Orthopraxy

Most of us are familiar with the term 'orthodoxy' which means 'right knowing'. As you can see, therefore, orthopraxy (roughly translated) means, 'right living'. There are some people that emphasize one over the other but, being an good Episcopalian, I believe that we need both. And I think most of us would agree.

But, for this post, I want to emphasize orthopraxy. If you have been a reader of this blog for awhile, you may have noticed that I emphasize this a lot. There is a reason for that. Where I come from, there is an over emphasis on orthodoxy (right knowing). Of course knowing rightly about God, Jesus, etc. is important, but at what cost? To often, in my experience, the cost is separation from the people and creation that we are to be 'saving'. (I know that Jesus does this but more often than not he seems to work through his people to accomplish this task.)

It has become blindingly clear the last few years that the church is in serious need of reformation. And it is precisely because we are not 'being Jesus' in our world. When we are serious about what that means, we will read the Gospels with eyes wide open and see what Jesus did. More often than not, what he said was a result of something he did. If, while reading those stories, we ask the question, 'What would the world look like if God was running things?', we would have another eye opening experience. 'Well of course, the lame walk. Of course, there would be plenty of food for everyone. Of course the blind would see.' If God was ruling the world, it would look exactly like what Jesus did. In other words, orthopraxy.

In reading an article from Christianity Today about Emerging Church, I came across these statements:
Jesus declared that we will be judged according to how we treat the least of these (Matt. 25:31-46) and that the wise man is the one who practices the words of Jesus (Matt. 7:24-27). In addition, every judgment scene in the Bible is portrayed as a judgment based on works; no judgment scene looks like a theological articulation test.

'[E]very judgment scene in the Bible is portrayed as a judgment based on works.' Isn't that interesting? For so long we have asked the question, 'Are you saved?' or 'If you died right now, would you go to heaven?' as if those were the only things that mattered. Of course they matter, sure they do. But we are missing the big picture with that approach. When we ask those questions we are coming at it from orthodoxy -- of a right knowing about things like sin, death, atonement, etc. It can be very un-welcoming. We are quick to pass judgment on people. 'You don't believe such-and-such therefore I must reject you' all the while we are not doing anything for the kingdom of God. And let me make myself perfectly clear. Doing something for the kingdom is not just saving souls. Look what Jesus said:
“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

Where is orthodoxy in that scene? Where does Jesus ask them about their understanding of salvation? I'll tell you where. It is 'understood'. That is, the sole purpose of doing 'good works' -- of orthopraxy -- is because of our orthodoxy. It is the foundation for all that we do. If not, what would be the point? If we don't believe, if we don't trust, that 'Jesus died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said' and that God's New Creation Project began on that first Easter morning and that 'through [Jesus] God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of [Jesus’] blood on the cross.' -- if we don't believe that then what would be the point of doing anything for the good of the world? If those things are not trust worthy, then anything we do for the betterment of the world would be temporary. There would be no lasting value. It would only be for the moment.

Now, granted, that (temporary betterment of the world) is an admirable goal. But not for the follower of Jesus. We do 'good works' because of the things I mentioned above. We believe they will have lasting value. And that the reason for us doing something is based on that orthodoxy, that right knowing. It can't be based on anything else.

Furthermore, perhaps that scene in Matthew 25 is precisely the type of scene I am describing. In other words, perhaps the 'good we do' only matters if it is based on our trusting in Jesus. Notice what Jesus said, ' . . . you have done it to me.' If our actions are not based on that trust then I can see how someone would think that the one way of 'getting in' the family would be through 'good works'. But that is why you have to look at the whole Bible. The whole Bible is very clear that 'doing good' grows out of God's grace in us; of God revealing Jesus in us. It is from our gratitude that we do those things. We don't do 'good works' to get in the family.  We do 'good works' because we are already in the family and that is what family members in good standing do.  They do 'good works'.  It seems that if that is not present within us, i.e., God's grace revealed through Jesus, we won't be terribly concerned about 'doing good' for the world.

The point, then, is that quote from Christianity Today is right on target. What we do matters. It is so very important. Just as important as what we believe and why we believe it. It is time for the church, for the body of Jesus, to be going about and doing the things of Jesus. It is time for the church to balance out their orthodoxy with orthopraxy.

May mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance.

+OD

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