Orthodoxy Vs Orthopraxy

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 Dictionary.com)

When religious conversations turn ugly, some form of the word “orthodox” usually shows up on the conservative side of the argument, as in “The most loving thing we can do as orthodox Christians is to enforce scripture to the letter…”.  Talk to conservatives or fundamentalists and you’ll hear that word a lot.  For some Christians, what we believe is  most important because that’s what gets us to heaven.  For others, it’s what we do that’s important.  Guess where I fall out in this conversation?

Yes, I’m one of those wild-eyed radicals who believe what do is the point, not what we believe.  It’s not that I don’t believe in God, that Jesus was the Word made flesh, that his sacrifice on the cross paved the way to the Father, etc.  I believe all of that.  But, I also believe that putting the teachings of Jesus into actual practice is vastly more important than any doctrine, creed or profession of faith when it comes to being a follower of Christ.  I freely admit that I’m not a biblical scholar and there is a very real possibility that the following statement is wrong.  But, from what I can tell, 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?  Take a look:

  • Mark 10:17-22 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”  Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
  • Matthew 22:33-40 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.  One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
  • Luke 10:25-28 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”  He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”  (the story of the Good Samaritan follows)

Don’t think I lightly discard the passages in John I mentioned earlier.  I don’t, but as they’re more about Christology than actual practice, I don’t see an application here. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels and are similar in content and style.  They are probably about as close as we’re ever going to get an actual, historical account of Jesus’ life.  They were written anywhere for 30 to 50 years after the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  The Gospel of John, however, was written much later, somewhere between the end of the 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd, and in a vastly different style.  But, the message was essentially the same as that of the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Jesus came to the world in a time and place where the divide between rich and poor was stark; where the poor were oppressed and had no hope of anything better.  For a message to gain any traction with such people, much less evolve into one of the major religions of the world, it would have to address their current situation and not some possibility of a reward after they died.  And, a faithful reading of these passages show just that.  All four books present a message of love; love for God and love for neighbor.  They just happen to do it in different ways.

Returning to John, in Chapter 13:34, Jesus says “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  I believe when we insist on an interpretation of scripture that reinforces “orthodox” belief and use to exclude anyone we are far from fulfilling Jesus’ wishes; that we love one another as he loved us.