It raises visions of thick stone castle walls, sentries with loud horns looking out toward the dark woods, and lots of shiny armor clattering about.
As our Claiming Christ study continues toward the final books of Scripture, we find a letter devoted to this one theme: “Defend the Faith”! He wanted to write instead about the wonderful news of the salvation we share, but something ominous turned his attention.
There is an enemy that the Church does not like to acknowledge; a powerful force of deception that lurks within the castle walls of every congregation, wearing the same clothing of white treasured by the saints.
In the church where I attend, our pastor concludes every service with a benediction taken from this epistle of the Bible. It is a comforting doxology for sure, although the context in which it is set has never been discussed. It is a painful topic, but one that we (whatever church we attend) ignore at our peril.
The letter is known by its author: Jude, who likely shared the same mother as Jesus our Lord.
The term we often use in place of “defend the faith” is apologetics. It is that discipline of evangelism that seeks to uphold the biblical and extra-biblical justification for what Christians believe. But most often it is directed at defending the doctrines or proving the validity of what we believe to outsiders and doubters.
However, Jude’s angst hits much closer to home. Perhaps it is because he already saw the tendency of Christians to view their leaders as above concern. Perhaps he recognized our casual dismissal of sin with such phrases as “everybody makes mistakes”. Perhaps he witnessed how skilled ministers had become at wrapping their church interactions with enough religious behavior that oddities would disappear in the mist of awe.
Perhaps Jude saw how few leaders (all of whom make such mistakes) were willing to openly humble themselves and confess their sin and ask for forgiveness from those effected by their moment of human failing. And yet, when was the last time you heard your church leaders humble themselves as Scripture directs for those in public service of Christ? It seems that ordained and lay leaders alike often feel the need to perpetuate the persona of the pious. And thus we have the book of Jude.
[The following is reprinted directly from the book Claiming Christ] The entire letter written by Jude is a caution against following deceptive ministers, “shepherds who feed only themselves,” who “speak abusively against whatever they do not understand.” These are the type who look good on the surface and who speak persuasively regarding things of God, but who put down any questioning of their teachings and refuse to repent or humble themselves before the body of Christ.
If the believers are willing to contend against these leaders who twist the truth even while seemingly getting along with everyone (see v.12), then Jude encourages them that Jesus “is able to keep you from falling” (v.24). [Notice that this “falling” is directed not at those arrogant ministers who are already under judgment, but at Christians who ignore such problems among those with whom they attend church].
Jude applies this warning beginning in v.5 to three historic groups: believers, angels, and unbelievers—all three of which it is recorded had members who turned away from God. In other words, Jesus is able to sustain us in righteousness, but the evidence presented in this letter is that no license-of-impunity exists for willfully disobeying God—no matter what group membership is claimed.
This is the very reason Jude says he changed the focus of what he wanted to write about: the necessity of contenting for the true faith ranks at a salvational level of importance. To this he appeals that faithful believers first of all actively maintain their own relationship with the Spirit of God (v.20-21), and secondly, that they actively engage those who appear to be struggling in the application of their faith (v.22).
Depending on the circumstances, to some we are encouraged to extend mercy in their struggles; to others we are admonished to snatch them from the flames of rebellion, and then to yet others we are pointed back again to mercy mixed with fear—for such invasion into the Christianity of others is messy business.
Some of Jesus’ final recorded words to humanity in Scripture (as given to John in Revelation) have some very ominous warnings for those who tolerate leaders who show evidence of these problems. [And it is there that we head next in this study of what the Bible has to say about the difference between real Christians and those in name only].
How do you apply the admonition of the Apostle of love when he says: “test the spirits [of ministers and those who claim to be Christian] to see whether they are from God” (1 Jn 4:1)?