He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
Author’s note: I began writing the basic outline of this essay in late January 2021 during my own devotional time working through 1 Timothy. As time progressed, I received a leading from the Spirit to write on how the truths in 1 Timothy 3:14-16 applied to the church and, more specifically, to Westside Church. As it turns out, several months later without my nudging, our lead pastor also received guidance from the Spirit to teach on 1 Timothy and my hope and prayer is that the contents of this essay help to clarify why and strengthen our desire to make Jesus our all in all.
As we drop into this passage, it would be prudent to lay out some contextual background for this essay: firstly, scriptural context (what this passage is about), and secondly, ecclesiastical context (as it pertains to Westside Church).
The scriptural context of the book of 1 Timothy is that the apostle Paul — expecting a delay in his travels to visit the church of Ephesus again — wrote words of warning, instruction, and encouragement to Timothy, who was left there to shepherd the local church against false teachers and stagnant faith. From 1 Tim 3:15, we see that Paul’s desire is that through this epistle, the church would “know how one ought to behave” as part of God’s church. To this end, he outlines many instructions and warnings on many matters pertaining to right Christian behaviour in accordance with the “mystery of godliness” (in short, the gospel).
Up to this point in the letter, he’s already touched on: discerning false teachers (1 Tim 1:3-11), the true gospel and its evangelism (1 Tim 1:12-19), church discipline of blasphemers (1 Tim 1:18-20), the church’s witness to the government and all peoples (1 Tim 2:1-7), gender roles in the church and warning against the sinful tendencies specific to each gender (1 Tim 2:8-15), and finally, instructions regarding the qualifications for church leadership (1 Tim 3:1-13). The apostle Paul was not finished at this point as he will have more instructions to follow, but verses 14 to 16 represent a break in the flow of the epistle to explain the “why and how” for the right behaviour and orderly worship described elsewhere in this epistle. If these verses were to be omitted, Paul’s instructions in the rest of the book could lend itself as fodder for unempowered and legalistic religious practice that build self-piety while detracting from the gospel’s power to build up the church’s piety and witness.
As for how these verses are applicable to the body of Westside Church (ecclesiastical context), we must remember that Paul wrote these instructions to a local church and not just to Timothy, their leader. Therefore, all of the instructions described as right behaviour and orderly worship in the church apply to all believers. As the people of God, we have a responsibility to live carefully according to the “mystery of godliness” that we confess (verse 16).
More specifically, in January 2021, the body of Westside Church went through a sermon series called “Vision” where we explored the Mission, Vision and Values of our church. As part of this series, the body was called towards corporate confession of ways our daily Christian behaviour and living was out of step with our profession of the “mystery of godliness.” Most poignantly, our lead pastor read the warning of Revelation 2:1-7 to the Ephesian church (the same church as in 1 Timothy) and applied it to ourselves in that we had lost our first love, even though we had our good works and doctrine. Additionally, during this sermon series, an emphasis was placed on a deeper understanding of the doctrine of the church, wherein we are considered members of a single body and each member’s spiritual health or disease impacts the whole. The sermon series’ “we” language echoed that of Paul’s in verse 15 where he writes how authentic behaviour that accords with the gospel is for the “household of God,” as opposed to only for select believers (ie: not only for those in leadership positions in the church). In other words, there is a call to both purity and unity for all of the believers in a church body and both callings must be pursued simultaneously.
It is these two things — examination of the congruency of our behaviour with our confession of the gospel, as well as the call to unity in the family of God as the church — that we find 1 Timothy 3:14-16 particularly helpful and applicable. The exhortation for the members of Westside through the “Vision” sermon series is the same as what Paul writes to the Ephesian church in 1 Timothy 3:14-16. That is, that our confession of the gospel matched with Spirit-empowered right behaviour in each member will lead to a unified body of Christ that is alive, healthy, and victorious for the kingdom of God.
The Mystery of Godliness
While the “mystery of godliness” is mentioned in verse 16 and Paul’s purpose for writing the epistle (to instruct on behaviour) is mentioned in verses 14-15, I want to explore these verses in reverse order. The purpose for this is to establish what exactly the “mystery of godliness” refers to. As mentioned earlier, this “mystery” is no mystery at all: it is the gospel presented here in poetic expression. A solid understanding of the gospel is always the “how to” behind God-honouring Christian behaviour. Where we have a comprehensive and deepening grasp of the gospel, right Christian behaviour naturally follows because it is motivated by love, grace, faith, hope, and joy. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to point us to greater intimacy with Jesus through the gospel and then to produce the fruit and gifts of the Spirit for the witness of the church unto the glory of God.
Paul uses the word “mystery” because for thousands of years before the birth of Jesus, God’s definitive redemptive plan for humanity had been veiled. From the time of Genesis, a Messiah was promised and there were foreshadowings of the sacrifice that would fully and ultimately appease God’s wrath against sin. More than that, this Messiah would also make it possible for believers to interact freely with the presence of God; even better, believers would be indwelt by Him. This very indwelling of God’s Spirit into man, made possible by the cleansing of man from sin by Jesus’ blood, is what Paul is trying to convey by using the word “godliness” to follow the word “mystery.” To elucidate the relationship between these two words, let us look at each of the phrases in the poetic depiction of the gospel of verse 16 and expand briefly on their implications.
“He was manifested in the flesh,” refers to Jesus’ incarnation and all of the events of His earthly life, including His active and perfect obedience to God and His death on the cross while in the flesh. I emphasize the phrase “in the flesh” because it means that Jesus became the perfect representative for all of humanity. In other words, our faith in His perfect life and death to win us salvation is only applicable to us because He was actually human — “in the flesh” human. The greatness of this aspect of the gospel is His amazing humility and love to forsake His deity and come and die in the weakness of human flesh for our sake.
Next, the phrases “vindicated by the Spirit” and “seen by angels” refer to His resurrection. Romans 8:11 tells us that it was the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave. Jesus’ claim of being the way to salvation for all mankind was vindicated by His resurrection. If He remained in the grave, all of our faith is futile because Jesus’ death would have been meaningless. He would not have been more powerful than sin and death and we would not overcome by His blood (1 Corinthians 15:17). But alas, He is risen! The greatness of this aspect of the gospel is that Jesus’ resurrection is what confirms and secures the reality and promise of salvation for all believers.
Then, we see that Jesus was “proclaimed among the nations” and “believed on in the world” as a further outworking of the gospel — for God’s message of salvation was for all mankind so that “whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Having multiple eyewitness accounts of His resurrection leading to the propagation of the gospel through the ages to result in transformed lives of people of all nations into the church is proof in itself of the “greatness of the mystery of godliness.”
Finally, Paul’s poetic description of the gospel climaxes in Jesus being “taken up in glory.” It is a fitting place to end even though chronologically it preceded the formation and evangelism of the early church described in the lines just before this one. The importance of Jesus being “taken up in glory” is twofold — the first, to signify that His work was finished and second, to usher in the age of the church indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Speaking of His finished work, Acts 7, Romans 8 and the book of Hebrews all point to the fact that after Jesus was taken up, He was seated at the right hand of the Father. His posture of being “seated” indicates that His work is done and that He could rest in the finished work, as opposed to the earthly priests having to offer sacrifices again and again to make atonement for sin through the system of the Mosaic law (Hebrews 10:11-12). Being at the right hand of the Father indicates that He has complete authority and victory over Satan, sin and death. However, Hebrews 10:13 says that Jesus is “[waiting] for his enemies to be made his footstool” even though He already has the overall victory. This is the “already, not yet” of Jesus’ kingdom — that already we are fully saved and He is ultimately victorious eternally, but that He does not yet have complete victory on earth as God awaits more to turn to Him in repentance while allowing the spiritual warfare to continue (2 Peter 3:9). This is where we, the church, come in.
If the first reason for His ascension was to demonstrate the completeness of His work and His authority over darkness, the second reason for His ascension is to empower the church to expand His kingdom on earth. We are to be ambassadors of that heavenly kingdom pushing back the spiritual darkness of the world by sharing and living out the gospel. Jesus ascended in order for the Holy Spirit to descend into the hearts of Christians (John 14:15-19) and usher in a people (the church) called a “royal priesthood” and a “holy nation” that would “declare the praises of Him” to the world (1 Peter 2:9). For Jesus to be “taken up in glory” means that our King has ultimately won the war but has also commissioned the church to fight the pockets of darkness still resisting His rule with authority, power and victory given through His Spirit.
In summary, the “greatness of the mystery of godliness” is the greatness of His humility when He incarnated, the greatness of His perfect life and sufficient substitutionary death for us, the greatness of the power of His resurrection over Satan, sin and death, the greatness of the gospel to transform a people once rebellious into a heavenly army and finally, the greatness of His authority and victory over all things for all eternity.
The Church that Confesses the Mystery of Godliness
With the groundwork laid as to the context of 1 Timothy 3:14-16 and an exposition of the gospel termed by Paul as the “Mystery of Godliness,” we turn then to look at how the church should behave in light of a true understanding and confession of the gospel. In other words, how are the “works” of the church to demonstrate the genuineness of the “faith” of the church? (James 2:26). Paul uses three ways to describe the church in verse 15: “the household of God,” “the church of the living God”, and a “pillar and buttress of the truth.” Each descriptor has implications on how we as the church, through the gospel, are to relate to one another and to the observing world.
The Household of God
It was wise for Paul to use this descriptor because everyone comes from a family - whether a two-parent household, those adopted or raised in a foster home, or those in a single parent household. In other words, we all understand that there are some basic components to a family, with one major tenet being that there is an authority figure in the household. We live in an age of anti-establishment culture, but this is where Jesus’ church shines as being counter-cultural. As this is the household of God, of course, God the Father is the ultimate authority and all who dwell in the house are subservient to Him. However, before we begin to think about the negative experiences of misused authority in our own lives, we must remember that God is perfect, loving and good to those He calls His own. It is no wonder then that in Psalm 84, King David longed to even just be considered a doorkeeper of the house. But God has made us much more than that — we are adopted into His family and called a co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:15-17). If that is true, then we should take the example of our brother, Jesus Christ, who submitted to the Father’s authority and will in everything, even unto death on a cross. For the church to be the household of God is to demonstrate the joy and confidence of being under the perfect and loving authority of Father God.
As the New Testament models for us, the authority of the Father over a local church is stewarded by the elders. Just as how in a family, the parents care for and take responsibility for the wellbeing of the family by way of sacrifice and teaching familial values, the elders of the church are called to something similar. The household of God is to be cared for and instructed to live in ways consistent with the gospel by elders willing to sacrifice, toil, and love the church to that end. As it says in Hebrews 13:17, the elders of a church give account to God for their stewarding of the members of God’s household to Christlikeness. Of course, they are absolved from creating the sanctifying change in a church member as that is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit. Their role is to continue to point them to Jesus and create space for the Holy Spirit to do the work of sanctification. If that is the role of the elders of the church, the response from the members of God’s household is to obey and submit, trusting in the Lord’s guidance and leadership through the elders (Hebrews 13:17). Ultimately, their submission is not to the elders but to God Himself as He is the one who has delegated His authority to the elders to grow the body in love towards Christike maturity.
Another aspect of being a part of the household of God then, is that the church is a new family not built on biological bloodlines, but on the spiritual bloodline of Christ. Paul, though not being Timothy’s biological father, calls him, “my true child in the faith” in the greeting of the epistle (1 Timothy 1:2). Being considered part of a new family has both encouraging and challenging implications, but it is nevertheless a reality the gospel accomplished. For those who come from broken households and wear the scars of parental abuse or abandonment, it is incredibly redemptive to be bathed in the unconditional love of the Father and His family. I have witnessed stories of people coming to Christ because they experienced a deep familial love and care from the church that they never experienced before, not even as children. To speak into the ongoing racial injustice and divisions many people have endured, the reality of being “all one in Christ Jesus” in the family of faith is a sweetness to savour (Galatians 3:28). Indeed, for the church, the call to be a family is to build up, sacrifice for, and serve one another to the pleasure of the Father.
However, for some in the household of God, the call to be a new family will also be met with challenges. Jesus makes it clear that when we are in God’s household, our allegiance is primarily to Him and in some families, that will result in strife between family members. When wanting to be seen by His own family, Jesus taught that all those who “[do] the will of God” are his “brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). In another shocking passage, Jesus said that He came to “bring a sword” and “set a man against his father” to indicate that the comparative veracity and intensity of our love for Jesus would appear as hate for our own family members (Matthew 10:34-35, Luke 14:26). These verses certainly do not mean that we should actively break familial relationships but that we cannot fully become Jesus’ disciple if we are trying to serve two masters when their wills come into conflict. As adopted sons belonging to the household of God, the directive will of God always needs to take precedence in our lives.
Finally, as brothers and sisters in the household of God, we are to deal with one another differently than we see in the standards of the world. Romans 12 describes the true marks of the Christian life that should saturate one’s life and also their relationships. In verses 9 and 10, we are told to “let love be genuine” and to “love one another with brotherly affection” and to “outdo one another in showing honour.” Galatians 6:10 talks about doing good “especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Matthew 18 gives us a biblical model for conflict resolution between members of God’s family and Jesus speaks about forgiveness for your brother as an expression of the forgiveness you received from God the Father. The household of God is intended to be unified, full of love and peace and when all the members of the household strive by the strength of the Spirit to live as such, God is glorified. However, the same is true in the negative sense that where there is ongoing disobedience, disunity and disorder in the household of God, we bring poor witness to the Father.
The gospel has secured for us a new family founded on the grace of God received by faith. All who become members of that household then live under the authority of God the Father, are given the inheritance of resurrection, are called to allegiance to God that surpasses their allegiance to the world and are given a new family to love and be loved to the glory of God.
The Church of the Living God
It may seem redundant to say that the church is to be the “church of the living God,” yet there is something vital captured in this description. Namely, that the spiritual power and lifeforce of the church is none other than the self-sustaining and omnipotent God. The word “church” here is the word “ekklesia” in Greek and it signifies the assembly of a people outside of their home into a public place. In a sense, the world is full of “churches” that gather for the sake of certain purposes — you can have assemblies for sport, for environmental change and essentially for literally any cause under the sun. And that is why this description is not redundant, but rather that it is so important for Paul to combine the word “ekklesia” with the words “of the living God.” Regarding the word “living,” Paul is talking about “zoe” life: the abundant, blessed and full life that only comes from a God with divine aseity. Therefore, to be a church in the Christian sense is to gather for the purpose of worshiping this living God. While this seems rudimentary, there are deep implications for us, the church, as we encounter, are transformed by and are infused with this “zoe” life.
For starters, we must embrace the full realization that the church is therefore not to operate and appear as any other human institution. There ought to be an “otherworldliness” that marks the church, for our power does not lie in our own might, skill, wisdom, or charisma. If God is power and life unto Himself and He generously breathes that life into us by way of the Holy Spirit, then the source of our power and life is spiritual in nature. In fact, in the “Mystery of Godliness,” Paul says that Jesus was “vindicated by the Spirit” which again refers to the Holy Spirit raising Jesus from the dead. This resurrection power is not meant to be limited to the methodologies of human institutions but rather be manifested in spiritual gifts and the fruits of the Spirit to the glory of God.
Practically, the only way the Holy Spirit’s power is accessed and manifested is through prayer and when the Christian lives in humility and love. If only every church would recognize that they are sitting on a gold mine of power, instead of trying to refine gold out of ore with their own machinations. Perhaps many, even in the church, have turned to rationalism and secular humanism because they do not view Christians as having the power and life that seems consistent with the “church of the living God.” Instead, sadly, we often find the church today being in the state of a “whitewashed tomb” or to antagonize Paul’s description, one might say that we are the “church of the dead God.” Jesus uses the tomb analogy to describe the Pharisees of His day because they garnered power and influence by self-righteousness and religiosity while shaming others of their brokenness and sin. While they lived out orthodoxy externally, they were but rotting, dry bones inwardly such that there was no true freedom from sin and death in the core of their being. They did not offer hope and joy to the people, but rather a constant sense of shame and condemnation. However, through the gospel, we are called to truly embody the power and life of the “church of the living God” and it begins with humble confession and asking the living God to pour out His Spirit on dry bones again. Then the witnessing world will see the true beauty of the abundant and blessed life that God has for every Christian and then declare that God is not dead but is in fact, Life Himself.
Building upon this truth is to see how the “body metaphor” that Paul uses to describe the church in his epistles can lend some practical insights for the “zoe” living of the Christian walk. The Church cannot demonstrate a fullness of life if some of its body parts are diseased or malfunctioning. Whenever Paul uses the body metaphor, he means to indicate that each part of the body is indispensable and that each member needs to recognize and perform their role (1 Corinthians 12). Perhaps this would mean praying for clarification of your spiritual gifts or receiving affirmation from others about them. Another application would be pouring yourself out in a specific ministry or type of service within the body in accordance with your calling and giftings. In Ephesians 4, Paul talks about the maturation of the whole body under the head of Christ where “each part does its work” and builds “itself up in love.” It is akin to the legs working hard during a run in order to build up one’s cardiac muscles and endurance or the upper limbs working to bring food into the mouth for nourishment. In other words, each part has a job to do and the aim of the healthy church body is love and unity.
As for the diseased body parts, confession of sin, discipline, and restoration is an ongoing necessity and it is carried out by the Great Physician. This process certainly applies to the church corporately as we see the most extreme example being the rare excommunication of an unrepentant member as part of church discipline. The aim of this measure is two-fold in Christ’s body. The “amputation” is meant to stem the damaging effects and consequences of sin, false teaching, etc. and the body therefore continues in its healing while awaiting for the hopeful “grafting” of that member back in.
This process of coming to Jesus for healing also happens individually for each believer and is meant to be done on a daily basis for there is none without sin (1 John 1:8). The author of Hebrews speaks highly of God’s discipline and that it ends up healing and strengthening weak limbs to walk on the straight path (Hebrews 12:7-13). Whether the “disease” is one of hidden transgression, of apathy in love and service, or in a lack of submission to one another, there is a never ending fount of cure in Jesus’ blood. Furthermore, there is no cancer in His body that He cannot cure — He has already done away with death, what other sickness stands a chance? However, He will not cure the body part that remains resistant to examination, diagnosis, and treatment. If we are to be the church of the living God, we must allow the Spirit of God to screen and clean us through and through so that what shines through is the abundant life of Christ. As well, each body member is called towards confession to one another for prayer and healing (James 5:16). This too, is the body building itself in love and Jesus presides over it all as the head.
So we see that the description of the church being the “church of the living God” is not redundant after all. For inherent in those very words is that the lifeforce of the church is the “zoe” power of God which is being infused into us by the gospel. Thus the church is not an assembly or institution founded on the stratagems and design of man but to be the very opposite. The church is to be so emptied of human power and so filled up with the Holy Spirit’s power that the world does not see a “dead orthodoxy” but witnesses a “living spirituality” happening in every member of the body. And this body, alive with the “zoe” life of God and being ever renewed by the Great Physician, carries out the will of God to the glory of God.
A Pillar and Buttress of the Truth
The third descriptor Paul uses for the church is that he calls it a “pillar and buttress of the truth.” This metaphor is significant and it begs the following questions: “what truth is the church to buttress?” and “why is the church, with all its flaws, used as a pillar of the truth?” In addition, we might also ask “what is accomplished or demonstrated when the church is a pillar of the truth?” Keeping these guiding questions in mind, let us also remember that God is the ultimate source of truth and that He is the highest reality grounding every other truth. If the church is a “pillar” and a “buttress” then the truth is the “building” that God, the grand architect and builder, established. Paul clarifies for us in verse 16 that the “truth” the church is to support by way of confession and embodiment is the gospel itself (mystery of godliness). Indeed, the gospel is God’s great truth, established across human history and culminating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All who enter by faith into the “building of the gospel” are saved and then are called to join together as the church which buttresses the building it was saved by. More specifically, the church buttresses the truth when we give witness to it in the profession of truth followed with faith-based works for corroboration.
It is important that the church is not seen as the truth itself, but rather that it is the support and evidence of the truth. The church was never meant to be the Light of the World but a light of the world that would point others to Jesus, who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 8:12, 14:6). Perhaps more accurately, after Jesus ascended, the church does assume the role of becoming the light of the world but again, not The light of the world. In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus tells the church to, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Many instances in church history have resulted in detraction from giving glory to the Father when the church tried to become the truth itself, instead of its pillars and buttress. One prominent example is the centralization of the Roman Empire’s political power in Constantinople under the Emperor Constantine and the declaration of Christianity as the state religion. The merger of the church and the state resulted, over generations, in many subsequent abuses of governmental power in the name of Christianity. Essentially, the pope — being considered as having “papal infallibility” — became the standard of truth and gained military and political control. The resulting Crusades are one of the ugliest marks on church history and the catalyst was the church claiming the same authority that belongs only to Jesus. This is a poignant example of “co-opting the ways of the world to build the church”, which is something expressly instructed against in Scripture. Because what is truthful is what is authoritative, when the church became judge, jury, and executioner, they ceased to be a buttress of a truth. Rather, the church declared itself a truth unto itself — a grave error and a grotesque representation of God’s truth and glory.
This error of the church becoming the truth instead of being a buttress of truth continues to be repeated in various forms over history. Closer to our present age, is the example of the shared experience for many (myself included) of the shock that comes when one realizes that attending church on Sundays — or doing religiously related activities — does not make them a born again Christian. For many North Americans growing up in the last few decades, Christianity was synonymous with western culture and therefore the act of going to church and engaging in its programs often provided parishioners a sense of security and the identity of a Christian. However, discreetly wrapped up in this “cultural Christianity” is the notion that engagement with the church and its programs are salvific when the truth is that only faith in Jesus confers salvation. The result of this disconnect is a deeply unsatisfied, religious church attendee with no true transformation by and satisfaction from the gospel. They can perform Christian acts but not know Jesus at all (Matt 7:21-23). Following this, for some, is a fear that nonadherence to the church and its programs would result in loss of salvation. They begin to doubt their salvation because they engage in ritual but see no sanctification. But instead of coming to Jesus for rest, they work harder to prove their piety and then seeing still no fruit, they abandon the faith altogether. How does this happen?
One might call this, and the example of the Crusades from above, a form of “enculturation” of the gospel where the truth of the gospel gets shrouded by the experience of church culture such that to the parishioner, abiding in the religious activities of the church is then equated to abiding in the gospel.* In other words, in these cases, engagement in the church itself has become the way to salvation for the parishioner and the reason it becomes unsatisfying is because it is outside of God’s design for salvation by faith, not works. In those instances, the church became the truth as opposed to being the evidence of the gospel’s power to save and sanctify. If the church is to be a pillar of the truth instead of the truth itself, church leaders and members need to become serious about giving the highest focus to making the gospel of “first importance.” This means that church denominational agendas, cultural, and political agendas should be drowned out or at least then properly viewed under the luminescence of the gospel.
This moves us to answer the next question, “why is the church, with all its flaws, used as a pillar of the truth?” To grasp at this, we need to understand the relationship between the church, the bride and Jesus Christ, the groom. Ephesians 5:25-27 says, “...Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” In the upper room, Jesus washes the disciples' feet indicating that though their union with Him had already made them clean in the body, because of their daily struggle with sin, they still had a need for ongoing cleansing of the feet (John 13:10). This same principle applies to the church. To say that the church has “flaws” is to acknowledge that it consists of sinners saved by grace (with full assurance of salvation) but in need of daily renewal and cleansing from sin that has yet to be mortified. To this daily need, the beautiful Lord Jesus removes his robes, gets on his knees and washes our feet over and over again to show us the depth, the perseverance, and the flawlessness of his love. Essentially, when the church encounters and builds an intimate relationship with Jesus, its flaws begin to be removed by Him and what is left is a pure and holy bride ready to do the will of the Father. The church becomes a buttress and pillar of the truth of the gospel by becoming evidence of its ability to continually transform us towards holiness. What is demonstrated when the church is the pillar of the truth and does not take the spotlight of the truth itself then, is how preeminently worthy Jesus is to be the truth because He died to save us (Revelation 5).
Finally, as the church, we must carry out this role seriously because we live in times of ever changing cultural norms followed by the painful experience of ongoing division between people amidst those cultural shifts. As for the solution to this division in humanity, only the gospel can offer deep reconciliation and peace. In our present cultural milieu, the current reigning ideology that drives “social activism” is that of deconstructionism and related to it, critical race theory (CRT).⤉ Without an extensive review of these terms, the general tenet is to relevatize the truth of morality as to not base it on biblical standards but to base morality on the experience of one’s suffering and oppression. In other words, in CRT, to uphold justice and thereby heal divisions in culture is to shift power to those identifying as oppressed from the group they perceive is oppressing them. While the intent for human equality is admirable, the method ultimately falls short because the whole basis of deconstructionism and CRT is relativity of truth. When one group comes into power, another group will feel powerless and this vicious cycle does not ultimately give justice or peace to anyone. The gospel is meant to cause everyone to feel powerless and oppressed by sin and in that desperation, see the tender heart of Jesus bled out for them to save them from it. Therefore, the gospel is the only way to uphold true and lasting social justice because it is the only way to make peace between humanity by first making peace between humanity and God. Our current culture’s application of CRT as a means of social justice is resulting in greater division in humanity; instead, God intends for the means and end of Christian social justice to be the church’s glorification of the gospel.
For the church to be a pillar and buttress of the truth, there are several endeavours the church must engage in. The church must stop trying to steal the spotlight of being the truth away from the gospel. Only then, will church attendees stop increasing their church involvement as a means to guarantee their salvation and turn to Jesus and trust that His finished work on the cross is truly and wholly appropriated to them by faith. Instead, the church needs to remain as a support and evidence of the saving and sanctifying power of the gospel. The church needs to show that Jesus truly does patiently wash and purify his bride through the gospel and that because of this, He is worthy to be glorified as the source and object of saving truth. Leading from this, is the call for the church to therefore increase in relational intimacy with Jesus as we cannot buttress the truth if we do not regularly engage with the Truth in relationship. And then, the love He lavishes on us overflows to others and accomplishes true healing and unity in humanity under the truth and reign of His love and grace.
To bring this full circle to the local body of Westside Church, being a pillar and buttress of the truth is to adhere to the very words of our mission statement: “We exist to know Jesus and make Jesus known.” May the good Lord use this church as a conduit of His grace and truth for the glory of His name.
* Regarding the concept of “enculturation”, it is adapted from Richard Lovelace’s book Dynamics of Spiritual Life. His writing more clearly lays out the role of enculturation in both Israel’s and the church’s history as well as how Paul provided a Christ-exalting model for enculturation of the gospel in our mission fields.
⤉ The intent of this essay is not to explore the issues related with deconstructionist theory and critical race theory in detail. However, as these are important concepts to understand and more so because they shape the culture we live in, here are some helpful sites for further education and dialogue.
https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/critical-race-theory-part-2, and https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/GTY180/the-state-of-the-church-an-interview-with-john-macarthur