Contend for the Faith

“…contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 
For certain people have crept in unnoticed…
who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality
and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

(Jude vs. 3 & 4 ESV)

There are times when I’d like to have seen the other letter that Jude was planning on writing, the one concerning our common salvation.  Instead, we have this necessary letter, which dealt with the very pressing issues of the false teaching and corrupt theology of Jude’s day, but also sounds perfectly relevant for our church today (the sovereignty and provision of God is truly amazing).

Jude wrote to the church in response to the corrupt teachings of those who had crept into the community of faith and had perverted the grace of God into sensuality and thereby had denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.  While it is impossible to know exactly who these false teachers were, or what they taught, we can make an educated guess.

These were teachers who crept into the church, not by stealth, but by deception.  They said that they believed, but as was evidenced by what they taught and by their actions, they did not.  They came in and taught destruction.  They said one thing in order to gain admittance into the church, to be accepted as teachers and leaders, but when they began to teach, their doctrine was a perversion of God’s grace and a denial of the Lordship of Christ.

Scriptures teach that the grace of God is that free favor of God which we receive through faith in Jesus Christ, wherein we are forgiven and liberated from sin and the condemnation of the Law.  Jude’s complaint is that these false teachers have perverted this grace into a license for immorality, (the Greek word translated here “sensuality” literally means “licentiousness, debauchery, and sensuality – sexual excess).  In other words, they interpret the Christian’s liberation by God’s grace as liberation from all moral restraint, twisting the grace of God into a promotion of all sorts of sinfulness.

Not only that, but they denied our only Lord and Master Jesus Christ.  After all, if there is no real Sovereign God in the church, anything goes.  If Christ is not ultimately our Lord, if the Author of life has no authority over life, then there is no moral law or imperative for those in the grace of God.  The promotion of sinfulness and the denial of Christ’s Lordship over us go hand in hand, they assume one another.

This is what Jude was facing in the church of his day, and this is why Jude wrote to the church to contend for the faith.  This word “contend” brings to mind a boxer in a ring, striving for the victory for fifteen rounds; the runner contending for the prize, enduring the race set before him.  As a matter of fact, the word here in the Greek where the English word “agonize” comes from.  While it would be more pleasant to encourage one another with conversation about our mutual salvation in Christ Jesus, the present situation dictates that we strive for our faith, contend for the truth, that we aggressively continue to defend the faith against false teaching.

Jude could just as easily have been writing about our church today.  From denominational leaders and from the pulpits and classrooms, the recent decision to remove the requirement that “those refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained” has been heralded as a great new day for the church.  The rationale in given in support of this change made it clear this would open the door for the ordination of self-affirmed practicing homosexuals.  How is this any different than when Jude wrote about perverting the grace of God into sensuality?  Sure, those in favor of this change will say that sessions and presbyteries still have the right to determine their standards for ordination, guided by Scripture and the confessions, but now that all clear and precise standards have been removed from the Book of Order, there is very little to guarantee that will happen.  This outright perversion of the grace of God comes hand in hand with the denial of Christ’s authority as Lord over the life of the church and the hearts and minds of its members.

Friends, there is an apocryphal saying attributed to Edmund Burke (although no citation has ever been given) that goes something like: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  That is exactly what we have seen in the church today.  Those who tired of contending against an entrenched progressive wing of the denomination have left.  Those who disagree but still remain are weary and don’t know how to fight.  And while we are reeling from this blow, more attacks to the Biblical faith and values entrusted to the Church through the generations are coming.  Next year at General Assembly, look for a motion to redefine marriage, and in the coming years for litigation that will require Presbyteries and Sessions to ordain practicing homosexuals, regardless of the standards set by the local body.

I don’t write this to cause you grief, but these things should upset you and cause you agony.  I struggle over writing this, and I am sure that there will be some who will use these words to say that I am not promoting the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church, when in fact, those are the very things I am striving for.  We must take this time, for there may not be a tomorrow, to contend for the faith.  We must stand firm and make our voice heard that we do not agree, that we will fight for the truth of God’s word, for the preservation of the truth, and to proclaim the Good News of God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ which can overcome all sin in the world today.

So I encourage you to contend for the faith.  Pray for the Session and for me as your Pastor, that we may know the appropriate steps to take, and that I may “boldly proclaim the gospel” (Eph 6:19).  Pray that our congregation may grow in wisdom and grace, that the bond of Christ may hold us together during these difficult days.  Pray that the church may be purified and strengthened in the truth.  But most of all, pray that God’s glory may be exalted!

Follow up on 10-A

“Hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown…
(Rev. 3:11 ESV)

Today has been a difficult day.  Yesterday, the presbytery of Twin Cities cast the 87th vote in favor of Amendment 10-A to the Book of Order which removes the “fidelity and chastity” clause from the requirements for ordination, and replaces it with a call for each ordaining body to determine how it will be guided by the confessions and Scriptures in setting the standard for ordination.  While the motion does not explicitly say it, it was put forward for the purpose of opening the way for the ordination of self-affirming, unrepentant homosexual men and women who feel called to ordained ministry as Minister of Word and Sacrament, Elder, and/or Deacon.

There are those who are rejoicing over this decision, and there are those who are weeping.  Those who rejoice see this a step closer to full inclusion and participation of all people in the church.  One can imagine that next will come the requirement that presbyteries and sessions receive candidates for ordination regardless of their sexual preference, followed by a comprehensive and coordinated attempt to redefine for the church the covenant of marriage.  Those who weep feel this is a rejection of the historic principles of the Christian faith, one more concession to the influence of a sinful culture, and fundamentally, a rejection of the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Despite all attempts by the leadership of the denomination to tell us otherwise, this decision will be the watershed event that leads to the absolute demise of what we know now as the PC(USA).

This is a difficult time to be Presbyterian if you disagree with this action.  Leaders of the denomination ask that you “learn to live into this decision,” which I think is politically correct for “deal with it.”  Some who are reading and learning of this for the first time will be saddened, shocked, and ready to pull their membership from the church immediately – and no amount of posturing and patronizing from Louisville will assuage your feelings.

And let me say that I know how you feel.  I celebrate (if I can use that word) my 10th anniversary of ordination this month, and I am terribly conflicted.  I always told myself (for this debate has been going on in the church as long as I have been alive), that if this ever passed, I would be done with the PC(USA).  However, now that I am here, serving Christ in a congregation that I love, knowing that God has called me to be faithful, even when the denomination is not, the issue is not so black and white.  I know that this congregation needs a pastor who understands the times and knows what to do.  I have been called to shepherd this church while I follow the Good Shepherd, Christ our Lord.  So I am resolved to stay with you, as long as you will have me.

Please know, the Session of Memorial Presbyterian and I have been resolute in our opposition to this motion, which we feel leads the church further away from its faithful witness to the holiness and righteous lives that God has called us to in faith through Christ Jesus our Lord.  We continue to provide every opportunity for the proclamation of God’s great love for us in Jesus Christ; a love which was demonstrated perfectly in that Christ came for us while we were still sinners; a love which gives us new life that we may no longer walk in darkness but in light; a love which strengthens us to walk in holiness and peace with God.

Please know that if you have questions or concerns about this, or any of the recent decisions of the denomination, you can call or email me or the members of the Session.  We are prayerfully considering what it will mean to be faithful to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will look like from this point forward, and will do everything we can to preserve the ministry and work of this wonderful congregation.  I urge you to be steadfast in your prayers; for the Session, for your pastor, and for the denomination, that God’s will might be done in our midst, and that we will be found good and faithful stewards of the mystery of His grace.