Contending for the Faith

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
— Jude 3

The Christian faith has many adversaries, both within and outside the church.  This was true in Jude’s day, and it’s no less true in our own.  Of the two, however, the internal foes may pose the greater threat, because they’re more deceptive.  A skeptic who openly denies the faith and argues against it—say, a Christopher Hitchens or a Sam Harris—is easily recognized as a foe.  So is a persecutor like a Diocletian or a Stalin or a soldier of Allah waving the black flag of ISIS. 

The internal foes, however, are more difficult to recognize.  The danger they pose is subtle.  They claim to be friends of the faith but are in fact its mortal enemies.  I’m referring specifically to heretics—those who reject the truth as it’s revealed in Scripture and teach lies instead.  They’re false prophets, false teachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing. 

And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name.  I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them.  They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.”
   Jeremiah 14:14

Such enemies are a perennial threat to the church.  Peter said, “False prophets also arose among the people [OT Israel], just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them” (2 Pet. 2:1).  This is why must do as Jude says and “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).  This means we must handle the word of God accurately, stand fast in the truth, and expose the errors of false teachers. 

As a case in point, consider a recent entry at the Huffington Post.  It’s an interview with three single ministers about their dating life.  All three are “ministers of progressive congregations.”  One is a gay pastor in San Diego (Brandan Robertson), another is a single female associate pastor in Raleigh, North Carolina (Chalice Overy), and the third (Michael), a pastor in San Antonio, who describes himself as polyamorous.  “I am dating three women that I am deeply in love with and see regularly,” he says.  “There’s a fourth woman I’m in ‘heavy like’ with…and I’m beginning to date a man I just met.”

All three march out the same old familiar tropes about Biblical sexual ethics being unhealthy, outmoded, unrealistic, and tied to a rigid fundamentalism, which—as all the cognoscenti know—is just plain silly.

“My current view on premarital sex represents a tremendous evolution from my fundamentalist beginnings.  I honestly think it’s unreasonable to expect people to wait until they are married to have sex if we expect people to make thoughtful decisions about who they marry.” (Overy)

“I think the evangelical church world that I come from has taught some really unhealthy ideas about sex and sexuality, and I spend a lot of my time trying to deconstruct ‘purity culture’ in favor of a healthier, more holistic view of sexuality… Sex before marriage…is not ‘sinful’ or morally wrong.” (Robertson)

“Most of the single clergy I know have sex, even when the rules of their denomination prohibit it.  It simply is an outdated and silly expectation, in my opinion.” (Michael)

I wish I could say these three ministers are anomalies.  But sadly, they’re not.  In a piece appearing in the Washington Post, another church leader, Bromleigh McCleneghan, writes, “Singles…can be like Jesus.  Maybe celibate, maybe not.  It’s really no one’s business but ours and God’s.”  The piece is an excerpt from her book, Good Christian Sex:  Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option—and Other Things the Bible Says About Sex.  She complains, “One of the most unfair things the Christian tradition has foisted on singles is the expectation that they would remain celibate — that is, refraining from sexual relationships.  The subtitle notwithstanding, her views are not developed from Scripture, but from her own subjective experience.  “Part of figuring out how to live into the creative life of God [huh?] is figuring out how to live into being yourself, and choosing the spiritual practices and disciplines that support your own discipleship.”  Ah, yes, be yourself.  Good serpentine advice, that. 

The point is, Biblical sexual ethics is out, radical sexual autonomy is in.  And not just in liberal or progressive churches, but in otherwise biblically orthodox Christian circles as well. 

It’s quite telling that when Jude appealed to his readers to contend for the faith, the pressing issue wasnt theology proper (the doctrine of God, e.g., his being, attributes, Triune nature, etc.), Christology (the doctrine of Christ, e.g., his Deity and incarnation), or soteriology (the way of salvation), but ethics.  More specifically sexual ethics. 

Certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (v. 4). 

They “defile the flesh” he says, like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah who “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire” (vv. 7-8). 

How do such teachers get a foothold in the church so easily?  By telling people what they want to hear. 

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions (2 Tim. 4:3)

The problem isn’t new.

An appalling and horrible thing
has happened in the land:
the prophets prophesy falsely,
and the priests rule at their direction;
my people love to have it so,
but what will you do when the end comes?
— Jeremiah 5:30-31

False prophets abound because people want someone with divine authority to say what they want to hear, what they want to believe.  But as Augustine observed, “It matters not what I say, what you say, what he says; what matters is, what saith the Lord?”  Indeed, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa. 40:8).  And the word of God is as clear as can be on this subject.

You may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 
— Ephesians 5:5-6

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