In my recent preaching I have been trying to work my way through the short letter of Jude. Admittedly, this is a difficult book to preach. Undoubtedly part of the difficultly surrounds Jude’s heavy reliance on extra-biblical sources (i.e. documents written around the same time as the biblical material yet not included in the canon, such as the Testament/Assumption of Moses), his very condensed writing and the seemingly harsh themes contained within. Additionally, as textual critics point out, Jude has some of the most disputed verses in all of the New Testament.
On top of all this, Jude becomes a very difficult book to apply well. Some people abuse it to justify calling people they don’t agree with ‘heretics’. Others ignore it feeling the theme of judgement and punishment is not very ‘Christian’.
As I have studied this book (and attempted to preach it well) I have been struck again and again by Jude’s call to ‘War on Error’. Yesterday I preached on verses which gave some very helpful pointers in conducting the ‘War on Error’. The one which I want to highlight today is the encouragement to remember…
But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.
At this point in his letter Jude is approaching his climax (vv. 20-23). He is only after spending an extended amount of time describing the identifying marks and ultimate punishment of false teachers (vv. 5-16). And so, he is sure to draw a distinction: ‘But you’. He is speaking directly to the believers and he calls them to remember.
This call to remember is not merely an exercise in memory recollection. It is a call to think about, consider and act upon. It involves both the mind and the will. It is an active exercise that Jude urges his readers to be engaged in.
It is unclear exactly how much contact, in person, Jude had with the church(es) he is writing to. However, what is clear is that men were sent with authority, by Jesus, to proclaim the gospel. This activity resulted in the planting of this church(es) by these apostles (consider v. 18 where the apostles are recorded as repeatedly speaking in person to Jude’s recipients).
The purpose of remembering the apostles’ predictions is so the Christians Jude is writing to may be able to both spot false teachers (and teaching) and keep a watch on themselves. In other words, this remembering is to aid them in the ‘War on Error’.
Read and Reflect
As I thought about applying this truth in my preaching there were two common applications that I could just not avoid.
The first was to read.
I appreciate that reading the Bible can be seen as a safe and easy application for a sermon. But in the ‘War on Error’ it is vital that we cultivate as deep a love for God’s truth as much as we cultivate a deep knowledge of it. And the first step to cultivating both a deep love and a deep knowledge of God’s truth is by reading it until it works its way into our hearts and minds – which will require a lifetime of reading. And I think this repetitive reading is the key.
We must read all of our Bibles over and over again.
This is part of the reason I am a huge advocate for reading the whole Bible yearly. But you don’t even have to read it yearly – once every two years, or three years, or five years. As long as when we finish it we don’t leave it, but go back to the beginning and start all over again.
The Bible isn’t the only thing I think we should be reading though.
Something I have come to appreciate more in the last six months or so is Church Tradition and History. Being a ‘reformed’ non-conformist (Baptist) I have always (wrongly) had a certain amount of concern and fear of Church Tradition and History. However, I am becoming more and more appreciative of the lessons we can learn from it. We can see how false teachers (and teaching) arose throughout the history of the church and also see how it has been tackled, successfully or otherwise.
Three books I have found very helpful on this front recently have been:
The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (there are also a number of other confessions and creeds which are beneficial).
Contending for Our All by John Piper (three biographical sketches of men who stood for truth in their day and generation).
History of English Calvinistic Baptists by Robert W. Oliver (a history of Strict Baptists in England from 1700s to late 1800s).
The second application was to reflect.
Think about the things we read – again possibly an easy way out on the application front. There is no better way to equip yourself for the ‘War on Error’ than to engage your mind in reflective thought both on the apostles teaching and Church Tradition and History.
Perhaps keep a notebook beside your 1689 Confession and note the truths you think are neglected today. Pray through Scripture seeking a deep understanding of the truths expressed by the biblical authors. Consider the false teachers and teaching of the past – are they present today in a slightly different form?
This ‘War on Error’ must be fought cautiously.
Mark Driscoll, for all his foibles, offered one piece of advice that is impressed upon me deeply. He warned that the young, restless and reformed movement were far too eager to wage a ‘War on Error’. He warned the young restless and reformed movement to not throw around the term heretic loosely.
We must be very cautious, and just because someone is slightly erroneous in one view does not necessarily mean they are a false teacher, a heretic, and therefore must have war waged upon them.
However, this caution does not mean you are not equipped to respond to call of Jude. Too many of us leave the ‘War on Error’ for the qualified pastor or Bible College lecturer. But this is not who Jude writes to, he writes to a congregation(s).
Now this does not translate as a naming and shaming of people on social media we disagree with. Rather, it means after a thoughtful consideration of their teaching, a constructive conversation with close and trusted friends and much prayer to the God of truth we then form a decision. It is then our responsibility to shield other Christians from their teaching – not by using the proverbial soapbox, but in private discussions with our brothers and sisters.
Commenting on the verses I preached yesterday, Michael Green writes
We have largely lost any sense of the diabolical nature of false teaching, and have become as dulled to the distinction between truth and falsehood in ideas as we have to the distinction between right and wrong in behaviour.
Although a slight generalisation, I agree with him. May we not neglect the ‘War on Error’!