Thursday 19 January 2012

The Letter of Jude

Last week I wrote that we should not be ashamed of the gospel and now I invite you to look with me at the smallest book of the Bible, the Letter of Jude which is right at the end of the New Testament.  It is only 25 verses long but its message is timelessly relevant and is a natural follow up to last week’s message.  

This Letter does not appear in the Lectionary at any time and is seldom if ever preached upon. The only time I have heard it preached was by an old Scottish Minister on Stornoway.  It is probably the most unpopular Letter in the New Testament, and it seems so wrong that it should be so neglected, but it is an anathema to the politically correct elite who dominate our society and have infiltrated our Churches, as it deals with absolutes and does not support the loose morality which exists. 

Jude intended to write a letter about salvation, but noticed he faced Christianity being attacked from outside the Church and also from within.  He found preachers were preaching false doctrine and advocating a gospel which fitted within their desires and approach and he saw a dishonouring of Christ which led to a deceiving of souls.  They were teaching that God’s grace is so wide He will forgive any sin, but God set moral boundaries to define right from wrong. This is why it is so relevant for us today, for we have to face attack from outside the Church, and like Jude from false teaching within. 
I want to just look at verse 3 and 4, but would suggest when you have time at home, that you read the rest of the 25 verses. ‘I exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered unto the saints.’
It is in fact a call to arms for Christians and the Church, especially in Western countries. These are dark days for the Church.  We live in a society that largely rejects religion and regards God as having no place in their lives. We live in times when truth is no longer taken as read, but rather accepted as being just what you want it to be. All the boundaries have been swept away, the spiritual moorings have been eroded, and morality is no longer based on Biblical teaching.
For many hundreds of years this country has been Christian. During this time Christians have played a major role in the abolition of slavery, the development of hospitals and education, and Methodist Christians were prominent in the formation of trades unions and workers rights, and generally the Church has been a force for good.   
After I had taken a Veterans service I received a letter from a lady who wrote, ‘I grew up in the 20s and 30s in a free country with principles.  We joined the forces because we thought we were fighting to preserve a way of life which other countries envied.  We grew up in God fearing families.  For a long time I have felt like a lonely voice crying in the wilderness.  The only answer I have had is we have moved on. I fear I am losing my Christian beliefs’.

I don’t believe she is a lone voice crying in the wilderness. I think there are many people in sympathy with her, who will echo her fears and agree with her, and such sentiments I am sure would be widely echoed in the society in which we live. 

As for the term, ‘we have moved on’. That is a simplistic and euphemistic way of saying, ‘we don’t have your values any more, and they are out of date and old fashioned.’  As I look at society today, it does not appear as if the new and current fashion is anything to boast about. 
These are dark days indeed in which we are living.  We find our faith is under sustained attack by public service officials who would like to phase out Christianity from public life. (Other faiths seem to have privilege status)
This is why I believe verse 3 in Jude’s letter is so important for all Christians of every denomination and of every age range to ‘contend for the faith’, that is, the body of truths that make up the Christian gospel.  All Christians should be most concerned at the way things are going.  The position is serious, and if Christianity is pushed out, the spiritual vacuum will be filled by something which might be quite unpleasant. 
What Jude is saying is ‘wake up Church it is time to get back to the gospel that was once given’. The Bible states that Jesus died once and for all.  It was finished complete by Him, and there is nothing that must be added or taken away. The Bible also states He is the only way to salvation.    

There are preachers one hears and you wonder why they bother.  What point is there in preaching if you don’t mention the Cross, the teaching of Jesus, the requirement to acknowledge the authority of revealed Scripture?
What is at stake here is the essential Christian message. The Christian message is that all people have rebelled against God and tried to reject Him.  It is felt we can do a better job ourselves and say to God, ' I want to run my life my own way.'  We deserve God's judgement for that, but God in His mercy doesn't want it to come to that. He wants us to be forgiven and change our ways and let him have His rightful place in our lives. That is why Jesus was sent to redeem us by dying on the cross in our place - taking the judgement we deserve so we could be forgiven.

That is the Bible’s message, the message which the Church must preach. It is the duty and responsibility of the Church to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is written.  God chose forty men and used their distinctive personalities to write what He inspired them to write, and that is what Christians should live by and seek to promote.. It is God’s Word and we have to defend and guard it.
There are those who teach that the gospel can be revised and re-interpreted to meet today’s culture, as if God was only for first century Christians.  False teachers want to completely change the Church’s teaching, so that all religions are equal, all sexual relationships are acceptable and equal and not just marriage; that gender has no relevance in life.    
This is what makes evangelism so hard. People seeking spiritually look at such wrangling and understandably say, ‘if the Church itself cannot agree on such matters, how can it teach us?’     The Bible is unequivocal that God loves all people, but is also clear that God saw marriage as the bedrock of society; that men and women are equal in His sight but have different roles in life, and Jesus is the only Saviour.
 So we have a Church struggling with false teaching within, against a world which refused to accept Jesus Christ and His teaching.    

What we should be concerned about is that this moral and truth decay is within the Church. We are told we live in a tolerant age but the people who call for tolerance are often the most intolerant. Well has it been said there is nothing more illiberal than a liberal.  Pope Benedict made an understatement when he said we are becoming a secularised society.

It is hard to quote the Bible without someone saying ‘Oh you shouldn’t say that.’  The Bible states, ‘salvation is found in no other name under heaven except Jesus Christ’. 
The Bible states’ Jesus said no one can come to the Father except through me’, yet many preachers are dodging quoting this.  If we avoid telling these verses how are people ever to come to know the gospel.
Have you ever heard a Muslim cleric deny or challenge any words in the Koran?
One of the biggest problems the Church faces is apathy, which is why Christianity has fallen to such low level and why morality is so poor.       It is so easy in the times we live in to opt out, saying, ‘there is no point in fighting them.’  Can you imagine what would have happened if Winston Churchill had have said in 1940, ‘there is no use in us fighting, the enemy is too powerful.’ 
Let us remember there are Christians being persecuted in non Christian lands with violence, arson, and yes even murder.  Hundreds have been killed in the last few months in Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia and Nigeria.  Whole villages ransacked, yet they valiantly fight on for their Lord and Saviour.  How pathetic if we let some vociferous secularists silence us.  
There are those within the Church who find the Bible’s commands too restrictive and wish to put forward an alternative outlook, often to fit in with their own lives. 
We need to be contending for the faith, especially to any non believers in our families, and challenging those who mock.  Can you imagine the outcome if Islam was abused in the same way as Christianity.

I fully recognise it is principally the clergy’s responsibility to fight to preserve and spread the (true) gospel, but Church members do have a duty to assist.  I have already written that you can do that by letting your beliefs be made known and defended, and by advertising your Church membership.  I think the Churches should graduate away from the regular set services to engage in a more evangelistic way by for example praise services which I have found to be very popular.      

The country is in spiritual death throes and in need of intensive care.  This is why we must contend for the faith.  How God must weep when He sees the Church singing His praise, pretending to be holy, whilst countenancing and failing to speak out on moral issues and totally ignoring His written Word.
 Idealistic people say we just have to do our own thing; God will provide and look after His Church.  God will indeed provide and care for His Church, but He requires His people to do their part.
My friends, it is the duty of the Church to teach the gospel and not to budge from it.  We are not to be blown by every new spiritual wind so that we drift from our moorings.  We are not to be superficial believers. Hold fast to the gospel once given by the Apostles who were taught by the Master Himself.  Today people are being drawn away from the doctrines of the Bible as judgement is becoming a censored word.
The Anglican Church (in the West) is too ready to fall in line with society’s attitudes and accept that State laws override God’s laws.  If the Church is to be part of the truly Catholic and Apostolic Church we must keep apostolic teaching delivered to the first Christian Church.  We cannot stand fast unless we hold fast the traditions.  When any Church forsakes apostolic teaching it will fall into error and weakness will ensue.

When I read the declaration of the Anglican Church in North America I at first thought how wonderful to see such firm statement of belief, and then on reflection thought this is in reality what the Church of England was built upon until it was tainted by false preachers.  I wish the ACNA every blessing and pray it will stay firm and true in its stated beliefs.

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