St Jude faced some real heresy and immorality (known as Gnosticism) within the churches he watched over and he had to offer advice to the faithful -- to those who had not embraced the powerful message and antinomian behaviour of Gnosticism. They had to know how to hold The Faith and also how to relate to those who spread the poison of heresy and immorality in the name of Jesus within the churches.
He wrote these words in verses 20-23:
But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.
And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. ESV
But you, beloved, you must build yourselves up on the foundation of your most holy faith; you must pray in the Holy Spirit; you must keep yourselves in the love of God; while you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, which will bring you to life eternal.
Some of them you must argue out of their error, while they are still wavering. Others you must rescue by snatching them out of the fire. Others you must pity and fear at the same time, hating the garment stained by the flesh. Barclay.
Characteristics of Faithfulness and Consecration.
1. Genuine Christians base their lives and doctrine upon the foundation of “the Faith” (see Jude 3 – “contend for the Faith once delivered to the saints”) which Faith is most holy for it is the truth of God set apart by him from all other forms of knowledge and philosophies of life. Thus they are zealous to know the content and meaning of the Scriptures and the Christian Creed.
2. Genuine Christians pray in the Holy Spirit, that is they pray to the Father in the Name of the Son and in/with the Holy Spirit, who indwells them and leads them into true prayer, real prayer that is an aspect of communion with God.
3. Genuine Christians keep themselves within the sphere of the love of God, the love of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; the love that cares for the neighbour and for the enemy, the love that reaches out to the pagan and the heretic in mercy and kindness. And this love of God is not eros, emotional passion, but it is love that is in the will based upon the knowledge in the mind and which causes the raising of the affections to seek noble and beautiful ends.
4. Genuine Christians not only pray and love but they also watch and wait in expectation of the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus in glory to judge the living and the dead. They seek to be found nowhere and to be saying and doing nothing of which they will be ashamed at his appearance.
Relating to the Heretics and Antinomians.
St Jude appears to single out three main types of people infected with error and for each type he suggests a different approach:
1. Those who are flirting with error, that is playing with fire. Here is the opportunity for the use of carefully presented arguments in favour of the truth and against error. In each case of course the evidence offered and the arguments made will be of such a kind as likely to move the hearer. And all such talking would be soaked or wrapped in prayer.
2. Those who are actually in the fire. Here the only way is to snatch them from the fire. The methods will differ according to the age, sex and nature of each person but in each case the whole act of rescue will be prepared for by prayer and fasting, done carefully and prayerfully and followed by earnest prayer for the person rescued.
3. Those who in being rescued will probably cause great harm to those attempting their rescue. He who would cure an infectious disease runs the risk of being infected. He who enters the fire runs the risk of being burned. (The reference to the garment is probably based on Leviticus 13:47-52 where it is required that a garment worn by a person discovered to have a contagious disease is to be burned by fire.) Therefore, there are some heretics whose rescue should only be attempted by those of maturity and spiritual strength and even they run the risk of being harmed by the effort.
The call to faithfulness and consecration, though much easier to say then to do, is reasonably easy to comprehend. It is something that committed Anglicans can seek to follow and take seriously – and ought to do so. In contrast, the saving of heretics is difficult to envisage for it is an enterprise in which few engage in the West in these days. The Church has become so tolerant that virtually any opinion is acceptable if its owner is “nice”.
But until mature Christians begin to follow Jude’s advice on removing heretics and heresy and in compassion devise ways to implement it, there will be no improvement in the situation in the Anglicanism of the West, where heresy and heretics prosper, and where the LesbiGay agenda, in particular, gains ground rapidly. In following Jude’s advice mature Christians will have to keep in mind that civil law protects people in their opinions and immoralities (unless they actually harm others in a tangible way) and so will devise means of “snatching from the fire” that are within the law. They will need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and filled with discernment and wisdom.
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)