Orthodoxy vs. Orthopraxy
On Feb 20, 2011, at 3:47 PM, a student from Walla Walla University wrote:
I have a class assignment in my Christian Beliefs class from Donny Veverka where we are supposed to interview a pastor, so, naturally, I am e-mailing you! Sometime within the next week, if you have a few spare moments, if you wouldn’t mind answering the following question for me, it would be much appreciated. You do not need to go into a TON of depth and detail unless you do so choose.
Which is more important—orthodoxy or orthopraxy?
-- If you choose orthopraxy, I must rebuttal using James 2:14-19
--If you choose orthodoxy, I must rebuttal using John 3:16-18
--If you choose that they are mutually equal, please inform me of how one maintains balance between the two in one’s daily personal Christian walk.
Here’s my response:
I would submit that orthodoxy is far more important than orthopraxy. When you think about it, without proper orthodoxy, accurate orthopraxy would never occur. It is like putting a cart in front of a horse—the cart (you) doesn’t do any pulling of its own, it is all on the horse (Holy Spirit) to move. The only thing the cart is responsible for doing is simply allowing the wheels to turn.
All too often, woven into the “Christian” faith (Adventist or otherwise), is the thought that somehow salvation is dependant upon my ability (orthopraxy) to live by the rules. In contrast, Jesus is found through the Gospel of John, inviting people simply to believe (orthodoxy). Taking a short pericope out of just the third chapter of John, you find Jesus in a conversation with the astute Pharisee, Nicodemus. Notice how often Jesus uses the word “believe”:
12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:12-17, ESV)
Within these seven verses, Jesus uses the word “believe” seven times! The reason why Jesus was concerned about a persons belief system was because if they actually believed He was the Messiah, He would work the greatest miracle available to a person. Jesus Himself will actually baptize you with His Holy Spirit (John 1:33)! Please do not miss this basic and elementary, yet crucial point. To receive the Holy Spirit is to receive the very Spirit that was abiding in Jesus when He was walking this earth! This is the mystery of the Gospel, the very presence of Jesus abiding in you. When you have proper beliefs (orthodoxy), your behaviors (orthopraxy) will obviously change. But the thought that you have to roll up your sleeves and do your best to appease God is a great misalignment in theology. It is Jesus working His good and perfect will in and through your life. In is Jesus that enables you to join David the Psalmist as well as the Apostle Paul in delighting in the law!
The reason why “faith without works is dead” is because if your faith is in Jesus then He will abide in you and produce much fruit. The fact remains that many “Christians” today are trying to earn their way to heaven through good deeds. Jesus says, “there is no one good but God”.
Which brings up another important point when talking about orthodoxy. Just because someone is considered orthodox, doesn’t mean they’re thinking is right. From my understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus, such things like revival and reformation do not occur if we, in and of ourselves, start acting right and somehow stop sinning. At the center of certain individuals’ orthodoxy is the motto, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And so they set out to obtain perfection, focused on their behavior (as well as others) while Jesus remains far from their life.
The irony is that when Jesus comes into your life, you can’t help but responding with deep gratitude, thankful for what He has done, what He is doing and what He will continue to do in and through your life. And all the while, sin (self-centeredness) seems to coincide at the core of our beings. If you can identify with this battle, it is a good indication that you’re on the right road.
In her best selling book Steps to Christ, Ellen White addresses this fundamental flaw that is plaguing the orthodoxy of some “Christians” today:
The closer you come to Jesus, the more faulty you will appear in your own eyes; for your vision will be clearer, and your imperfections will be seen in broad and distinct contrast to His perfect nature. This is evidence that Satan’s delusions have lost their power; that the vivifying influence of the Spirit of God is arousing you.
In other words, the more you receive the Holy Spirit and the more you become like Jesus, the more you’ll recognize your “fleshy” imperfections and shortcomings. This is what concerns me so deeply about people who are self-righteous and judgmental. If Ellen is correct in the above statement (which I believe she is), that would mean that if I was actually close to Jesus I would be so aware of my own shortcomings that it would be difficult for me to judge or condemn anyone else for his or her behavior.
In another location in the same chapter, she writes:
There are… errors against which the children of God—particularly those who have just come to trust in His grace (orthodoxy)—especially need to guard. The first, already dwelt upon, is that of looking to their own works (orthopraxy), trusting to anything they can do, to bring themselves into harmony with God. He who is trying to become holy by his own works in keeping the law, is attempting an impossibility. All that man can do without Christ is polluted with selfishness and sin. It is the grace of Christ alone, through faith, that can make us holy.
I’d highly encourage you to read at minimum chapter seven of Steps to Christ (and preferably the entire book). Christ makes us holy from the inside out. If there is anything good and righteous in us, it is the very presence of Jesus, not of my own doing, lest I should boast:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
So here’s to Jesus centered orthodoxy, which by its very nature results in Jesus centered orthopraxy!
 In my opinion it would have been helpful for Dr. Veverka to provide the working definition that he has in mind when using the words orthodoxy and orthopraxy (a word not commonly used amongst people today). To clarify, I will work under the assumption that in their most basic level orthodoxy means right thinking and orthopraxyis right doing. (And if my definitions are accurate then your rebuttals would need to be reversed… I think.)
 The reason why I put the word Christian in quotation marks is because the term doesn’t have a clear definition. To many people the term has a lot of negative connotation because to them all they’ve experienced is “un-Christlike” behavior from “Christians”.
 For instance, some people’s belief system has them thinking thoughts like, “if I do this and don’t do that then I’ll go to heaven. Or if I just read my Bible more, pray more, witness more, eat this, don’t eat that, don’t listen to this music, listen to that music, etc.
 Observe Jesus’ teachings throughout Gospel of John.
 Congruent and consecutive portion of scripture.
 Colossians 1:27
 The study of God.
 Psalm 119:70, Romans 7:22
 James 2:17
 John 15:4
 John 15:2, 5
 Mark 10:18
 I would argue that all true orthodox theology is centered on the life and teachings of Jesus.
 Matthew 5:48
 See Romans 7
 Due to the various reprints of Steps to Christ, please see this online version. This quote is the third paragraph from the end of this chapter (Chapter 7, The Test of Discipleship), http://www.ellenwhite.info/books/bk-sc-07.htm
 Matthew 7:1
 (Ibid, Paragraph 9). Note: Italics and underlining are mine, as well as the addition of the words in parentheses.
 Ephesians 2:8-10