04 October 2007

Orthodoxy/Orthopraxy Again

by Phil Johnson

From time to time we pull classic comments up out of an old thread's combox. This is one of those:

I had written, "Sound doctrine is not just "one important way to end the scandal of contemporary Christian behavior." It is the answer to the whole problem. "Orthodox theological belief" is the key to a proper Christian worldview. And a truly biblical worldview is the only possible foundation for right praxis. That is what we must stress if the evangelical movement is ever to be salvaged from its current scandalous state."

A commenter demurred, saying, "I wish orthodoxy always resorted in orthopraxy, but it 'ain't necessarily so'. I've seen too many examples to pretend otherwise."

My reply follows:


If you are speaking of orthodoxy in the literal sense of "sound teaching," I agree: orthodoxy doesn't always result in orthopraxy.

But if you're speaking of "right belief," then I would differ with you. Sinful behavior is always a fruit of wrong beliefs. You can be certain that if your behavior is bad, you have a belief somewhere that needs correcting.

For example, even if you can recite the catechism perfectly on the divine attributes, if you persist in deliberate sin, you do not fear God the way you should, and that is a belief (or lack thereof) that needs to be corrected with more orthodox thinking.

To put it another way, sound teaching (orthodoxy) is ultimately a necessary remedy for all evil praxis.

By the way, that's why Jesus spoke of the Word as the instrument of sanctification. And that's why orthodoxy itself should never be derided just because some who seem to be superficially "orthodox" might behave badly.

It's also why sanctification doesn't automatically occur by purely sacramental means.

On the one hand, it's certainly true that "doing is more important than words." No one here has argued otherwise.

However (and this is the point I have labored to make), "orthodoxy" is not about words. It's about truth, real belief, and the Word of God. If it doesn't result in "doing," it isn't true orthodoxy; it's dead faith. That's James's point in chapter 2.

On the other hand, genuine goodness is not the fruit of pietistic doing. It's the fruit of faith—and genuine faith is rooted in orthodox beliefs, not unorthodox ones.

Phil's signature


75 comments:

Robert said...

Phil,
Well said. There is a real backlash against anything that smacks of "orthodoxy" these days...you've cleared the fog; at least temporarily.

DJP said...

If orthopraxy were not produced by orthodoxy... would it be produced by heterodoxy?

David said...

You can have right action without right belief.

But you can't have right belief if you live your life conducting wrong actions. Your actions prove your un-belief. Your actions prove what you believe is not orthodox

Jonathan Moorhead said...

This is a very helpful distinction, Phil.

P.S. the TMAI missionary slaves send their greetings to you from NY.

BugBlaster said...

Don't drink and drive.

Tom Chantry said...

If orthopraxy were not produced by orthodoxy... would it be produced by heterodoxy?

I would presume heterodoxy would produce heteropraxy.

(OK, I admit it, I just wanted to be the first to use "heteropraxy" on the thread.)

donsands said...

Nice. That was short and sweet.

".. but the Word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it." Heb. 4:2

centuri0n said...

What about ortho-breakfast?

DJP said...

Or ortho-Brak-sy?

ajlin said...

On the other hand,

I'm reminded of Pilgrim's Progress in which Christian sees Formalist and Hypocrisy come into the way by means of climbing over a wall. These characters believe that being in the way, it does not matter how they got there, and that they can surely enter the Celestial City by following the way- the same as Christian. Christian informs them that since they made an unlawful entry into the way, they would certainly not be accepted into the Celestial City, but would rather come under judgment.

The point is this (and the point is, of course, even more clear in the original text)- heterodoxy or even heresy may occasionally produce something akin to orthopraxy- we think of Mother Teresa or all the moral Mormons we know or even the Baptist in the pew of a seeker-friendly church who is a good ol' boy, treating everyone right, but never having repented before God and cast himself entirely upon Christ. These all may have, to a high degree, what we consider orthopraxy- at least in their relationships to others. And yet their right actions will be of no avail when they stand before God.

And this is the primary error of many who want to postulate a radical disjunct between orthodoxy and orthopraxy- that the primary actions they are concerned with are actions toward others, rather than toward God. Questions that should be asked of those who wish to devalue orthodoxy in any way are such as: what is worship? how, exactly is faith related to good works? what does the Bible mean by born again?

Regarding this last question, one of the best critiques Phil Johnson offered against "easy believism" was that the writings of its major proponents demonstrated a grossly inadequate understanding of the new birth. This seems to be true for all sub-Christian systems of thought, including many sectors of current Evangelicalism and the Emergent Church Movement as a whole.

More could be said, but this comment is already too long...

Jake said...

I can definately relate to this post. There was a time when I knew all the right things, and could say the right things, but while I was out trying to change everyone else, I forgot to let my own heart be changed (Matt 7:3) That is a dangerous hypocrisy because people saw someone saying the right things, but with the wrong attitude and actions. Personal holiness in the life of every believer cannot be stressed enough, but it's a mistake to think that means just trying to tidy up the life everyone sees.

rick said...

djp and tom chantry - it could be worse, you could have paradoxy producing parapraxy ...

DJP said...

...to the rhythm of a paradiddle?

Stan said...

It is an echo of what I learned from James 2:14ff -- we always act on what we truly believe. It also serves as a personal warning to me when I say I believe something but don't seem to act on it.

SolaMeanie said...

I tend to think of "Ortho" being the name of a rather popular pest control product line. How fitting. Generous application of Orthodoxy and Orthopraxis kills all manner of pestilent hereticasaens and their spawn. Kills em' dead. Or in kinder, gentler terminology, assists them in assuming room temperature.

CalvDispy said...

What a crucial and important distinction. Is it safe to say someone can think that something is true, but not really believe that it is true? Maybe, we have here some of the nuances of the Reformer's distinctions in Notitia, Assensus and Fiducia. True faith must consist of all three.

Sewing said...

All these parents, and no one thought of Orthodontics!?

Calvdispy, on the distinction between thinking something is true (not merely paying lip service, but really assenting to it, without feeling it in one's heart) and believing it with all of one's heart, soul, and strength—I'd agree. It's been true for me, anyhow: intellectual faith in God came at the time of regeneration, but understanding in my gut that having faith in God means trusting God (as Abraham did—see James ref. above) or better yet, entrusting oneself to God (as Jesus did, although he's in a class of His own...) came a few months later. The same for fearing God, which hit me like a ton of bricks when I reread the relevant sections of Numbers a few months ago....

centuri0n said...

wheels have officially come off the comment thread ... careening toward disaster ...

SolaMeanie said...

You started it, Frank. With "ortho-breakfast." I'm telling. I don't want to get sent to the corner.

DJP said...

wheels have officially come off the comment thread ... careening toward disaster ..

...he says, setting down the tire-iron and wiping his hand on his bib overalls.

Tom Chantry said...

You do not want to run into a heterodontist in a dark alley!

donsands said...

"You do not want to run into a heterodontist in a dark alley!"

Amen.

It would be almost as bad as a man-hug.

Sewing said...

Would a heterodontist be someone who makes all one's teeth crooked? (To really earn his keep, he would remove one or two as well.)

centuri0n said...

It's always my fault. I admit it.

Robert said...

Ok...
This is waaaaay OT but I DON'T KNOW HOW TO CONTACT YOU GUYS!!!

Who does your graphics on these posts...they are great; so well done!

DJP said...

Did someone say MAN-HUG??

Sewing said...

I agree with Robert...the graphics are superb...that's half of what got me hooked on this blog (the other half being commitment to the Word of God...). Actually, all three of you have very distinctive graphic styles on your respective blogs.

SolaMeanie said...

I am expecting Philip to pop in here any minute, like Bill Cosby's dad on his old comedy record, and say in a loud booming all caps . . .

"DON'T MAKE ME COME UP THERE!"

So in fear and trepidation of a trip to the cyberwoodshed, I will try to steer this wheel-less thread back on the road ruts.

I was just reading IFCA's resolution against the New Perspective on Paul. Would to the Lord that more church fellowships would come out with guns blazing like this. Orthodoxy being championed always cheers my soul.

Tom Chantry said...

To really earn his keep, he would remove one or two as well.

Yeah, we really need to ask Mensa Reject where he got his heterodontist. (He of the best photo-url ever!)

And enough with the manhugs! We can't have this site going all girly on us!

Tom Chantry said...

(Nice try, Solameanie, but didn't you get the memo? We're no longer interested in the longest thread of all time, we're aiming for the silliest.

SolaMeanie said...

Oh, well. I tried. At least if we're going to start hawking man-hugs, this will give the Pyro guys an opportunity to sell man-bags (or totes) with the TeamPyro logo on them. Unless Frank decides to co-opt the series with one of his cartoon babe-a-licious characters that engender so much controversy among our Jack Hyles-type friends.

Zoinks. Now I'm REALLY in trouble.

Libbie said...

OK, well, not be all school-marmish, but I actually have something on topic. Easy now, it's not taxing.

I've been following a conversation on a message board in which a woman is quite earnestly contending that she is a Christian who doesn't believe in God, and that most of the vicars she has spoken to agree with her that Christianity is primarily about a moral code, and that any belief in the supernatural is entirely un-neccessary to being a Christian.

It's still fairly shocking to hear this kind of thing from mainline liberals. But it's absolutely the end-game position if you adopt the backward reasoning that puts doing before believing in the priority list.

donsands said...

I just love that man-hug video. It's a classic.

SolaMeanie said...

Libbie,

I wish I could remember where I saw it..might have been The Christian Post on line, but there is actually a movement among some atheists to call themselves Christians in that manner. An oxymoron of course, and another attempt to redefine long accepted definitions for nefarious reasons.

It's funny. For a group of people who don't believe in God, they seem awfully worried about Him.

centuri0n said...

Robert:

Phil does like 93% of TP graphics; I do things like the script which rotates the header graphic, and about 5% of the rest of the graphics. Dan rustles up the rest on his own, which are always brilliant.

Because we are relevant, dude. Word Up.

[don't laugh]

Mike Riccardi said...

Hey Everyone,

No one really responded to David's comment: You can have right action without right belief.

I think I know what David means here (correct me if I'm wrong)... that is, an unbeliever can "instinctively do the things of the Law," showing that "the Law is written on their hearts." (No reference, just for Frank.)

However, an eyebrow raises at the notion that any of these right actions without right beliefs are anything but filthy garments (still no reference, :o)). This, of course, is based on the assumption that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6, sorry... couldn't help it).

Trackin with me?

David said...

you got it mike

Doing right acts is worth nothing without right belief(well, it makes you a great neighbor)

But if you do not have right acts in your life, you prove by your actions that your beliefs are false - thus your beliefs are worth nothing

That was my point.

NeoFundy said...

Exactly...As regarding those circumstances where it appears that orthopraxy is disconnected from orthodoxy...It is in this kind of environment that hypocrisy flourishes, and the "lovely" facade inevitably falls apart under its own weight. We shouldn't get confused by temporary shows of “spirituality,” where false doctrine is ignored, held, or promoted, all kinds of wickedness is under the surface just waiting to stink up the place.

northWord said...

SolaMeanie:
"...but there is actually a movement among some atheists to call themselves Christians in that manner."

Really, it's come to that? Yikes....

I'l never cease to be amazed (and mortified) by these continuing proofs of those who'll call evil good, and good evil, putting darkness for light, and light for darkness; and put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

"For a group of people who don't believe in God, they seem awfully worried about Him."

How right you are - there is a group at my photo-sharing-community place called "Christianity" where a handful of atheists have joined in, some started out it seemed just to antagonize the group with questions of God/creation etc... and only arguments against, (most of them highly intelligent)-anyway, some have stayed around for several months whilst a few of us have remained with them, hammering away with just trying to "get them to get it" - we all know that it is God who actually does the moving of hearts, according to His will for each of us, we understand that, its just that, well how and when do you give up? And should we even give up?

I am sorry, I've gotten of point, which was to say indeed it is very interesting how the atheists of today (who are getting bolder and bolder mind us) choose to niggle-away at our belief in God (and everything that entails).

I've often wished some ppl in here could help with those "conversations" (I almost always put quotations around that word cuz I rather dislike it in this context), I mean, this is where the heavy hitters of the Word are found. It's all good though, God works everywhere - and I'm learning alot in both places.

ps- glad to have the link again to the man-hug vid, I'd forgotten about that one! sooo funny!

Theophilus said...

(sorry to be on-topic, but...)

thus: "Taking every thought into captivity"

Also, belief, as some have already pointed out, is more than mere assent

greglong said...

In light of the heterodonics comments, I'm surprised you guys haven't yet been accused of being Anti-Dentites

"Hey, Denty!"

Ian Hall said...

Good post Phil .
Here in Northern Ireland I'm afraid there is a widespread rejection among alleged Christians of Biblical orthodoxy . Yet to reject Biblical orthodoxy is to reject the Lord and His Word. Sad .

www.theevangelists.blogspot.com

mike rucker said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
candyinsierras said...

Mike. I checked out your blog, stream of consciousness writing, references to Venti decaf (you do realize that Starbucks has gone mostly corporate right?), and the usual rants about Bush and the war, and only one thing came to my mind.

Midlife crisis.

It's ok because I hear most men come out of that eventually.

donsands said...

"living in grace, living in the spirit, means life is a whole lot grayer than the law's black and white absolutes."

God's children always lived in grace. That's what Paul explains in Romans four.

It's always been about His mercy. The law is holy, good, and spiritual. But we are sinners, and the law condemns us.
We flee to Christ because of the law's exposing our filthy sins. And then we, by faith are crucified with Christ, and become dead to the law. The law can not condemn us now.
But the law is now engraved upon our hearts.
We now love the Lord's name. We love to worship Him alone. We hate to murder, and not only that but we hate to hate. We now hate to lust after women, and to covet. We hate to lie and cheat, which the world loves to do. Which we at one time loved as well.

I love God's law with my inner man, and yet my flesh still rebels against it.

If you don't love God's law, then you may need to receive His forgiveness, and cry out to Him for mercy.

Dan may delete this and your comment, and that's cool.

donsands said...

I mean Phil may delete it. Well I guess Dan could as well. I'm not sure how those things work.
Sorry.

ALL FOR ONCE/ ONCE FOR ALL said...

"Would a heterodontist be someone who makes all one's teeth crooked? (To really earn his keep, he would remove one or two as well.)"

Teeth? Heterodontists use springs. Teeth- now that's old school:) Right Rob?

1Cr 2:16

northWord said...

"i'll leave mine out to wreak havoc in the universe."

somehow that reminded me of this verse:

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
Eph 6:12

mike rucker said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike Riccardi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DJP said...

People who have trouble with God's/Jesus' "commandments" always have trouble with the blog's rules. It's a soup 'n' sandwich thing. I think it's actually about authority, which ultimately is always actually about God (Romans 13:1ff.).

Go figure.

Mike Riccardi said...

As the other comments have been deleted, all that really should remain of my original response is the following:

- Ephesians 4:29-31, 5:4

- Jude 1:4

- 2 Timothy 3:8-9

mike rucker said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
wordsmith said...

Wow, what a concept - that someone who owns a blog might actually have the right to establish rules for posting, and the right to enforce those rules.

It's Phil's bat, and his ball - those who disagree, of course, are free to set up their own blogs and rant away to their heart's content.

mike rucker said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
wordsmith said...

Phil tickling ears? That'll be the day!!

wordsmith said...

And Jesus' grave is empty!!

Mike Riccardi said...

Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes's and Jambres's folly was also. -- 2Tim 3:8-9

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him. -- Prov 26:4

Mike Riccardi said...

Sayyyyyyyyyy....

Where was Spurgeon today?

JoJo said...

Just out of curiosity, could someone tell me what the grounds are for having a comment deleted? In other words, what makes it delete-worthy?...besides the obvious like profanity.

Thanks. Just good to know. :)

Mike Riccardi said...

2. Say what you like about us; disagree as strongly as you like; beat us up or slap us around verbally with near-total impunity. But keep within the parameters of Christian civility. We'll automatically delete comments with profane or unwholesome words, including abbreviated or otherwise disguised ones.
3. On-topic comments only. If you have other stuff to say to one of us, send an e-mail.
4. Keep our friends and families out of it. Certain kinds of deliberately-intrusive criticism targeting our loved ones or other cherished aspects of our off-line personal lives will be deemed grounds for an instant, automatic, and permanent ban. (Such remarks are outside the parameters of Christian civility and therefore a violation of Rule 2. They also violate rule 3 and this one, and therefore constitute a threefold offense. That's sufficient grounds for an automatic instant ban.) Say whatever you like about us (as long as you keep your language clean), and we'll let you post it. Take a cheap shot at one of our friends, wives, children, churches, or places of employment, and you risk being permanently banned without further consideration. If in doubt, apply the strictest possible interpretations of rules 2 and 3.
5. Don't feed the trolls.
6. Break these rules three times and the moderators will automatically delete any further comments you post.

DJP said...

(They are all posted on the main page, JoJo, on the right column, in plain sight.)

centuri0n said...

Wow! What a lousy day for my house's 30-year-old plumbing to blow up!

northWord said...

awwwwwww man!!

that really stinks -er-ah-- well you know what I mean.

seriously dude, bummer. :(

northWord said...

ok, I think this is worth a good sat eve chuckle..there's nothing like laughter in truth.

I think this guy needed more than just a 'spellcheck':

Collapsible Muslim? Any good ones?

mike rucker said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
SolaMeanie said...

I must have missed something. How dare someone get zapped without me being here to watch.

I feel so forlorn. I will now strap myself into the closest electric chair. At least I can enjoy it vicariously. Just call me Uncle Fester. KOWVOOOT!

Sorry, Dan..Phil..Frank...Pec....I just had to inject a little more humor here.

DJP said...

Three strikes at least, Rucker. You're banned.

northWord said...

my link/comment had nothing, notta, el-zilcho at all to do with the Rucker fellow, just to be clear to the odd person who may have thought otherwise.
poor Dan..

stratagem said...

IS THERE A GOOD DAY FOR PLUMBING TO BLOW UP? :)

DJP said...

Day after the Rapture?

stratagem said...

touché!

Bill Gnade said...

Dear Phil,

You wrote:

Sinful behavior is always a fruit of wrong beliefs. You can be certain that if your behavior is bad, you have a belief somewhere that needs correcting.

I am unsure whether I agree with this. It seems to me that "belief" is too vague of a term here. I think it's possible that "real sin" -- the really "bad" kind -- occurs when we do that which is wrong even though our beliefs are at their finest and "rightest" point. I am quite orthodox; I could argue that I am the most orthodox person in this discussion. But I still sin. The demon is neither my theology nor my beliefs; the demon is my will. I look at truth, the grace of God, the sacrifice of Christ, and sometimes choose to disregard them, despite the fact that I believe in "all of it". No doubt one could argue that I have a false "belief" about myself. But I would counter that I don't: I look right at truth and yet reject it. Why? Because I want to; because I feel like it.

St. Paul tells us in Romans that the created order not only reveals the invisible qualities of God, it reveals sin, and that sin is even punishable by death. And yet -- people still sin; they sin despite knowing the very essence of God and what the consequences are of sinning against Him.

The Bible mentions that the demons believe too, and tremble -- but they're still demons. And then we have Satan himself -- assuming he is a real being external to ourselves. Surely he "believes," surely he "knows." And yet his praxis is all wrong. Does Satan have bad theology, bad belief? I don't know. Much of me thinks he "gets it" and yet, for some incomprehensible reason, he rejects it. I can easily countenance the idea that many of those who merit damnation do so while totally apprehending, even believing, the fullness of the Gospel. Could it be that moral indifference, and willful and stubborn rejection and denial, have nothing to do with beliefs at all?

Of course, I wonder aloud.

Thanks for the provocative post.

Peace,

Bill Gnade

Phil Johnson said...

Bill Gnade: "Surely he 'believes,' surely he 'knows.' And yet his praxis is all wrong. Does Satan have bad theology, bad belief? I don't know. Much of me thinks he 'gets it' and yet, for some incomprehensible reason, he rejects it."

See: I think you operate with a faulty notion of faith. "Surely he 'believes'. . . yet, for some incomprehensible reason, he rejects it" is self-contradictory. And I think that's the underlying point of James 2. The demons "believe" in the same sense as James's interlocutors. I.e., they know what the truth is, but they don't take it seriously enough to submit to it.

So James 2 isn't saying that faith must be mingled with works in order to become effectual; he's saying that faith which does not produce works isn't authentic faith at all but a lifeless, artificial pretense.

And contrary to Zane Hodges and his disciples, James is not describing a once-living faith that has somehow died. He's talking about something that was lifeless from the start. The parallel would be between a man and a mannekin. The mannekin's inactivity and stone-cold hardness is a large clue that it's dead. It may superficially look like a real man, but it's something of a whole different character.

Same with the difference between merely knowing the truth ("believing" it in a demonic sense) and truly believing it.

Bill Gnade said...

Dear Phil,

I thank you for the thoughtful reply.

I've spent about 24 hours thinking over what you've written, and I still remain doubtful. Perhaps I should stick with my original point: the word "belief" in your post is too vague.

You see, if "real" orthodoxy produces orthopraxy, then evangelism seems to be little more than education: Get folks to believe the right set of beliefs and they are on the road to recovery. But I don't think is the case at all. Terms like "regeneration" and "transformation" suggest to me more than a mere cleansing of the mind, freeing it from dirty error. I am thinking of something total and radical when I hear "regeneration" or even "conversion."

Nonetheless, I am stuck with something else. I may indeed be orthodox, yet I still sin. Your model intimates that I sin because I have either some error, or I have chosen to set aside orthodoxy for a moment. If the former, I am not REALLY orthodox. If the latter, then we really have a problem, for we would then have to explain my "setting aside" orthodoxy by finding the "error" that led me to set it aside; if the error is found, then I am not orthodox to begin with.

St. Paul talks about a war in his members; his orthodoxy does not explain the fact that he can't seemingly control himself. Is St. Paul confessing to heterodoxy when he admits he does what he does not want to do, and does not do what he wants to do? His orthodoxy did NOT always lead to orthopraxis; I think he virtually admits this to be the case. And yet I think we have to admit that St. Paul was indeed the MOST orthodox man in this conversation -- a Pharisee among Pharisees (meaning, a man of great self-discipline) who was saved by Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit -- who nonetheless cannot get his actions to follow his beliefs.

But I am not sure pisteuo, at least as we translate it in English, is saying enough here.

Peace,

Bill Gnade