Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude, v.3)
Contending for the faith has never been popular, and this may be more true today than in many centuries. Not only the world but also some who profess Christ are drifting farther from the truth. Western society no longer ignores but now actively resists the Word of God, both as its anchor, and its compass. The Drifting West therefore also resists faithful Christians, not content simply to view them as quaint relics but, increasingly, as literally dangerous people who “threaten people’s rights” and wish to “turn back the clock.” No matter: we have an apostolic command to contend for the faith. It is an essential part of our Gospel witness, of our calling as Christians.
Jude asserts that the faith is something God delivered to us. This implies that the Gospel is not of human origin, that it has contours we can know. Nor can we alter it, much less devise a new faith in its place. Yet, in spite of apostolic warnings, professing Christians’ approach to the Word is tearing down the faith of many. It has also resulted in a gross ignorance of the Scriptures in Western society as a whole, although the Bible was the wellspring of our culture, its themes and personages known by literally all educated people. The rejection of God’s Word has pushed us into a new phase of history in which faithful believers are swimming upstream against Christians’ cavalier approach to the Bible and unbelievers’ near complete ignorance of it.
This week one of those clever infographics hit my desk, a flow chart telling me not to trust the Bible on gay marriage because, after all, I’m disobeying the Bible if I eat bacon or get a tattoo. After all, you don’t get to pick and choose which parts of Scripture you’re going to follow – amirite? This is presented in the most wry fashion, as if it were a brand-new “gotcha” argument that no one had ever thrown at Christians before. But such arguments could never have been used to cudgel us prior to this generation, for both believers and unbelievers knew better.
Now, this infographic is several years old, but it came to me this week because it had been “applauded” online by Ev Williams. Who is Ev Williams? He’s one of the most influential people in America: a past CEO of Twitter, and the founder of such websites as Blogger and Medium. In fact, it’s commonly believed that he actually invented the term “blogger.”
So what? Well, it’s important to note that Ev Williams has been one of the world’s most important figures in technology over the past 20 years. But he seems to have no understanding of (and perhaps no great desire to understand) Christian theology. This enables Mr. Williams and many others to “bacon-bash” Christians and think that they are using our own Book against us, often with much merriment.
Unfortunately, this approach throws many Christians for a loop, even though believers in Jesus have never been obligated to keep the dietary and ceremonial requirements of the Law of Moses. it simply does not apply to us and is not part of our faith. This has not been seriously in question since 45 A.D., which anyone still owning a Bible can verify. One might hope that Christians understood enough Gospel truth to respond to clever and colorful infographics. But such is our climate that not only unbelievers but Christians, too, are incapable of articulating this – if they even know it at all.
Probably of more concern this week, Pope Francis has declared the death penalty to be “inadmissible,’ even going so far as to have the Catechism of the Catholic Church altered. No longer content to merely have reservations about how the death penalty may be applied, the Catholic Church will now teach that the death penalty is always and everywhere wrong.
This is a radical departure, and dangerous because it takes the concept of “development of doctrine” to the extreme of overriding Scripture itself. Not only does Francis purport to erase the Apostle Paul (Romans 13:4), although that’s troubling enough, he surgically removes the words of God Himself, spoken when He made His covenant with Noah and the entire human race as we exited the Ark. (Genesis 9:1-6)
As others have pointed out quite ably, Francis is in effect saying that the Catholic Church, all the Popes that went before him, and the Bible itself were all wrong until this week.
What else might Francis or a future Pope decide to promulgate that contradicts what Jude called the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints? The Pope’s embrace of the deceptive logic and language of “compassion” and “new understandings” means we can probably expect more revisions not only of Christian tradition, but the Bible itself.
It’s unclear whether rank-and-file Catholics (as opposed to bloggers) have thought this through, but this puts the Pope on the same level as the Mormon prophets who tell their flock when and how God has supposedly changed His mind about things.
Are there answers for people adrift? Yes, but only when we return to honoring the Word, and the principle of sola Scriptura will we have found again our anchor, our compass, and a confident voice to speak to the Church and the world alike.