October 23rd is the feast of St. James of Jerusalem in modern calendars. The traditional calendar didn’t give him a separate day of his own because for a large chunk of history he was identified as one of the twelve apostles, commemorated along with Philip on May 1st. Recent trends of interpretation have preferred to see this James as a separate person, not one of the twelve. You can read a little bit more about that in last year’s entry. I suppose it’s better accidentally to commemorate one person twice a year than to forget to commemorate someone because we confused him with someone else. We’ve got that same problem with St. Aelfric, too, to be fair.
Anyway, let’s move on and look at the Collect of this Day.
Grant, O God, that following the example of your apostle James the Just, kinsman of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord…
It’s interesting to come across this just as a public strife has arisen between fans of John MacArthur and Beth Moore surrounding recent comments of the former against the latter. There is, indeed, something of a theological gap between the two of them, and, further, a theological gap between both of them and the Anglican tradition from which we could stand aloof to their quarrel – or at least the quarrels of their respective fandoms and supporters. “I follow Johnny Mac!” and “I follow Beth!” are voraciously-defended causes right now.
St. James of Jerusalem presided at a church council in Jerusalem around the year 50. The primary issue was responding to Judaizers – people who insisted that Gentiles had to become practicing Jews in order to be proper Christians. Circumcision, the keeping of the Law of Moses, the Saturday Sabbath, dietary regulations, and the like, were the prominent visible aspects of their cause. The apostles, including Sts. Peter and Paul, had already been teaching against the Judaizers’ cause, though the former had paid lip service to them in the recent past, much to St. Paul’s consternation. But a case had been made against St. Paul and his company, and it was time to settle the matter formally. The full story can be read in Acts 15, and I put together a walk-through of that text a few years ago if you care to read it.
The short of it is that James, acting as what we would now call the diocesan bishop of Jerusalem, heard the case, made a ruling, saw it confirmed by the assembly, and released an official statement to make their decision public. Enmity and strife was resolved with a little bit of comprise, but primarily a restatement of gospel truth. Remember, godly compromise is only possible when both sides are essentially correct and only peripherally in disagreement… many of the judaizers were outright heretics (cf. the epistle to the Galatians), so there was very little room for compromise anyway.
What makes this episode particularly noteworthy is that St. James was supposed to be a “safe” choice for the judaizer cause. He had been a faithful Jew, like most of the first disciples and apostles, and he was known continually as a devout Jewish man even after his conversion to Christ. Simply the fact that he continued to live, minister, and lead the church in Jerusalem when all the other apostles had fled due to persecution by Jewish authorities (cf. Acts 12) is a significant clue to how Jewish James must have appeared. If the judaizers were going to get a bishop on their side, James would be their man. But, of course, he wasn’t. He had a strong personal affinity for the Jewish religion and culture, and he was among the least willing to give up the formal trappings of the Old Covenant, but despite that he understood that this was a voluntary choice and not a Gospel mandate.
Only with the Gospel mandate, or creedal orthodoxy, or however you care to summarize it, can “reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity” be achieved. This speaks volumes to the MacArthur versus Moore conflict; this speaks to the ordination of women conflict within the ACNA; this speaks to the substantial disagreements between parties within the Anglican tradition, not to mention the many denominations beyond the confines of the Anglican Way. Some compromises are possible, but ultimately one truth will prevail over the other(s) if unity is to be achieved. Let us pray for leaders akin to the spirit and wisdom of St. James of Jerusalem – bishops who can discern biblical truth from personal preference and piety – through whom Christ can bring true reconciliation to his people in variance and enmity.