Orthodoxy & Orthopraxy in Right Relation
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Balance. It’s something we strive for at home, at work, and in our faith. Sometimes it can be hard to achieve, and failure to do so results in tension and suffering. Balance is important in any area of life but, because of its eternal implications, in the spiritual life most of all. Doctrines or teachings held in balance are part and parcel of the Christian faith. Think, for example, of the Trinity — one God yet three Persons. Or transubstantiation, where what appears to our senses to be only bread and wine is really the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. Or the relationship between faith and faith-in-action (or works): On one hand, we are told, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you and your household will be saved” (Acts 16:31), while on the other, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 7:21).
In technical terms, we are dealing with orthodoxy (correct doctrine) and orthopraxy (correct practice). Sometimes these are set in opposition — even encased as stereotypes: Protestants believe in salvation by “faith alone,” while Catholics, it is said, believe in a “doctrine of works.” But this division isn’t only a Catholic/Protestant divide; the 2012 presidential election served, among other things, to highlight the divisions among Catholics. At the risk of oversimplifying, on one side were “conservatives” who gave pride of place to “life issues,” such as opposition to abortion and defense of traditional marriage, and on the other, “progressives” who favored issues of “social justice,” which they limited to advocacy for abortion and same-sex marriage.
But orthodoxy and orthopraxy are not doctrines in conflict — they are two hands that have to be in right relation. But how are we to know the correct balance? How are we to know what correct practice really is?
When our Lord was asked which is the greatest commandment, He answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk. 12:29-31).
Let’s unpack this.
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