Co-authored by Katherine Currie and Renee Emerson
Introduction; Christian Theology, Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy
There’s an old saying that says “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything” Its context varies, but the crux of it is that if you don’t know why you believe something, you will not be able to support your beliefs in the face of challenges, and thus will be easily persuaded to abandon your belief, or alter it.
I can think of no context in which this is more important than in our Christian walk. It is imperative that every member of God’s Church not only knows what they believe as truth (doctrine) but also why they believe it. Because what we believe about God determines our everyday behavior and actions through the strength of our conviction and of our commitment to Christ during the varied situations that confront us.
Or to use Theological terms; our Orthodoxy determines our orthopraxy.
The term Orthodoxy consists of two Greek words, Ortho, meaning true or right and Doxa meaning Belief or worship. Combined, these words give us a term that refers to the close link between right beliefs and the true worship of God; emphasizing the importance of our beliefs being accurate. Orthopraxy literally interpreted means right action, which in the Christian faith, includes actions that are in harmony with Gods purpose, through which we can discover God and his truth, Thus the two terms are inextricably linked.
Romans 12:1 says this about true worship. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.” We are counselled to give over our earthy desires to become aligned with Gods plans for our lives and, as it says in Ephesians 3:19, “to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” This total surrender of our thoughts and actions is a difficult concept for many of us to put into practise when we strive from a place of zeal and religiosity, however when we are intrinsically motivated by knowing God and seeking God’s will, allowing God to transform our mind through the study of scripture and knowing him better, many of the hurdles to surrender are overcome. In short, orthopraxy should not be measured by excellence, efficiency or religious character but by being renewed in the spirit to have a heart of faith, hope and love.
Christian Doctrine and Creeds
The early churches compiled statements of key Christian doctrines, solidly based on the scriptures, to be used as both a confession of faith and in defence against the main heresies challenging the church at the time. The first of these, the Apostle’s Creed was later added to by the ecumenical council of Nicaea in AD325. This Nicene Creed in turn forms the basis of faith statements for many different denominations of Christianity worldwide today. The fundamental doctrines include
1) the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible;
2) the virgin birth and full deity of Christ;
3) Christ’s death as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice;
4) Christ’s bodily resurrection; and
5) Christ’s return in bodily form to preside at the Last Judgment
As well as providing a mirror for us to reflect on what we believe, these statements of faith enable us to discern areas of false teaching or heresy, where we can compare teachings we encounter with these standards of faith and thus accept or reject as required by scripture.
The importance of knowing what we believe and the resulting faith in action can be clearly seen in three main areas the Christian’s life; our church, our family and our society.
The impact of right doctrine on the Church
“The Church is not a human institution. It is divinely constituted. God created and designed it and it is His method of providing spiritual nurture for the believer. Through a community of faith, the Gospel is proclaimed and God’s will is advanced throughout the generations.”
The advantages for a church that is operating under sound doctrine and with the resultant right living is one that is Unified, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, as stated in the last paragraph of the Nicene Creed. Jesus prayed (John 17:23) that the church would be Unified under one mission, So that the world may know the Gospel. The church is also Holy; beautiful and good, set-apart by God to be used for his purposes, Catholic; existing in a state of wholeness and completeness, universally encompassing all believers in Jesus Christ regardless of time, place, race, or culture.
Finally, this church is apostolic; a witness to the grace of Jesus and the authority of scripture, proclaiming the good news. “The church today, like in Acts, has hope and can rejoice in what God has made us to be, a community of grace, which embodies that grace as a witness to the world”. The church is at the centre of the great commission, to go and make disciples of all nations. With strong foundations in the inspired and true word of the bible, and with Christ at the head of his Church, the church bears witness to the grace of Jesus Christ, the eternal Father and the power of the holy spirit.
The impact of heretical beliefs on the Church
Too often the effects of sin and the brokenness of this world sees the intention of the beautiful and goodness of God’s Church impacted and thus its effectiveness restrained. When the people of God’s church become lost or misdirected in false Spiritual doctrines the result is brokenness. In her book Beth Felker Jones states that “Oneness is twisted into power grabbing or devolves into endless discord. Holiness is warped into self-righteousness and Catholocity into imperialism. The apostles instead bear witness to our own shortcomings”
But all is not lost, for even in its brokenness the Church also bears witness to the Grace of God and gives opportunity for demonstrating the power of the Holy spirit for forgiveness and healing.
The impact of right doctrine on the Family Unit
Living justified through belief in Jesus Christ and having your identity found in him allows you to live in honour and unity with your spouse and children and without power struggles and offence. The Bible is clear on the sanctity of marriage as a covenant between two people who God has joined as one; “what God has put together let no man separate”. God has allocated the responsibility of leadership in the family to the husband, yet calls him to also love his wife and not to be harsh to her. “A wife’s submission needs to be Holy Spirit inspired and directed. It is a positive step on her part, not something she has to be forced, browbeaten or belted into. It is something she does, not something her husband makes her do.”
Fathers and Mothers are also given the responsibility to raise up a child in the way he should go so he will not depart from it, and as families embrace this biblical method of living we see healthy, functional families who raise generational disciples, and healthy children who acknowledge God’s sovereignty leading to better resilience and self-control in life.
The impact of heretical beliefs on the Family unit
In her book Fervent, Priscilla Shirer gives us a glimpse into the enemy’s goal regarding our families, she says “If I were your enemy, I’d seek to disintegrate your family and destroy every member of it. I’d want to tear away at your trust and unity and turn everyone’s love inward on themselves. I would make sure your family didn’t look anything like its supposed to. Because then people would look at your Christian marriage, your Christian kids, and see you’re no different, no stronger than anybody else – that God, underneath it all, really doesn’t change anything”. With such a fierce attack on the family, is it any wonder that Christian families battle against heresy’s which work against God’s perfect plan for the family unit?
Our modern culture is facing a crisis of individuality and ingratitude and our family units have not been immune to this. The resulting move away from faithfulness (in each other and in God) as a value to uphold has eroded the family unit as the fundamental living cell of society. With divorce rates of up to 29% even in the church, the effects of these broken homes is widespread, affecting not only the couple concerned but any children of the union and extended families and friends. Interestingly the divorce rate of Christians with strong focus on orthodoxy is significantly lower, indicating a protective factor at work.
Unfortunately the biblical teaching of headship has also been used to justify abuse of the headship by the husband through domestic abuse, an issue which has impacted many Christian women and children and we also now witness a power struggle between married couples as women, misled by the heresy of individualism and encouraged by modern feminism, believe they must fight their husbands for the position of headship.
The destructive nature of heretical misinterpretations and abuses of scripture and how it effects the family unit is clear; Our families are a light to the world, a world which is closely watching, and any impact on the family unit has a complicit impact on society as a whole.
The Impact of Right doctrine on Society as a whole
“Strong and repeated evidence indicates that the regular practice of religion has beneficial effects in nearly every aspect of social concern and policy”
Christians whose lives reflect correct doctrine bring the knowledge of the value of humanity to a broken, secular society which devalues humans in every sinful way imaginable. In a selfish world, Christians strive to “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and mind and love your neighbour as yourself”. The impact of this leading to countless kindnesses and extensions of grace as Jesus says, whatever we do for the least of us we do for him.
Acknowledgement of a sovereign creator and His providence naturally extends to the care of others and creation, as Christians believe that every human life has dignity and value and that people are made in the image of God, but are also created to live in community being a “good Samaritan” to those around us.
The impact of Heresy on Society as a whole
Modern Secular culture is primarily individualistic, and one of the most fundamental heretical issues affecting the world today is that which describes a world without the need of a creator God. When God is removed from society we see a culture which embraces “evolution” – a creation without a creator, yet these belief systems are making their way into the church; “the evolutionary worldview is coming into popular culture so much that it is having an effect on the belief of many churches, parents, and children” and we see Christians trying to find cohesion between a loving God who created human beings in His image and a distant God who just set the world in motion and left it to evolve, or worse still no need for God as creator. The evolutionary belief system devalues human life, see’s no issue in same sex marriage or use of destructive and additive self-serving pleasures such a pornography.
This can be seen no more clearly than in a recent tweet by Richard Dawkins, an avid atheist and self-avowed enemy of the Christian faith stating “no lives matter” (it has since been removed), however this statement sums up the confusion resulting from the heresy of evolution as an indiscriminate biological process- the implications of which are as far reaching as they are terrifying.
Knowing and holding firm to the essential doctrines of our faith give us something to stand for, so we won’t fall for anything. Just as Paul in Ephesians 4:14 warns us not to be like “children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting”. If right doctrine can be a means of grace that shapes us as disciples and leads people to Christ, then false doctrine will also have consequences for practise and formation
“How we conduct ourselves is just as important—even more important—than what we say and will make a far better case for a biblical worldview than our words will. In the worldview competition we face today, we must live out our faith consistently to earn the right to be heard. And when we do that, we are far more likely to find people who are spiritually open and willing to engage with Scripture to come to know the Jesus whom we serve.”
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