Faith and Works in the Book of James

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.


About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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6 Responses to Faith and Works in the Book of James

  1. Jerry Cutshall says:

    Speaking of being misquoted and misunderstood…. it is apparent you have NEVER attended a true “church of Christ”. Paul warns of wolves in sheep’s clothing, you obviously failed to recognize the wolves within the church of Christ faith. Why don’t you just include all faiths in this category of false teachings, the part represents the whole… so you say! Aren’t we all one body? Or do you believe your belief, whatever that is now, is the only “true” church.

    Yes, I do take offense to your slander. I am a member of the church of Christ and hold dear to the truth’s of the Bible. No, my congregation and many I have attended over my 42 years of being a church of Christ do NOT match what you preach to understand about the church of Christ. So, I do take offense and guard my salvation with fear and trembling, because when you speak against another brother you speak against Christ!!!

    How about a blog response to this title “Why I feel tearing apart the “church of Christ” is pleasing to God and I am willing to rest my soul on my comments…..”

    • exchurch says:

      Hi Jerry,
      I’m glad your experience is very different from mine in the Churches of Christ. There are many wonderful Churches of Christ. About 20% are hard line sectarian, and believe they are the only ones saved. This blog is devoted to serving those who have left the hard line sectarian Churches of Christ. These churches are characterized by a belief that anyone outside the Churches of Christ is lost because they have not undergone the correct baptism, and do not worship correctly, specifically taking the Lord’s Supper every Sunday and worshiping with a capella style singing.

      Jesus actually was hardest on his own brethren, when he attacked the Pharisees repeatedly for their teachings and their actions. Occasionally I do include all fundamentalist style churches in the comments I make, or include all sectarian style churches in the comments I make.

  2. Jerry Cutshall says:

    BTW, I have never heard of the Florida College. What is a wing of church of Christ? What church were you a minister of?

    • exchurch says:

      Hi Jerry,
      Florida College is in Temple Terrace, Florida, and was established around 1945 by James L. Cope and others who felt that the majority of Churches of Christ affiliated colleges: Pepperdine, Harding, David Lipscomb, Freed-Hardeman, etc. were too liberal. Florida College is associated with the noninstitutional wing (or splinter-group) of the Churches of Christ, which came to the fore in the late 1950s. The noninstitutionals believe that one should not use church money for entertainment or socials, colleges or parachurch ministries. They believe individuals are charged with helping the needy, the orphans and the widows, the church is responsible for teaching and for helping needy churches and needy members. Any other use or gathering of church funds is forbidden. A small percentage of noninstitutional members also believe that women should wear headcoverings at church, but still associate with the non-headcovering people. An estimated ten per cent of Churches of Christ are noninstitutional.

      Another ten per cent of Churches of Christ are sectarian, and believe that all of the colleges associated with the Churches of Christ are too liberal, and only use preachers from small preacher training schools.

      There are over 30 splinter groups of the Churches of Christ in the United States, each one having journals (and sometimes preacher training schools) associated with them. Some of my relatives belonged to the one cup, no Bible class Churches of Christ (they take the Lord’s Supper with one cup only, and they refuse to divide the congregation for Bible classes, believing this is a division). Other groups include the International Churches of Christ, the instrumental Churches of Christ (which do not approve of watching TV, or wearing shorts, or women wearing slacks), mostly from Iowa. There are also the red letter King James Churches of Christ, which only use the King James version of the Bible with red letters for the words of Jesus. In the 1980s a group of home churches arose that are loosely associated with the Churches of Christ. In the past there was a strong premillenial group of Churches of Christ who believed that Christ would return to reign on earth for a thousand years, and a pacifist group of Churches of Christ. There is also a no-located-preacher group of Churches of Christ as well, who believe that a congregation should not hire a professional preacher, but should listen to knowledgeable elders and members, and occasionally hear a traveling evangelist.

      Eighty per cent of Churches of Christ are more mainstream evangelical, believing that they are a part of the conservative evangelical movement in the United States.

  3. Jerry Cutshall says:

    I have heard of these factions and studied their identity. They are in no way apart of the mainstream church of Christ’s. I am not familiar with Florida College, although I am a Harding graduate and quite familiar with the rest of our affiliate colleges and Universities. I am asking you to reconsider your objective. I feel you are shattering the whole in spite of a minor faction. I understand attending to those who have unfortunately been apart of the minor factions you portray. I do not feel this warrants a need to slander the “real” mainstream.

    As for the doctrine’s you continue to mention, the church of Christ is forever searching for the truth on these matters. The truth of today is musical instruments are NOT condemned and are a matter of choice (non-salvational), the Lord’s Supper was definitely observed on Sunday but not because of the traditional scriptures and was most probably combined with a meal called “the Love Feast, as for baptism it is NOT the water that saves but faith, however, baptism, (Romans 6) is how we identify with the blood of Christ and it’s remission principles as well an act of obedience from many scriptures both old and new. But the power of faith and God’s Sovereignty go way beyond any “doctrine” you or I could ever conjure up from scripture.

    God has continually used His Spirit to change and mold man and will continue to mold the church in the same fashion. Even the church of Christ is immature in scripture but it is still apart of God’s church and some of it’s members are as well.

    Again, thank you for the sincere responses and kind attitude but I sense a vague completeness to your response in light of your audience.

    Let’s heal the broken, and let God take care of the Pharisees!

  4. Junia says:

    Wow, Jerry. That was superfluously venomous.

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