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Necessary Negatives

12 September, 2013 William Philip

Negatives

The message of the letter of Jude could hardly be more contemporary. It describes exactly the situation we find ourselves in the church in the western world today:

‘certain people, whose condemnation was written about long ago, have crept in unnoticed, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.’ (Jude 4)

Real warnings
But it also issues an urgent warning for our churches today to heed. Remember, says Jude, that Jesus is Lord of His Church, and that His Lordship will not be mocked:

‘I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.’ (Jude 5)

The warnings of the New Testament are not just ‘a few obscure texts’ (the phrase we hear a lot today); they are constantly found on the lips of Jesus (just read Matthew 23, or Revelation 1-3 for a taster) and those of His apostles. And they are clearly needed because, as Peter says plainly, ‘in the last days scoffers will come with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.’ But in response he tells us not to be cowed, but to ‘remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles.’ (2 Peter 3: 2-3).  

Jude’s message is just the same, as is that of the apostle Paul. In days when people are ‘lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God’ he reminds us that it will indeed be increasingly hard to stand for Christ against the tide: ‘all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted while evil and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.’ ‘But as for you’ Paul commands us, your response is to ‘continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it’ (2 Timothy 3).

Don’t panic
In other words, such developments in the professing church ought not to drive us to panic. Jude in particular reminds us that it has been so from the beginning. This is just part of the normal struggle for the people of God, as all his Old Testament examples show. The New Testament tells us to expect all this, and more. Human nature and sin have not changed.

The multi-culturalism, relativism and post-modernism that has enveloped our western culture is a many-headed hydra which is also continuously invading the thinking of the church, waging war on the truth revealed from heaven. But it is the same battle for truth that there has always been. We must not be taken in by smooth words and sentiment-laden arguments. The propaganda for the liberal agenda in the church generally, and the pro-homosexual agenda specifically, uses the language of the orthodox, Christian faith, but is actually talking about a different religion altogether; a different Gospel which is no Gospel at all – a form of godliness, but denying its power.

But… it’s old hat! It’s been around a long time. God is sovereign, and their ‘condemnation was written about long ago.’ God isn’t panicked; we shouldn’t be either.

Not protectionism
Nor should we be driven to protectionism: holding up our hands in horror, and becoming a holy huddle. The Lord does not want escapists, creating holy islands and monasteries of self-protection.

We are to have nothing to do with such wrong and false teaching, and we are to resist it and refute it. That is clear, and it means something tangible and real, not just something we do in theory.  But we are to be on the front foot, not the back foot. We have the truth: the truth must be seen and heard in the world, and in the wider church, for it is the truth that sets people free. We need eyes open to the reality of contending for truth, and what is at stake, and real clarity about the need to make firm — and costly — stands in our denominations where necessary, and in the public realm too.

Prayer and proclamation
So we must be driven to prayer, and also to proclamation, working to ensure that – at least where we have responsibility and opportunity – we are teaching each other not just to love the truth, but to recognise and drive out error which will otherwise destroy the church, and people’s eternal souls with it.

That is why the New Testament is so full of warnings: the stakes are very high. Eternity, as a friend of mine often reminds us, is a very long time.

We don’t like ‘negatives’ or ‘being negative’. But negatives are necessary in our lives and ministries. Let’s make sure we don’t shy away from encouraging one another to love the truth, and resist error in our own lives, in our congregational life, and in the wider church also.

William Philip William Philip has been minister of the Tron since August 2004. He moved from London, where for 5 years he was Director of Ministry with The Proclamation Trust, working with ministers, teaching those training for ministry in the Cornhill Training Course, and overseeing a varied programme of conferences. Before that he served in ministry positions in Aberdeen, where prior to ordination, he studied medicine at Aberdeen University, and trained in cardiology at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. He is married to Rebecca, and they have two daughters.

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