A postcard from the 15th Sunday after Pentecost 09/05/21
The great reformer Martin Luther had a low opinion of the Book of James.
Because of this, in Luther’s translation of the New Testament, the Book of James (along with Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation) was separated and placed at the end. The main complaint of Luther is found in Chapter 2:
So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.… Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works.James 2:17, 21-22
Luther interpreted these passages as “works righteousness” and found them to contradict the true doctrine outlined by Paul—salvation by faith alone. The focus of Chapter 2 is the necessity of translating convictions into action. It is about how our faith in Jesus Christ leads us to works of faith.
While James and Paul use similar language (faith/saving/works/righteousness) their purpose was different. Paul’s letters, especially Galatians and Romans, include significant teachings on soteriology (doctrine of salvation). James is writing about Christian ethics (moral behavior) and how such behavior proves the genuineness of faith that saves.
For James, there is an essential connection between faith and action and between body and soul. We cannot just care for our siblings in need with “thoughts and prayers,” we must actually tend to their physical needs. James does not contradict the role of faith in salvation but interrogates the genuineness of that faith if it does not lead to acts of love and mercy.
A sermon from the St. Barnabas in Roanoke:
In the 1890s a tradition developed that churches would take the Sunday before Labor Day as a time for lifting up working people’s voices and experiences. Our reading from James 2:1-17 invites us to just such a consideration.
Next week, we continue our exploration of the Epistle of James, which challenges the belief that faith is something that should be kept private and challenges a culture that sees very little value in religion at all.
- September 12 – Messiah, Heflin / “Taming the Tongue” James 3:1-12
- September 19 – Messiah Heflin / “The Good Life” James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
- September 25 – Off the Road / “Powerful Prayer” James 5:13-20