Saturday, November 15, 2008

Orthodoxy and orthopraxy

There is currently a discussion on the Facebook group "Christadelphians Worldwide" about the question "what's important (and what's not)?"

Duncan Heaster posted some excellent thoughts in response to something I'd written elsewhere, and with his permission I have reproduced them below.
"Practical teaching without sound theology is as impoverished as sound theology without practical teaching. The New Testament doesn’t make the distinction between orthodoxy and orthopraxy [good practice] that we often do, nor is there any hint in the Scriptures, as far as I can see, that God will forgive bad behavior more readily than poor theology, or vice versa. We need to teach them both and teach them well.” — Steve Cook
It needs to be read a few times for it to sink in. I suspect one of the barriers to accepting what you say here is the idea folk have that the word "doctrine" refers only to theology and the propositional statements which can accompany it, positive and negative- e.g. one God, no heaven going, Kingdom on earth, devil didn't fall off the 99th floor etc.

Reality is that Biblically, 'doctrine' means simply 'teaching'- and the 'teaching' of the inspired writers was largely about intensely practical things. Thus the perceived difference between 'doctrine' [as many understand the word] and 'practice' is actually false. Teaching is practical- for the NT isn't given to just ivory tower theology for the sake of it. Indeed the whole of the NT is a collection of missionary documents- preaching, letters to new converts etc. And even when there is pure theology taught, this is always in a practical context- it is the springboard for action, not an end in itself. The way the two sections of Romans tie together is a nice example - 1-11 is the theology, the theory, and 12-16 is the practical outcome of it.

Christadelphianism has some good theology, that's why I am a Christadelphian and not in some other group, but the challenge is to articulate all that true theology in practical terms. If that's not done, then the true theology hasn't been believed in the sense it is intended to be believed- it's simply been assembled and protected in a glass case. The talent has to be traded, not wrapped up and 'preserved' in the earth.

Jonah 2:9 contains the enigmatic statement that those who "hold to empty faiths" (Heb.) "forsake their own hesed". Hesed basically refers to the capacity a superior has to show mercy, grace and love to someone in an inferior position. For over 20 years I wondered what Jonah was really getting at. I think I then grasped it- those who hold to empty faiths forego the capacity to show hesed, favour to others- the implication being that the result of the one true faith is that we are empowered to show hesed, love, favour, grace, mercy, to others. And this ties in perfectly with 1 Pet. 1:22- we obey the truth unto, with the result that, we show "unfeigned love of the brethren". This is how and where true doctrine comes to its ultimate term- love of others.

No comments: