The Second in a Series of Sermons on 2 Peter
There is a reason why Peter’s second epistle and the small book of Jude are not well-known, or widely read and preached upon in the churches. In both these letters, we find emphatic warnings about false teachers and the dangers of false doctrine they spread. For those who embrace the church-lite ethos of American Christianity, the message of 2 Peter and Jude will not be appreciated, nor warmly received. While many preachers and churches wish to emphasize the positive, 2 Peter and Jude remind us of the negative. There is truth, and there is error. If we believe the one (truth) we are going to encounter the other (error). When contemporaries tell us that doctrine does not matter, 2 Peter and Jude remind us that it does. If our contemporaries seek unity and avoid controversy to the point of fostering a willingness to make peace with false teaching, then 2 Peter and Jude both warn us of the great dangers of doing exactly that.
This is not to say unity is a bad thing–Christians are to seek unity around the truth of those doctrines passed down to us by Jesus and his apostles in the pages of Holy Scripture. Reformed Christians identify our own doctrinal standards as the “Three Forms of Unity” for a very important reason. We believe particular doctrines, and unite around them by confessing a common faith–a faith which we believe to be biblical and which is clearly and concisely summarized in our confessions. Unity is very important, so long as it grounded in the truth of those things taught in God’s word.
The Psalmist tells us “behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” ( Psalm 133:1). Jesus prays that his people would be one (John 17:11). Paul likewise speaks of Christians standing together because we are one body and indwelt by the same Holy Spirit. We have one common hope, one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (Eph 6:4-5). We may each be different parts, but we are all members of the body of Christ. This is precisely why false doctrine is so dangerous–it is as though one part of the body has cancer, or has become gangrenous. Such seriously illness in one part of the body must be dealt with immediately when it arises, and even perhaps removed, to maintain the health of the whole.
Sadly, we know too well those overzealous folk who apply the label “heretic” to anyone with whom they have the even slightest doctrinal disagreement. It is one thing to defend the truth from error. It is quite another when ill-informed, or just plain ornery people, all-too easily declare others to be heretics, without serious consultation of the perceived heretic’s entire body of work, consideration of their character, and often without any regard to the disruption of the peace of the church, or the creation of schisms and factions which can result from such rash declarations. Defend the truth we must. Identify false teachers we must. Repudiate and refute their teaching we must. But there is a right way to do this. And there is a wrong way. Peter and Jude will lead us in the right way.
For good or for ill, as the case may be, Peter and Jude wrote before the advent of the self-professed internet theologian–typically a bright and witty (or even a caustic) person, who, having no formal theological training, who writes on doctrinal matters they may not fully understand but with the certainty of a papal decree. The good thing about such people is that they challenge and lampoon sacred cows and pomposity which cry out for such treatment. They often are often the first ones to smell the smoke of false doctrine, which, if not extinguished, can lead to a serious and destructive fire. But all too often, the internet theologian engages in gossip, speaks authoritatively to matters about which they only know little, and often times in open violation of the ninth commandment, casting their opponent in the worst possible light. Internet theologians can be brave behind the anonymity of their computers and tablets, but rarely if ever do they thoroughly investigate, personally consult, or properly research those whom they engage from behind the safety of their IP address.
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