Here’s 3 ‘million dollar words’ (Jude in July)

JUDE in JULYIn 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.

The Ministry of the Word

"St Peter Preaching the Gospel in the Catacombs"  by Jan Styka, 1902

“St Peter Preaching the Gospel in the Catacombs” by Jan Styka, 1902

The ministry of the Word looks laughably weak in comparison to all the armies, nuclear weapons stockpiles, and financial markets of the world.  Yet their combined powers cannot change the human heart.  

Kevin Vanhoozer (KJV), Remythologizing Theology

A Gospel Oak – or – times change but the story is the same

The Crouch Oak in Addlestone, England.  Photo by Stephen McCaskell.

The Crouch Oak in Addlestone, England. Photo by Stephen McCaskell.

A friend just snapped this picture.  It is of the famous Crouch Oak.  I don’t know what it is about the English and trees but there are apparently quite a few famous trees in that country.  A little strange but also kind of cool.  Not only is this particular tree known for its age and all-around impressiveness; it is also famous for what happened beneath it’s branches.

Turns out that John Wycliffe, John Knox, George Whitfield, and Charles Spurgeon all preached the Gospel to crowds while standing under this tree.  That is a pretty impressive bunch!  If you don’t much about Church history you may want to briefly read about them.  What is also impressive is how their ministries span the centuries.  Check their dates:

John Wycliffe  (1320-1384),

John Knox (1514-1572),

George Whitfield (1714-1770),

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)

So looking at my friend’s photograph is not just interesting in a passing way, it also gives me pause.  The Good news of Jesus – his deity, his humanity, his works and teachings, his Kingdom, his life, his death, his atonement for sinners, his risen and royal glory, and his free offer of salvation to all – is old news.  Old doesn’t mean bad.  Old in the sense of unchanging and ever-relevant.  In a culture full of passing fads and immediate gratification, it humbles us to know that the Gospel does not change.  We can’t improve on it, we can’t change it, and it does not belong to us.  It is a message both old and ageless that we – his Church – have merely been made stewards of.

How greatly has the world changed in the centuries since Wycliffe stood under this tree?  But the message we’ve been given to first receive, then to cherish, obey, and share has not.  It is of great comfort to know that Christianity is a faith which has buried empires.  Reflecting on this tree can remind us that times may change but the story – the Great Story – stays the same.  In some sense God’s message of grace is strong, steady, enduring, and able to outlast every trend and even every human life.  Just like an oak.

Are You The Hero Of Your Story?

David had it easier than this little guy.  At least he had a sling!

David had it easier than this little guy. At least he had a sling!

This past Sunday, I preached from 1 Samuel 17 – David vs Goliath, which is one the most famous passages in all the Bible.  Having spent a lot of time in a text so well known, it forced me to ask some bigger questions.  How do we look at the stories of the Bible?  How do we see ourselves in those stories?  And who exactly is the hero of those stories?

It is tempting to read of David’s courage and victory and see him as someone to imitate.  Of course, an Old Testament figure like David isn’t always exemplary.  There are lots of places where we should imitate him – his worshipping heart, his love for God, some aspects of his leadership.  But there are equally as many places where he is an example of what not to do – his cowardice with Achish, his lust for Bathsheba, his betrayal of Uriah.  But is imitation enough?  What is the message of David and Goliath?  Is it that we should ‘be Davids’ and buck up, find courage, and secure our own victory?  If I place myself in the shoes of David, is there Good News there?  If the message is that we must become like David, the effect may actually be a crippling one.  If it doesn’t paralyze us than it can fuel our pride.  Become like David and be the hero!

In reality the story of the Bible is one where we are not the heroes.  There is lots to imitate but we never get to imagine ourselves as the star.  Instead, when we see the narrative through Christ-centred eyes a different thing emerges.  Looking at the Scriptures in light of Christ is nothing new – He did it Himself!  The reality is that He is the hero – the one who accomplishes and who takes our place.  That’s what makes it Good News!  Jesus is the True and Better David who fights the battle in the place of His powerless people.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t imitate David’s courage or Christ’s example in all things.  But its does mean that any real imitation must come after – and through the power of – believing that Christ has first done it for us.  The men of Judah and Israel do indeed rise up with a shout but only after their hero wins the battle for them.  We’re not the heroes.