A Call for Contention
“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” – Jude 1:3-4
Imagine this happening in a church: the pastor of a large congregation gets up to preach another sermon on the Gospel, only to put it aside to warn his listeners that a fight for the faith is coming. How do you think the crowd would react? In some cases, there would be those who would rebuke him saying that he should focus on unity. Others might come to his side and say something to the effect of “About time!” But I believe there would be a common misunderstanding between both groups, and it is one that is telling of our current situation. Both sides, when asked who we are contending against, would be more than likely to point to the obvious enemies of the faith which is being defended. After all, when we say that we “defend our faith!” we mean that we defend our religion, right? We protect the title of “Christianity” against the likes of Islam, Atheism, etc. and do so by uniting with other “Christians.” But what if that pastor came to declare that they must contend for the faith against other so-called Christians? There was a time not terribly long ago where this would be endorsed, perhaps too much, especially as the “fundamentalists” were thriving. But as of late, an overarching appeal to “unity” has echoed throughout the churches in the nation, with a growing appeal to unify around the idea of unity. We will gladly fight against the obvious enemies- false gods, scientists on TV who say we’re crazy and liberal politicians. But in so doing, there is a been a growing cause of unity which has accepted the likes of Catholicism, Mormonism and even certain Islamic groups. But what is of the most concern is that these aren’t even the worst side effects of a growing contempt towards the traditional faith, and that is the fact that our “theology” is becoming one of two things: flexible, or a complete replacement for the Word of God. And these two things are far more dangerous than Atheism, Islam and Liberalism combined. Because it undermines the entire reason we exist as a church.
Jude writes to a group of Christians with the original intent of appealing to unity in an earnest reminder of their salvation. In fact, he describes it here as “making every effort,” almost as though he tried really hard to write about this rather than another pressing subject. Yet the Spirit of God pushed him to write about something more important. A threat was growing within the church itself, and one that we can read about in many other parts of the New Testament, and it was this threat that takes the position of being the most discussed attack against the church in the Epistles. Ever notice how the Bible never really seems to directly address the issue of Atheism on a regular basis? Why didn’t Paul, Peter, John and the other writers address the Greek and Roman philosophy of their age? Why didn’t they address by name the evil rulers in the government of their time and call them out for their wickedness? Nero was certainly a man of such reputation that it is known to this day, so why wouldn’t Paul follow the same methodology we do today and create campaigns to discredit them and endorse other political leaders to replace them? After all, if we were to swap the churches of the first century with the churches of the 21st century you would think that the church was a governmental entity in itself, being so topical in its function that its theology was purely secondary. Yet there is little evidence to suggest that the early church made any such endeavors in politics. We see that certain people in Caesar’s household were converted, yet Paul does not tell them to take over the Senate (Phil. 4:22). We are told regarding our leaders to submit to them, yet without any context of our rights (Rom. 13:1-7). This is not necessarily to contradict participation in the American political system, but rather to show that there is no such priority in the Bible. Yet you would think by the current priorities set by the church today that there was an entire new Testament in the Bible devoted to politics.
But when Jude writes to the church, he calls them with urgency to fight for the faith itself, and that against those within the church itself who claim to be Christians. He does not tell them to fight for the basic ideals of the faith, nor for the “spirit” of the faith, but for the faith in its entirety as it was originally handed down to the church from the beginning. Within less than a single human lifetime there is already the need to fight for the church to remain as it was founded. What makes us think that this would be different 2000+ years later? Therefore, this appeal is that much more important today. And these are not generic false teachers we might initially picture in our minds. These did not come to the church doors saying things such as “God is dead!” or “Convert to Islam!” On the contrary, they come to the church as any other Christian, coming in hearty agreement and outward fellowship. But as time passes, they attack smaller parts of the theology which is taught, before going after more fundamental parts of the Gospel itself until they either take the church over or leave, taking as many congregants as they can. But they do so in the name of Christ and with the motive of so-called unity, all while attacking the faithful ministers of God proclaiming themselves to be the same. Thus, they “sneak in” as mentioned here in Jude. They are the very picture of deceit, often appearing as being more faithful Christians than those within the church they attack. Like a cancer that grows within the body itself, it often goes unnoticed until it is too late, and should the victim survive, they still lose a part of themselves.
As a result, Jude writes the letter in order that they would go on the offensive against the infection. He does not say “Defend yourselves!” in a passive sense, but rather he directs them to “contend” against these. As the saying goes, “The best defense is a good offense,” and I think this applies to a certain extent here. Make the preaching of the Word so clear, consistent with the foundation of the faith as it was handed down by the Lord and His apostles and hold each who hear it accountable to live it. Because such false teachers scarcely hold to a genuine Christian lifestyle, as it demands genuine belief. Rather than dealing with sin, they pretend as though they don’t have any. Rather than seeking genuine sanctification, they demand others pray, and do so themselves openly so people compare themselves with these men. Yet, should the consistent and accurate Word of God be presented, they will break sooner, as the expectation of genuine sanctification forces them to concede their façade sooner and directly attack the faith rather than seeking to subtly undermine it. Thus, Paul does not write to Timothy telling to “Prove the Bible is the Word of God,” nor does he tell him to “Defend the faith!” Rather, he tells him to actively “Preach the Word,” in spite of the circumstances in which it is preached, and to actual live the faith, keeping the faith consistently himself rather than being so preoccupied with validating it otherwise. Because the most genuine validation of the faith is the life which lives it consistently.
“You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” – Acts 20:18-35