Back in the mid-70’s my newly-wed and I pastored in a small Eastern Cape town of South Africa. It had only one restaurant, named the ‘Galloping Chef.’ The service was so slow we nick-named it the ‘Galloping Tortoise!’ Their piped music often included the Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude!’ which I’ve always enjoyed. Hence my title for this little series on the Letter of Jude, written by Jesus’ brother ‘Judah’ (Hebrew) approx. 65 AD (i.e. if Peter quotes him in 2 Pet. 2). The sad bit about the song was that Paul McCartney composed it especially for John Lennon’s 5-year-old son ‘Jules’ (short for Julian, but ‘Jude’ falling better on the ear, according to McCartney). Jules’ father, John Lennon, had abandoned him and his young mother for the artist Yoko Ono. Paul had built a relationship with Jules, John never did.
Jude in his brief letter was addressing scattered believing communities, both Jewish and Gentile or mixed. He was about to explore their wonderful mutual salvation in Jesus (v. 3a) but now felt compelled by circumstances to take on the subtle heresy of libertinism being evidenced in their midst. This libertinism was essentially the old Gnosticism, which minimized bodily/sexual sins as long as the ‘spirit’ was left untainted – an obvious contradiction and impossibility as our personalities are holistic.
This false teaching also flew directly in the face of the absolute, loving lordship of the Master who bought believers out of slavery to self, sin and the enemy (cf. v. 4 (CEB): ‘Godless people have slipped in among you. They turn the grace of God into unrestrained immorality and deny our only master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Judgment was passed against them a long time ago…’ cf. 2 Pet. 2:1, ‘But false prophets also arose among the people. In the same way, false teachers will come among you. They will introduce destructive opinions and deny the master who bought them, bringing quick destruction on themselves.’
Of course we have our share of such free-spirited ‘Christians’ today, those who hold no tension between spirituality and bodily sin – note the multitude of ‘fallen pastors’ and ‘Christian’ politicians in N. America in recent years, and in Africa. On the other hand, this past weekend, 150 people died in S. Korea in a ‘Halloween stampede.’ NBC news reminds us of a huge upsurge of paganism and witchcraft worldwide, including South Africa: here in my city we have had the Nigerian false prophet and alleged multiple paedophile Timothy Omotoso (whose occultic ministry I personally witnessed on one horrible occasion), after years still being held in St. Albans Prison whence he continues to protest his innocence. This in the face of overwhelming witness by teen virgins groomed for his sexual pleasures!
We have to also mention those syncretists who either add to or subtract from ‘the faith once delivered’: witness New Ager Oprah Winfrey’s flirtation with spirit-guides and popular preachers. Add to this the underlying witchcraft (‘evil supernaturalism’ – cf. Dr. Michael Cassidy of African Enterprise), which has manifested wherever AE has been invited to evangelize a key city in our continent. By contrast Jude reminds us to ‘contend for the faith once entrusted to the saints,’ i.e. that body of essential truth built around the person, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This stands in stark contrast to those ‘new revelations’ promoted by ‘Christians’ around the world, e.g. Mormonism (the Bible + the Book of Mormon), cheap grace/prosperity preachers like Joel Osteen and countless others. Canadian theologian Dr. Brad Jersak has for years written about the ‘spiritual deconstruction’ of millions of Christians in North America: he recently wrote, ‘Once a Christianity corrupted by civil religion, consumerism, and clerical abuse is put on trial, the fate of Christian faith hangs in the balance.’
These heresies are nothing new, of course, and are mentioned in various parts of Scripture:
a) Mt. 24:5,24-25. Jesus himself, in talking with his disciples on the Mount of Olives about ‘Signs of the End of the Age’ warned that “Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ.’ They will deceive many people… False Christs and false prophets will appear, and they will offer great signs and wonders in order to deceive, if possible, even those whom God has chosen. Look, I’ve told you ahead of time.’
b) Acts 20:29-31a. The apostle Paul, in speaking to the Ephesian elders, says ‘I know that after my departure, savage wolves will come in among you and won’t spare the flock. Some of your own people will distort the word in order to lure followers after them. Stay alert!’ My wife and I have experienced this in several formal pastorates, despite clear teaching from the pulpit.
c) Rom. 6:1. Again, Paul, in addressing the Roman church concerning ‘Dying and Rising with Christ,’ writes, ‘So what are we going to say? Should we continue sinning so grace will multiply? Absolutely not! All of us died to sin. How we can still live in it?’ [with respect, in certain instances the Reformed Faith, via hyper-Calvinism, has fallen into an emphasis on covenantal grace to the neglect of ‘working it out’ in personal experience (Phil. 2:12-15) in the power of the Lord. Growing up in a nominal Christian home I was baptized as a baby without any understanding/experience of the new birth, faith and cruciform discipleship called for by Jesus himself (Mk. 8:34). How helpful is the whole Letter to the Hebrews on the biblical balance of grace and the pursuit of ‘holiness without which no one will see the Lord!’ (Heb. 12:14)] ***
d) Gal. 5:19-21. Paul reminds the Galatian churches of ‘The Works of the Flesh:’ ‘The actions that are produced by selfish motives are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and others things like that. I warn you as I have already warned you, that those who do these kinds of things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.’ [how postmodern is this list!]
e) 2 Pet. 2. The apostle Peter is even blunter and more specific concerning the issues above: cf. Part 2 of our series.
We, like our famous African theologian Augustine, need to heed again the child in the garden’s repeated plea, ‘Tolle lege! Tolle lege!‘ Augustine did just that, turned to the Roman Epistle and was saved from a life of debauchery and emptiness. As we pick up our Bibles once more and read them contextually and through the Christ-centred spectacles of his new covenant, we also shall be saved to eternal life and godliness. Then, as someone has said in his commendation of Jersak’s latest publication ‘Out of the Embers,’ we ‘deconstructors’ and the masses disillusioned with ‘church as we have known it,’ shall surely recover and rediscover the imperishable treasure that fire can never destroy but only refine!!
*** See Prof. Leonard Verduin’s (Calvin Theological Seminary) (1897-1999) ‘The Reformers and Their Stepchildren.‘