“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (Reference: James 1:26-27 )
One of the “unpardonable” sins in theology is proof-texting – finding snippets of scripture that fit exactly your theology but ignoring the larger context that may invalidate your interpretation. For Anabaptists, both historic and modern, it is something looked down upon and frowned on. That is why I looked at the larger context of where this verse is in James 1, and the context does not argue against the specifics. I could look at the larger context of the book of James, but I am doubtful such an exploration would change the interpretation of these two verses – being religious means helping the unfortunate and marginalized, and not allowing one’s self to be negatively influenced by the world. But then phrased in such a way as I have just done, it does not seem out of line.
A strong piece of evidence that the historic Anabaptists followed this admonition from the writer of the book of James appears in a letter that one historic Anabaptist wrote to a fellow believer. He, Christiaen Rijcen, said, “My beloved brother, I have learned that my children are at your house, that you are to keep them till my wife comes home, whereby you show me great friendship, that you have done this; and I also pray you, my dear brother, that if you should have a small chamber that you could spare, that my wife might also live with you until the Lord bring about a change with me; and if they should deprive me of my life, I should like it very much, if you would aid her in getting to Bruges, there to make her living, or back to Holland, wherever it should please her to go. For, my beloved brother, women that are thus situated, have need of help and comfort; hence I pray you, do your best in this matter; remember that James says, that true religion is to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. James 1:27.”
This requested, from one believer to another, is not unusual and could as well have been written by a modern believer to another. But note beloved, the word “beloved” in this letter, used twice. I have been watching and waiting for an opportunity to explain why I have chosen to address you, the reader, as “beloved”. I do not know if you, the reader, may be male or female, nor whether this is read by an individual or as a group. But what I do know is if you have interest and are reading this, then most likely you have a relationship with God, however you may see and live out this relationship. And so you are loved by God, and beloved. And who God loves, I also love, so to me you are “beloved” as much as any historic Anabaptist considered a fellow believer. The historic Anabaptists considered all fellow believers as brothers and sisters in God. The terms “beloved” and “brother/sister” were not used as ipso facto salutations, but sincere statements of kinship and Godly love.
May you, beloved, care for those who are in need and hold at bay the undesirable influences of the world. Selah!