Saturday, August 20, 2011

Should Christians Defend the Rich?

Rev. Howard Bess
August 14, 2011.

Republican presidential contenders – Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann – profess their Christian fundamentalist faith, but denounce efforts by the government to restrain the power of the rich. The Rev. Howard Bess looks at this enduring contradiction between Christianity’s principles and its alliance with the wealthy.

Today in America, we have an unholy concentration of wealth in the bank accounts of the few.  This concentration of wealth is not earned wealth, but wealth acquired by manipulation of the economic system, the abuse of labor and the evil of inheritance.

What has taken place also is not merely the result of a benign economic system; it is the evil of greed at work. Parallel to this corrupt system is a view among too many confessing Christians that the Book of James – with its emphasis on good works, not just faith – doesn’t belong in the New Testament of the Bible.

Recently, I reread the Book of James and reviewed the history of this five-chapter epistle, as I pondered the controversies that have surrounded it in Christian church history. I found James’s words challenging and exhilarating in their insistence that Christians do good in the world.

Yet, over the centuries, many church leaders have doubted that the Book of James was worthy of inclusion in the New Testament. It was clearly not written by one of the disciples of Jesus, nor by the James who was thought to be a younger brother of Jesus. The best scholars today simply say we don’t know who wrote this collection of sayings.

Because of its emphasis on good works, the Book of James is criticized as “too Jewish” in its perspective and divergent from Paul’s writings about salvation by faith and faith alone. In the 16th Century, Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation, concluded that James was not worthy of inclusion in the New Testament collection.

Contradicting Paul’s teachings on faith and faith alone, James states very plainly that faith without good works lacks value.

“What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has no works? Can his faith save him?” James asks. “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

Read the rest here.

Comment: I found my copy of the New Testament last night and read James' Epistle for the first time since 1980.

It is a striking piece that pushes against the notion of being pious for the sake of faith without living "good works".

These three verses from Chapter 2 encapsulate James' argument:
[21] Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
[24] Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

[26] For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Reverend Bess is right to ask about the religious character of Christians whose politics seek to protect the wealthy from the poor.

How is this the Christian thing to do?  Can Perry and Bachmann really claim to be representing Christianity in their politics? 

I don't think so.  The politics of The New Testament is not pro-rich.  It is rather pro-poor.  If you read James close you will see that he argues that the rich are without the 'wealth' of favor that is bestowed on the poor by God.

In these terms the rich cannot be trusted and they cannot carry a message of upliftment.

And so a rich Christian may be yet another oxymoron.


No comments: