What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2.14-17)
I sometimes say that one can believe all manner of wonderful things without ever leaving their pew. Those wonderful beliefs may never amount to much without action. Prayer does help. Sometimes that is all we can do. But most of the time there is more we can do. Because we believe, we act. We act to make the world a better place. We act to make our communities better places. We act to make our church a better church. We act to make the lives of other people a little bit less hard. Our actions make the world look a little more like heaven. Faith by itself is dead. Faith without action rarely means anything to anyone beyond the believer.
Members of United Methodist congregations pledge to support one another with their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. While all five of these are important, service is the visible sign of what we say we believe. Service is our faith in action. We pledge to support our church with our time, talents and spiritual gifts so that our church is effective in carrying out ministry. We do this for one another, for other people and as our faith response to God. We promise not just to believe, but to act. Faith on its own is rarely enough when it comes to doing God’s will.
Prescription four of our Vital Church Initiative report calls for us to conduct an all-church study on our five membership vows. It further directs the formation of a task force on faith development. Faith development requires learning and practicing spiritual disciplines. It also requires service to others. We should never underestimate the importance of Christian service as it relates to our faith. Christian service is faith in action. According to James, faith without action is really no faith at all.