For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.v (Jude 4).
Every week at The Meeting Place and many, many other churches across Canada and North America, people come to check out a faith community for the first time. Some are coming from another church because it is simply time to move on, however painful that may be. Some are coming from another church because they were unhappy with something in their previous faith community, like they were in the church before that and like they most likely will be in yours. Some are present in body but not in mind or spirit because they have come out of a sense of obligation or because a family or friend dragged them along (sometimes all but kicking and screaming). Some are returning after an absence of some time because they have experienced a period of disobedience and running away from God. Some may have had some experience of church growing up but it was either fairly forgettable or deeply painful, so they come with anything from anticipation to skepticism. Some are coming to church for the first time, but they have an interesting amalgam of spiritual ideals running around in the backs of their minds based on books they have read and the opinions of family members and friends. And some are complete blank canvases: they realized something was not as it should be in their lives and they are here, but they have no idea what church or Jesus is really all about.
With all this traffic, it is hard to be discerning about the kinds of people who are showing up, but Jude implies a stern warning. He says that amongst all those people there are those who will cause trouble. Particularly, he says they have bad theology and will try to corrupt the belief system of whatever faith community they find their way into.
There is a malintent to this creeping in unnoticed. You could think of it as someone slipping in through the side door or coming in posing as a true Christian but secretly in their heart figuring out how to wreck up the place. Jude here imparts evil motives to these people, so they are certainly not the confused or the misinformed or the desperate or the poorly-behaved. At the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit this past year, there was a session on the three people you find in a church and how to deal with them. The three categories are the wise, the foolish, and the evil. The people that Jude talks about here are well into the evil camp. They know what they are doing and have no intention to do otherwise. As a co-worker of mine says, “everyone blesses you: some by coming and some by going.” These are the kind of people who bless you by going. Unfortunately, they usually go somewhere else and give that church and leadership grief, too.
The fact that Jude says these people sneak in or come in unnoticed means that no matter how diligent you are, likely some will get into the community no matter what happens. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but when people get past our initial defenses, what do we do?
All of us, whether we have a defined leadership role within a congregation or not, are called to guard the faith, as we have already seen Jude admonish us to do. It may be one thing to shy away from correcting an individual who has privately-held notions that do no line up with the Scriptures, but as soon as a person begins to teach against the faith in a public setting or even goes about confusing and derailing numerous people in private conversation, each one of us who understands the central teachings of the Gospel, ought to do what we can to expose this person. They may have come in unnoticed, but they cannot be allowed to spread their false teaching in peace. We may think we have to be nice and pleasant toward everyone, but the Bible is clear that those who are malignantly warping the truth must be confronted and either straightened out or cut off from the community.