Thursday, November 19, 2009

Down Under

Just thought I'd drop a post to my 2 or 3 faithful readers that the Den will be going silent for the next couple weeks as I and the family take a trip to Australia. I was invited to be a speaker at a conference on the Gold Coast south of Brisbane, and we'll be spending a bit more than a week there and also on Golden Beach on the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane, before flying home after Thanksgiving. Should be a great adventure, and I'm thankful to the conference organizers for being so gracious and liberal in the costs they're covering.

So g'day mates, and I'll be back in early December. Resuming working my way through the epistle of Jude.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Contend Earnestly - Jude 3-4

We continued today with our study of the epistle of Jude, covering vs 3-4 this morning. The central passage of the whole letter, as Jude commands his readers, and we faithful followers of Christ by extension, to "contend earnestly for the faith once for all handed down to the saints." If there is a less-heeded command in NT Scripture in our postmodern evangelical church, I can't think what it might be. Let's take apart what Jude says here a bit to understand more clearly the truth we need to hear.

First let's look at what it is we're commanded to contend for. It's "the faith" - that orthodox body of Christian biblical truth that constitutes authentic Christianity. Not individual trust in those truths, which is our faith, but rather the truths that we put our trust in. And not how Jude describes the source of this body of gospel truth.He says that it has been "handed down to the saints." The gospel and all the associated doctrines and implications are not something made up by men or developed and evolved over time. This faith has been entrusted to us, the saints. It's been revealed by Christ Himself to the apostles, who have taught and entrusted it to faithful men in the church, who have in turn delivered it to us.

And how does Jude qualify this delivery, this entrusting of the central gospel truth, to the saints? It is a delivery that is "once for all." The language speaks of a single, one time event. This faith that has been delivered from Jesus to the apostles to the church is complete. It is a singular revelation, not subject to addition, modification, new revelation, abrogation, creative reinterpretation, or other attempts at revising or improving. The faith that we as Biblical Christians trust in is complete and sufficient. In fact, any attempts to enhance this body of orthodox doctrine actually results in compromising the truth in one way or another.

So when we're commanded to "contend earnestly" for this faith, the implication is clear - we are to fight to preserve this once for all revelation and body of truth against those who would seek to distort it, add to it, de-emphasiize aspects of it, reinterpret the orthodox and historical meanings of it, or any other means of subtle of direct attacks on the central gospel truths of the Christian faith. The Greek term used here indicates this is not to be a casual defense of the faith, but an all-encompassing and agonizing struggle for the truth. And not just guarding ourselves from the deceptions of the false-teaching apostates that abound all around us, although we certainly must do that. But the command here is to fight for the faith, to directly and indirectly refute and stand against these would-be destroyers of the faith. For the preservation of the truth of the gospel, and for the protection of those who would be led astray by these apostates.

Strong words, these. And a command that if obediently followed will certainly not win popularity points in most churches these days. Certainly counter-Christian-cultural. Based on my recent visits to "Christian" bookstores, doing this command faithfully will involve pointing out most of the top 20 best selling "Christian" authors as apostates. But necessary if we are to be faithful stewards of what our Lord has entrusted to us. For the sake of God's truth, and for His glory.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Opening the Epistle of Jude

I taught the first lesson in my new study of Jude this morning, and I have to say I felt a passion for the subject matter of this study that I haven't experienced for a while. While the letter is a hugely challenging one to exegete and the message is a hugely unpopular one in today's church, God's words through Jude regarding the danger of apostates and how to deal with them are hugely relevant, now more than ever.

Today's lesson dealt with the background on the author and setting of the letter, and Jude's opening words to his original audience. It's instructive to put ourselves into the sandals of those early church members who were dealing with the issues Jude addresses as he writes this letter somewhere around 69 AD. Think about it - the church was still relatively new, but most of the apostles were gone by this time, with likely only John still around. The pastors and elders of the local churches were doing their best to pass on the teachings of Jesus received through the apostles, but the formalizing of orthodox doctrines of the Christian faith hadn't really started yet, apart from the OT Scriptures and the epistles that would eventually form the NT canon. So the early church was at a critical stage, a dangerous juncture. And just as Christ and the apostles had warned, false apostate teachers were infiltrating the churches, teaching "doctrines of demons" and all kinds of aberrant heresies and leading many to follow them. We know that Judaizers were active, as well as early forms of what later would become full blown Gnosticism. And as Jude makes clear in his letter, these apostates were living immorally and sensually, and leading others into the same. What a confusing time in the church. What turmoil as factions would form following one false teacher after another, undermining the authority of the church  elders and disturbing the faith of the doubting and wavering. And troubling and discouraging the faithful believers who were seeking to remain committed to the pure and unperverted gospel of Jesus Christ.

So it's into this maelstrom of doctrinal confusion and church upheaval that Jude writes his short and powerful epistle. A time, honestly, not unlike our current situation, although for different reasons. So how does Jude open his letter to these faithful believers who need to know how to contend for the faith? In this brief epistle, what does he need to focus them (and us) on in as few words as possible? The answer is in the terms Jude uses to describe the recipients of his letter in v.1: Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ. He points to three specific aspects of his audience that remind them of where their focus should be - on the Lord of the Church, and not on the apostates.

First term he uses: called. A reminder that he's writing to the elect, those whom God Himself has chosen for His own possession and has called out of darkness and bondage and into His marvelous light. A reminder that He is the One who saved them, by His sovereign grace.

The second term: beloved in God. Note that he doesn't say beloved by God, but rather in God. Jude speaks here of the position of the believer in Christ: immersed in the invincible and saving love of God. A position resulting from His election and His calling. A secure, sustaining and protective place to be.

And finally: kept for Jesus Christ. Here is the culmination of the reminder Jude is giving faithful believers in an apostate time. It is God Himself who not only calls the faithful to Him with an effectual call, and causes them to remain in His love, but also is the One who is keeping them in that position until the day of Christ. Just as we see in 1 Peter 1:5 - "who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." Even when it seems that false and apostate teachers are the majority and the church of Jesus Christ is on a colossal "downgrade" once again as Spurgeon saw in his day, Jude's opening greeting reminds us that God is the One who builds His church, sustains His church, and who ultimately will bring His church to glorification by His power and for His glory. And not even an army of eloquent or charismatic apostate teachers will thwart His purposes, even though many professors of the faith follow after them.

I find this incredibly encouraging in a day when much of what passes for "Christian" teaching resources, books, media and ministry are only Christian in name, but not in content. In a day and age when I view everything labeled "Christian" with an extra wariness and suspicion, I take heart in Jude's reminder that God has His faithful people, who He has called and He knows, that He holds in His love, and who He is preserving for His glory until His appointed day. These truths reorient my perspective and my focus, from the temporal to the eternal. This reminder sets my mind on the grand and glorious and eternal plan and purpose of God, rather than the foible and failures of what passes for Christianity today. And these truths motivate me even more to guard the trust of the gospel that He has given to us as His people, to defend the gospel against the apostates of our time, and to continue to preach that gospel to myself and to the church so that we all are equipped to do the same.