As I was growing up I heard many sermons about how terrible the Baptists were because they believed one was saved by faith only. Faith only, as far as we were concerned, meant that the Baptists could drink and dance, smoke and carouse all they wanted to, because they were saved by faith only, which we knew was a lie, because we had read James chapter two. James 2 said that faith without works is dead, and “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone” (v. 24). So we were satisfied.
In fact there was a trump card in James 2: “judged by the law of liberty“. See? We do have to keep a law, and that law, we were quite sure, included our baptism, not theirs, and the Lord’s Supper every Sunday (they did it once a quarter) and no piano. Yes, all that was in James 2!
Until I read it one day. Hmmm. Lo and behold, suddenly I realized that James was saying we are all saved by forgiveness (the law of liberty) and therefore our actions should indicate that we believe that. If we treat rich people differently from poor people, then we are showing that we do not believe we are all saved by the same forgiveness, and we place ourselves back under the conviction of the law as sinners. “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (vv.12, 13).
So who is more likely “to speak and act as those who will be judged by mercy”–Baptists or Church of Christers? Those who are saved by faith alone, or those who are saved by keeping a law? Hmm… I don’t know about you, but I vote for the Baptists. That seems to be what James is saying. Only people who believe they are currently being shown great mercy can turn around and be merciful to those around them.
If I remember correctly, there were many Bible classes I sat in that emphasized we are not being currently shown mercy, but that we needed to be scared that we weren’t making it, and were in great danger of slippy-sliding our way down into the depths of hellfire. That seemed to be the only way God had of motivating us Church of Christers to behave.
And that is what happened to all of the favorite passages of Scripture that differentiated us from the denominations: I just read them, and lo and behold, they did not say what we had been taught they said.
When I pointed this out to my relatives, and those I worshiped with, they concluded I did not really care about what the scriptures said, I just felt that sincerity was all that mattered. Hmm. How did they get that out of what I said? I was actually hoping they would read the scriptures more carefully. But finally after I calmed down from being misquoted and misunderstood so many times, I concluded people hear what they want to hear.