27 True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us. (James 1:27, CEB)
The current rage on blogs and other online sources this week is the supposed demise of “liberal” Christianity… and then the response of “liberal” Christians wishing the same on “conservative” Christians. There are others who actually reading Ross Douthat’s column and understanding he is not wishing for any of that. (But who has time to get beyond headlines and assumptions these days?)
Thinking of this current debate, I come across this verse in James as we prepare for Sunday at our church. We are currently reading through Hebrews and James.
This verse is not a bad synopsis of what “conservatives” and “liberals” embody. Our problem is we often can’t seem to get them together. Or, more honestly, we may not want to recognize when they are indeed together.
For “liberals,” the care of orphans and widows is what is camped on. They will overlook those last few words of that verse.
For “conservatives,” and especially “old time” Pentecostals (the camp I grew up in), the emphasis was on those last few words. And there were lists to help you stay undefiled if you needed the help!
But it is a beautiful thing when those things come together. Here is the thing we just don’t want to admit: those things DO come together more often than we want to admit. Unfortunately, the Church is allowing the political environment to dictate our attitudes. We’re acting like the world rather than the Church on this stuff. We’re figuring out what divides us and camping on it. Instead, we need to recognize when true religion really is coming together!
In the early days of the Pentecostal movement of the 20th Century, it was possible to see this verse played out around the world. It didn’t play out for long because we’re human, but every once in awhile you would see the actions of people passionate about God really change the world.
I know of a retired missionary who gave his life in India. He was Pentecostal and knew the whole deal of keeping “separate from the world.” He grew up with “lists” of things that “defiled.” But he also lived the spirit of those words as well. He was “all in” with the Great Commission. And his obedience to the great commission led him to found orphanages in Northern India. He educated rejected children. They grew up to become influential leaders in their culture. Christian influential leaders in their culture.
There is the story of a great Pentecostal Lilian Trasher who went as a single woman to Egypt. Committed to the gospel and the Great Commission she set up orphanages to take care of the castaways of that society. She lived the totality of this verse.
Mark Buntain was in India as well. He preached the gospel, but also realized things went better when you fed people so their stomachs weren’t growling when someone preached to them. He established schools and a hospital in Calcutta. And he lived out the totality of James 1:27.
It can be done. We just have to rise to the calling of Christ and not stoop to the level of our current political cess pool.
Let’s get back to living prophetically in this world. It’s dangerous living, but at least it’s aimed at a real enemy.