Orthodoxy or Orthopraxis

Thinking a lot about orthodoxy these days. Orthodoxy literally means “right belief” or “right opinion.” In church life, we talk about orthodox theology as that thinking about God considered by the church to be correct and true. The problem is that our God is not a static God. The notion that God is “the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow” implies that we have a static, unchanging God.

In reading those who are, in my mind, sages or mystics, I have come to see God as One whose nature is perpetual motion. An ever-expanding God even as the universe is an ever-expanding universe. I see God as one who does not let me get to one place and stand still … in my thinking, in my relationships, as a pastor and, perhaps most especially, in my own understanding of God.

I decided early in my life that I was going to be a lifelong student. Always learning. Always growing. There have been times when I was tempted to think I “had arrived” … that I finally knew everything there was to know … about life … about God … about relationships … about me. Man, was I wrong!

When I opened myself up to the “ever-expanding God,” I began to learn things I never before had dreamt. I learned of a God who is so much more compassionate and loving than I ever thought possible. I learned of a Jesus who practices justice in new and evolving ways. I learned of ways to think about social justice and how to create space for human dignity that I simply had not considered before.

I learned that people … regardless of how God created them to be … regardless of the color of their skin or their sexual orientation or their language or their income levels … bear the image of the creator in them. I learned from Jesus that when I care for the poor, it is not because I am being Christ to them … it is because THEY ARE CHRIST TO ME! I don’t bear the face of Jesus in my encounter with the poor. They bear the face of Jesus to me. I invite you to read Matthew 25 more closely!

Orthodoxy tends to freeze us in time. We are caught up in attributes of God only as described by Christians who went before us. I fully respect the traditions, creeds, and affirmations of my spiritual ancestors, but I also absolutely will not give up the notion that God is speaking to me and my contemporaries. Our contemporary experience of the divine also counts as we live into our faith today!

So instead of orthodoxy, I tend more toward orthopraxis. Orthopraxis literally means “right practice.” It means that, regardless of what creeds or affirmations I inherited from my spiritual ancestors, I am called to do good … to love God and neighbor … in increasingly creative ways.

We, who are heirs of this strange practice known as Methodism, are all about praxis. There are those who claim what they call “Wesleyan Orthodoxy,” but I don’t think such a thing exists. If John Wesley had been truly orthodox (adhering strictly to the rules and teachings of his Anglican Church), he certainly would not have ordained people when he was not a bishop. If John Wesley had submitted himself to the restraint of those in authority over him, he would have stayed within his own parish (a strict geographical boundary of who “belonged” to your own local church). He preached everywhere, especially where he found the poor, the hard-living people, and those for whom the church was irrelevant or dangerous.

Last year, I attended the gathering of Uniting Methodists, and Dr. David N. Field was a keynote presenter. During one of his presentations, he noted that many across the theological spectrum in our United Methodist Church often quote Mr. Wesley’s famous line: ““I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.” (from his Journal Entry, June 11, 1739). Yet, according to Dr. Field, what we don’t grasp is that the statement is itself an act of ecclesial disobedience (think civil disobedience but in opposition to church law).

In other words, Wesley was not orthodox. He did, however, know fully what orthopraxis was about. He did not care as much for the talk, but he cared deeply (and devoted his entire life) to the walk.

So today, I am committing myself to orthopraxis. Living out the gospel of Jesus Christ in every way possible. Reaching the poor, making disciples, inviting people to follow this one who taught us about a new way that was so much more than “right thinking” or “right opinion.” Let’s follow the one who taught us about the love of God and all of our neighbors. At Wellspring, we just say “all means all”.

I invite you to join me in this walk of faith … praxis … that leads us straight to the heart of God.

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