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Christian orthopraxy

[Today's post begins a new and perhaps somewhat rambling theological thread over the next few days.]

Evangelical and orthodox Christianity (be it Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or other denominations) is defined by several crucial, fundamental beliefs, namely: [1] the triune, omnipotent God who create all things; [2] the full deity and humanity of Christ; [3] Scripture as God's authoritative, revealed word; [4] Christ's death and resurrection; [5] salvation by faith in Christ alone; and [6] Christ's imminent return. Christianity differs from other religions by its unique, faith alone basis for salvation, and its conception of God. It also differs from other religions in that what makes a person a Christian is not intellectual acceptance of these points, but a personal relationship with Christ, by faith and surrender to him as Lord and Savior. The spiritual relationship makes a person a Christian, but this necessarily entails full acceptance of the above six essential tenets of the faith. Thus, proper, biblical Christianity is defined, for theological and other puposes, in terms of religious orthodoxy, or proper, correct, biblical beliefs. Other aspects of belief are secondary or minor, and Christians vary a great deal on such lesser points, like specific church practices, worship style, eschatology, predestination, mode of baptism, and many other areas.

Christianity thus differs from many other religions in that being a Christian entails and requires orthodoxy, or correct beliefs, which other religions are based on orthopraxy, or correct practices, works, and/or rituals. Islam comes most notably to mind, though it is not the only one. Following basic practices of the religion is what defines a Muslim (or for other works based religions), and is what grants a person's salvation, though in such religions it is not possible to know for sure if one is saved until the final divine judgment.

Thus, other religions are inherently legalistic, in that one works or performs rituals to attain salvation, or to become a member of the religion. Christians have generally shyed away from embracing a concept of orthopraxy, since problems of legalism have always plagued the Christian religion, and biblical Christians don't want to be associated with legalism. It is often legalistic groups that emphasize works or rituals in an incorrect manner, and so give a bad name to the idea of a code of proper lifestyle and practices being somehow laid down or prescribed, so believing Christians have understandably avoided this. Also, in our desire to emphasize justifcation by faith and eternal security [once saved, always saved], we have often not emphasized the counterbalancing truths about discipline and lifestyle, sometimes leading to a sort of easy believism or "cheap grace" in our churches.

Yet I think the problems of legalism in the church, as well as the converse problems of failures to follow biblical rules and principles, lead to Christians sometimes being viewed as hypocrites, and these problems cause damage to the Church itself. Also, in this age where extreme individualism and relativism reigns supreme, even narcissism, it is necessary to stake out a concept of orthopraxy. Often such indivdualism and subjectivism creeps into the church, in the form of easy believism, prosperity theology, or such worldy influences leading to justifying behavior based on one's own desires, or one's own subjective interpretations of Christian teaching or spirituality being imposed on others, or leaders or church members acting without accountability. Hence the need for some concept of orthopraxy, or correct lifestyle - but not in a legalistic sort of way.

So the following series of posts will attempt to sketch out a theory of orthopraxy, which I submit for your comments and thoughts. It is not intended as a whole new doctrine or theological construct, but as a sort of attempt to characterize what Christians should like like, how they should live, and what a healthy church or fellowship should look like.

First, let's discuss how we define what a Christian is. Scripturally, it is defined first in terms of one's relationship with the Lord, in various terms - entering into God's covenant, being born again, following Christ and being his disciple, accepting Christ as Lord and Savior, being regenerated, eternal ife, etc. This is a most internal, purely spiritual matter, and we cannot examine other's souls directly to determine their status with God, as only God can do that. But we rely on essential marks of a believer, that include proper belief - not just intellectual assent to doctrines, but living one's life around proper biblical teaching. These marks also include proper lifestyle, which may not always be a reliable indicator from our point of view, as believers can still sin, but follow necessarily as a general lifestyle and result of faith and orthodoxy. Thus, Scripture talks about the importance of a holy life, following sound teaching, and crucial lifestyle indicators. These lifestyle indicators are more external, and include the following teachings: Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit, and believers are to have fruit; we are to love each other, by which the world will know that we are his disciples; we are to lead holy, moral, temperate lives that glorify God; and other examples abound.

So in summary, a Christian is defined as and known to be a Christian according to these, in their order of importance:

1. koinonia (relational): a relationship with the Lord - salvation, having submitted to Christ

2. orthodoxy: adhering to basic, sound, biblical teaching, which is essential to and follows from #1

3. orthopraxy: public profession of faith; living a godly lifestyle; i.e., proper Christian practice; this follows from and is entailed by #1 and #2

Koinonia, BTW, is the Greek word for fellowship, but also is a term reminiscent of Old Testament covenant language, i.e., having entered into covenant with God, in proper relationship and fellowship with God as a result of being saved. A proper relationship wih God is what makes a person a Christian, and one that must lead to an outward profession of faith, but the relationship itself is wholly internal, and we can't know the heart of every person and properly discern his/her spiritual state. So we rely on more discernable criteria - orthodoxy, in addition to a verbal confession of salvation, and orthopraxy, which should be consistent with one's claims of salvation and orthodoxy.

In my next posts, I'll explore various aspects of orthopraxy.

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