Gospel-Driven Separation

feature-article.gif“Earnestly contend for the faith.” This statement from Jude 3 has long been the battle cry of fundamentalist Christians, those who are willing to do “battle royal” in defense of biblical doctrine. Fundamentalists have rightly appealed to Jude as an example of a faithful defender of the faith. He willingly entered the fray for the sake of the truth, and he called on his readers (including us!) to join him.

However, Jude’s epistle is not merely a call to arms, though it certainly is that. Jude provides us with a philosophy of ministry that includes—but is not limited to—defending the faith. Indeed, his epistle gives us a look at his own heart. Though we know comparatively little about this half brother of Christ, I admire him and relate to him. If we are willing to learn, Jude can teach us much regarding the role of the believer in a wicked world. In particular, he shows us what it means to love the gospel.

We Must Love the Gospel, Not the Fight (Jude 1–3a, 24–25).
Although Jude wrote primarily to encourage believers to defend the faith against false teachers, that was not his initial intent for the epistle. After a humble introduction of himself in verse 1 and a prayer for the spiritual blessing of his readers in verse 2, Jude expressed his love for the gospel in verse 3. Yes, he wrote a blistering attack against false teachers, but not before explaining that his first desire was to write a letter rejoicing in gospel truth—“I gave all diligence to write unto you of our common salvation.” And just as he began the book with a focus on the gospel, he ended it with one of the most glorious doxologies of the New Testament in verses 24–25:

“Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”

Jude could be called a reluctant warrior. Given a choice, he would rather fellowship around the glorious truths of Christ’s work than engage in a fight. His delight was in the gospel. That fact is significant, for it is possible for fallen men—perhaps for fundamentalists, in particular—to relish conflict and take the gospel for granted. There are plenty of examples of ministries that focus almost exclusively on separation, that delight in perpetual skirmishes, or that live to make exposés of compromising brothers. Such ministries have lost their moorings and will eventually wither for lack of nourishment. They misrepresent our Lord. Make no mistake: Jude’s epistle offers no support for such squabbling. He was passionate about the gospel of Jesus Christ. All things being equal, his preference was to point his audience’s attention to the Savior.

We Must Love the Gospel Enough to Fight for It (Jude 3b–19).
Though I described Jude as a reluctant warrior, he was indeed a warrior. His love of the gospel was no weak-kneed sentimentality. He loved the truth and the church enough to confront error with shocking intensity and candor. We noted that he would prefer to fellowship around the gospel if all things were equal. Unfortunately, all things were not equal. Enemies of the gospel had arisen, and the danger they posed to the truth and the church required Jude to defend the faith rather than merely expounding it. The call to arms wasn’t his first choice of topics, but “it was needful” (v. 3). The immediate presence and deception of enemies—they had “crept in unawares”—demanded that Jude urge his hearers to join him in contending for “the faith once delivered to the saints,” a description of the entire body of revealed truth contained in the Holy Scriptures.

There is a time to fight. When that time arose, Jude would have been shirking his duty had he penned a positive letter regarding “our common salvation.” We too must be prepared for battle, particularly when false teachers are posing a direct threat to those under our spiritual care. Think of it this way: having a game night with your children is a good thing. However, to continue the game when an attacker enters your home would be foolish and cowardly. In the face of danger you must earnestly contend for your family—not because you relish a fight, but because you love your family! So it is with the gospel. We demonstrate our love for it not only by meditating on it, but by defending it.

Of course, defending the faith in our day includes the necessity of separation. However, it also requires direct opposition of error. Jude demonstrates this in verses 4 through 19. Space prohibits me from unpacking these verses, but suffice to say that Jude pulled no punches. He didn’t go looking for a fight, but he held nothing back once it commenced. He exposed the weak character and wicked conduct of the false teachers (vv. 4, 8, 10–16, 19). He appealed to Old Testament examples of apostasy (vv. 5–7, 11, 14), demonstrating that opposition to the truth is no new thing. He reminded his readers that the arrival of enemies should have been expected since the apostles repeatedly warned against them (vv. 17–18). Indeed, every New Testament book (with the exception of Philemon) warns against false teachers. We must be ready for them, and when they attack the faith we must valiantly defend it.

Before we consider the last point, I’d like to make a necessary application to our own time. Although Jude was describing a battle with blatant unbelief and not merely an intramural disagreement, there is a vital lesson to be learned from the fact that those who were perverting the gospel were found within the professing church. Defending the faith requires a great degree of discernment and boldness. Frankly, that may mean that the battle lines are drawn differently today than they were during the last 50–100 years when fundamentalists battled unbelieving modernists and compromising new evangelicals. Things are not so simple in our day. False teaching is no respecter of movements. Standing up for the truth will sometimes require that we defend the gospel from abuses within the ranks of professing fundamentalism. If we are honest—and if we are interested in defending biblical truth rather than fundamentalist turf—we must recognize that devastating errors are being promoted by professing fundamentalists including easy-believism, revivalism, a denial of the necessity of repentance, careless exegesis, mere externalism, graceless moralism, and KJV-onlyism. Indeed, there are professing fundamentalists who pose greater danger to gospel truth than some evangelicals!

Unfortunately, we’ve traditionally been hesitant to consider these facts when drawing lines of separation. Were a fundamentalist to appear on the platform of a well-known ministry in Los Angeles or Minneapolis, his compromise would be sternly corrected. However, were the same man to appear on the platform of a well-known ministry in Hammond, little or nothing would be said. At best, this is inconsistent. At worst, it betrays the fact that separation is sometimes an “us vs. them” issue rather than a truth issue. As a convinced separatist, this is a grief to me. That is emphatically not the spirit of Jude’s epistle, nor is it consistent with biblical teaching. I’m not suggesting that we broaden our fellowship to include evangelicals. However, I am saying that critiquing orthodox evangelicals even as we tolerate heterodox fundamentalists—because they are fundamentalists—is a denial of biblical separatism. If we believe that the Bible requires that we separate from error for the sake of the gospel and the good of the church, and it certainly does, then we must practice it consistently. We must earnestly contend for the faith, regardless of the tag worn by the one abusing it.

We Must Love the Gospel Enough to Proclaim It (Jude 20–23).
It is instructive that Jude ends his hard-hitting epistle by urging his readers to be attentive to gospel ministry. Jude did not urge the church to defend a relic or a principle, but to defend the very truth that they were actively applying to the lives of both believers and unbelievers.

First, he urged believers to prayerfully build themselves up in the holy faith (v. 20), the same faith he had urged them to defend (v. 3). Doing so would help keep them in the love of God as they looked forward to Christ’s merciful coming (v. 21). This point must not be missed: defending the truth must never distract us from strengthening ourselves and one another with it. I’m reminded of Nehemiah’s leadership when the returned exiles were threatened by their enemies. He urged them to be ready to defend themselves should an attack come, but he also insisted that they not stop building the walls of Jerusalem. He insisted, if you will, that they hold a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other (Neh 4:18). Those in our day who wield only a trowel will fail to protect the truth or the church, as broad evangelicalism perpetually reminds us. Conversely, those who wield only a sword will fail in their God-given task of proclaiming the whole counsel of God. The best long-term defense for God’s people in Nehemiah’s day was a sturdy wall, not just a sword! The same is true today. The best protection for the church is that it be intentionally built up in the most holy faith even as it is warned of apostasy.

Second, Jude urged believers to compassionately minister the gospel to the lost (vv. 22–23). Not all unbelievers are to be regarded as enemies. Most are not false teachers, but the victims of false teachers. They need to hear the truth. Perhaps God will graciously allow them to be pulled from the fire by the power of the gospel!

In short, fundamentalists should be known for ministering the whole counsel of God, not just for separation. To change metaphors, imagine a hospital that boasts that it is the national leader in surgical amputations. You’d be excused for seeking medical assistance elsewhere—preferably at a hospital which is known for promoting positive health, but which is also willing to take the most drastic of measures when necessary. Separation—the battle royal—must similarly be something we’re willing to engage in as needed, but never something that prohibits us from ministering the life-changing gospel to people in need.

We must search our own hearts and weigh our own ministries in light of Jude’s epistle. Do we delight in the gospel or in conflict? Do we love the gospel enough to defend it? Are we certain that we are defending the truth rather than merely the turf of our movement? Are we battling error regardless of who is promoting it? Are we proclaiming the truth in addition to defending it? If not, we are not obeying Jude’s epistle, which neither starts nor ends with its third verse.

Fundamentalism must continue to be a militant movement that is willing to defend the faith. We must also be passionate about the gospel of Jesus Christ—rejoicing in it, growing in it and extending it to the lost for the glory of God.

December 2007


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