False teaching in the Church: how should Christians respond?
Jude 3 says, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to wrote appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
The Greek word translated as “contend” comes from either the world of athletics or the world of the military. Whether it was a foot race at the games or the field of battle in which two armies faced each other, the scenario was a contest which would determine a victor. In the same way, Christians are not to look for a negotiated settlement, but to win the day in the battle for the faith.
But who or what are we opposing?
It may be that our thoughts immediately go to the world of apologetics, in which Christians strive to give a reasoned defense to the charges brought against the faith. Perhaps we have in mind defending the Bible’s truthfulness, its view of creation, the Christian teachings regarding sexual morality or the question of how a God of love can allow suffering and evil into His world.
To be clear, there is a legitimate place for apologetics, but Jude did not have a battle with culture’s philosophies in mind when he spoke of contending for the faith. Let’s let Jude explain what he means. Jude 4 says, “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
The matter of Christian integrity in a secular world is an important matter
I was recently attempting to explain this passage in a fellowship in my home. One of the dear brothers in the room explained how, as an educator in the public school system, he had to learn to stand for his Christian understanding of sexual morality while also learning to work with others who had a differing perspective. The matter of Christian integrity in a secular world is an important matter, but this is not the matter Jude addresses.
Notice the contrast between Jude 1 and Jude 4. In chapter 1, Jude addresses his letter to those who are called beloved in God the Father. And in chapter 4, he warns of those who have crept in unnoticed. The distinction Jude wants to make is not between Christians and non-Christians, but the battle between Christians and false Christians. Furthermore, as one continues to read Jude, the problem is not even the problem of false Christians in the pews, but the battle to overcome false Christians in the pulpits. Those who have crept in unnoticed are those who are leading God’s people astray.
And so, Jude depicts warfare. But what is the nature of the battle?
The answer is found in Jude 17. “But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord.” To put it another way, “But you must remember the predictions of those men who wrote the Bible.” Jude calls his readers to take their stance on the revelation found in Scripture. Contrast this with the false teachers. Jude 8 says, “Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams…” That is to say, the false teachers rely on an extra-Biblical revelation.
This is the battle that Jude describes. Genuine Christians are in a fight to defend the truths of Scripture, against the lies of those who would teach the church out of private visions, or out of vain philosophy, or out of the cultural norms of the day.