Why “Works Theology” Matters…

The title of this blog may have enticed you to click on it and read what kind of heresy I must be spreading. In evangelical circles, “Works theology” is a catch phrase for gaining your salvation through the things you do, instead of through faith in Christ alone. Let me assure you now I am no proponent in working your way to heaven. Our position with God is secure only through Jesus and the work of the cross, however, I also believe that while this theological point is foundational, we leave out other foundational stones from the churches we build. These stones leave soft areas in the foundation of the ministry and can leave it on shaky ground.

Yesterday, a friend that was doing the welcome at Pulpit Rock Church, strung a couple of phrases together that spurred a Tweet from me later: “Are you defined more by your theological positions, or the acts of compassion found in your theological positions?” As the congregation spent the morning hearing about, worshiping around, praying for, and committing to help end sex slavery in Asia, I was moved to think about the partnership they were starting with The Exodus Road, and how it was even more defining of who Pulpit Rock Church is than the statement of beliefs on the website. One might first, when looking for a community of Christ-followers to join, go to their statement of beliefs, ask about their theology, and explore where they are on the denominational spectrum. While I am a theology graduate and proponent of reading and teaching the scriptures, I’m suggesting that you can tell a lot about a church’s theology from their activities. If I were searching for a church home, I think I’d probably seek out the pastors and ask them to tell me what they are doing outside the walls of their building, more so than judging what Sunday services look like.

James, brother of Jesus, says, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” – James 2:18

Our theological beliefs/positions must go hand in hand with our actions. James suggests that his faith is actually proven by the deeds that flow from them. Churches must return to being mobilizers of local missionaries. I say “return” because this is not a “new” way of doing church, but a return to what Jesus wanted in the first place, to be people that are sent into the world as light, as Jesus was sent by the Father (John 20:21). To gather on Sundays, worship, and be taught the scriptures is not a bad thing at all, BUT, it cannot be the defining identity of a church. If a church spends most of its time defining itself by the Sunday gathering, then it has left out some very important foundation stones…the ones that actually define faith, according to James.

I believe this is why culture doesn’t trust the church. This is why we’re not included in the conversations of justice, social discourse, and culture shaping. If our deeds were those of love, inclusion of people, and living as salt in the culture around us, we might be seen as those who love others because we love our God. Instead, we have taken the top off the salt shaker and poured the whole bottle into the wounds of society…instead leaving a stinging sensation from the church.

May our salty living be just the right amount. May our deeds smell like incense to society. May our works define our faith. May our love look like the way that God loved us…but sending restoration.

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