Monday, September 3, 2012

Looking Forward to September 9, 2012 -- Proper 18B, 15th After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Matthew 7:15-20
  • James 2
The Sermon Title is Sola Fides???

Early Thoughts:  Shall we talk about money or about faith without works?  Or maybe they are linked so we should talk about both?

AS this chapter opens James is chiding his readers/listeners for playing favourites based on economic status.  This is hardly new in the world of Judeo-Christian ethics and faith.  The prophets of ancient Israel railed against such things.  Jesus chided his culture for such things.  Paul lambastes the Corinthians for doing this.  And now so does James.  Apparently this is a common failing.  A number of people might suggest that the church of 2012 risks falling into the same trap.

But to me this is merely one example of how our works/actions/choices show what our faith REALLY is.  One of the best known phrases from the book of James is in this chapter "faith without works is dead".  And for some Reformed theologians this seems on the surface to be a problematic phrase (but it really isn't once you dig deeper).

One of the tenets of the Reformation was sola fides.  That is to say that we are saved by faith alone.  There is nothing we can do to earn our faith, our good works do not cause us to be saved.  (for what it is worth I suggest that we are in fact saved/forgiven/justified not by faith but whether we have faith or not, whether we know we need saving/forgiving/justifying or not, we are forgiven/saved/made right with God simply because we are creatures/children of a loving God.  but that leads to a whole other discussion.)  In part this was lifted up because of an understanding that the prayers and indulgences and other penitential practices of the Roman church were ways that people could earn salvation, could pay off the debt they owed to God.

Sola Fides is a theological strand that flows clearly through Paul to Augustine to Luther and Calvin.  While it is also present in much Roman Catholic theology, it has become a marker for Protestant churches, often tied with a specific understanding/theology of the cross and atonement.  In its most strident framing it is placed up against "works righteousness" which claims that people can earn their own salvation  And here we read James exhorting folks that faith without works is dead.  Is there a problem here?  Is James arguing against the Pauline view of things?

The short answer is "No".  James and Paul would in fact likely agree on this point.  James is not arguing that we need both faith and works to be saved.  James is arguing that the sign of a person having a living, breathing, active faith is the works they do.  The works are the fruit of the faith.

Really it is a continuation of last week when we were exhorted to be a doer of the word, and not just a hearer.  And arguably it is another way of saying "by their fruits you shall know them".

So what do your works say about your faith?

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