We've seen another week of people taking up sides. Depending on where we want "the truth" to lie, we tend to hear the facts in ways that will point to that result. It's part of the human nature ever since the start. (Remember how Adam was sure it was the woman who made him eat of the fruit and she was sure it was the serpent who caused their sin. Remember, also, how God wasn't fooled by any of them?)
Suggestions that there are multiple facets to consider to get the fuller truth (Adam accepted the offer that Eve made and that the serpent encouraged their sin) often results in accusations of relativizing everything or of siding with "the opposition." Any sense that one side may have to compromise something can lead to a wholesale defense of that position and over-the-top attacks on the other position.
The gun issue and the immigration issue are just two of the latest renditions of these side-taking, fingers-in-ears moments when discussion is hard to have for all the yelling.
The church is not immune. We have contemporary issues, in addition to those two, that sometimes come to this. How I pray God's Spirit would lead us to discuss in more faithful ways so that we can come to more faithful conclusions and demonstrate to the world a better way to work through things.
A discussion that has been going on in the church (and sometimes in less than faithful ways) forever is the discussion of faith and works. This Sunday's scriptures remind us of that. Paul, coming out of his religious experiences of feeling the pressure to perform the law perfectly, was loudly and persistently on the side of justification by faith. The Protestant leaders took this up as a foundational element of their movement. You hear the emphasis in Paul's writing to the Romans (4:13-25) that will be read in both services and preached on in The Well.
James was quick to point out that faith without works is dead (2:14-26). Jesus, at times, spoke of believing in him or having a relationship with him as the way to salvation, but at other times he spoke of the requirement of doing something significant with that belief, such as this Sunday's gospel reading: Mark 8:31-38. Here he talks about following him, taking up one's cross, and losing one's life. It certainly sounds like more than simply believing.
As with most debates, I think there are elements of each "side" that reveal the truth. Paul is correct (according to Methodist doctrine): you cannot save yourself. It is God's work to save us and God has done so through Jesus. Our faith in him gives us assurance of salvation. James is correct: the gift of salvation and the sacrifice involved, if it means anything to us at all, demands a response. A "yes" with our hearts (not just our mouths) means we will follow that yes with actions and follow that Lord with our lives. We are saved by faith and that faith leads immediately to responses - the works of the faith.