Why St James?

St James:  

His Importance and Legacy.

The Epistle of James is probably the most misunderstood in the New Testament, and St James is likewise probably one of the most misrepresented of the key New Testament figures. 

Church politics has played its part in the rewriting of the New Testament over the early years and the legacy of St James, the first bishop of Jerusalem and the brother of Jesus, has been consistently undervalued and undeservedly ignored.  St Paul's writings suited the increasingly Roman politics of the time, but not so the writings of St James.  St Paul was a Roman citizen, St James a Jew.

Nevertheless, these events have help protect the integrity of the oldest and most intact and reliable of the Epistles.

What we see in the Epistle of St James is the expression of faith leading to works.  Real faith naturally expresses itself in 'works', the selfless outward expression of the love of God, led by the Holy Spirit and demonstrated in action.  Works are a by-product of an active faith and are led by the Holy Spirit.   Works are not in themselves the end product or the goal.  Their purpose is to lead people to God, not to glorify the person doing them.  And as St James stated, faith without works is an empty faith. 

The church has made much over the theological differences between faith and works.  Despite popular opinion, there is no overall conflict between the teachings of St Paul and St James either, rather a subtle harmony, but St Paul is certainly not backwards in taking every opportunity to up his prominence and importance against the Jerusalem Church which was held in such regard, a stumbling block in his search for recognition, authority and power.  In that regard, St James along with the Jerusalem church leaders, had to be found wanting if St Paul was to have his way.  

In those early years in Jerusalem after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Spirit endued disciples began to put into action the teachings of Jesus and they found of their own voice and expression of faith as they transitioned from a purely Jewish outlook to one which accepted and welcomed the many Gentiles who responded to the Gospel of Christ.  As a community it was very well respected and continued to grow under the leadership of St James, assisted by Mary (mother of Jesus) and Mary Magdalene, but as other Christian communities grew beyond Jerusalem, it was not without its critics or enemies who were envious of its supposed position and power.

Over the years, St James along with Mary, (the mother of Jesus) and Mary Magdalene, have had such bad press as to destroy the prominence of the Jerusalem church and to bulk up St Paul's reputation.  Rome strengthened its position over Jerusalem as the political climate changed, especially following the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  Emerging Christianity became the victim of personal and group politics in the form of the emerging denominations, and there were many schisms as each vied for overall power.  Some of the early founding fathers were declared heretics, their followers persecuted and killed, and many early letters and documents were destroyed in an attempt to hide the dissent that existed.  Even the Gospels and the Epistles were rewritten and/or edited in part. 

However, what was left in the almost ignored and untouched Epistle of St James is of relevance to us as individuals.  It remains the oldest and most original writing of the New Testament, even pre-dating the Gospels according to some sources.  It takes us right back to the early beginnings of the real Church and focuses on what was really important.  Not just 'faith', but 'faith resulting in action'.   

What was radical in the Epistle of St James was that everyone was involved, everyone had responsibility and everyone had the chance to make a difference.  They had responsibility and much was expected of them.  They had, 'ownership', direction and purpose, and were far from passive in expressing their love of God.  It builds directly on the teachings of Jesus, as an example consider 'the parable of the talents' found in Matthew 25, v14-25, and Luke 19 v12-19.  'Talents' were not meant to be buried or stifled under mountains of rules, regulation, canon or tradition.  They were meant to be used.

We have lost that.  Now it seems we find we have given over our Christian heritage to organizations that rule over us and paid professionals who absolve us of our Christian responsibilities.  As long as we do what we are told without question and put our money in the collection box, we will go to Heaven.

That is not true and certainly not good enough. 

The Holy Spirit is challenging people not to accept this situation any more, and they in turn are challenging the church organizations that have let them down so badly.  Where they get no satisfaction, the outcome is that they will leave and the churches will empty.

That does not mean that 'the Church' is dying.  It is changing. 

The Church is 'people', not organizations.  People will still have their faith even if they don't go to a church, and they will still live according to their faith.  It is the churches led by self absorption and self interest that are dying.  They have had their chances.

So how do we as an Order respond to and engage those who have become disillusioned and disengaged, or those who have never even have heard or understood the Good News of Jesus Christ?  How do we support and encourage them?

We need to go back to the first principles outlined in the Gospels and particularly those found in the Epistle of St James.

There are only two things any of us need to do to the best of our abilities and understanding: to love God,  and to love our neighbours (those in need) as ourselves.  God has already prepared us for this task as we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide and empower us.  It starts wherever we are with whatever we are doing.  It usually starts with a smile, and how simple is that.

Every one called of God has a ministry, a spiritual gifting, a skill and has a place, a value, and without which the whole Church (and subsequently the whole community) suffers.  We recognise and encourage the use of those gifts.

For all of us, the first principle is, if you see something is wrong, or that there is a need, then it is your responsibility to deal with it.  It is not someone else's responsibility.  It is yours.  God brought it to your attention for you to deal with.

We are here to support you where we can if you cannot find support in your own community.

This is what the Order of St James is about - firstly in giving responsibility back to the people, and secondly in empowering them in both their Christ centred calling and ministry.  The world could be a so much better place and it is up to all of us to make it so.