Saturday, October 24, 2009

How Jude Dealt with Division, in Canonical Context

For our last post on Jude (next up, Philemon) we will look at the issue of division within the church. It's very clear in Jude 19 that the community is being divided by the false teachers. Unfortunately, while Jude gives us a lot of information on the nature of the false teachers, we don't know much about the nature of the divisions that were occurring. At first glance, its also somewhat frustrating that he doesn't give any direction on what to do with the false teachers.

There could be a couple of reasons for that. Jude could be in a situation like that of Paul's in 2 Corinthians where his authority was so strongly challenged that he could not come on too strong, because the false teachers were too powerful. I think, though, that Jude wants to be careful to avoid pitting genuine believers against each other.

But Jude does contain language that seems to denigrate a specific group. He calls them 'certain people' and especially 'these people.' While he calls the faithful group, 'friends' and 'those who are loved in God.' Jude certainly does not think highly of the false teachers and the way that they live, and he does draw clear lines between those in God's favor and those outside of it. However, he never pits the two groups against one another. He defines each group on the basis of their relationship with God. The other issue is that it seems as if the false teachers had led some astray. Jude holds out hope for their rescue (Jude 22-23). If Jude gives a judgment of 'kick out the false teachers from among you', then he runs the risk of some ,who may have been on the fence and leaning towards following the false teachers, following them out the door, probably to their own destruction.

Jude's heart of love and compassion for the wavering shines through strongly in this letter. I think it helps provide us with balance. I think we're too quick sometimes to rush in and act like Paul in Galatians 1. This does not mean that we should be tolerant towards sin or false teaching, Jude condemned the false teachers sin in the strongest terms possible. There also is some danger in not acting swiftly when serious problems arise and sometimes it is right to immediately squash false teachers. What Jude provides us, is an instance where that was not done. Paul, in Galatians 1, and Jude, here, had the same goal. They were most concerned with the salvation of the members of the church and with the church's unity. When challenges to authority arise, the course of action adopted needs to be the one that will result in the combination of maximal unity and maximal preservation of the saints. Sometimes that's acting swiftly and kicking offending parties out of the church, but that's not always the right approach. Being too quick to judge can result in alienating the weaker members of the body, and that isn't a good thing.

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