The Restoration Principle

17 — Contending Earnestly for the Faith

“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 3).

IN JUDE’S DAY, POPULAR FALSEHOODS WERE COMPETING WITH THE TRUTH FOR THE HEARTS OF THE LORD’S PEOPLE. It was necessary to defend the faith that had been “once for all delivered to the saints.”

To “contend earnestly” for the faith does not mean attacking or manipulating people. Humans are not puppets that can be forced to do as we wish, and it’s wrong to try. But what can be done — and must be done — is to lay the truth alongside whatever untruths people are being influenced by, clearly pointing out the difference between the Lord’s plan and any other plan (2 Timothy 2:24–26).

Today, the first-century faith must be distinguished from anything about the world that deviates from the Lord’s truth, but also from anything about apostate Christianity that does so. We are willing to do the first, but for some reason, we’re hesitant about the second. Indeed, preachers in the past who did distinguish between the Lord’s church and the churches of men are now criticized.

To be sure, we must proclaim all of God’s truth — including the parts which happen to be preached in apostate churches. These must not only be preached but emphasized, since some of them are among the most basic truths in the gospel. But we dare not blur the difference between the apostles’ doctrine and Protestant theology’s “take” on that doctrine, especially on topics like God’s love and grace.

When people leave us and begin worshiping with an apostate church, we regret it . . . but while they were with us, did we do anything to teach them any better? If the very idea of “distinctiveness” has been downplayed, it should be no surprise that a generation arises thinking that if there is anything distinctive about us, it is not significant.

The truth is, churches that belong to the Lord are importantly different — from the world and also from the churches that comprise “Christendom” (including many “churches of Christ”). The distinction ought to be made clear, often enough that no generation grows up in our assemblies without being taught these facts.

“The shifting systems of false religion are continually changing their places; but the gospel of Christ is the same forever. While other false lights are extinguished, this true light ever shines” (Theodore Ledyard Cuyler).

Gary Henry — +

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