Are there Bad Guys in the church? Are there people who claim Christianity and yet look nothing like Christ? One glance at a newspaper gives us the obvious answer: yes. How do these people get into a church community that supposedly follows the way of Jesus? These people know enough about the community to gain access. Perhaps they know how to speak persuasively about particular Christian values. Or maybe they have a photo-op with a Bible in hand. Or perhaps they use a Christian tagline for their business or political campaign and that gets their foot in the door. Regardless of how they gain entry, they do not alter their life to take on the values of Jesus. Instead, they intrude on the community and proclaim their own path to freedom. Jude and 2 Peter paint us a picture of these intruders.
Jude points out false teachers corrupting the local church. They teach; however, their influence is not from God. Jude calls them “blemishes” because they pervert grace and turn it into immorality. In so doing, they deny Jesus as Lord. Jesus (Jude 4) and God (Jude 24-25) are the source and sustaining power for the moral order of the universe. Jude declares that Jesus acts as judge for the immoral who rebel against divine authority (Jude 8, 14). In 2 Peter, we learn of more false teachers who deny Jesus (2 Peter 2:1) and exploit believers for greed. These teachers harm the reputation of Jesus’ followers and deny that Jesus will return to judge evil. They deny Jesus’ sovereignty because the world is the same way it’s always been, but the author assures the audience that God is not idle. Throughout this letter, the author speaks about judgement of false teachers who believe in pursuing a pleasure-filled life, free from concerns about immorality.
In the midst of this situation, the true believers are to await Jesus’ judgment of rebellious false teachers by living blamelessly. Their waiting is an active trust in Jesus’ future return which will set right all the evils of the world. In 2 Peter they are to make every effort to pursue goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection, and love. These are the results of truly following Jesus (2 Peter 1:5-8). The believers are called to realize that they cannot force false teachers to believe the truth (Jude 10). They are to continually point towards the true faith they inherited (Jude 3) and remember that false teachers were predicted by Jesus’ apostles (Jude 17). Their lifestyle and adherence to Jesus’ message acts as a rebuke to the false teachers. Leadership is accountable for teachings that reflect faith in Jesus. When teachings do not align with Jesus, leadership is to realign the church with truth. The desire for a pure believing community is not left for them to forcibly fulfill but remaining faithful will require effort on their part.
This active faithfulness trusts in Jesus’ ultimate judgement of false teachers and requires discernment in local churches today. Churches must acknowledge that there will always be wolves hunting among the faithful sheep, but they are not hopelessly resigned to this fact. They are called to boldly declare their pursuit of faithful teaching and goodness. Holding to the faith and living in goodness function as a purging agent for the church. The pursuit of Jesus shines a light into the darkness of evil, even when that evil is in the church. Churches that follow Jesus should open the door to transparency of their leadership and teachings, showing how goodness functions among them. All members of the community must work towards the character of goodness described in 2 Peter. By our faithfulness we honor Jesus and trust in the power of his return, when all things are made new.
Heather L. Hart