Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy are important theological terms with an even more important application to how one lives their life. It seems that there is a major disconnect in American Christian culture between these two. One, Orthodoxy, is what we ought to believe. The other, Orthopraxy, is what we ought to do. Even as I write that statement what I hear screaming from my computer screen is, “How dare you tell us we ought to do something, legalist! We have Freedom in Christ!” While there is truth in that statement, I believe that we fall into legalism primarily when when divorce our doctrine from its proper roll of defining our practice. Lets look to the text of Scripture, I believe that James chapter 1 addresses this issue for us.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:22-27 ESV)
We must both hear and do the word. We hear the word, using James’ example, which is orthodoxy ( ie. We are to love and serve the church) and then we act upon that hearing, so as not to be hypocrites, which is our orthopraxy (ie. Visiting and caring for the widows and orphans). I believe that when we divorce orthodoxy from orthopraxy, we fall into one of several possible errors.
The first would be Liberalism. Often times what I see from people in this camp is that theology doesn’t matter, only action does. The problem is that they fail to see the truth in Romans 14:23 b. Right action is meaningless in God’s economy without faith in Christ.
The second problem with the divorce of orthodoxy and orthopraxy is the opposite of liberalism. I believe that this is best described by the term Antinomian, I see people who don’t care about doing the right things, as defined by the law of liberty. These people will function in such a way as to convey to the rest of us that because they have the right doctrine their actions don’t matter, because they believe the right things. Paul also addresses this issue in Romans 6:1-2.
Finally, there is the issue of Legalism. One form of legalism is to say that because of one’s practice one is more holy than others. The divorce here is a bit more subtle, in that the right doctrine of salvation has been separated from the right doctrine of sanctification. This is a bit more of a specific situation, however, it is clearly an inconsistency within orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
We must keep our orthodoxy in line with our orthopraxy. This isn’t legalism, it is liberty.