More Than The Common Faith
by Rick Shrader
Some Christians who once championed sound doctrine beat a retreat
once in a while and from stratospheric heights announce that they
do not stoop to controversy. When a man contends for the faith in
New Testament style he does not stoop! Some assert that they have
become mellow in later years, but one must remember that some things
become mellow just before they spoil.
In the small book of Jude, written by the Lord’s half-brother, we find a command that may be the most neglected, if not forgotten, in the Bible. Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints (vs 3). All Jude wanted to do was write a simple letter to some Christian friends about the common faith. True, he gave all diligence to do it and was not remiss in his description of what this faith was. But the Holy Spirit changed his mind about his subject matter! It was the late 60s or early 70s and apostates were in the churches: certain men crept in unawares who looked like, talked like and worshiped like true believers but were spiritual clouds without water. So in spite of Jude’s noble intent, he was divinely thrust into a battle for the faith.
Warren Wiersbe wrote, “I must confess that I sympathize with Jude. In my own ministry, I would much rather encourage the saints than declare war on the apostates. But when the enemy is in the field, the watchmen dare not go to sleep. The Christian life is a battleground, not a playground.”2 And what is this faith for which we are to contend which is in addition to the common salvation? It is the once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints faith (faith is the last word in the verse). S. Maxwell Coder writes, “Our contending is to be for the faith. The Spirit of God did not use the word salvation, nor the word gospel. The faith concerns our salvation, it has much to do with the Gospel, but it is a more inclusive term than either. The faith is that extensive body of Bible doctrine which makes up the perfect whole of the truth revealed by God concerning our common salvation.”3
The interesting thing is, the book of Jude deals with apostates: those who are religious charlatans. They didn’t even belong to the common faith. Evidently, an atmosphere that refuses to talk about anything except the salvation experience will breed apostasy rather than rid itself of it. In such an atmosphere there would be no way to define, grow or observe what is true and what is false. One would not be accountable for believing God about anything beyond the initial belief act. The faith that works, as James describes it, would be unnecessary. And the faith that works is then reduced to a faith that is not allowed to work. Therefore Jude, in order to fight unbelief, must tell his readers to contend for the faith that was entrusted to them, or as Paul put it, “the whole counsel of God.” Jude was placed just before the book of Revelation as the vestibule to the last days. We are walking through it now. And never was the message of Jude needed more than in these days of apostasy. Today people only want to speak of the common salvation and yet we are losing any ability to define the common salvation. Rather than making more converts, we are filling our churches with apostates. R.C. Sproul responded to the ECT document with these timely words, “It doesn’t matter what you believe ‘as long as you are sincere.’ This credo is on a collision course with Christianity. It preaches another gospel of justification by faith, which reveals, after a momentary second glance, that it is the very antithesis of the gospel and of sola fide. This reduces justification by faith alone to justification by sincerity alone.”4
It has to be a concern to anyone who truly cares where people spend eternity that in many movements today unsaved people are encouraged to think they are saved. Anyone who lives in flesh and blood would rather have peace than strife. But is tolerance for the sake of tranquility worth even one soul going to hell not to mention the one billion Roman Catholics in the world today? Are we ready to abandon this great mission field because one generation is tired of contending for the faith? Will we not give Catholics the gospel in order to promote social causes? Just as in Jude’s day, we have come to this subterfuge by insisting that we should not speak of anything except the common salvation and that without definition. The result is a growing apostasy. It is not the born-again person who gains in this armistice anymore than the little rabbit who gained some warmth by coming into the serpent’s sanctum. The Roman church considers us all to be wayward children wanting to come home.5 It will swallow the evangelical or the fundamentalist. And while its jaws are opening wide in those directions, it is already seeking other prey. The Jerusalem Report recently published the growing dialogue between Rome and orthodox Judaism in an effort to settle on a common faith statement so that neither one calls the other faithless. But the article warns, “There can be no true dialogue if Christians (i.e. Catholics) continue to secretly hope that Jews will convert . It is a dangerous question, challenging long-cherished assumptions each has held about its exclusive centrality in God’s plan of redemption.”6 These are apostates talking to one another about a common salvation!
I walked in on a conversation recently where a born-again man and a man professing Judaism were congratulating one another on their common faith. I had to object. How can I allow a man who denies that Jesus was the Christ to think he is safe for eternity? The conversation turned cold but the conviction sure warmed up! This may have happened because in our community an evangelical church and a Jewish Synagogue hold an annual “Diversity in Harmony” day in which they worship together and congratulate each other in their respective faiths. In similar fashion, the “Interfaith Council” in our community recently announce that the Islamic Center had joined their fellowship of ministers which has long embraced Catholics and Jews. Now, under the anodyne of “Interfaith” there is actually no faith that can save.
Last year at the Congress on the Holy Spirit and World Evangelism, Vinson Synan of Regent University said, “The Holy Spirit wants to break down the walls between denominations.”7 Every Christian who has an evangelistic love in his heart is forced to ask himself if that is true. To find an answer he may look around at the growing apostasy in professing Christendom and see if people are closer to getting saved than before these walls started coming down. He may conclude that people are happier and perhaps more peaceful but are they at all convicted of their lostness? He may see true Christians holding hands or shedding tears with Catholics, Jews and Mormons but is it really because they are convinced they are in need of a personal Savior?
To save time he may simply read the book of Jude and understand why the Holy Spirit could not allow him to reduce his sincere efforts to just the common salvation, not in a day of apostasy. If that is what the Holy Spirit gave Jude by inspiration, who are we to suggest He wants something different from us?
Notes: 1. Vance Havner, “The Forgotten Anathema,” Sword of the Lord, 1/7/55. 2. Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. II (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989) 549. 3. S. Maxwell Coder, Jude: The Acts Of The Apostates (Chicago: Moody Press, 1958) 17. 4. R.C. Sproul, Faith Alone (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995) 76. 5. Walter Klassen, Anabaptism In Outline (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1981) 211. 6. “Catholics & Protestants Celebrate Unity in the Holy Spirit” (N & IRR, 8/7/95)