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. For 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.
Jude, one of Jesus’ apostles wrote that. The church of the first century was subjected to gross distortions and false ideas about the Christian Faith and lifestyle. Not much has changed in 2,000 years. The exhortation to defend the Faith we have inherited is just as necessary today as it was then — maybe more so.
Has there ever been a time when Christianity has been more self-styled in America than today? The church used to have leaders who taught the faithful how to live, how to understand the Scriptures, and how to understand God’s nature.
Today, we have the internet.
Now, anyone with a keypad is a competitor to the clergy and has a voice to reach a potential audience in the millions. The free exchange of ideas has created a wonderful tool for spreading the truth surrounding the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ, and at the same time, provided a forum for growing confusion regarding Christianity. Like never before, we are in need of the Christian apologist. I’ll not make the case for that in this essay, but it is implied.
As I have watched and read I have noticed a trend of sorts. There is a growing discontentment among those who call themselves Christians. This has been happening for some time, but as technology has provided easier communication, this discontentment has grown. Social media is now a cauldron of competing ideas, and Christianity is right in the middle of that contention. If we do not stand up to the distortions that are being foisted upon the unprepared, we risk dooming increasing numbers of people to a false representation of the Christian Faith. This was the warning in Jude’s time, and it is warranted today.
One of the great lies making the rounds today (sometimes very subtly) is that Christians no longer need the local assembly. The high calling for every person is simply to be in relationship with Jesus — we don’t need the Institution. It gets packaged in a variety of ways, but the essence is basically the same — your Christianity is a private thing.
It seems that the “personal relationship with Jesus” proclaimed by the Evangelical Church has taken on a new and unintended meaning. Now Christian individualism has become a virtue in the minds of many who are unwittingly clearing the path for a growing reality of isolation, loneliness, and yes, discontentment. We might be able to dismiss this easily refuted idea if it were a fringe thought, but with the documentation of the shrinking American Church, these voices are clearly having an effect.
It is true that faith is personal. But the Christian Faith is also communal. There is an individual belief, but we are never instructed that we should hold that faith apart from the body, which is the Church. Actually, the opposite is true. We are told to love one another fervently (1 Peter 1:22). The believer is instructed that every part of the body has value, and when one suffers, we all suffer (1 Cor 12:26). We are instructed to assemble all the more as we see the struggles of the age approaching (Hebrews 10:25). There is a greater reality to our spirituality than just what we experience as individuals. If only we believed it was true.
Jude’s closing words remind us that this individualism in the Church will lead to divisions. The recipe for this is unchanged. Hear his words.
But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
The Christian Faith is not a thing to be privatized. It is the Truth we adhere to — together. Furthermore, we must work hard to help others to do the same.