Western society loves to think.
The lineage of our method to thought traces back all the way to our Greco-Roman ancestors – Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates – the greatest thinkers of all time. The term Orthodoxy, or “correct belief”, is tied directly into these conversations of thought that happen to this day within the Christian Church: what do we think? What creeds do we affirm? To what doctrines do we hold?
These questions divide the Church into Catholics and Protestants, Orthodox and New Age, and into every denomination in between. They construct barriers that divide us, restrict us, and label us, until we become nothing, save for the labels that have been passed about behind our backs and under our noses.
There’s a reason that last sentence doesn’t sound biblical. I would suggest that the Bible presents a different reality. It presents a reality that is counter-intuitive to the thoughts and ideas we form on our own: about the world, the text, and the way those two intertwine.
If orthodoxy is defined as “correct belief”, then it would be safe to claim that the term orthopraxy can be interpreted as “correct conduct”. This is a term, I find, that is rarely floated around Sunday morning when we gather within our congregations of like-minded believers and debate amongst ourselves about the meaning of scripture. It’s a term that gets swept under the rug when we run into another human being who claims to believe in something different from the line of orthodoxy we ourselves affirm.
When we place orthopraxy in a position of inferiority to our orthodoxy, we find ourselves running into problems. Our lines of Greco-Roman thought take us from a position of categorization to a position of dividing and isolating. We call this person an atheist and that person a godless homosexual. We try to build walls along our borders, attempting to keep the Muslims out as if we couldn’t trust in God to take care of us while we obey his commands to love our neighbors and care for those in need.
“They Sell The Innocent For Silver”
The most unfortunate thing about this situation is we do all of this with the idea that it “us vs. them”.
We’re right so they’re wrong.
We claim our personal version of “orthodoxy” to be true and if what someone else believes doesn’t agree with our line of thought, then well, I guess they’re going to spend eternity being tortured in hell. This mentality blinds us from realizing that its basis is flawed from the get go. The standard is not defined by what we believe.
The Book of Amos exists within a historical context not much different from our own. The kingdom of Israel is divided. A once proud dynasty is weak and separated into the nations of Judah and the Northern Kingdom. The Shepard Amos travels from Judah to the Northern Kingdom to present the people with a rather straightforward message.
“For three sins of Gaza,
even for four, I will not relent.
Because she took captive whole communities
and sold them to Edom,
I will send fire on the walls of Gaza
that will consume her fortresses.
I will destroy the king of Ashdod
and the one who holds the scepter in Ashkelon.
I will turn my hand against Ekron,
till the last of the Philistines are dead,”
says the Sovereign Lord. (Amos 1:6-8 NIV)
The Book of Amos repeats this basic model of condemnation for all of Israel’s neighbors: Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, even Judah – they all are chastised. It’s interesting to note that nowhere in this section of condemnation is idolatry mentioned. Their discipline is not due to their worship of false Gods, and not due to their orthodoxy being flawed. This message comes because they fail to take care of and love their neighbor.
Subsequently, as the Israelite audience was getting comfortable with a directive of condemnation for their neighbors, the author shifts his message: The prophecy transitions towards Israel. As the next eight chapters unfold, Amos outlines the litany of Israel’s offences and God’s forfeiture of patience.
“For three sins of Israel,
even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
as on the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
and so profane my holy name.
They lie down beside every altar
on garments taken in pledge.
In the house of their god
they drink wine taken as fines.” (Amos 2:6-8 NIV)
Even through the limited lines that appear about idolatry, we see a shift to judgment upon their absence of hospitality for their neighbors in need. They “lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge” — a direct defilement of Deuteronomy’s appeal to care for those in need. They consume wine in the house of their god, but it’s the notion that the wine is taken “as a fine” that develops dispute.
The text continues to fortify this point as the author continues:
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:21-24 NIV)
Throughout Amos’ prophecy, it is apparent that having the correct orthodoxy bears little worth to what the Lord is trying to accomplish in the world with his nation of priests. As Jeremiah puts it in a similar situation, “look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.”
In chapter 7, Amos discusses a vision that God gives him of a plumb line. A plumb line is an architectural instrument, which when employed upon a wall, the force of gravity effects the device in such a way that shows you a straight line to the ground. It allows one to observe whether or not a wall is leaning. To paraphrase, God is saying that he has hung his plumb line against his people and found them to be warped beyond repair. He is left with no other choice save to tear down the wall and rebuild. And God has made clear what is wrong with his wall: There is a lack of hospitality and justice for the poor and needy.
In other words, their orthopraxy is all wrong.
“Which Of These Three Acted As A Neighbor?”
This issue of Orthopraxy continues throughout the Old Testament (See Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, etc.), yet in order to really bring this message home to a Christian audience it would be wise to go straight to the top of the pier. And this is important because Jesus did not shy away from this conversation.
Within the Book of Luke exists what many scholars and rabbinic teachers consider as the greatest parable of all time.
“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.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37 NIV)
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, it’s important to remember the context of who exactly a Samaritan is: although Samaritans and Jews shared a common heritage, they differed from one another in terms of legal traditions, the sanctity of Jerusalem and Mt. Gerizim, and what was considered to be the Word of God. If you wanted an honest, modern day version of this parable, you could replace the Levite with an Evangelical Christian and the Samaritan with a Mormon.
Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone here go out and swear by the words of Joseph Smith. However, I do hope that such a simple switch conveys the weight of this parable when Jesus says that the one who actually got down into the ditch and showed mercy, a subset of orthopraxy, is the one who loves his neighbor, and thus is the one inheriting eternal life.
Love Is the Ultimate Demonstration of Faith
In the Book of Matthew, the final parable Jesus teaches before the unfolding of the events leading to his crucifixion is the parable of the Sheep and the Goats.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” (Matthew 25:31-45)
This is where I find that the conversation of orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy can be put to rest. In the final Parable that Jesus teaches before being led to the cross, a parable about the end of days, we find the centrality of the message grounded in orthopraxy. It is not the creeds, the doctrines, nor the orthodoxy of the individuals that Jesus uses as a divider between the sheep and the goats. It’s not whether they are Atheist, Agnostic, Homosexual, Heterosexual, Catholic, or Protestant: not a single label we see propagated throughout our society is used when the Son of Man sits on the throne and separates people to his right or his left. The process we see here in this parable is defined by how they lived out the commission to serve humbly, give generously, and love unconditionally. And that’s the only standard.
So now that we’ve somewhat put the scope of our faith into a period of transition I would suggest that, in the spirit of orthopraxy, it’s necessary to refocus our eyes towards a direction of Love. Paul writes in his letter to the church of Galatia the following:
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words: I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again, I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:1-6)
And Later on in his letter, Paul culminates his message with:
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:13-14)
His message here, and all throughout his letter, is straightforward: Love is the ultimate demonstration of faith. To have faith is to Love. And acting out of Love is the fulfillment of the Law. This understanding is so simple yet it radically changes the conversation on faith and negates every divide we’ve placed between ourselves and “them” – our neighbors – particularly those based on our view of orthodoxy.
We can draw so many different conclusions from the bible. Indeed, Christians have been debating “orthodoxy” since the time of the first apostles.
But when it’s all said and done, it’s important to recognize that being a Christian shouldn’t boil down to a question of orthodoxy. Orthodoxy – one’s belief standard -was never supposed to be the point of the conversation.
The point of the conversation is a point of orthopraxy – “How do we love our neighbor?”
When Love, not belief, becomes most important, perhaps we’ll finally see the fruition of God’s mission for this world: that all might know him.
Michael Green is an incoming masters student of chemistry at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He was exposed to the vastness of the conversation of theology while studying the Text through both undergraduate studies at the University of Idaho and being a student of his rabbi Marty Solomon. He’s learned that it’s most important to lay differences aside and cooperate with all walks of life to spread the goodness and love that was so central to the message of the one he calls both Rabbi and Lord.
Dave Windhorn says
This is a great article full of truth. It should light a fire under us all to be more conscious to love others instead of judging them. Thanks for providing this article!
An important article but one that misses an important truth.
What we believe – our values, both implicit and explicit – determine our behaviours. If we are to behave right then we are to believe right. It’s not a negotiable. It’s a psychological fact.
I suggest that the issues mentioned in your article – and ultimately the orthopraxis we seek – stem from the beliefs we hold; we fail to achieve the orthopraxy we think we value. We think that believing this and that leads to the truth. But all along our behaviour betrays us.
I would argue that the ‘orthodoxy’ people claim to follow is really held as an **explicit** belief but their **implicit** beliefs, the hidden ones, are the things they truly value. These are the ones that dictate behaviour. So we can say we believe something but if our behaviour opposes that belief then we know that we actually believe something entirely different.
When we change our belief about God’s character as he revealed himself in Scripture then we will see our practise changed. If we behave in ways that reject others, harm them, treat them all as enemies, condemn them, then we can be certain that even if we say we hold to orthodox beliefs (and we may do so explicitly), we don’t hold to them implicitly – they’re not our core beliefs. In this case, our core beliefs are contrary to God and are therefore driving us to behave in ways that are contrary to God when they are threatened. We default to our core beliefs.
When we align our core values to God’s character revelations then we find that orthopraxy flows freely. Beliefs always dictate behaviour (but this is a very complex area!). Behaviour – praxis – doesn’t change belief. If it did, then addictions, habitual violence and other things people have counselling for could easily be changed by getting people to behave differently. But we know from experience that this isn’t true. So it is something else that determines praxis. Our core beliefs.
You could argue, then, that the issues in our church praxis are because even though people say they believe the truth, deep down, in their core self, they don’t truly believe. Their behaviours don’t align with their stated beliefs and so they actually believe something else.
I love the comment about explicit vs implicit behaviours. Most people know what the “right” beliefs are and will endorse them, but act in different ways. I’ve observed this same thing a number of times in myself (both mortifying and helpful), when I started to wonder why, if I believed X, was I acting like Y.
As a practicing therapist, I do disagree with the idea that beliefs only affect behaviours and not the other way around. In fact, they both affect each other. A number of treatments that we use depend on this principle. A skill called opposite action to emotion involves acting opposite to how you feel in order to change how you feel (this is about emotion rather than belief, but I believe they’re connected). For example, if you’re angry at someone and it’s either unjustified or unhelpful to be so in that moment, you treat them fairly and with a little kindness, you maintain a gentle tone of voice, and keep a relaxed body posture. This helps the anger shift.
The good news about that is that if I discover I have an implicit belief that doesn’t line up with what I want to believe, I can start dealing with it from either end. I can look at shifting the belief, or acting according to the belief I want to have, and both can help the process of inner transformation.
Thanks for the reply, KL.
You’re agree with you when you say that behaviours can affect belief … but the movement is more often slight and not often effective with larger or more entrenched behaviours, which I think this article is dealing with.
Sometimes we have to behave differently to our mood to lift it; or we have to give when we don’t feel like it to discover how great it feels to give. And ultimately what we find is that the thoughts, the internal values, dictate our default actions.
I would argue that your therapy method is still targeting values – it is helping them conform their dissonant behaviours with their desired ones – by shifting the behaviour, they align their outward aspect with the explicit value they *want* to drive their behaviour. Each success then changes their explicit value into an implicit one.
This means, then, that they have a stronger implicit value – the desire to not harm, or the desire to change, or the desire to be something other – and their ambivalence to change simply needs some support. So when they succeed in transformation, they’re acting according to an implicit value that is stronger than the one causing the undesirable behaviour. What do you think? I’d be interested in your thoughts.
Debbie Boutwell says
“”Sometimes we have to behave differently to our mood to lift it”” I have found this to be ever so true. If our “mood” is not what we know it should be, we don’t act on it, we act on what we know to be right. I kept a 4 year old little girl once for a few months until her mom got her drug problem/depression worked out. I also had a two year old granddaughter. I knew in order not to make the four year old feel “less than” I would have to show no difference in my affection towards both girls. So, I made a conscious effort to hug the four year old as long, lovingly, and, as enthusiastically as I did my own two year old. As a result the love that bloomed in my heart for that child was nothing short of miraculous! If we know what is right we can make it happen….Debbie
Michael Green says
Firstly, it’s great to hear from you and I appreciate your engagement in the conversation.
I maybe not had made this distinction clear enough when I originally penned this article, but yes I would agree with you on the understanding that there is also this important conversation to be had about explicit vs implicit orthodoxy, or as how I see the conversation unfolding, “what I think” compared to “why I act” (I could see this being a good follow up article). And with that distinction we can now run rampant through the teachings of our Rabbi Jesus because in reality, “why I act”, this orthopraxis motive, is also another very important facet of his ministry. So yes good observation on your part and I appreciate you stepping forward to share
Thanks for your reply.
I suspect the distinction I made was not the centrepiece for your message. As I said, your article is an important discussion to have. We need to explore the ideas God has around our behaviour and, as KL pointed out in their reply to me, we need to approach it from both directions. It’s so easy to think it’s ‘either/or’ when it’s really ‘both/and’.
So thanks for your reply and thank you so much for putting in the time to say what you said. We need to have this conversation as much as possible. It’s really great to read it.
If you want to, feel free to read an article I wrote, linked to the bottom of this comment. But I’m really not trying to make this a space to spruik my own works!! It’s just longer and encapsulates my thoughts on the matter more. It’s not an overtly ‘Christian’ one; you’d call it more self-help. It taps into some of these ideas. I think theology and the practical nature of change in Christian circles can learn a lot from this way of thinking, mostly because I think it’s how we change tough behaviours. There are other elements to it, of course (watch that space for a future article on moral disengagement … I think we Christians do an awful lot of that to justify behaviours that don’t align with God’s self-revelation).
Very very well said! And the only way to get our core beliefs changed to get the correct orthopraxy to manifest, is to allow the Father to love us! This happens through understanding our regained innocence, through Jesus. Which in turn will flow out in love toward others.
Very very well said! (Stuart-June 4th) And the only way to get our core beliefs changed to get the correct orthopraxy to manifest, is to allow the Father to love us! This happens through understanding our regained innocence, through Jesus. Which in turn will flow out in love toward others.
We’re all in this journey as best we can. When we grow in love then we can grow in love for others.
Thanks, Helen (June 11th)!
We’re all in this journey as best we can. When we grow in accepting how loved we are, then we can grow in love for others.
Bette Cox says
Agape (God’s love) is a choice of behavior, not an emotion, not a liking for someone, not a mushy feeling. Sometimes it’s really hard. The only source of agape behavior for any human is God himself, actually living inside of a human and working from the inside out. We love because he first loved us and inhabits us. Believers in Christ have accepted his terms, accepted his offer to indwell us, and thus are enabled to love the way he likes. But because we are co-workers with Christ and not slaves, we can choose to refuse to behave the way he wants. We’ll be miserable… but we can just not do it.
Michael Green says
The Hebrew word of the kind of Love you’re referring to is Ahava. This is significant because when Jesus says “Love your neighbor”, in the Hebrew it’s “ve’Ahavta reyacha c’mocha”. His desire when he says to love one another is that we be committed to being there for each other through good times and glory, as well as through the turmoil and tragedy.
I just thought I’d share that 😀
Don Newmeyer says
Brilliant article, and the comments are also great.
This is a message that is strongly needed! As Jesus said, the whole law is summarized in the two commandments about love. This also relates to the parable in which the Samaritan was praised for his loving actions, despite being from an unorthodox sect.
If orthopraxy is to be ‘practiced’ effectively, we would do well to first practice Zen and master the flesh. Thank God for the intellect of Paul, who evidently struggled with the flesh. My mind bathes in the wisdom and grace God gives us in his letters. As inherently pragmatic as orthopraxy may appear, I see it as yet another division in Western, post-modern Christianity. My rebuttal hangs on Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Jesus didn’t teach, blessed are the righteous. I have known many Christians, some strong, some weak. In all, the strong sometimes failed, and the weak were occasionally victorious.
T. I. Miller says
Let us look at Matt. 7 Not everyone who says unto me Lord, Lord will enter into heaven.
Couple this with Matt. 6 where Jesus rejects the good deeds done for the approval of men. He commands his followers to do them is secret.
In both cases orthopraxy is esteemed by the practitioners above orthodoxy, but not by God.
It is the true belief in the truth of Jesus and his gospel of forgiveness for sins and from the power of sin that set people free.
An atheists can do good works, but no one justified by good works.
The eastern religion mindset puts correct practice above correct belief, not gospel according to Jesus.
Thanks guys. Love the article. Love the replies.
From Proverbs 4:23, I also offer the following without commentary. “Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life.” New Century Version