In my most recent sermon, the first from Jude’s Letter, I dropped what I called 3 ‘million dollar words’. No one should feel silly not knowing them, many well-trod Christians don’t know them even if they intuitively feel the concepts. Words are important, however, and so these 3 should work their way into our consciousness. The Apostle Jude is concerned with people being led away from true belief in Jesus by those who have crept in. Christians need to stick with what they’ve been given. But in order they need to know what they’ve been given. Jude implies that Christianity is received, authoritative, and shared with all Christians.
Here’s where our 3 words come in (they’re each worth $1,000,000 and so pay attention! I paid a lot of money to learn them in seminary but I’m giving them for free today)
1) Jude says that the Christian Faith was once for all delivered to the saints (v3). This means there is a body of beliefs (about God, Christ, human nature, salvation, etc…) that has been received as a package deal. If something is a gift than we can’t just mess with it, or choose which parts we like and which we don’t. This includes both belief and behaviour apparently, as Jude’s opponents get both wrong (v4). The Faith is a received gift and the word that this applies to is: Orthodoxy (adjective is orthodox). Literally meaning “right belief and/or thought”, to be orthodox refers to be faithful to what has been handed down, respecting how it all fits together.
2) From whom do we receive it, though? That leads to the question of authority – whose authority do we trust to teach us the truth about Jesus? Jude’s opponents, relying on their own dreams and rejecting authority (v8). Jude warns that their authority to teach spiritual truth is no good. The authority we need to trust in is that of the apostles. They were with Jesus, chosen by Him, and to reject them is to reject Him. Any wisdom or revelation must be tested against authority on which Faith is based, that of the apostles. The word for this is Apostolicity (adj. apostolic). And where is this apostolic authority? It’s in what they wrote, their accounts and teachings about Jesus in the Scriptures. Their writing is what is authoritative for us.
3) Our third million dollar refers to the fact that we share our Christian Faith with others. Jude points out that our salvation is a “common” one (v3). In such a self-centred, self-determining age it is humbling to know Christianity is not our possession. We share globally with so many different types of believers and historically with so many previous generations. This is important because we have so many cultural blind spots that other ages and cultures don’t have. It keeps us faithful when we allow them to check us. The word for this is Catholicity (adj. catholic – notice the small ‘c’). We may think of the Roman church being “Catholic” but all catholic (small ‘c’) means is universal and undivided. To our RC friends we may have to say that we’re “too catholic to be Catholic” (thanks to Peter Leithart for the line!) Tragically, there is Christian division but we really do share the Faith with many others even as we disagree.
orthodox, apostolic, (c)atholic – a received, authoritative, and shared faith – this is what Jude is promoting and encouraging his people to stay faithful to. And so must we in the face of pressures and teachings from all directions.
Now you’re a millionaire.