January 31, 2011

Contention is Necessary

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. (Jude 3)

‘The reason I am not a Christian is because church folks always seem to be fussing and fighting about something.’ Ever heard anyone say that? Admittedly, it’s often just a cop-out. For, in many cases, the person who makes such a complaint has darkened the door of the church so few times that he has no idea on earth what church people are ‘always’ doing. And yet, for some folks, there is a real grain of truth in the complaint about church folks and their infighting. Sadly, many churches are blighted with this disease. They fight about the style of music, the color of carpet, who got elected to such-and-such an office, and who was left out. And the list could go on. But, rest assured, that is not what this article is about.

When I say (as I do above and below) that ‘contention is necessary’ in the church of Jesus Christ … I am not referring to the kind of nitpicky sparring that consumes so many churches and Christians. That kind of thing will kill a church (and I am so thankful that PRBC has been relatively free of it these last 6 years or so!). No, rather than looking for reasons to be contentious, brothers and sisters in Christ ought, like Jude, to “make every effort” to accentuate “our common salvation”; to emphasize our unity at the foot of the cross. And I find it refreshing to hear Jude say that what he really had hoped to do was to write an encouraging letter. He really did want to write his brothers and sisters about how the Lord was at work in their midst, and about what Christ had done for them all, and how God had been good to them as a church family. He really did want to write about their “common salvation”, not their causes for concern. And we will do well to always keep that desire in mind, and to “make every effort” to be like Jude ourselves.

And yet Jude also says that, in spite of his desire to be encouraging, and to bring people together … he has a fire welling up in his bones. He wants to write a nice, easy, comforting letter. But the Spirit won’t allow him. No, as he puts quill to parchment, Jude feels a “necessity” to warn his brothers and sisters in Christ; to put them on the lookout for potential problems in the church – both in the realm of proper beliefs, and of proper behavior.

And he doesn’t merely want these Christians to be aware of potential problems … but to “contend earnestly for the faith.” That is not to say he wants them to be contentious. But Jude (along the Holy Spirit who is driving his quill) wants this church (and every church) to fight for what is right – again, in belief and in behavior! He wants them to protect the church from wolves in sheep’s clothing; from dissenters who would destroy unity or lead people into false doctrine; and from so-called Christians who might destroy the church’s testimony with their unrepentant sin. And the rest of the book is largely an explanation of how and why they must fight these battles … and why we must fight them, too!

Jude really wanted to write a letter about “our common salvation”. But the Spirit constrained him, instead, to urge the church to fight for the truth; to contend for the faith. And both are necessary. Christians must be constantly reminding themselves to focus on their commonalities in Christ, to find equal footing beneath the cross, and to stop bickering over the church d├ęcor! But sometimes the commonalities that we share in Jesus force us to close ranks, to take up the sword of the Spirit, and to fend off enemies … both within and without. Sometimes, in order that we may protect the faith we all hold in common, contention is necessary. May God give us grace to know when it is, and when it isn’t. And may He give us grace to “contend for the faith” without being contentious.

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