The ruling by the General Assembly’s Permanent Judicial Commission on the two cases, Parnell et al v. Presbytery of San Francisco & Session of Caledonia P. C. et al v. Presbytery of John Knox, will have the same affect on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Churches, without biblical and confessional guidance and discipline, eventually stop being churches; they just become secular institutions or worse, temples to false gods. The need to embrace a self-indulgent society is all too apparent. Recently a Presbyterian Pastor in the bay area wrote about watching the San Francisco Pride parade. In his posting, “a day for pride,” he stated:
I was thrilled to see so many other St. Johns’ folks in the parade; for their child’s school, for a government department, running for political office or a corporation. I was amazed at the expressions of pride, some of which would certainly not be allowed even on US Air! But I won’t go into details, but let’s just say I saw things that made me blush. I was reminded of God’s creativity at making each person different, not confined to our image, what we would create, but in God’s glorious image. My imagination of what God is up to in all our lives was indeed stretched. I had a special sense of God’s presence as I witnessed the freedom and acceptance of almost everyone along the parade route. I watched the children, unsophisticated and receptive; enjoy the diversity, colors and enthusiasm of openness, with encouraging parents willing to take on the questions they no doubt heard on their way home.The apostle Paul lived in such a world. As Rome pushed beyond her early republic, into empire, and the beginning of fragmentation, the bizarre and the immoral became the norm. But Paul didn’t buy into the culture; instead he pulled the lost to the safety of a redeeming and transforming Lord. In 1 Corinthians he writes of those who were once fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexual, thieves, drunkards and swindlers but were now justified in Christ. Paul was writing of those who were unbelievers yet some were now in the church, justified, sanctified and transformed by the Lord of the Church.
Jude also lived in that world but he addresses the problem of the world creeping into the Church.
For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long before hand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ. (4)
Michael Green in his commentary on Jude understands that the false teachers, the persons who crept in, were misusing the grace of God. He writes:
Libertinism was to be found both in Pauline and Petrine churches (Rom 13:13; 2 Cor 12:21; Gal 5:19; Eph. 4:19; 1Peter 4:3; 2Peter 2:2, 7, 18) and also in John’s circle in Asia (Rev. 2:20-24) It is hardly surprising that men accepted the indicative of pardon and forgot the imperative of holiness. It was an inherent risk in the proclamation of the gospel of free grace; the apostolic conclusion was to attack lasciviousness, but to continue to preach the grace of God who accepts the unacceptable. (174-75)Jude’s description of those he warns the faithful about is that they are mockers of the faith and follow, not Jesus Christ, but “ungodly lusts.” Because of their mocking, lusts and lack of the Spirit they cause divisions. They pull others off into their own antinomian opinions and ways. Divisions in the church are caused by those who refuse to obey the Lord of Scripture; who ignore his word.
Yet clearly Jude is here insisting on an attempt at rescue of those being pulled into such immoral false teaching.
But you beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (20-23)
Green looks at the three groups that the faithful are to attend to. The first group doubt because of false teaching about morality. Did God really say that in his word? Doesn’t the grace of God call for inclusiveness and radical hospitality? Jude’s word is to have mercy on them. As Green puts it, have them over for Coffee:
A man who is flirting with false teaching is not to be ‘sent to Coventry’ by his Christian friends; they must have him to coffee and chat it over with him in love. And they must know the faith so well that they can convince him while he is still hesitating. (203)Green says of the second group “This group differs from the first in that they no longer hesitate; they have given way to the false teachers.” They need to be snatched from fire.
Green uses Calvin and his admonition “When there is danger of fire, we hesitate not to snatch away violently whom we desire to save; for it would not be enough to beckon with the finger, or kindly to stretch forth the hand.” This isn’t a call for violence against someone but violence in the sense of urgency and action. No time for coffee here, but rather confrontation.
The third group and their defiled garment actually implies that they have so entered into sinful actions without any sense that it is sin that they have contaminated all that is a part of themselves. But even here the faithful are called to respond but carefully so as not to be contaminated:
The Christian worker has the wonderful offer of a change of raiment for the defiled, a robe of righteousness for the man clothed in filthy rags (c.f. Is. 61: 10) and he must proffer it in love and mercy. But once he begins to revel in the filthy garment, once he tolerates it and toys with it, he ceases to be a useful servant of Christ at all. Once he treats sin as normal and commonplace, he is on his way to betraying the gospel. (204)It matters not what the GAPJC decides, what any synod or presbytery or church does, what any pastor writes in praise of sin and the world, Jesus Christ is the victor, he won the battle on the cross, we rest in him. As Jude writes:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominon and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.