Now in one way he is right. After all James insists that we can’t just say we have faith but rather our actions will show that we do. But then he goes on to remind the reader that the tongue when we speak has the power to both bless and curse. James’ actual meaning is that something at the core of our being is wrong when we bless our Lord God and, at the same time, curse others who are made in his image. So words do have meaning and they do shape who we are. If we keep cursing we will be changed by our words.
But there is another part of this. The meaning of words is important to our actions as Christians. Especially the meaning of words that are found in the Scripture and the Church’s Confessions; there are historical examples.
For example, the Jehovah Witnesses have misunderstood why the article is placed where it is placed in the Greek text in John 1:1. While most translations read something like my NAS, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Their New World Translation is, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was a god. A lot of action follows from this misunderstanding.
The Jehovah Witnesses claim Arius as one of their Fathers. They, like him, believe Jesus to be a created being. But they step out further; he is an Archangel. He did not rise bodily from the grave. Only the 144, 000 of Revelation can say they are born again and go to be with him. They are all spirits. The later resurrected inhabit a new earth but they do not have that kind of fellowship with Jesus Christ; they may not even take the cup at communion.
Their solution for salvation is the death of a perfect human. They write, “How grateful we can be that Jesus' death makes provision for us to gain the perfection that Jehovah originally intended for the offspring of Adam and Eve!” They also write, “Yes, Jesus' death is a means of rescuing ‘everyone exercising faith’ in him from sin, disease, old age, and death itself.” Their conclusion, “True Christians are in a saved condition in that they are in an approved position before God. As a group, their salvation is sure. Individually, they must meet God's requirements. However, we can fail, for Jesus said: "If anyone does not remain in union with me, he is cast out as a branch and is dried up." (All Italics mine)
They are following a perfect human but not the Lord of life who unites us to himself and gives us abundant life. The Jehovah Witnesses’ righteousness is their righteousness. But Christians have no righteousness of their own; instead they have the righteousness of Christ. And, it is all because of the misunderstood placement of a word.
To go further, that ancient father of the Jehovah Witnesses, Arius, not only troubled Church councils and Fathers. He made disciples who went into the lands of the Visigoths and made disciples. They would trouble Catholic Europe for several more hundred years. That was action.
And that is not the end of the story. Neglecting the words of the biblical text, the liberal theologians of the nineteenth century also became functional Arians. They denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. God was a Father, Jesus our brother. And once again works became the basis of salvation.
Rebecca Ann Parker, author alongside Rita Nakashima Brock, of the heretical book Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us, points out this harsh understanding of the meaning of the cross for the liberal by quoting Walter Rauschenbush. “Salvation is the voluntary socializing of the soul.”
Parker writes of the liberal thought, “Individuals are saved by entering into a new life of self-sacrifice, with no thought for self, only love for others.” (32)
Barth lays the theology of the German Christians at the feet of nineteenth century liberal theologians and predicts it will return to shape some other disastrous movement in some other place. This is all because of words. Misunderstood, ignored or denied, words do lead to actions for good or for evil.