Semper Reformanda: A Faith Worth Fighting For
Over a hundred and fifty years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg castle door came a Dutch pastor and theologian named Jodocus van Lodenstein. It was van Lodenstein who, in 1674, penned the words ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda or the church reformed, always reforming. This was a man who was born in the context of reformed Protestantism. He went to school in Geneva which still carried the legacy of John Calvin. He was given the Heidelberg Catechism with his mother’s milk. He was no stranger to sound doctrine. And yet, he recognized that faithfulness is only ever a single generation away from extinction.
If history has taught us anything, it is that the greatest times of uncertainty are not found in the heat of battle or conflict but are those days of relative peace after victory has already been won. Those who laid all their cards on the table and risked everything to gain victory can be trusted, never again to place themselves in the same dangers that led to the crises of conflict. But what of those who come after? What of the second, third, and fourth generations who know nothing of hardship nor the dangers that their fathers once faced? Can they be trusted to steer clear of those same dangers?
Those who lived through the decadence of the 1920’s and were left destitute in the 1930’s learned the value of work and thrift. Can we say the same for their children and grandchildren? Those who fought the evils of fascist Germany and soviet Russia know the value of independence, liberty, and freedom. Can we say the same for their posterity? Those who stood against the godless liberalization of Christianity during the turn of the 20th century knew the damning results of a low view of Scripture and watered-down theology. Were these convictions passed on?
In every age, in every place, and in every context, Christians are called to be soldiers rather than civilians. Civilians go about their lives at their pleasure knowing that someone else will see to it that they are protected from foreign harm. Soldiers are always vigilant as they engage in conflict or prepare themselves for it. If we are to remain vigilant, if we are to avoid the pitfalls of past faithlessness and stand with past faithful saints, if we are to one day be presented to Christ as His holy and blameless bride, then there are three things we must guard with our lives.
We must guard our Fellowship (Jude 1:3-4)
“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write 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 delivered to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Even a casual reading of Jude will produce the realization that this letter bears a strong resemblance to 2 Peter. In a nutshell, Peter warned believers that false teachers were coming, while Jude declares that they have come and are here.
Purpose: For Posterity (v. 3) – Note that Jude was intending to write to his audience on a completely different subject. But the need had arisen to exhort them to contend for the faith. Everyone loves to be encouraged. But when the house is on fire, only a fool goes around giving out hugs. What the people need now is exhortation.
The term the NASB translates as appealing (παρακαλέω) is better understood as exhort. The term literally means to call alongside. It is possible to call people alongside a particular standard in a variety of ways. We can commend those already toeing the line. We can rebuke those who are fleeing. We can encourage those who are standing, though their knees are knocking. But in all these scenarios the call is the same: come and stand here! Jude calls his audience to come and stand in order to contend for the faith.
The word contend here (ἐπαγωνίζομαι) contains the idea of struggle, conflict, and hardship. This is the only occurrence of this term in the NT but its less emphatic cousin, ἀγωνίζομαι/ἀγών, is used several times to describe athletic struggle (2 Tim. 4:7; Heb. 12:1), armed conflict (Jn. 18:36), or generic struggle and hard going (Col 4:12). Jude is using an intensified form of an already intense verb to exhort his readers to fight for the faith.
This faith, the sum total of all Christian doctrine and belief, nebulous, progressive, or subjective idea but a concrete and fixed doctrine. It has been handed down once and for all to the saints. From the prophets to the apostles a singular and clear message has been sent. This message has been handed over to us for safekeeping and for use. If our posterity is to receive this same message, we must guard it. Why does Jude take such a serious tone?
Reason: Because we have been infiltrated (v. 4) – As we’ve already pointed out, Peter warned of false teachers who would come. Jude here states that they’ve already arrived. The Huns are not at the gate, they’re already within the walls. There may not be many, but remember that Troy fell because a handful of Greek warriors were operating from inside the walls.
There should be no question that these are wicked and vile men. Jude describes them by their actions. They are those who (1) turn God’s grace into licentiousness and those who (2) deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. It is possible that these insurgents are not denying Christ in their preaching. But as we all know actions speak louder than words.
To abuse God’s grace as He stays His hand of judgment by seeking after the pleasures of your heart is nothing short of turning His grace into licentiousness. To live as if you will never answer to Christ is the same as denying that He is our only Master and Lord. If God’s judgment is coming, then we must cease our sin and repent now. If Christ is our sovereign, then we must obey Him, for we will certainly answer to Him. We must stand and fight for the faith because there are wolves among the sheep. We must guard the fellowship from such vile servants of Satan. And we will be hard pressed, for they are already among us.
What was true of Jude’s day is certainly true of our own. Many “evangelical” leaders of our day are nothing more than poster children for licentiousness as they defend homosexuality in both practice and concept, downplay the atrocities of abortion by likening the slaughter of the unborn to border control, and generally demand that the church kowtows to a growing satanic worldview of gender confusion and ethnic preferential treatment. They are among us. They have infiltrated and control most of the theological institutions in America. The watchmen have slumbered at their posts and now the gates have been breached. The time to stand and contend for the faith is now, for the situation is dire.
We must guard our Hearts (Hebrews 12:1-2)
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Contending for the faith is more than only fighting for a doctrinal position or a theological framework. Orthodoxy is useless if it exists only in the mind without warming the heart. As Paul (that’s right, I went there) exhorts these Jewish believers to persevere in Christ and lean wholly on Him, his encouragement goes well beyond orthodox doctrine to genuine, saving, and transforming faith.
Authentic Faithfulness (v. 1) – After speaking at great length of the OT saints who believed in the promised Messiah and persevered through suffering and some even unto death, Paul now exhorts his listeners live their lives in like manner. The imagery of a race is used here but in the context of a long and grueling marathon, not a sprint. Before these believers can run this race, they must first discard anything and everything that will get in their way.
The encumbrance and the sin which entangles are seen as two separate items. The term encumbrance (ὄγκος) literally means weight and likely refers to excess body fat that a determined runner would want to shed. There is nothing wrong with carrying along a few extra pounds, but that weight will only get in the way of the one who desires to run. Sin on the other hand is never acceptable and must be put off at each and every turn. The runner must choose not only between what is good and bad, but also between what is better and best as he prepares to run this race of endurance just as his spiritual forefathers have.
Author of Faith (v. 2) – The body naturally moves to where the eyes are fixed. Every shooter knows that the body will naturally align itself with the eyes. There’s a reason we tell young drivers, “keep your eyes on the road.” The chance of driving into the ditch if you’re looking at the ditch are higher than you might expect. And so, Paul commands his listeners who are preparing to run to fix their eyes on Jesus. He is set before us as the perfect and current example of faith.
Jesus is the first and the last, the author and perfecter of our faith. All of the OT saints placed their faith in this One who was to come, and we place our faith in this One who has come and will come again. He looked past the suffering in front of Him with a view of the joy to come. The shame associated with His suffering He considered nothing but a trifle by comparison. And He is even now seated at the right hand of the throne of God until the Father makes His enemies a footstool for His feet.
As we live in a church reformed yet seek to always be reforming, we cannot lapse into cold orthodoxy. This current life is a life of faithful perseverance, not only doctrinal correctness. It is a grave mistake to pit one against the other, to prioritize holiness over theological precision. Holiness without precision is unsustainable and theology without obedience is useless. Beware the false dichotomy.
We must guard Future Generations (2 Timothy 2:1-2)
“You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”
What good is a reformed church if we do not train up the next generation? What use is vigilance if our posterity remains ignorant and lazy? To have a reformed and reforming church, great effort must be put into the training of current and future generations.
Know Sound Theology (vv. 1-2a) – These final words of Paul to his son in the faith sound remarkably similar to Moses’ words to Joshua (Deut. 31:7-8), Joshua’s words to Israel’s elders (Josh. 23:6-8), and David’s words to Solomon (1 Kings 2:1-4). Timothy is to stand strong in God’s grace (not in his own strength) and to pass on all that Paul has given him.
It must be noted that the things which you have heard from me indicates so much more than a simplistic gospel presentation and a handful of Bible verses. The content that Timothy would have received from Paul would have literally been the sum total of divine revelation up to this point. Timothy wasn’t commanded to pass on “the basics” or to give these men just enough training to get by. He was commanded to pass on all the things that Paul had taught Timothy. This is a very high standard, but this standard comes with a purpose.
Train Men to Train Men (v. 2b) – Timothy is to hand pick faithful men to pour himself into so that these men will turn around and train others. If Timothy neglects to pass on a portion of divine truth it will die. Men cannot pass on what they have not themselves been given. The picture here is of a long relay race where one runner passes the baton to another. All the runners have prepared themselves and are ready to run. But they must be given the whole baton.
The light of the Protestant Reformation was necessary because the church had failed in this simple command. They passed down many things, but few of them came from the prophets and apostles. God in His grace and providence caused His truth to be rediscovered. But woe to us who make light of God’s grace and fail to pass on the whole counsel of His truth and thus tempt God’s judgment of another century or two of darkness.
Ours is a faith worth fighting for if for no other reason than because we are commanded to. Corporately, we must recognize that vile and wicked men have already infiltrated the bride of Christ and must be put out (Jude vv. 3-4). Individually, we must remain vigilant in order to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus rather than on our own navels (Heb. 12:1-2). Proactively, we must prepare the next generation of gospel preachers and theologians to carry the baton until the day when the King returns (2 Tim. 2:1-2). We cannot rest in the supposed knowledge that ours is a church reformed (ecclesia reformata) but must press on to always be a reforming church (semper reformanda). Soli Deo Gloria!