are familiar with the words of Hebrews 10:24-25 (stir up; encourage), but really the whole of Scripture points to the need for God’s people to prioritize worship. Just consider the specificity of the Tabernacle and how it was centralized among God’s people for worship.
When we pray for the worship gathering, it’s unlikely that we will deliberately place other things before it and habitually neglect the gathering. When we pray for the corporate worship service, it will change the way we plan our weekly schedule, entertainment, and other activities that often compete for our time and devotion.
God not only expects his people to worship him in private settings, individually and within family circles—but he expects us to worship him publicly with the gathered church. On the Lord’s Day, we are to worship him in spirit and truth through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16-4:5; Acts 2:42), praise him in song (Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16), experience him in the ordinances (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and pray together as a church and for the church. This is a far different experience than when we are alone in our living room on a Tuesday evening.
By praying for these different elements of the worship service—it’s likely that selfish complaints will be set aside as the emphasis and true purpose of each part of our worship service is put under the light of scrutiny, but most importantly as the desires of our heart are examined through our time of prayer.
Prayer Can Change Your Engagement
I remember attending my first Atlanta Braves baseball game in the new SunTrust Park a couple of seasons ago. I was amazed by the different attractions that modern baseball parks add into the experience of a game. From ziplines to restaurants—attending a game today is far different than it was just a few years ago.
Inside modern baseball parks, it’s common for people to be seated at tables just a few feet from the field, watching the game on large television screens, checking social media, drinking beer, and occasionally glancing out upon the field. What they experience is something quite different than the people who are seated in their seats, watching each play, anticipating the next pitch, observing the count of balls and strikes, and checking to see who is standing in the on-deck circle. The people in the restaurant are near the game, but they are not engaged in the game.
When we spend time praying for the weekly worship service, it will have an impact upon your level of engagement. If church is merely something you attend as opposed to something you’re involved in and doing on a regular basis—praying for the weekly service will bring this to light. As you pray for the musicians who play, if you have gifts but are not using them, it will cause you to reconsider your rationale. When you consider all of the work necessary just to pull off a detailed worship service each week, you will begin to ask yourself why you aren’t up earlier and on site to help get things into order?
In short, praying for the weekly worship service changes the level of personal engagement and allows us to see holes that we can fill. If you’re part of a church plant, why should the pastor have to set up all of his chairs in the meeting place each week and study the sermon and preach it too? Why can’t someone else engage in the setup? Praying for every part of the service brings such details to the surface and reveals needs within the body that you can help meet—as opposed to complaining about it.
If the choir is not loud enough, why not join them? If the preacher is using complicated vocabulary, why not study and engage the text to understand better? If nobody greeted you on the side entrance on Sunday, why not arrive early and help open doors and greet people as they arrive? Prayer has a way of changing your level of engagement—so pray for each detail of the weekly worship service and help make your church worship better by how you engage. Modern worship has been described as the engagement of the “modern man [who] worships his work, works at his play, and plays at his worship.”  The only way we can seriously change this pattern is through obedience to Scripture and attention to the details through faithful prayer.
- Wayne Mack and Dave Swavely, Life in the Father’s House, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2006), 127.
- Quoted by Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, (Colorado Springs/; Nav Press, 1991), 89.
Last summer as a group of concerned Christian leaders gathered in Dallas, Texas for the summit on social justice, several times it was repeated by others, and by me personally, that social justice is the biggest threat to the church of Jesus Christ in the last one hundred years.
As we discussed these matters in great detail, as we were departing for the airport, a few of us got into one vehicle and one of the men from the back asked me directly, “How do you know that this is the greatest threat in the last one hundred years?” What I said in that ride to the airport I maintain to this very day, but now—with much more clarity.
The Three Headed Dragon
In J. R. R. Tolkien’s writings, interesting characters emerge onto the scene in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. One formidable character is the great red dragon, the fire-breathing monster known as Smaug. The dragon has taken over Lonely Mountain and the entire story of The Hobbit is a dramatic build-up to the teamwork of an unlikely and eclectic group that is determined to overcome the dragon. The only way to do so is by storming the door and defeating the beast.
Throughout history, the church has faced a number of controversies and a number of dragons along the way. From legalism to ecumenism to postmodernism, the evangelical church has drifted through the years. Perhaps the biggest controversy to face the evangelical church in recent history has been the inerrancy controversy. This problem crossed denominational lines and affected many institutions and entities along the way—not to mention the local churches that were devastated. The story of the Conservative Resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention is nothing short of God’s providence. Other denominations never recovered when they were overtaken by theological liberalism.
The main issue, although filled with serious complications that were played out in the theological, legal, and local church circles—was the inerrancy of God’s Word. No matter how large the dragon, it had only one head. It was easy to rally people behind the cause to fight for the Bible. The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in June ebbs and flows from 5-9k people every June depending on the city, but during those years of controversy (in the late 70s), the local churches were busing in thousands of people to vote—to take a stand against error. In Dallas, Texas in the summer of 1985 during the heat of the resurgence, 45,519 messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention showed up to vote.
When people suggest that social justice is “the greatest threat to the church in the last one hundred years”—many Christians who know their history begin to see images of large crowds at the annual SBC meetings over inerrancy and they think of the church growth movement of pragmatism, and the Emerging Church movement and the racism of divided churches in the Jim Crow era—and they just don’t understand how social justice could be that big of a deal. We must remember, no matter what the beast is—if it’s liberalism, pragmatism, or some other theological or political conglomeration—those beasts had one head to focus upon during the fight. I’m arguing that social justice is a three-headed dragon—one that’s often difficult to define—yet one that has a powerful push both in terms of numerical and financial support. That’s what makes this social justice issue the biggest threat to the church in the last century.
Complementarianism—Does It Need a Revision?
The social justice controversy is complicated. One of the “heads” of the dragon of social justice is the issue of complementarianism. Simply put, social justice is driving us toward the need to redefine and clarify where we stand on women serving in ministry. This was one of the biggest issues facing The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary near the end of the inerrancy controversy of the SBC. You can see some of this in a documentary that was made by liberals to chart the “takeover” of Southern Seminary. Through the faithful leadership of Albert Mohler, the institution was led back to the biblical and theological position.
The Danvers Statement was first produced by The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1988 and to this very day, remains a solid document that articulates the complementary differences between masculinity and femininity as designed by God from the very beginning. The point is clear—if such differences and if such roles were the product of God’s original design, why would we suddenly desire to redefine the boundaries for women in the local church? Many voices today are advocating for women’s leadership in the church so long as a woman is not ordained to the office of elder. Others are promoting the idea of a woman to lead in denominational life—such as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Such conversations have led to the recent release of the SBC Womens’ Leadership Network.
During times of controversy, we tend to focus upon what certain people cannot do rather than celebrating what they can do. In this case, we should celebrate what God has called women to do and help them fulfill God’s calling on their lives. We are not living in the past where women were, in many ways, discriminated against because of their gender. However, we should stand opposed to any agenda that presses the boundaries that extend beyond the God ordained roles and responsibilities for women in the church and culture. The social justice agenda is currently beating this drum that suggests we need to rethink complementarianism.
Ethnicity—The Modern Racism Debate
Craig Mitchell, in his explanation of Article 12 of The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, writes the following, “The science of race is getting louder and clearer all of the time. Race is at best an overblown social construct that has been harmful to our society. It is a concept that is best forgotten.” He cites Svante Paabo, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany as stating the following:
What the study of complete genomes from different parts of the world has shown is that even between Africa and Europe, for example, there is not a single absolute genetic difference, meaning no single variant where all Africans have one variant and all Europeans another one, even when recent migration is disregarded. 
In other words, throughout history, we have made a horrible mistake of dividing over the tone of skin. The melanin count in one person doesn’t make him a member of a different race of people—all of us can be traced back to one historic human—Adam.
However, throughout American history (and world history) we have often divided over skin color. Even after the slave trade was ruled illegal, our nation went through a difficult time of division in the Jim Crow period. Far more than water fountains were segregated. Much of our culture—including local churches were divided by skin color.
Since that time period, we have watched those days pass away. Much education and repentance has occurred through the years allowing for an equal playing field in various spheres of culture—including business, academia, athletics, politics, and the church.
Although we are living in days of great opportunity for all ethnic groups within the United States—and specifically within the evangelical church circles—we continue to see a resurgence of rhetoric regarding racism, discrimination, and white privilege. Certain evangelical voices are leading this conversation through confusing statements on social media and conference platforms such as the MLK50 event which was held on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. While many praised the event, it was filled with moments of tension and a lack of clarity on the person and beliefs of King himself.
Bishop Rudolph McKissick, Jr. recently posted a clip of a sermon where the following statement was made:
Social justice is a biblical issue…it’s not a black issue, it’s a humanity issue. It’s not a hood issue, it’s a global issue. And until we understand that Jesus himself said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach liberty to the captive, to set free those who are oppressed.” If that ain’t social justice, I don’t know what is.
Sadly, McKissick missed the point of Luke 4:16-30. A clear contextual reading of that account of Jesus in Nazareth will demonstrate that God often does the unexpected. Furthermore, the emphasis is placed upon the spiritual poverty and slavery to sin and how Christ delivers people from spiritual poverty rather than the social needs of individuals. The social justice agenda is hyper-focused on equality of opportunity and equality of social position both inside the church and outside the church. This is simply not the message of Jesus.
Through the years, the church has suffered the mistake of mission drift on social issues. We see this in many black church circles where they have turned the pulpit into a political stump, but it has likewise been in seminary education like the Carver School on Social Work that was closed in 1997 on the campus of Southern Seminary in Louisville. It was transferred to Campbellsville University in 1988. Albert Mohler, in a statement, articulated that one of the key reasons for the closing and transfer of the school was the direction that social work as a profession had taken in the last 20 years.
While we must stand upon a firm commitment to “do justice” and we must stand in opposition to injustice in our society and within evangelical circles—the current social justice movement has a different motivation. As a means of acknowledging the wrongs of the past, we are being encouraged to empower people with certain melanin count to high ranking positions within the local church and denominational circles. In some cases, even if the individual is under qualified for the position, it has been suggested he or she should be chosen in order to achieve a respectable level of skin tone diversity. This is severely patronizing to the black population—and anyone else with darker skin than whites.
In order to press an agenda, you must convince a population to accept your ideologies. The normalization of terms and ideas and theories such as “systemic racism” and “white privilege” is one means of continuing this agenda. Many people today haven’t even been willing to pause and honestly evaluate evangelical circles to see if systemic racism is really alive across the system (which is different than individuals). In the same way, many people haven’t paused to evaluate the theory of white privilege within evangelical circles.
Once again, if it does exist, why are we not all working together to name the names of leaders, institutions, and entities that are engaged in this sinful discrimination scheme? We do this with sexual scandals and discrimination against women, but we aren’t willing to call names with racism? Could the ideas of systemic racism and white privilege be nothing more than a political strategy to deconstruct hierarchies and to gain political power within the evangelical church?
As we continue to see a growing divide among ethnic groups within evangelicalism, the way forward for the proponents of social justice is merely a repeat of historic mistakes regarding collectivism and a hyper focus on group equality rather than biblical justice for the individual. Samuel Sey explains:
Over time the term ‘social justice’ became associated with critical theorists and Neo-Marxists from the Frankfurt School in Germany. They rejected universal rights or human rights as a basis for justice. They essentially rejected liberty for individuals as the hallmark for justice in society. They believed, instead, that parity between groups were the mark of justice in society. They rejected individualism and embraced collectivism. They did not define justice as equality of opportunity; they defined justice as equality of outcome.
In our ongoing debate on social justice in the area of ethnic division, we must evaluate the conversation and see if we are interested in establishing biblical justice for all, or if we are advocating for advancement and empowerment for our group. That’s what separates biblical justice from social justice. The agenda of social justice is interested in power—not unity nor is it interested in biblical justice. If the machine can use such tactics as social solutions to ethnic division in order to obtain the power, that’s often how the game is played.
Gay Christianity Demands Inclusion
In 2014, as a direct response to the controversy caused by Matthew Vines’ book, God and the Gay Christian, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary released a comprehensive response to Matthew Vines. In the opening chapter, Albert Mohler writes the following:
Evangelical Christians in the United States now face an inevitable moment of decision. While Christians in other movements and in other nations face similar questions, the question of homosexuality now presents evangelicals in the United States with a decision that cannot be avoided. Within a very short time, we will know where everyone stands on this question. There will be no place to hide, and there will be no way to remain silent. To be silent will answer the question. 
In our present social justice conversation, the false category of “gay Christianity” is being promoted by evangelical leaders—many of whom speak in major evangelical conferences and lead evangelical institutions. If you search on Google for “gay Christianity” (as of 4-3-19), the second listing on the first page is for Living Out. This is a ministry devoted to helping those who experience same sex attraction and clearly states the following on their website:
Can you be gay and Christian? Is it a sin to be gay? How do you live life without sex? How do I support my same-sex attracted Christian friend/family member?
We are a group of Christians who experience same-sex attraction bringing out into the open the questions and dilemmas that gay Christians can often face.
Recently, Tom Buck, who serves as the senior pastor for the First Baptist Church in Lindale, Texas devoted nearly a week for the release of four consecutive articles (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) that pointed out the errors of the Living Out ministry and called for separation and acknowledgement regarding the endorsement of the ERLC and Russell Moore—among other evangelical leaders. Since then, the ERLC has removed their endorsement, however, you can still see it on the web archives.
If we are to be committed to biblical justice, how can we both love people and accommodate error at the same time? That is precisely what the proponents of gay Christianity are asking the church of Jesus Christ to do. Heath Lambert provided clarity on this issue by writing the following:
Is a “gay Christian” consistent with the gospel of Christ? Matthew Vines’s answer to this question is the exact opposite of the one provided by historic Christianity. Vines’s book, God and the Gay Christian, is an unfortunate reversal of thousands of years of moral clarity about homosexuality. 
He goes on to make this statement, “What is at stake in this debate is nothing less than our love for troubled people and the very gospel of Jesus Christ.”  Make no mistake about it, the capitulation on the false category of gay Christianity and the acceptance of new “ministries” such as Living Out and Revoice demonstrate that the LGBTQA+ proponents are planning to bang on the same door, use the same rhetoric, and demand the same equality that has been shouted loudly through this social justice conversation from the beginning.
The Way Forward
The way forward is not to continue to shout at one another or to talk past one another. In fact, we must avoid misrepresentation and labor to achieve unity through the cloud of controversy. As we continue to talk, study, and work through this controversy—there is a better way forward. I would like to propose a few suggestions.
- Commitment to the Sufficiency of Scripture: Unfortunately, the social justice agenda is primarily a political agenda. There are theological talking points that often get brought to the surface, but the fabric of the agenda is politically driven and motivated. In order to untangle the web of controversy, there will need to be an uncompromising commitment to the sufficient Word of God. There is no controversy and no trial too big for God’s Word.
- Conversation. There hasn’t been much conversation happening on the issue of social justice. There has been no real serious conversation. It has been primarily a one sided conversation with responses shouted back and forth—mostly in the 280 character limit of Twitter. At some point, there needs to be a honest and transparent conversation between people who talk to one another directly.
- Pursue Unity in the Gospel of Jesus: True unity will not come as a result of the social justice agenda. It will only cause division and compromise of doctrinal fidelity. The only means of true unity will come as a result of seeing ourselves marked by our union with Christ. This is not the outward mark of circumcision as the Jews often misunderstood, but by the circumcision of the heart. The ground is truly level at the foot of the cross (Gal. 3:28-29).
- Do Justice: The call of all Christians is to practice biblical justice and to stand against injustice. We must do this within society and evangelical circles (local churches and denominations). We must love people and care for people properly and biblically. This means that we must not tolerate discrimination of people based on skin color and gender. Once again, the Bible is clear about how to do justice, walk humbly, love God supremely, and love our neighbor (Micah 6:8; Mark 12:28-30).
The only way to honor Christ, protect the gospel, and to gain the trust of people is by standing upon the Word of God without compromise and acknowledging error when necessary. Where necessary, and it may be necessary at some point, we must be willing to divide friendships over important theological issues—specifically those that denigrate the gospel of Jesus Christ. Until then, we pray for unity and peace as we continue to work through the controversy of social justice.
Martin Luther once urged ministers of his day to take action and to not be lazy. He stated:
Some pastors and preachers are lazy and no good. They do not pray; they do not read; they do not search the Scripture … The call is: watch, study attend to reading. In truth you cannot read too much in Scripture; and what you read you cannot read too carefully, and what you read carefully you cannot understand too well, and what you understand well you cannot teach too well, and what you teach well you cannot live too well … The devil … the world … and our flesh are raging and raving against us. Therefore, dear sirs and brothers, pastors and preachers, pray, read, study, be diligent … This evil. shameful time is not the season for being lazy, for sleeping and snoring. 
You can describe social justice in terms of a train with boxcars to identify an agenda or a three-headed dragon to identify the threat. I still believe this is the biggest threat to the church in the last century. Once upon a time, Martin Luther stormed the door of the Roman Catholic Church and took on the beast of a false religion. Today, we must not underestimate the three-headed dragon of social justice. We must not forget that while we see the beast of social justice, this enemy of the church is merely a puppet for the true dragon—Satan himself who hates Jesus and God’s church. Be alert (1 Pet. 5:8). Stand firm (Eph. 6:13b-14a).
- Megan Gannon, “Race is a Social Construct, Scientists Argue.” Scientific American.com(February 5, 2016).
- Albert Mohler Jr., ed., God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines, (Louisville: SBTS Press, 2014), 9.
- , 77
- , 80
- Fred W. Meuser, Luther the Preacher, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Pub, 1983), 40-41.
Recently I observed an advertisement for a bank and it was a commercial that talked about how their new design was “banking reimagined.” It was not the typical banking atmosphere. It was complete with a coffee shop, modern seating, and appeared to be more of a lounge than a bank. It is very common within evangelical circles to hear people talking about how they have reimagined church or reimagined worship. This typically means they have redesigned it for a modern audience with a fresh new look or purpose. It would do us well to remember that God doesn’t need our imagination to repackage worship. He has given us everything we need in the Scriptures in order to detail they way in which God should be approached in worship.
The Archbishop of Canterbury (William Temple) in the 1440s described the purpose and functionality of worship. He said, “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.” In other words, while we are impacted, changed, and beneficiaries as a result of worship—we must view worship as primarily centered upon God.
The primary audience for our worship is God himself. It’s not the congregation, because the congregation is called by God to engage as participants in worship. It’s not the seeker who is coming looking for God, for that person doesn’t truly exist. The true seeker is God himself. Therefore, in our weekly worship as a gathered church—our worship is offered up to God since he alone is the primary audience. Therefore, that means that we must take our worship of God seriously.
Our Aim is to Please God
Many pastors aim to please people, and often unbelieving people, in the way in which they design their weekly worship. This past week, Ed Young who serves as the pastor of Fellowship Church in Texas, redesigned the worship center of their church to look like a basketball court. He called it, “March Madness” and he invited a professional dunker to come and perform dunks on stage. It was widely advertised online and Ed Young spoke before the congregation with a basketball in his hand the entire service.
Many pastors have gone the route of pleasing people rather than pleasing God. They have become entertainers rather than preachers of God’s Word. Seeking to entertain people, they have turned their backs on the central priority of worship which is to please God. Church has become a platform for their personality, their success, and their latest gimmicks are designed to bring in people who would not typically attend church. In their attempt to entertain goats, the sheep are starving to death. With their goal of pleasing people, they fail to please God.
Have you considered the aim of your worship service each week? As a participant in the call to worship, the singing, the praying, and the preaching—what is your aim? What about the Lord’s Table—what is your aim? Rather than pleasing yourself—the central aim of our worship should be to please God. The Psalmist writes these words in Psalm 50:23, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me.”
Our Worship is an Offering to God
If our aim is to please God, we must not forget that our worship is an offering to God. In Romans 12:1-2, Paul writes these words to the church in Rome:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
We would do well to remember that it was highly probable that the letter of Romans was read aloud to the gathered church on the Lord’s Day after being sent by the hand of Paul. Imagine if we applied Romans 12:1-2 to our corporate worship services how things would change. We must see our worship on a weekly basis as an offering—not a performance. We are not performers seeking to entertain God, we are worshippers seeking to please God.
When we read Exodus and see the design of the Tabernacle and Leviticus to see the function of the Tabernacle, we find that the entire focus of the Tabernacle was placed upon worship. In fact, seven full chapters in Leviticus are devoted to the functionality of the Tabernacle—to describe how the people of God were to worship God. When the people entered the Tabernacle through the one gate of entry—the very first thing they would see was the blazing alter that stood between them and the Holy of Holies. It stood as a barrier and a reminder that God is holy and God demands a sacrifice of worship.
While God expects a proper offering, that necessitates the engagement of God’s people in worship. We are called to worship God. As worshippers we must draw near to God and bring him a worthy sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving, and biblical worship. Consider the words of Hebrews 10:19-22:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Today’s evangelical worship has been so watered down and repackaged to suit the desires of people that it can hardly be classified as a worship service. Nadab and Abihu (the sons of Aaron) offered up strange fire to God and because God was not pleased with their worship—they were struck dead (Lev. 10). It should cause us to pause with solemnity each time we partake of the Lord’s Supper as we consider that some of the members of the church in Corinth died because of how they profaned the worship of God at the Lord’s Table (1 Cor. 11). Nevertheless, we must approach God and offer worship to him!
Have you considered that Christian worship is not very Christ centered? God takes worship seriously and because far too few churches seem to take the worship of God seriously in our day, we desperately need a resurgence of biblical worship that honors God.