An Epistle of Straw?

There are two problems I have with the great reformer Martin Luther. As much as I appreciate his starting the Reformation, pointing out corruption in the Church of the time, and emphasizing salvation by grace through faith rather than works here are my disagreements with him.

  1. Some nasty and even paranoid things he said about the Jews. I can’t help wondering if this paved the way for the much later anti-Semite  stance taken by the Lutheran Church during World War II. (That is worthy of at least one post of its own!)
  2. Luther almost kept the Epistle of James out of the New Testament canon. Though he reluctantly allowed it in with the rest, he called it an “Epistle of Straw.”

Come on Marty! That’s no way to talk about a part of the Bible. I would like to leave out parts of Romans that I don’t like or understand fully, but I won’t. I don’t even cut out the Song of Songs in my devotions, though my preacher smugly says that they will be having a Bible study on it for “marrieds only.”

What bothered Martin Luther was that James seems at first glance to be preaching good works as a way to get to Heaven. Of course this would bother a reformer who had been struggling with being “good enough” all his life and finally found the freedom of grace.

James gives a lot of practical advice on how we should live out our lives as Christians.

  • He mentions that we should rejoice when persecuted and not blame God when tempted.
  • We should obey God’s Word rather than just listening to or reading it.
  • My personal favorite–don’t play favorites in Church.
  • Your good deeds are proof of salvation.
  • Watch what you say!
  • Seek true wisdom from God.
  • Submit your being to God.
  • Commend your future plans to God because only He knows the future.
  • Don’t be arrogant if you happen to be rich; don’t oppress the poor.
  • Be patient when you suffer.
  • Always pray in faith.

Was James at odds with Paul? Was he teaching that we get to Heaven because we follow the list above? Does God’s Word contradict itself or should the Epistle of James simply be cut out of the canon?

No, no and no.

I have a strange question to ask my reader. Is it your body or your soul that makes you alive? Think about it.

Your soul is the true source of life. Without it, there is no real you, just a lifeless corpse that won’t last much longer as decay sets in.

But then, what are you without your body? Just a disembodied spirit.

Just as the soul needs the body to make the human being complete and to make an impression on the world around us, so our saving faith needs good works to become a complete and living faith and make an impression on the world around us. As James says, faith without works is dead!

Without faith our good deeds are a decaying corpse–a stench in the nostrils of our most high God.

Without works our faith is a mere ghost. It is the kind of thing you can even find among the demons of Hell who believe that Jesus is the Son of God–and shudder.

Life comes from faith, that is true. It animates us and saves us. Let us not forget, though, that the good works show we have true, strawsaving faith. Without works our faith is indeed dead and no threat to the forces of Hell at all. Faith saves us; works are evidence of that faith.

Abraham’s faith led him to Mt. Moriah. Although God prevented him from killing Isaac, that three day journey and binding Isaac to the altar proved his faith. If Abraham had refused to go, his faith in God would have been worthless.

We are saved by grace, through faith, for good works. If good works aren’t evident in our lives we need to reevaluate our faith, because the fact is our faith is not evident either.

We must remember that.

An Epistle of Straw?