Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, friends of the Reformed Free Publishing Association,
It is indeed a privilege to be here tonight and to address this assembly.
It is my purpose in the next few minutes to remind you what an important place the RFPA occupies in the spiritual warfare that must mark the church in these last days. I will do that by reversing the order of my theme, and treating, first of all, the urgency with which we must approach the work, as we do spiritual battle with the forces of darkness; secondly, the specific place of writing in the battle that we face; and finally, the importance of promoting, also among our own people, the reading of the faith-building literature which the RFPA publishes.
Departure from the Truth
That we live in a time characterized by departure from God’s Word is clear. In fact, that departure from the truth has advanced to the point of being shocking at times — not with respect to the world, for nothing is shocking there; but shocking with respect to the church and what finds acceptance in the church of our day.
I speak of this departure from God’s Word as heresy. Allow me to make some remarks about that term.
In the first place, we must make a distinction between heresy and an imperfect understanding of the truth, which characterizes all of us to some degree, and much of the church to a significant degree.
We all need to grow in our understanding of the truth.
We believe, and have no doubt, that God has given us as Protestant Reformed Churches precious riches of His truth. We believe that the Spirit has led our churches, as children of the church of all ages, into the clearest understanding of the truth of Scripture.
We say that without boast, but with deepest humility, knowing that it was not of us, nor of our ability, nor of our goodness, but entirely of God’s sovereign grace and mercy that we were led by His Holy Spirit into those spiritual riches — riches, I might add, which greatly add to our accountability before God for what we do with those riches.
But we need to continue to grow spiritually, knowing that no matter how long God gives us on this earth, we will never begin to reach the depths of the riches of His revelation in Holy Scripture.
To that end, the publications of the RFPA are spiritual helps to us. The Standard Bearer and the books that you produce are vitamins, as it were, for our spiritual health. Still more, those writings are used by God to strengthen the understanding and increase the faith of many outside of our churches who had once embraced certain errors because of their imperfect understanding of biblical truth.
But when I speak about heresy, I’m not talking about errors that exist in the church because of an imperfect understanding. Heresy is a deliberate corruption of the truth of Scripture, an insistence upon holding to something contrary to Scripture. Heresy has its origin with the devil, “the father of the lie.” That is exactly why our Reformed fathers, in the Canons of Dordt, did not hesitate to refer to Arminianism as bringing again out of hell the old Pelagian error. That was not a wild statement of some contentious radicals in the church. That was a recognition of the fact that heresy has its root in the very lie of Satan, the adversary of God’s truth.
And Satan’s motive, let us understand, is to destroy the true church. The truth, after all, is the foundation of the church. Satan knows that if he can get those in the church to chisel away at the truth, he can bring about the downfall of the church as an institute. For if she loses her foundation, it is only a matter of time and she crumbles and falls. That is her end. And many denominations, we are well aware, have gone exactly that way.
But although heresy has its origin with the devil, the father of lies, the fact remains that it is men (and women) who are the promoters of heresy in the church. We must understand that their motives are often not so easily understood.
We may say that heresy always arises out of the refusal to bow before the sole authority of the Scriptures. But then again, so does our own sin.
Heresy also comes oftentimes when men want to impose their own ideas upon Scripture. They come under teaching of the truth, but they don’t want to be learners; they want rather to teach. So they would become wiser than God. For example, God reveals to us that His grace is particular. His grace is bestowed through Christ, and only through Christ. It is grace, therefore, only for those who are in Christ. But there are those who would embrace heresy, insisting that God is gracious to all men. They want a God who embraces everybody. They would be wiser than God.
Then there is heresy which arises out of a desire to be popular with the people. No one likes opposition. No one likes criticism. And even our flesh would rather be praised by men. But if we allow our teaching to be influenced by the “faces of men” and give to “itching ears” what they want to hear, rather than what God will have them hear, we become heretics.
There may be other motivating factors as well when it comes to those who are promoters of the devil’s lies. But if you examine all the motives, you will find that they are all rooted in pride. That is why we have constantly to guard against the sin of pride, and pray for grace to root all pride out of our life. I speak especially with reference to those of us who hold such positions of influence. Pride will lead us into conflict with the Scriptures. Pride breeds heretics. And let us understand, heretics run rampant in the church world of our day.
Concerning the broad departure from God’s truth that is evident in our day, we ought to bear several things in mind.
In the first place, the apostasy and the broad influence of heresy that we observe is not surprising at all, when we examine the situation more carefully. All we have to ask is, “Where is the place of God’s truth in the church world today?” The truth of God’s authoritative Word, the very foundation of doctrine and life, has been eradicated from the church in our day, as if the truth itself is some kind of detestable weed.
We ought to face it, the truth of Scripture does not find wide acceptance — either with respect to doctrine or with respect to the practice of godliness. (And, you will understand, those two cannot be separated.)
We do well to remember that in our labors for the advancement of that truth. We may expect that our books and our Standard Bearer will not find wide acceptance. The only way we would find wide acceptance would be to depart from everything that we stand for presently as the Reformed Free Publishing Association. If we should change our whole approach, and depart from our doctrinal foundation, and belittle the truth of God, and speak that which people would like to hear, then we would gain acceptance. May God forbid that such should ever be the case with us.
In the second place, we should remember that the rise of false doctrines and an ungodly walk on the part of certain church members is neither new, nor unanticipated. Many times in the New Testament we are told to beware of these things. The Judaizing controversy which began at Antioch soon after Pentecost and which plagued Paul throughout his ministry was a forerunner of many other errors that have existed in the church ever since. When Paul gave his farewell speech to the elders at Ephesus, as we read in Acts 20, he warned them that after his departure grievous wolves would enter in, not sparing the flock; and from among their own number men would arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. In Paul’s pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus he emphasized the importance of doctrinal correctness and adherence to the Scriptures, and announced that there would be those who would fall away from the faith, listening to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils (I Tim. 4:1). Furthermore, he prophesied that the churches themselves would degenerate to the point where they would not endure sound doctrine but, having itching ears, would follow their own lusts and fables of their own imagination, turning away their ears from the truth.
That trend which became apparent in the first century is open and obvious today to anyone with a spiritual sensitivity for the truth and for God’s holiness. God forewarned us of these things. And He also gave us instruction.
We must not be disheartened at the rise of heresy and opposition and worldliness. Nor must we be afraid of controversy over scriptural truth. In fact, we must enter into battle. In that battle, our weapon is the Bible, God’s Word—which means to us that the materials that we produce must be distinctly, evidently, and unapologetically biblical. The battle that we wage must not be a battle of mere rational thought or of human opinion, but a battle of faith. And a battle it is indeed!
Called to Contend for the Faith
That we must stand nose to nose with heresy, and boldly enter into battle, is evident also from what Jude wrote in the third verse of his brief epistle. That little epistle written by Jude under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has some things to teach us in this regard. He exhorted the beloved Christians to whom he wrote that they “should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
He wrote that while pointing at a conflict that was evident at that very moment. “For there are certain men crept in unawares” — notice that; not “will attempt to creep in,” but have crept in. Ungodly men! Men ordained to condemnation, whom God purposes to destroy in the way of their own ungodliness! Men who are turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and who are denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ! Those are the kind against which we do battle!
I’m not going to use precious time developing the identity of those heretics to whom Jude referred in that historical setting. Evidently those wicked ones were “libertines,” those who corrupted the idea of Christian liberty into a self-serving denial of God’s precepts. They turned the grace of God, that spiritual virtue of beauty, into the hideous monster of iniquity. But they came with nothing new. Their attack upon the faith once delivered to the saints was the same attack waged by the enemy thousands of years before! The point I would make here is that those same heretics take on many different forms, teach many different doctrines, have many followers, and affect multitudes in different ways.
And we must recognize, there is something attractive about heresy, something that draws. Else it would not be such a threat to the church. And what is usually attractive about it, no matter what the point of departure, is that it is more broad than the narrow and concise definitions of truth.
If you study the history of Israel in the Old Testament, you will find that through all their apostasy the Israelites showed themselves very “broad-minded.” Jehovah was God to them; but the gods of the other nations were also to be respected and served. They would worship Jehovah; but just let them be like the nations around them, where many other gods and philosophies were also recognized. The Israelites took the attitude that they must not be so narrow-minded as were their fathers. They accused their ancestors of being “out of touch” with the world. They were “too conservative”!
How much of the same spirit don’t we see today? How much of the same spirit do we see among ourselves and in our own churches? That, after all, ought to be our focus.
The departure from God’s truth in the church world around us is very evident to the discerning Reformed believer. I trust it is evident to you. It is evident in the writings that are found in many so-called Christian bookstores today, as well as in magazines that are published in a wide variety of circles. It is heard on the radio and seen by many on television. That departure is perhaps even more evident by the plethora of heretical teachings that can be found on the internet. And all of these seeds of the devil find a ready entrance into our homes and the homes of our church members.
Still more, there is the dreadful heresy ushered in by what is denoted as postmodern thought. While the modernist, thrilled with the theories of science and the advancing knowledge of man, rejected the authority and sufficiency of biblical revelation and claimed that truth is that which is demonstrated by science to the satisfaction of human thought, postmodernism is the world-view that tries to do without truth altogether. For postmodernism, truth is merely a choice of the individual, a “construct” of the human mind. What is true for me may not be true for you. Truth is relative. Logical contradictions are okay. The meaning of words is not fixed, but can be “reinvented” to fit the situation.
Our church members may not know what postmodernism is, but their minds are assaulted by that kind of thinking daily. The lie reigns in our society.
Over against the specific heresies which were seen in the early church, and which are seen today; over against all opposition to God’s truth, Jude 3 calls us to contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints.
You may notice that Jude speaks of contending for the faith. The faith referred to here is faith as to its substance, its content. It is the heavenly doctrine which God has delivered to the saints through the prophets and apostles. Jude speaks of faith in the same sense Paul referred to it when he wrote to the Galatians (1:23), that he now preaches the faith which once he destroyed. We use the word in the same way sometimes. We speak of the Christian faith, occasionally of the Protestant Reformed faith. We speak of the faith of our fathers that continues to be the faith of the church.
Faith is the truth of the Scriptures, the truth as it lives in the hearts of those who are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called.
One might ask, “Why does not Jude use the word doctrine or truth?” He refers to the same, but there is particular emphasis here on the importance of that doctrine, on the importance of the contents of our Christian faith, to our life.
Do you think that the truth of Scripture is not so important? Do you say of even the most basic doctrines of Scripture (as I have heard others say before), “Leave that stuff to the preachers and the seminary professors”? You are dead wrong!
Far from being unimportant, that doctrine is something worth contending for. Far from being worthless, as it is considered to be in many circles today, Jude writes that that doctrine, the faith, is worthy of a diligent defense.
That holy doctrine found in the Scriptures, that doctrine which is the gospel, is called faith because it is the very instrument used by God to work the activity of faith in us. The faith of which Jude writes here is the very gospel which Paul called the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth (Rom 1:16). Take away that gospel, or let that faith be taken away, and you remove all hope of salvation for future generations.
Furthermore, Jude uses the term faith here because he speaks of that which is the only worthy object of our faith, and that in which we lay hold of Christ Jesus our Lord. It is so important, because the name of Him who is holy and true is bound up within it!
In other words, you cannot attack that faith without attacking Him who is the Author of it! He is the true and faithful witness in Jesus Christ, God Himself who cannot lie.
By that gospel God’s heart is opened to us. The secrets of Jehovah are revealed to you and to me, and we are brought into the fellowship of His covenant. The doctrines of the Scriptures are given us by God as the light which shines unto salvation, which reveals to us the Lord’s justice and mercy. We would never have known our misery, nor the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, had God not delivered unto us His Word of truth, this doctrine and rule of faith. We would never have known how to worship God, nor how to enjoy His fellowship, had it not been for His sovereign work of grace whereby He gave to us the faith.
And shall we let it lightly slip away?!
He says unto us, “Keep that which is committed to thy trust.”
… to be continued.