In Jude 1:3-4 the author says, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.“
The faith once delivered to the saints is the same gospel preached by Jesus Christ, the apostles, the church fathers, the reformers, and the Puritans. It is orthodox Christianity. These doctrines are affirmed in a number of confessions of faith produced by various church councils throughout the past 2000 years. They include the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, The Chalcedonian Definition of the Faith, The Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession, The Canons of Dort, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the London Baptist Confession. These are all proclamations of the essential doctrines “once for all delivered to the saints” formulated to defend the church against false teaching.
Since these doctrines were “delivered once for all” they never change. But God has revealed them progressively throughout history. The Old Testament prophets spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, but they did not always understand the significance of their own words. The Apostle Peter affirms as much when he says, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory.” (1Pet 1:10-11) Peter goes on to say that the prophets did not fully comprehend what they were saying because the meaning was reserved for the church in coming ages, “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to [j]look.” (1 Pet 1:12)
Although Peter spent three years with Christ, he himself had an incomplete understanding of Christ’s mission. In the eighth chapter of Mark, he acknowledged that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. But only moments later he rebuked Jesus for saying that he must be offered up to die at the hands of Jewish leaders. Peter did not understand the Old Testament teaching that the Son of God must suffer and die. None of the other disciples did either. After his resurrection, Christ appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and had to explain to them at great length how the events they had witnessed fulfilled scripture. The significance of Christ’s death and resurrection became evident only after his resurrection.
The Apostle Paul adds to the understanding of the church by explaining such doctrines as the sovereignty of God in salvation, the inclusion of Gentiles in the plan of redemption, the relationship between Christ and his church, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the significance of the sacraments, and the future hope of believers. All of these teachings were revealed to Paul personally by Christ. This probably took place during the three years that he spent alone in Arabia after his conversion. (Gal 1:18-2:2) He describes how this revelation came to him on at least one occasion in 2 Cor 12:1-6 and Eph 3:3.
The church fathers continued to build upon the foundation laid by the prophets and apostles as they defended the faith against various false teachings that arose in the course of church history. Saint Augustine organized the teachings of scripture on the Trinity into the first systematic theology in the fifth century to defend the deity of Christ against false teachers. Martin Luther, John Calvin and the other reformers reclaimed the great doctrines of the faith from the Roman Catholic Church which had made the church the mediator between God and man rather than Christ.
Building on The Past
As the book of Hebrews says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Heb 1:1-2) With each revelation has come more clarity and definition. With the advent of Jesus, God arrived on the scene to deliver the message in person. In those days Jesus pronounced judgment on the towns where he had performed great miracles because they had received not just an indirect message by way of a prophet, but the very Living Word of God. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” (Mt 11:21-24) Because we have a record of the life and works of Jesus Christ, we are no less accountable than the people of Jesus’ day. As Jesus said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” (Lk 12:48)
The Price of Ignorance
When God gave the law to the children of Israel, he said through his servant Moses, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.” (Deut 11:26-28) On that day the Israelites agreed to do all that the Lord commanded. But it was not long before they went astray. In fact, they so completely abandoned the way of the Lord that they eventually lost the book of the law. It was not until some 800 years later that they rediscovered it when King Josiah of Judah commissioned the renovation of the temple. It had come into disrepair from years of neglect. The discovery prompted great anxiety, for when the priests read the law, they realized they were under the wrath of God for their idolatry. Although the king destroyed all the idols and killed all the false prophets, God did not spare the Israelites from judgment. Shortly after the death of Josiah, he sent the armies of Babylon to invade Israel and take the people captive. The price they paid for abandoning God’s word was seventy years of humiliating captivity in the land of Babylon.
Because of the rapid progress that has characterized our present age, we tend to think that we are smarter than those who went before us. We have amassed great fortunes compared to previous generations. In our arrogance we have shunned the faith of our fathers, replacing it with a man-made religion that conforms to modern science. Christian bookstores are filled with popular titles on how to fix just about any aspect of your Christian life. Contemporary Christian therapy has replaced orthodox Christian theology. Go to almost any church small group meeting and you will study some popular contemporary Christian author or listen to one of their CDs or watch one of their DVDs. Your Sunday School teacher probably uses their materials in class and your pastor likely bases his sermons on them. Try to find a church that affirms the great creeds of the faith or teaches them in catechism class or features sermons that draw upon the great works of the church fathers and reformers and you will be sorely disappointed.
Although rich in material ways, today’s church is poverty stricken when it comes to knowledge of God because it has severed its ties with the past. It is like the the Laodicean church described in the third chapter of Revelation, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev 3:17) What does God say to this church? “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” Gold, white garments, and salve were the products of the Laodiceans’ commercial success and the source of their self-sufficiency and pride.
Today’s church has become far more wealthy and self-reliant than the Laodicean Church. The annual Global Wealth Report from Credit Suisse said recently: “Two generations ahead, future extrapolation of current wealth growth rates yields almost a billion millionaires, equivalent to 20 per cent of the total adult population.” (http://ind.pn/2lnch). Because we have become so self-sufficient, many Christians believe that there is no problem that cannot be solved by modern means. And in its pride, it has forsaken a rich theological heritage for a form of self-help religion. But therapy is a poor substitute for theology because it is based upon the knowledge of the creature rather than revelation from the Creator. The attributes of God go well beyond human comprehension. They cannot be apprehended apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit. They are so profound that God has had to reveal himself over generations of redemptive history. We would do well to build upon that foundation rather than to assume we can do a better job with tools acquired through human progress.
The modern progressive mindset has so thoroughly compromised today’s church that it no longer accepts the plain teaching of the Bible on certain important doctrinal issues. For instance, the Bible clearly teaches that in the beginning God saw that everything he created was good. He didn’t go through some sort of trial and error process until he finally got it right. Yet many professing Christians choose to believe the evolutionary version of origins which says man was only the most well adapted version of a long line of failed creatures that weren’t well suited to their environment.
Many of these same people believe that the universe is some 14 billion years old because science tells us it would take that long for light from the farthest stars to reach the earth. But Genesis tells us that vegetation was created on the third day and the heavenly bodies were created on the fourth day. It is clear from the Genesis account that the stars can be no older than the earth. When they were created they were already billions of light years away.
It is not just the biblical account of creation that Christians reject. They also refuse to accept the biblical teaching on the severity of sin. Because sin is so deeply embedded in human nature, the bible is very clear on the importance of corporal punishment for training in righteousness. Proverbs 23:13-14 says, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.” Many Christian parents believe that any kind of physical discipline is harmful to a child’s normal social development. For the same reason, few pastors will preach repentance for sin and few churches practice church discipline.
Another major area of compromise is the biblical teaching on sexual purity. In a day and age of sexual permissiveness and perversion, many professing Christians have chosen to disregard the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality and effeminate behavior. They have bought the lie that gender identity and sexual proclivities are inborn traits, as if God would create something which he then calls evil. He pronounced everything he created good and he made mankind male and female so that their external genitalia reflect their actual sexual identities.
Jesus said over and over again that the one who loves him keeps his commandments. In the book of Hebrews, faith is equated with taking God at his word. Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Many Christians today reduce believing faith to a personal decision to accept Jesus as Lord. They think that what they choose to do and to believe after that has no bearing on their eternal destiny. But Jesus is not Lord if you do not obey him. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.“ (John 14:15). Matthew 5:19 says, “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
In 1 Timothy 6:20 Paul tells Timothy, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.” We have not taken pains to guard the truth that has been handed down to us from generation to generation all the way from Abel to Abraham to David to the Apostles and church fathers. We have replaced it with a cheap counterfeit void of anything that might contradict the conventional wisdom of our age. And so we have forfeited the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ and to further his kingdom until he comes again.