Unglued church

Is believing enough?mark roth

Acting in faith requires risk

By Mark Roth

Once again, verses from the daily reading of the Revised Common Lectionary fell into my lap at just the time I needed it. The writer of James asks: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?”

This scripture arrives at a moment when our body politic is in greater upheaval than at any time in my memory. Millions of Americans are wringing their hands over the election of Donald Trump as president. Millions of others are excited and eager for the changes he will bring.

Like individual Christians, our congregations have political personalities, too. Within today’s PC(USA), there are Trumpian congregations, dominated by people with more conservative views. There are Clintonish congregations, shaped by people with more liberal views. And there are church families like the one I have been attending lately, which encompass the whole range of political opinion.

Despite these human differences, we say as Christians that we are united by our belief in a God who can transform our lives and our world.

But as James reminds us, it is not enough for us simply to believe that proposition.

For our collective Christian lives to have meaning, we must act on that faith, and in James’ view, those actions must carry an element of risk, which he shows by citing Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac and Rahab’s decision to help the Jews conquer Jericho.

Especially at this time of deep concern over the nation’s leadership, we too must take the risks that God is calling us to, if we are to make our faith come alive.

Congregations should encourage individuals to make fresh pledges to volunteer, to reach out to others with whom they disagree and to understand how their financial giving can be shaped by their beliefs. As the body of Christ, congregations should explore new ways of committing to mission, of connecting with neighbors, and of standing up for what they believe in, including political lobbying.

What we cannot do is simply to trumpet our beliefs, or rest comfortably in the conviction that we are right. We must be guided by James’ wise words:

“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

Mark Roth is a retired journalist and freelancer who specializes in writing about health and science issues. He is a Ruling Elder based at East Liberty Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, and is vice-chair of Pittsburgh Presbytery’s Commission on Ministry. He serves as an Adaptive Change Adviser for Pittsburgh Presbytery’s Unglued Church Project.