Contend Earnestly: Contending Well For The Faith

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Contending Well For The Faith

"I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith, that was once for all delivered to the saints"
Jude 3

There is no doubt we are to "Contend" for the faith, but the bigger question for those applying this in the field, is what does that look like in a non-believing culture? In Jude 3 we see Jude appealing to believers to contend ("fight" from 'agon' a contest, agonize, etc.) for the "Faith" (The Gospel of Grace v.4) against false teachers who pervert such a doctrine, and have "Crept in" amongst the brethren and have "Perverted the grace of our Lord." But what are the circumstances that force us to contend/fight, and how is this done in a manner that we are articulating God's "Good News" so that those we are contending against can understand it (Contextualization)?

It seems that the circumstances that caused both Jesus and Paul to come out fighting (And arguably here in Jude) are religious hypocrites that work from the inside out, and force moralistic and legalistic doctrines on the people. These are people who want to "wrangle about words," instead of preach the doctrines of grace to those that don't know Christ with love and patience (See 2 Timothy 2:14ff). Paul commends the Elders in Acts 20 to watch out for "Fierce wolves who will come among you" and preach another doctrine (See Acts 20:28-32). Jesus' harshest words were reserved for the Pharisees and Sadducees, while Paul reserved his for the "Judaizers" who perverted the truth of the gospel from the inside. Ostensibly when they spoke to non-believers and pagans, they spoke with grace and tact (John 4; Acts 17:28ff; see too Colossians 4:1-4).

It seems obvious that non-believers and pagans reject the gospel truth, and are definitely in error when they speak about Christ and the church (What else should we expect), but it appears equally clear that many evangelicals have developed a polemic apologetic toward 'outsiders' that takes verses such as Jude 3 and wages war on any 'error' in order to make sure their argument was heard and they had won, rather than effectively communicating the gospel truth so that is understood by a non-believing person(s) (Ala Paul in Acts 17, and other uses of contextualization like John's use of pagan terms such as "Logos" to present Jesus to a pagan audience).

This polemic is never as clear as when someone tries to step out of their culture and contextualize the gospel in another culture. Certain words and phrases become taboo, while others become gospel themselves. All of a sudden we find ourselves 'contending' for words and phrases and not the gospel, and in doing so, we are acting as the Judaizers and Pharisees who demanded that certain traditions and words could or could not be spoken (ie. It was forbidden to use the name of God given to Moses on Sinai).

An interesting tactic of those that disdain this type of contextualization is to call those that contextualize heretics, etc. and then deflect any criticism by saying, "Anyone who holds the 'truth' of the gospel is always labeled legalist and pharisees by the unorthodox liberals." Well if the shoe fits...?

This type of rejection of contextualization has become evident in the effort to bring the gospel to the Muslim world. There is much debate surrounding words and phrases, and much name calling and self-righteousness is becoming more evident in the debate.

One of the phrases that has gotten much attention as of late is the biblical term "Son of God." To the Muslim, this term means that Mary and Allah had physical sexual union and bore a son and called Him Jesus. I don't know of any evangelical that would teach this type of blasphemy to anyone, but when we ignorantly lead with Jesus as God's Son, we are unknowingly doing exactly that. Ironically those that hold that Jude 3 demands that we "Offend" with the gospel, are ironically offending without the gospel, since the gospel isn't being heard by those they are trying to communicate it to. In their effort to 'contend for the faith,' they are unwittingly strengthening a false doctrine based on a misunderstanding of words and concepts. I am in no way denying the use of this phrase, but it may be prudent to lead with Jesus, and begin to define these terms in relationship with Muslims, so we can present the Jesus of the scriptures, and not a Jesus of our culture, or their cultural misunderstanding.

As evangelists and ambassadors of the faith, aren't we supposed to find words and concepts that accurately articulate the truth of the phrase "Son of God," rather than apotheosizing the phrase itself?

All in all, the balance between contending and contextualizing needs to fall in an understanding of what we are contending for and how we can best communicate that to every culture (Which takes some hard work for the missionary, which we all are).

I think 'contending' has to include contextualization, otherwise we are contending for something no one can understand or cares about. So let's begin our contending for the faith within the church (Where contending was intended) and contend' against a rash of moralizing and therapeutic sermons that spew out of our "Seeker Friendly" and fundamentalist pulpits weekly, and then contextualize the gospel to a world that has no idea who or what the 'Son of God' is or what He has done for us!


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