Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Faith Entrusted To The Saints


During the season of Lent I lead a class on Friday evenings. In past years we've examined the Book of Common Prayer, we explored different styles of prayer, and we've learned about the spirituality of the Early Church. One year we discussed the crises in the World Wide Anglican Communion. This year we took a look at "The Faith Entrusted to the Saints." I wanted to know if what Jude was talking about is the same thing that the self-righteous prigs orthodox so-called are talking about. The following is an edited version of my lecture in regards to the Epistle of Jude, which served as the introduction to the Lenten Series. WARNING: This is a long post!

As you are aware, there is a lot of conflict in the World Wide Anglican Communion right now. The churches in Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and the Southern Cone are angry with the churches in the United States of America and Canada, and, to a point, the churches in England, Scotland, and Wales. Much of the conflict is between groups who consider themselves “orthodox” and those who consider themselves “progressive”, or conservatives versus liberals, or reasserters against reappraisers. Many of those who consider themselves “orthodox” like to say that they are “defending the faith delivered to the saints.” They take this phrase from the third verse of the book of Jude: Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. I’ve been thinking about that phrase: the faith that was entrusted to the saints a lot. I wonder: what exactly is the “faith delivered to the saints?” Is what Jude understood to be the faith entrusted to the saints the same as what we (Christians in the Anglican tradition in Central America in the twenty-first century) understand to be the faith entrusted to the saints?

For centuries, a Christian was considered orthodox if one accepted the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds. Personally, that is the standard by which I judge orthodoxy. But recently I was informed by a person at a conservative or reasserter website on the internet that to be orthodox one had to accept the creeds AND believe in the inerrancy of scripture AND be against the ordination of women AND be against homosexuality AND against the ordination of homosexuals. I’ve known Protestant Christians who think only those who have been baptized as adults and have asked Jesus into their hearts and only read the King James Version of the Bible are “Real Christians.” I grew up in the Assemblies of God church and they were convinced that the only “real” Christians were those who speak in tongues. So, are all these requirements part of the “faith entrusted to the saints” that Jude was talking about? The creeds didn’t exist when Jude wrote this document; the scripture as far as Jude was concerned was the Hebrew scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, and, as we will find out in a few minutes, Jude even read scriptures which were not part of the Hebrew canon. Historians aren’t sure that there was ordained clergy in the Christian communities of Jude’s day, and the King James Version of the bible didn’t come along until the seventeenth century and there was no English language in Jude’s day.

How many of you are familiar with the book of Jude? Do you know where it is located in the bible? It doesn’t appear in the Eucharistic Lectionary, which means you’ve never heard it read on a Sunday. It does appear in the Daily Office Lectionary in Advent, so if you followed that you’ve read it. It’s a very short book, only twenty-four verses. It is attributed to Jude, or in Greek, Judas, the brother of Jesus and James; he is mentioned as Jesus’ brother in Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3, where he is called Juda. He, like his brother James, were very important members of the church in Jerusalem, especially James, who was the leader of the Jerusalem Church and considered the first bishop. In fact, Jesus’ family was very influential in the Jerusalem church until its destruction along with the Temple in the year 70 and the final destruction of Jerusalem in the year 90. While scholars don’t agree on which epistles attributed to St. Paul were actually written by him, most agree that the epistles of James and Jude were actually written by their namesakes. Dr. Richard J Bauckham, in the Harper’s Bible Commentary writes: Jude, unlike most NT authors, habitually uses the OT in Hebrew rather than the Septuagint Greek. His exegetical methods, his apocalyptic outlook, and the high value he attaches to apocryphal works of Jewish apocalyptic origin are all characteristic of Jewish Christian circles in Palestine, which understood Jesus and the gospel in terms of Jewish apocalyptic expectations. The character of the Letter is therefore entirely consistent with its attribution to Judas, the brother of Jesus.

Dr. Bauckham also believes that the Epistle of Jude is one of the earliest books in the New Testament. Many, but not all, scholars date the epistle around 66 to 90 CE. St. Paul and St. Peter were martyred around 64 to 67 CE, so this letter may have been written as the Apostolic era was ending. Knowing the possible date of the epistle and the location of the community to whom it was written helps us understand the context of the epistle. It was probably written before any of the gospels.

The only person in the early church who could be called simply "James" was the brother of Jesus, the leader of the Jerusalem church, so by calling himself "the brother of James" he identifies himself as Jude (or Judas or Juda), the brother of Jesus. The letter doesn't address a specific community; it doesn't say "Jude, to the Christians in Jerusalem", but since he identifies himself as Jesus' brother, and since we know that the family of Jesus held positions of leadership in the Jerusalem church, it's highly probable that this letter is to the Christians in Jerusalem and Palestine.

The original purpose of the letter was a discussion of Christian salvation, but a situation had arisen which he needed to address. A group of people had infiltrated (other English translations use the phrases stolen among you and wormed their way in) the various communities and were leading people astray. In the three epistles attributed to John, he, too, addresses an infiltration by a group who successfully divided a community, a group of those who wanted gentiles to be circumcised and to follow Jewish dietary rules, those whom St. Paul called Judaizers. The group infiltrating and spreading division in Palestine appear to be a group of gnostics, those who believed that they had a secret knowledge which gave them salvation. From Jude's description, it's safe to call this group antinomianists, people who believed that salvation freed them from required obedience to any law, whether scriptural, civil, or moral. This particular group of so-called prophets believed that Christian freedom meant freedom from moral restraint. The word licentiousness (unrestrained by law or general morality; lawless; immoral) is used in most English translations. Jude says that by rejecting Christ's moral demands they are disowning him as master. Jude wants the Christians to struggle or fight for the gospel message that was taught to them by their founding apostles.

Jude then gives three classic examples of those who have incurred the wrath of God: 1. Those generation of Israel who were destroyed in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt; 2. The angels who left their place in heaven in order to mate with human women; 3. The people in Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns. The first example is cited to remind us that even God's own people who have experienced salvation are not immune from judgment if they reject God's lordship. The second example comes from Genesis 6:1-2: When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Now, Jude seems to know more about these angels than we do. This is because he is quoting from a book called the Book of Enoch, or Enoch I. How many people here have read the Book of Enoch? How many have even heard of the Book of Enoch? Well, I spent a few hours reading this book the other day. It is what we call psuedepigrapha, and it is also called apocalypse, because it reveals secrets. Who was Enoch? According to Genesis 5:18-24: When Jared had lived one hundred sixty-two years he became the father of Enoch. Jared lived after the birth of Enoch eight hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty-two years; and he died. When Enoch had lived sixty-five years, he became the father of Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methuselah three hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him. Enoch knows these secrets because he was taken up and didn't die. In this book Enoch tells in great deal about these angels who mated with women. What is interesting is that none of them are named Lucifer; the leader of the group is Azazel. Who knows who Azazel is? Here is a reference in Leviticus 16:7-8: He shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting; and Aaron shall cast lots on the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. According to Enoch, all the other angels were imprisoned in a dark pit, but Azazel was hidden in the wilderness. According to the Book of Enoch, not only did these angels have sex with human women, but Azazel taught humans how to make swords and breastplates and spears and how to mine ore and make metals. Their offspring were giants who consumed everything, until humans couldn't sustain them. Then they ate humans, and then turn on each other and killed and ate each other. The fallen angels taught humans how to do enchantments and decorate their eyelids (!) and astrology. All manner of licentiousness broke out, and the four archangels, Michael, Uriel, Raphael, and Gabriel came to God about what was happening and God decided to destroy all living things; this is what leads to the Flood. Jude also cited the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. What was the sin of Sodom? The sin was inhospitality to the point of raping strangers to the towns and the sin of wanting to have sex with angels. Remember, Lot's visitors were angels. It sounds as if the group which was infiltrating churches in Palestine believed that they were freed from moral laws and also thought that they could have sex with angels. Jude says that they "slander the glorious ones." Jude also mentions the archangel Michael in a dispute with the devil for the body of Moses. Where did he get that story? Do you remember reading about that in Exodus? According to Origen, a theologian of the third century in Palestine, Jude is referring to a document called The Assumption of Moses. The only copies we have of this document are fragments, and missing that particular story. Neither the Book of Enoch or the Assumption of Moses are included in either the Jewish or Christian canons of scripture, but they were obviously held in high esteem by Jude and the Christians in Palestine.

Jude points out that these intruders are spreading division, and they are defiling the Agape meals, the love-feasts, which were the predecessors of our Eucharist. They were spreading their antinomian message with "prophecies" during the love-feasts and encouraging people into sexual immorality, supposedly with angels. They come to the Agape meals, not for spiritual sustenance, but for physical sustenance, for the food! Jude then refers to the Book of Enoch once again: See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgement on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him. Jude says that the apostles warned against these people and that they would appear in the last days.

Jude instructs the churches in how they are to struggle for the faith entrusted to the saints. First, the church's life must be built on the foundation of the gospel, with its moral imperative. This moral imperative is not just about sexual behavior; it is also about how we treat the poor and the sick and the outcast. Second, prayer in the Spirit exemplifies the true charismatic nature of the church, not speaking in tongues or speaking prophecies, but prayer which brings about the fruits of the Spirit within the community. Third, Christians keep their place in God's love by obeying God, by loving the Lord with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength, and by loving their neighbor as Christ love us. Finally, Christians are to look for the return of Christ and live lives of preparation for his return. As far as those who are wavering in their faith and being persuaded by the false teachers, Christians are not to exclude them or ostracize them, but take pity on them and help them regain their faith. Some will need immediate attention to save them from apostasy, but mercy for those in trouble is important for Christians.

It is my experience that modern-day Christians who use the phrase the faith entrusted to the saints usually believe that the faith mentioned is a very Protestant, rigid, biblically-literal type faith. After what we have been reading here, I wonder if they would necessarily accept Jude as receiving the same faith. Jude obviously uses texts which aren't accepted by such people.

What is the faith entrusted to the saints in Jude's understanding? I believe it is this: Jesus, the Christ, is the Messiah who died and rose again on our behalf. We who accept his Gospel or Good News will obey his commandments: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, heal the sick, visit the prisoner, welcome the stranger. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and we are to love one another. We are to help each other live the lives God calls us to live, and we are to show love and mercy to each other. We are to prepare for Christ's coming, and we are to tell others of the Good News of forgiveness of sins and the coming of God's reign.

That's it. Nothing about biblical authority or literal readings of scripture; nothing about casting others out. Jude warns against these people and their strange teachings, but he doesn't say to cast them out but warns not to be or think like them. From my own research and reading of the earliest Christian scriptures and writings, the idea of loving each other was the most important thing to these first Christians. That's one of the things that set them apart from all those around them; a pagan observer in the second century said "see how these Christians love each other!" But we don't behave as if we love each other, and this has been a problem for Christians for a long time. I think that if we are serious about the faith entrusted to the saints we need to be more serious about loving one another and following Christ's teachings. We need to be more serious about bringing about the Reign of God.

2 comments:

Leonardo Ricardo said...

Thank you...quite a ¨serious¨ challenge/moral imperative:

Jude instructs the churches in how they are to struggle for the faith entrusted to the saints. First, the church's life must be built on the foundation of the gospel, with its moral imperative. This moral imperative is not just about sexual behavior; it is also about how we treat the poor and the sick and the outcast. Second, prayer in the Spirit exemplifies the true charismatic nature of the church, not speaking in tongues or speaking prophecies, but prayer which brings about the fruits of the Spirit within the community. Third, Christians keep their place in God's love by obeying God, by loving the Lord with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength, and by loving their neighbor as Christ love us. Finally, Christians are to look for the return of Christ and live lives of preparation for his return. As far as those who are wavering in their faith and being persuaded by the false teachers, Christians are not to exclude them or ostracize them, but take pity on them and help them regain their faith. Some will need immediate attention to save them from apostasy, but mercy for those in trouble is important for Christians.¨

Thanks for this:

¨...but prayer which brings about the fruits of the Spirit within the community.¨

and this:

¨As far as those who are wavering in their faith and being persuaded by the false teachers, Christians are not to exclude them or ostracize them, but take pity on them and help them regain their faith.¨

this:

¨This moral imperative is not just about sexual behavior; it is also about how we treat the poor and the sick and the outcast.¨

¨We will keep the light on and the door open.¨ ++KJS

Padre Mickey said...

Thanks, Leonardo. You are a brave man to wade through the entire thing!

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