The Warning from Jude for Today

The Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News

I do not believe you will find a book in the Bible more relevant to The United Methodist Church than the Epistle of Jude. 

Early in his letter Jude writes: “Although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (verses 3-4).

Jude tells his readers he had intended to send them a letter going into depth about our salvation in Christ. But grave reports about matters in the church have compelled him to write a very different letter. The problem? False teachers in the church are denying Christ and promoting immorality. 

What are the characteristics of those leading the church astray? 

1. They claimed a wrong source of authority. “Yet in the same way these dreamers also defile the flesh, reject authority, and slander celestial beings” (verse 8, emphasis added). What is the basis for their heretical teaching? Their dreams. Their visions. Their personal experiences that tell them we should embrace a truth that is contrary to what Jesus and the apostles taught.

The false teachers Jude described are similar to false teachers and prophets throughout the ages. They say, “God has told me.” Or “the Holy Spirit has revealed something to me.” What they claim to be their personal revelation now trumps what the Scriptures teach.

In our time the phrase is usually, “The Holy Spirit is doing something new.” And false teachers claim to be privy to this revelation in a way the rest of the church is not. No matter that the Scriptures are clear, and the church has taught the same doctrine for 2000 years, and 95 percent of all Christians around the globe still uphold what the church has taught for millennia. A relatively few, “enlightened” Western Christians in a hedonistic, postmodern culture now believe they alone have been chosen to receive and promote a novel doctrine that supersedes what the Scriptures reveal to be God’s will. 

Ask them how they know this is God’s revelation and they have a difficult time responding. They just know it. They feel it. It’s obvious, in their minds, that God is doing a new thing that is pleasing to our culture and anathema to the Bible. 

I once asked a respected progressive pastor how he could promote what was contrary to the Bible. He was very frank. He told me, “Rob, the church created the Bible. So, we can re-create the Bible.” 

And on what basis? Our feelings, our imaginings, our dreams? A belief that this is what all “good, loving people” would teach as the truth if they were God? For those who taught false doctrines in Jude’s day and for false teachers in our own time, yes, a foundation as flimsy as an individualistic conviction that the Bible cannot be right is sufficient to claim that God is revealing new truth.

2. They possessed a wrong Christology. Past cults have taught that Jesus was not truly divine – they esteem him as a moral teacher, a cultural reformer, or a highly-evolved being who realized his God-consciousness.  But they do not believe he was God incarnate.

What does Jude say about the false teachers of his time? “(They) deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4). How exactly they were doing this, we are not told. But in some way, they were diminishing the uniqueness and the Lordship of Jesus. They were making him one of many rather than the One and Only.

Today, what you may hear is “Jesus is my Savior and my way, but there are many ways – all of them valid.” I once asked a UM pastor who was a candidate for bishop if other religious teachers, Buddha and Mohammad, for example, brought the same kind of revelation and truth to their followers that Jesus brings to Christians. Quickly and unashamedly, he responded, “Oh, yes. I tell my students, ‘God is wholesale. Jesus is retail.’” Buddha, Mohammad and Jesus are simply retail outlets for the same wholesale God – just different ways of receiving the same (saving?) truth.

By the way, who were his students? Men and women training to become pastors at the United Methodist seminary where he taught. 

A related way the divinity and uniqueness of Jesus is diminished is through implied universalism. This is the belief that everyone will go to heaven and that there is really no need for people to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The lack of urgency around evangelism in our denomination betrays the unspoken understanding of many that faith in Christ is a good thing for those who want it, but it is not necessary for salvation and eternal life.

I wish I could tell you these understandings of Jesus are uncommon within the UM Church. But the truth is this false teaching has been propagated in our seminaries for decades and it has infected many of those who are now serving as our pastors and preaching in our pulpits.

3. They promote a wrong understanding of morality. They pervert the “grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 4). Wrong beliefs will lead to wrong behavior. Deny the authority of the Scriptures and the full divinity of Christ, and you can be sure that a compromised morality will soon follow. 

Throughout the ages, there have been three responses to God’s grace. One is legalism – those who sin cannot remain in fellowship with the body of Christ. Another is license (what the false teachers in Jude’s letter were and many in our own time are embracing) – because of grace we are free to live as we desire. God will accept us and affirm whatever behavior we believe is right for us. The third response is liberty – through the work of the Spirit, we become free from the power of sin and begin to live a new life.

True freedom is not the right or the ability to do whatever we desire. True freedom is the power to do whatever we should, including dying to the base desires of the flesh and living a life that pleases God.

Jude told his readers and I tell you: The truth is under siege. It’s being undermined by some in the church. By teachers in the church. And the charge for us is the same that Jude gave to his readers “Contend for the faith once and for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). 

The United Methodist Church is divided on the most basic beliefs any church can face. Do we follow the Scriptures? Do we confess Jesus as Savior and Lord, the only begotten Son of God? Do we believe grace leads to license or liberty?

We orthodox Wesleyan Methodists are to know the truth; promote the truth; and, where it is under attack, contend for the truth. For it is the truth that will set us free.

Comments

  1. wil meiklejohn says

    Reading the words; “they were wrong” repeatedly; it seems that Jesus’ admonition to ‘judge not’ is being cast aside. The phrase: “those leading the church astray” further compounds the negativity. Taking the approach that ‘everyone in the band is out of step but me’ has the potential of creating a profoundly deleterious effect on the ability to reach out and bring others in. Rather than viewing the approach that others may choose as ‘astray’ or ‘wrong’ perhaps celebrating that there may be ‘different’ viewpoints would be far more edifying? Jude’s letter ends with some very powerful and comforting words: viz. “Now to the one who is able to keep you from stumbling, who can make you pure and blameless, so that with great joy you can stand before His bright-shining greatness. To the one Great Spirit, who has set us free and made us whole through our Honored Chief Creator Sets Free(Jesus), the Chosen One. Bright shining greatness, beauty, power, and chiefly rule belong to Him from the time before all days, today, and to the time beyond the end of all days” (First Nations Version)

  2. Into which bucket would Adam Hamilton and the liberal coalition in the UMC place this Scripture?

    Galatians 1:6-9

    6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

  3. Robert A Combes says

    I am praying that He lead me to a congregation that will hold true and not flinch when preaching. All the UMC around me here in St Pete are of the weaker and diluted presentation. There might be a GMC crop up close by but I’m not going to hold my breath.

  4. Charles Armour says

    Thank you! That was a most excellent interpretation of an often overlooked part of scripture, as well an insightful commentary of what currently faces Untied Methodism. As both an old absent minded professor and a tired pastor, I have often found II Timothy to be a great comfort on both fronts during these troubled times. Indeed, we have all been warned that such days would come.

    “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.” (II Timothy 4:3)

    Let us all labor to support and pray for one another while we continue to remain steadfast in our faith.

  5. Brenda be Ellis says

    Rob,
    Thank you for continuing to be a voice for those of us who believe in the Wesleyan Methodist doctrine. I look to you as a source of wisdom and guidance as we confront the the dissent and immorality within the Methodist Church.
    Brenda Ellis

  6. David F Miller says

    AMEN!

  7. Stacia Roble says

    Well said! Current Christians or those who be profess to be, need a quick and realistic wake up call. I see in my UMC congregation that most are unaware and/or uninterested in what is happening. Go along to get along is the motto of the day. But those who have eyes, must see and those with ears, must hear the travesty within our midst. I have looked to other leaders who preach wisdom, such as Justin Peters (Clouds without Water) and Chris Rosebrough (Fighting for the Faith). There are ravenous wolves devouring millions; how many millions have blinders on! May we in the Methodist church heed Jude’s warnings and proclaim Christ and Christ alone as the way to the Father.

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