A peculiar mark of many younger Christians in this current generation is the elevation of orthopraxy over orthodoxy. Right practice is now typically celebrated–social justice, environmental issues, sensitive political awareness, and the like. All of this I applaud and am deeply encouraged by. It counters some blatant mistakes of the past. However, along the way it has come to pass–for whatever reasons–that the stale, dead orthodoxy (as it is prone to be viewed) of past generations of Christians is often seen to be irrelevant at best, and counter-productive to the mission of Jesus at worst.
In reading through the New Testament recently, I have been frequently struck by how wildly foreign this modern dichotomy is to the early Christians. For them, doctrine and godliness go together. Truth is meant to lead to love, and love is not genuine without truth. What God has joined together–orthodoxy and orthopraxy–let no person separate. Christians have become obedient from the heart, because they have been “handed over” to the proper form of teaching (Romans 6:17).
In I Timothy 1:5, Paul writes that “the goal [telos] of our instruction is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” It is often (correctly) pointed out that sound doctrine is not an end in itself, and those who treat it as such actually–and ironically–show themselves to possess bad doctrine. Yet the opposite also necessarily holds true–and, perhaps, is far less acknowledged today. If “instruction” has a goal in right practice, then we must also insist that “love” has its only and proper source in orthodox Christian truth. Orthopraxy does not arrive on the scene via creation ex nihilo. It derives from gospel doctrine. And faith comes from hearing the Word of Christ.
Back to my recent perusal of the New Testament. I’ve been noticing that the apostle Paul has a favorite phrase he likes to employ when some practical problem or contentious issue rears its ugly head in his churches. It abounds particularly in Romans and I Corinthians. “Do you not know,” he writes, “that [insert truth here] ought to prevent you from doing [insert grievious sin here]?” Paul strove passionately against ungodliness, hypocrisy and spiritual complacency in the body of Christ with sound doctrine! Do we find that our spiritual intuitions are presently wired this way, or are they out of tune?
Romans 6:1-3—“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”
Romans 6:15-16—“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
Romans 7:1—“Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law- that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?”
Romans 11:1-2—“I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?”
I Corinthians 3:16-17—“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
I Corinthians 5:6-8—“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
I Corinthians 6:1-4—“When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?”
I Corinthians 6:9-11—“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
I Corinthians 6:15-20—“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
I Corinthians 9:11-14—“If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”
I Corinthians 9:23-27—“I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”