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Orthopraxy (part 3)

In this post on orthopraxy, again I'm kind of rambling, shooting in the dark, just playing with what might be essential elements of Christian orthopraxy. So I welcome your thoughts and critiques on this.

The epistle of James talks a lot about how Christians should live, that our faith is properly demonstrated and proved ("justified") by our works, and without proper lifestyle, our faith is dead. But when we talk about general orthopraxy, we don't want to get bogged down on a bunch of rules, a rule system - that leads to legalism, and avoiding legalism is an important goal here in developing the concept of orthopraxy. That's why I want to develop principles of orthopraxy, to provide a coherent framework for practicing Christianity, Christian lifestyle, and the relationship between faith, orthodoxy, and practice.

So a logical place to start is with the Ten Commandments, which are foundational to biblical morality and lifestyle, but not with individual commandments, but the principles behind them. And since there are a couple of different levels of application, as Jesus discussed, this allows for a gradient application (different levels) of some aspects of orthopraxy for different purposes. On one level, for example, not killing means not killing a person; on another level, it refers to not hating and such. The deeper, stricter level of application would be relevant, e.g., for assessing a person's spiritual life as criteria for selecting a person for leadership positions, or assessing how spiritually mature s/he is.

1. Love and fear God.
The first principle underlies the first four commandments, which basically have to do with loving and fearing God, submitting to him, putting him first. This is probably a basic principle of Christian orthopraxy. On the basic "literal" level, it refers to not practicing idolatry or other religions, only the true religion of the one God. This in general applies to all Christians, and violating it on this basic, external (outward practice) level would call into question one's faith. On a deeper level, this refers to not putting other things ahead of God in one's priorities and lifestyle, be it money, pride, personal agendas, or whatever one's pet internal idols are. This deeper level leads to a higher standard, to which we hold spiritual leaders and mature Christians accountable - a more stringent standard of putting God first in one's life.

This is logically and necessarily entailed by Deut. 6:4, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength". Thus, on this point orthodoxy and orthopraxy are very related, in fact, just two sides of the same coin. Recognizing the one true God and forsaking all idols is part of orthodox belief, and it translates directly to worshipping him alone, loving him, and fearing him - this follows naturally from recognizing him as the one true God.

This also entails submission to God's word, which is generally a biblical criterion of biblical faith, of being a disciple of our Lord. This means we submit all our lives and lifestyle and thoughts to the scrutiny of the Bible, and our beliefs to its authority. This allows for gray areas and disagreement on minor issues (secondary theological issues on which Christians may legitimately disagree, and practices and behaviors that are optional or fall into permissible gray areas, like whether to drink in moderation or abstain entirely from alcohol) - as long as one's beliefs are subject to biblical authority, and one is attempting to be faithful and consistent with Scripture, rather than imposing his/her views or agendas upon Scripture, and if one doesn't deviate from basic orthodoxy.

I might also add submission to spiritual authority, but considerable caution is needed. There has to be a balance between submission to authority, and the priesthood of the believer, as believers have a right and a responsibility at times to take issue with those in authority, and to hold them accountable. Sometimes, when those in authority are teaching or behaving wrongly, people have a responsibility to oppose them, speak up, or hold them accountable.

2. Love others
The second principle follows from the first. Love of God and submission to him entail loving others. On a basic level, applicable to all believers in general as evidence of faith, is basic moral and ethical behavior toward others - not stealing, not falsely accusing others, respect for parents, pure sexual conduct, and such. On the deeper and stricter level of application, this entails love of fellow believers, love for non-believers (e.g., in one's witness and conduct toward non-believers), not bearing grudges, forgiving others and seeking forgiveness, and many other things.

It also means not being judgmental of other Christian denominations or excluding Christians of other denominations, or being overly clique-ish or exclusive regarding one's own church or group verses believers from outside one's church or group. I mention this in particular because of denominational bigotry I've witnessed in my years as a believer, what Michael Card calls "the sin of denominationalism". It is simply wrong to dismiss a priori a Christian denomination or movement, like Catholicism or the charismatic movement, as a cult, emotionalism, "non-Christian", or of purely human origin, This is bearing false witness, false accusation, and only empowers the work of The Accuser himself (that is in fact what "Satan" means). Catholicism is the oldest Christian denomination in the world, and the charismatic movement has a long history, going all the way back to the early church. Orthopraxy means not condemning, judging, or stereotyping, but being fair and objective in offering only valid, fair criticisms of particular problems in another Christian group. One should instead be fair, loving and welcoming to believers of different backgrounds, denominations, socioeconomic status, cultures, and races.

Basically, this is an absolute requirement. It's not terribly hard to come up with rationalizations for not loving God, for erecting idols in one's heart, but it's even easier for Christians to come up with excuses and rationalizations for not consistently loving others, and it's human nature ("he's a jerk", "don't like their denomination / style of worship", "they're not Christians so I won't associate with those pagan scum"). But Christians, especially leaders and mature believers, are to be held to a higher standard.

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