Various objectives have been suggested for Christian contention, and especially the Fundamentalist version of it. Ernest Pickering subtitled his book Biblical Separation with the line, ‘the struggle for a pure church.’ Certainly a pure church has to be an objective, but is it the one Jude has in mind ultimately?
Others suggest that Fundamentalist contention is simply lust for battle, ego and megalomania. Fundamentalists are the berserkers of Christianity, or the Idi Amin’s. Such suggestions aren’t very charitable, to say the least.
The Immediate Reason for Contention
Jude, after beseeching us to ‘earnestly contend’, offers a direct reason for contending:
Jude 1:4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
The particle ‘for’ gives us a reason for contending. There are men who have infiltrated believing Christianity. I once heard George Dollar preaching on this passage … he said, “Creeps crept in!” Certainly any honest look at church history will find many ‘creeps’ in the pages of the history books.
These creeps are the immediate reason for contention – they are the individuals to whom the battle must be taken. Their perversion of the grace of God must be identified and their denial of our master must be exposed. There influence must be rooted out, if possible, but it certainly must be checked at all costs.
But is that the end of the story? Is the battle won simply by exposing, rooting out and checking the influence of the ‘creeps’?
The Ultimate Objective of Contention
Jude spends the bulk of his epistle describing the nature and characteristics of the creeps. Near the end, he briefly lays out for us the ultimate objectives of his dominating imperative.
Personal Objective: remember the words of the apostles
Jude 1:17 But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18 that they were saying to you, "In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts." 19 These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.
Beloved, we need to be clear eyed about this reality. We need to be shocked to action, as Jude is doing with his epistle, but we shouldn’t be shocked by infiltrators. Infiltrators are inevitable. The apostles repeatedly warned about this.
Jude is writing near the end of the apostolic era. Soon, only John will be left of the original twelve, plus Paul. Both Paul and Peter have gone by the time he writes (probably… there is some debate about Jude’s dates vs. the date of 2 Peter). The beloved saints to whom Jude writes have very few apostles to personally guide them through troubled waters ahead. Jude wants you to remember this. None of us have the personal presence of the apostles. One objective of the contention imperative is to live out the reality of apostolic teaching: there are and always will be arising ‘creeps who creep in’.
Personal objective: develop the Christian armory
Jude 1:20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.
Review the Christian armory again in Ephesians 6.13-20. We need to foster and develop our skill in their use – we need to ‘build ourselves up on our most holy faith’. We need to exercise that essential offensive weapon of prayer. We need to keep ourselves in the love of God. That would be our love for God (objective genitive) not God’s love for us. We can’t escape God’s love for us. But we need to keep ourselves in our love for our God. This is another objective of the contention imperative: the saints must be well exercised in the arsenal of Christian graces.
Ultimate objective: rescue the perishing
Jude 1:22 And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.
These verses give us our ultimate objective in contending. Our objective isn’t merely to expose and root out creeps. Our objective is to rescue the perishing.
There are some, apparently believers, who are doubting and stuggling in their faith. They are almost swayed by the charming creeps. Some of them may have been led aside to unfaithful practices. They need mercy. They need the ministry of faithful saints, well exercised in the Christian graces to restore such ones. (22, cf. Gal 6.1ff.)
There are others who have no faith at all. They are easily captured by the creeps and their errors. Our contention is a means of snatching them out of the fire. I would contend that simple Christian soul-winning is contention at its most grass roots level. Many people are captivated by many foolish ideas. Many of them have a notion that they are ‘just fine with God, after all a loving God wouldn’t cast them into hell, would he?’ Rescue the perishing. Contend.
Some of these who have no faith are immersed in all kinds of vile sins. You may have to get your hands dirty as you contend for their souls. You may be put in fearful situations, places you would rather not be, but who else will you offer them mercy? In my ministry, I have been confronted by many different individuals captivated in all kinds of filthy sins. Their garments are surely polluted. But we embrace these prodigals, offer grace through Jesus Christ, point them to the Saviour. We rescue the perishing. We contend.
There is that to contending for the faith that attempts to purify the church by rooting out creeps. But the ultimate objective is pastoral: the ultimate objective is snatching souls from the burning.