Belief and Practice


Last week, in “What Am I Talking About“, I said something about orthodoxy and orthopraxy. What I said exactly was “Progressive Christianity is about how you live (orthopraxy), not what you believe (orthodoxy).” That’s not exactly true. While we place a higher value on how you live than what you believe, we do think what you believe is important.  To understand that, we need to look at what these words mean. To help with that, let me throw a couple of definitions at you:

Orthodox _ of, pertaining to, or conforming to the approved form of any doctrine, philosophy, ideology, etc., or of, pertaining to, or conforming to beliefs, attitudes, or modes of conduct that are generally approved.

Orthopraxy _ correctness or orthodoxy of action or practice, or the belief that right action is as important as religious faith.  (Both definitions courtesy

In a nutshell, orthodoxy is about doctrine, ideology and belief while orthopraxy is about actions and practices. It’s orthodoxy that gets all the press in the Christian world these days, while orthopraxy gets short shrift. You may be wondering what the big deal is; why we progressive/emergent types make such a fuss about it. Well, for one thing, it’s in Bible. Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time talking about what people believed, he was more interested in what they did.  Except for a couple of verses in John, when asked about eternal life or the commandments, his answers centered around action and not some esoteric idea about belief.  Don’t believe me? In Mark 10, there’s the story of the rich, young man. In Matthew 22we find the first time (in the Bible, not chronologically) Jesus uses the phrase “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself”. And, finally, in Luke 10, there is the story of the Good Samaritan.

For some people, these two ideas are diametrically opposed, but I’m not so sure. I know orthodoxy is not without its problems, but without some structure of belief, practice is immensely difficult. But, the problems of orthodoxy don’t come from its enforcement or even its existence. The problems of orthodoxy come when what you believe is placed head and shoulders above anything else. The two should compliment each other; as in orthodoxy is what you believe and orthopraxy is how you put that belief to work.

Left to themselves, each one is a pale shadow of they could be. If you don’t know what you believe, how do you practice those beliefs? And, what difference does that belief make if it’s never put into practice? Unfortunately, the idea that one must hold a specific and rigid set of beliefs to be a Christian sends progressive emergents off screaming in the night, just as the idea that “works” have anything to do with our salvation cause fundamentalists and evangelicals to break out in hives. It doesn’t have to be this way, though.

Like it or not, just as some form of orthodoxy is necessary, that orthodoxy is useless unless you put it into practice. In reality, it’s likely you’re already doing that. Does your church have a feeding ministry or clothing closet? Are they involved in social issues like stopping human trafficking? Maybe you support missionaries or clean drinking water campaigns. All of these are “works” and I think you’ll agree they’re good things. My advice to you is to relax, take some Benadryl and let those hives go away. Before you know it, making how you live at least as important as what you believe will be second nature for you. And, isn’t that what being a Christian is really about?