"Fellowship Through the Most Holy Faith"
Jude 1:16-21
 
By Paul Robison

In our reading today, Jude writes to a group of people that had to stand up against false teachers who were promoting heresy.  To help them, Jude gives them final exhortations dealing with faith, prayer, love, hope, and service.  In regards to faith, notice again what Jude writes in verse 20: “But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith.” 

Here are three commentators’ insights on this passage.  The first says: “As in verse 3, their most holy faith refers to the entire body of beliefs taught by the apostles and held by Christians.  ... We should notice that believers are to work together as they build themselves up as a community, as Christ's temple.  [Their faith] was 'most holy' because it came from the most holy God.  This faith alone transforms lives and gives eternal life” (Bruce Barton, Life Application Commentary, Tyndale: 95, 258).  The second says: “Here in the face of the threat of heretical teaching, the foundation which will sustain the building and keep it safe is declared, appropriately enough, to be your most holy faith.  As in [verse] 3, faith has the objective sense, connoting the ensemble of apostolic teaching; it is your faith as opposed to the innovators' [heresy]; and it is most holy because it has been revealed by the holy God and sanctifies those who hold it” (Kelly, Baker: 81, 285).  The last says: “Their most holy faith is the Christian revelation, handed down by the apostles (as in v. 3).  In this way, they are to build themselves up. 

From other New Testament references, it is clear that this required study of the apostolic teaching.  The Christian must study the scriptures if he is to grow in the faith and be of any use to others (...).  The faith is most holy because it is 'utterly different', entirely set apart from all others. 

It is unique in the message it teaches and in the moral transformation it produces” (Green, Tyndale NTC, Eerdmans, 89, 199-200).  Did you notice that all three writers say that the faith used here is the same faith for which Christians must contend in verse 3?  This faith is not merely one's belief in Jesus.  No, it is much, much broader than that.  It is all the teachings of Jesus and the apostles that had been handed down to this group of believers.  Today, our equivalent to what Jude is saying is the New Testament.  Just as they were to build themselves up through study of the Scriptures, so we must do the same as we look to the New Testament as our only guide in matters of religion!  Notice, that Jude calls this “the most holy faith,” and, as was noted, it came from a holy God, is utterly different than what pagan religions taught, and it sanctifies and transforms those who believe it!  Brethren, do we realize what an awesome message we have to share with others?  Do we realize the uniqueness of this most holy faith is the dynamic for saving those who are lost?  Do we realize that the early church was not just another “Mr. Roger's neighborhood” among other religious groups?  Someone made the observation that men hate modern Christianity and the church because they are too tame and too nice?  Do we not see “the most holy faith” as dangerous anymore?  Do we not see the most holy faith as being exclusive anymore?  When you have something this bold, this dynamic, and this divine, why do we settle for lesser things?  A brother wrote this about our brotherhood: “Of all the changes that churches of Christ are currently facing, surely this fraternization with denominational [groups] is the most sinister, the most destructive, and the most tragic in its implications for the future of the church and for eternity” (Miller).  Why have we given up fellowship based upon a most holy faith for a false fellowship?  What does fellowship based upon the most holy faith look like?  Today we want to focus on four aspects of this fellowship based upon the most holy faith. 

We want to see how some in our brotherhood have feigned fellowship by their fraternization with denominational groups.  Then we want to see how fellowship based upon the most holy faith can be attained, maintained, and sustained. 

Some of our brethren in the last two decades have departed from the most holy faith. Here are some examples to sustain this assertion.  There was a Gospel preacher in 1992 who thought our lines of fellowship were too rigid, and he liked what was going on in a big denominational church located outside of Chicago .  So, he left the Lord's church and started his own group modeled after that church (Miller).  Another preacher was invited to preach at a Pentecostal conference in 1994 and after complimenting the pentecostal preacher for his “pastoring” and “ministry,” he made this statement: “We come from our different backgrounds and traditions and sometimes those backgrounds and traditions become so important to us that we forget really that the kingdom of God is wider, deeper, larger, greater than any of those particular streams or traditions.  The streams and tributaries flow into the larger kingdom of God ; we would do well not to build dams in each others little rivulets” (Miller).  Didn't Jesus say something about there being only one narrow way that few would find (Matthew 7:14)?

A third Gospel preacher who swapped pulpits with a preacher from a denominational group in 1995 and called the event “a statement of acceptance,” and that same year he also spoke at one of our lectureships and made this affirmation about who we can fellowship: “For that reason, we must say with utter confidence that when we see one who with pure heart calls God father, and one who with pure heart calls Jesus savior, we see a brother or a sister.  We don't have a vote” (Miller)!  His only criteria for calling another person a brother or sister is that they sincerely believe in God and Jesus, no more questions asked!  Didn't James say something about the demons sincerely believing and trembling ( Jam. 2:19)?  In 2006, another preacher got his elders to amend the charter of their congregation which was founded in 1967 so that worship services could be held on Saturdays and musical instruments could be used (Miller).  This contemporary service designed to reach unbelievers was offered along with a more traditional service on Sunday morning for believers.  So we sadly see from these four examples, and they could be multiplied, that some of our brethren in the last two decades have departed from the most holy faith.

Perhaps this was because the 90s might be called “the decade of embracing everybody.”  There are at least three “isms” in our culture that lead to this.  One is the outlook in much of higher education called postmodernism.  Here are definitions from two sources.  The first definition is: “One of the main characteristics of postmodern thinking is that the world is seen as a much more complex and uncertain place.

Reality is no longer fixed or determined.  All truth within a postmodern context is relative to one’s viewpoint or stance” (Smith, 2002
www.essortment.com).  So, truth is not fixed; it's all relative to each person.  Here is a second definition: “[There is] no grand narrative. 

A narrative is a history – a story. [Postmodernism leaves] the idea of a grand narrative. In the Enlightenment [about 200 years ago], one had certain ideas guiding the culture, a unified project, where knowledge and information were important. ... But in postmodernism, society is more fragmented.  Belief in the One Truth, or universal criteria, has been substituted by a number of  'small stories,' and a diversity of criteria” (Saugstad, goinside.com).  You see, the Bible presents a grand narrative, and Jesus claims to be the truth; postmodernism would say none of that has validity any more, and we must tolerate everyone's personal truth. This perspective has had an effect on the Lord's church so that now everything is questioned.  One of the things questioned was our approach to the Bible.  We tell others that if the Bible presents a command, an example, or a necessary inference on an issue, we want to follow that pattern.  In the late 80s, several church leaders and professors began questioning this approach and put forth what has been called a new hermeneutic or a new way to approach the Bible by asking: “What are the fundamentals, the core elements, which need to be followed?” 

Listen to this statement written by a brother in 2004: “If we can ever claim that it is possible to understand the Bible in today's world, we must be able to reconcile different ways of interpreting the Bible among the churches of Christ. ... Entire schools of thought, with accompanying Bible departments, lectureships, and printed materials, have arisen to express the thoughts of each respective [approach]” (Gilmore).  On this year's lectureship program at Harding, a brother just made two presentations which argued for the new approach.  So postmodernism has affected us. 

A second “ism” also comes from education and is called multiculturalism. 

Educators began to realize in the 80s that our country was becoming more ethnically diverse.  So classes were started to help students realize that diversity in our culture was not a bad situation.  Numerous books on multiculturalism were written in the 90s.
1  You see, our educational system was pushing hard for everybody to be accepted and embraced in our democracy.  It was interesting that an article was written just this year entitled “Researcher Gives 'F' to Multicultural Education” (www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-09/cu-rg092810.php).

Now, it seems that accepting diverse cultures has caused some in our brotherhood to think that we should be accepting of diverse denominations too.  So multiculturalism has affected us. The last “ism' is the ecumenism.  The word “ecumenism” comes from a word meaning household, so the goal of ecumenism is to create one unified religious household.  In 1948, the World Council of Churches was formed and is still going strong today with about 350 protestant groups in it.  In 1965, this group and the Roman Catholic Church began having discussions about unity.  In 1988, the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity could say that it had talked with just about every Protestant denominational group in the U.S. during the 80s.  In 1994, a book was written titled Evangelicals & Catholics Together where areas of unity among the two groups were highlighted.  All these ecumenical meetings had this effect.  In order to create some kind of unity, these parties had to find some kind of common ground that they could agree on, and those similarities were usually called “the essentials”.  They didn't want get into the details that divided, but they wanted to focus on the essentials that united.  Doesn't “the essentials” sound much like those “core elements” mentioned early? 


You see, if we'll just reduce the most holy faith to the essentials, to Jesus alone and His greatest commandments and if we'll be tolerant with everybody else's truth and if we'll be accepting of all this wonderful religious diversity, then we can swap our pulpits, give our statements of acceptance, partake in others' conferences, update our charters, broaden our approach to Scripture, and embrace everybody in different denominations and feel real politically correct and in step with our postmodern culture--and wow, doesn't that feel good?  We can forget distinction and embrace everybody!  But isn't that feigning fellowship for diluted faiths?  Where in all this is the most holy faith that we spoke of earlier? 

Now if we really want fellowship with other religious groups, the first question that must discussed is: "How do we attain it?"  We can't have fellowship among the family of God until we know whose in that family (Smith)!  Did you ever notice how God now calls all people through Jesus to be a distinct and holy people in a new spiritual society called the church?  Did the writers of the New Testament call Christians to refuse fellowship with pagans and to shun those heretics who were distorting the truth of the Gospel?  How was fellowship attained?  Jesus gave the criteria in John 3:5: “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born of the water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God .”  Peter adds that the impregnation for spiritual birth comes through the preaching of God's Word 1 Peter 1:23 & 25: “Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever ... Now this is the word which by the Gospel was preached to you.”  Don't let the doctrinal views of denominations create fog for you on this issue.  The “new birth” which God effects includes the immersion of one who believes; Jesus said "born of the water".  Even a casual survey of Acts will demonstrate this truth.  It is through baptism that Peter says the forgiveness of sins and the gift of God's Spirit is given (2:38).  Those immersed were added by the Lord to the church or to the number of those were already saved (2:47).  Doesn't this sound like they attained fellowship when Jesus added them to His body?  All the conversions found in Acts include baptism because these examples show how fellowship is attained.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:13: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” 

Those passages and examples are not teaching that the water has any magical power in it.  When Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth, He told him to go to the pool of Siloam and wash.  Now did that water have any magical power to heal that man?  No, but for whatever reason, Jesus chose that medium to bring about the man's cure. 

In the same manner, our Lord has ordered believers to be baptized in order to have their sins washed away.  God has chosen the medium of immersion in water to save the believer, not because the water has the power to save, but because it is His will to save in this manner, which reproduces Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection (Mitchell).  Peter states it this way in 1 Peter 3:21: “There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) ...”  Entry into the household of God is gained only through the new birth by water and by the Holy Spirit!

According to the most holy faith, this was the only means that God used, Jesus commanded, and the apostles taught in the church that Jesus established.  We can only attain fellowship with others when they have been immersed into Christ's name for the forgiveness of their sins.

Next, we must maintain that fellowship that we have attained.  The most holy faith in the New Testament shows us that God has ordained certain practices for the church, and we must maintain or keep true to these practices if we would be the true church of Christ .  This is why Jude admonished those to contend earnestly for the faith that had been revealed to them once and for all.  All the teachings of Christ and His apostles that had been given to them were to be respected and obeyed. 

Likewise, we must continue to maintain what God has ordained for the church in the New Testament.  Only in this way can the bold, dynamic, and divine most holy faith be kept alive!  This is why we must insist on at least three areas in our talks with others about unity.  We must follow the organization of the church, the leadership of the church, and the worship of the church as revealed in the New Testament. Remember all those unity talks between the Protestants and Catholics we mentioned a few moments ago?  Well, in 1995, the Pope decided to weigh in on the discussions.  He basically wrote that there were some areas to keep discussing: how the Scriptures and tradition relates, the Lord's Supper, what ordination means, the church's governing body, and the worship of Mary.”  Then he made this remark: “The Catholic Church ... sustains that the communion of the particular churches with the Church of Rome and of the bishops with the bishop of Rome is an essential requisite—in the design of God—to the full and visible communion” (Ut Unum Sint, May 1995).  In other words, the bottom line of unity is that when the other churches and their leaders recognize and bow to the Church of Rome and the bishop of Rome , then there will be unity.  You see, there are lots of types of church organizations in our world, but which one does God approve?  God has approved the organization of the most holy faith found in the New Testament where there is no Pope, no governing hierarchy over all the churches, and no one church over all, but where there are a plurality of elders guiding local congregations, with no orders coming from headquarters or an earthly leader.  Secondly, the leadership in the most holy faith was male-oriented, as the apostle Paul argues in 1 Timothy 2:13-14, and this is not just a cultural issue, but has its origin in God's creation.  One brother wrote this in a book about gender roles in the church published in 1994: “Too much fuzzy interpretation of clearly stated biblical principles has surfaced for us to think that the present climate of women's liberation has not affected our thinking even in the church. ... The real question is whether we are prepared to accept the principle of male spiritual leadership as being of God, and, if so, how may we implement the principle to the fullest extent in the life of the church and in the daily outworking of relationships between men and women of faith” (Smith).  Many denominations and even some brethren are saying that this male spiritual leadership is no longer a valid teaching or practice of the most holy faith.  Why?  According to this author, it is our own culture's emphasis on women's liberation that has changed our thinking!

Brothers, we need to stand up and be counted with regard to spiritual leadership!  Here's a local aside for our own reflection.  A special project was announced recently to help a brother who is terminally ill. 

When it came to signing up to help, there were six times as many women's names on the list as there were men!  Brothers, wouldn't you want some other male to give you encouragement if you knew your months of life were limited?  Brothers, please sign the list to encourage this family!  Lastly, the worship of the most holy faith must be in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).  God is the audience, and He must be approached with reverence and praise through the means that He has approved.  When will our denominational friends give up such man-made innovations, such as statues, candles, incense, dances, choirs, and organs, to return to the ancient and simple practices of the most holy faith found in the New Testament?  The most holy faith has given us clear directives with regards to the organization, leadership, and worship of the church, which we must maintain.  We must also sustain fellowship.  “Building one another up” is a sustaining activity.  It involves nurture and edification.  In the 70s, the growth of churches began to be turned into a science, and since that time, there have been a stream of books written annual to promote church growth.  Some writers say the church should be marketed to one for the four specific generations that we have in America (Warren, Hybels).  So, maybe that is why one of our churches decided in 2004 to have a Saturday night praise service with a band—to cater to the young adults.  But where in the New Testament is church growth ever based on generational preference?  Some writers say that we live in a culture which craves entertainment, so we must make all aspects of our worship and our programs entertaining to others because this will draw the masses (Jackson, Vassallo)!  But again, where in the New Testament is church growth ever based on cultural preference?  Some writers say that growing churches will be those that focus on the experiential and getting caught up in the feeling and mood of the services and classes (Sweet, Salughter).  Yet again, where in the New Testament is church growth ever based on experiential preference?  Church growth in the New Testament was based on what we might call inspired preference, on what the apostles taught.  It was not science but an attitude or an outlook.  Each member shared the most holy faith with others as the Holy Spirit brought believer and unbeliever together.  The assembly focused on edification, just as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:26: “Let all things be done for edification.”  In these ways, the fellowship of the most holy faith was sustained. 

The most holy faith is bold, dynamic, divine, and dangerous!  It should not be feigned, but attained, maintained, and sustained!  One brother puts it like this: “At the very moment when mainline denominational people are looking for a church that still respects the Bible, standing firmly for its teachings in spite of what a pagan culture demands, some of our own leaders and their followers have chosen to imitate the denominations' tired, bankrupt practices.  I fear that some of our leaders sell out to culture because of an inordinate desire to free churches of Christ from embarrassments that stem from being out of step with American society.  We all would do well to remember the adage: 'He who marries the culture of this generation will be a widower in the next.' 

When accommodation to culture sacrifices biblical principles, it is sin” (Norton).  Will you become part of the most holy faith today by letting God add you to His church through immersion?  Or if you've given up on the most holy faith, won't you return to the Lord and ask His forgiveness? 

Make you decision to act now.
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1
Research and Multiculturalism (Grant, 1992), Beyond a Dream Deferred: Multicultural Education and the Politics of Excellence (Thompson & Tyagi, 1993), Multiculturalism and Education (La Belle, 1994), Democracy, Multiculturalism, and the Community College (Rhoads & Valadez, 1996), Multiculturalism in Academe: a Source Book (Morris & Parker, 1996), Inner-city schools, Multiculturalism, and Teacher Education (Yeo, 1997), Race, Ethnicity, and Multiculturalism (Hall, 1997), Democracy, Education, and Multiculturalism (Torres, 1998).