Orthodoxy is what we believe. Orthopraxy is what we practice. You can almost see (or hear) the word “practice” in orthopraxy. The two meet, whether we want them to or not. If our practice is unscriptural, whether in our assembling together or in our daily life, it has root in our unorthodox theology. At the same time, if our orthopraxy is wrong, it will establish, somewhere, a wrong dogma. The two are one, though we can see an obvious difference. Though I wouldn’t teach it as dogma, I do believe that if we do the will of God, we shall know the truth. There is, of course, a way to push this too far.
When we do what is right, what is just, the very things that God approves of, we find ourselves being open to hearing the voice of the Spirit. If we do not hear the Shepherd’s voice, it is because something is blocking or muffling it. Either we simply aren’t saved, and that is why we cannot hear, or we have willfully abandoned God by our sin, and therefore care not to discern His voice. Sin, of course, cannot simply be our wrong actions. We can have a wrong mentality and attitude, and therefore be in sin. I saw a comic strip that had a sheep with headphones blaring, playing video games, with the A/C blowing onto him, while he ate junk food, and the shepherd was screaming at the top of his lungs in the background. The text under the picture read, “I wonder why the shepherd never calls me anymore…” We isolate ourselves from the shepherd through multiple means every day, and then we wonder why we cannot hear his voice.
What are the things that God approves of? It is quite simple, really. God desires acknowledgment. How sad is that? He is the insulted king. Though He gives us the very breath in our soul, we then use that energy to do wickedly. We oppress the poor, keep our mouths silent when those around us have no voice, we don’t take care of the widow – even when it is our own mother – we neglect justice, we seek for our own advantages, and in all things we expect that we should just live according to “how the world works”. In what way is this acknowledging God? Verbal recognition is lying if our actions show a different reality. It is not the action of neglect itself that causes for God’s anger. The action is only the outward working of the inward problem. Our sin comes much before this fruit. It begins in the heart that would see God as just another idol – a mere object of worship, but not a personal being, even less our “lord”.
It is for this that we seek to know and understand. What good is it if we memorize the whole of Scripture, and yet don’t obey it? And what good is it if we seek to obey the Scripture, but we don’t understand God’s heart? In either case, can we truly know the Bible and obey the Scripture if we don’t have them both together? What good is obedience without knowledge? What good is knowledge without obedience? To paraphrase, this is as James says, “Faith without works is dead, and works without faith is dead.” All that God desires is acknowledgment. Yet, that acknowledgment takes root in a multiplicity of manifestations. We cannot acknowledge Him without doing His will. We cannot do His will without acknowledging Him. To even acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord requires the Spirit of God. It takes regeneration to even obey. For this reason, it takes the Spirit itself for us to have any meaningful understanding of the Scripture.
Our search of knowing aright is deeply embedded in our obedience. We will not be able to further dialogue about theology unless our understanding comes from devotion. Our study of Scripture, our considering theology, is deeply interwoven with our adoration of the person of Jesus Christ. Without adoration, as Jeremiah implies (Jeremiah 2:19), we will be overcome with wickedness, and we will forsake the Lord our God. For this reason, all systematic theology is practical theology. If it doesn’t bring you closer to Jesus, it is probably a lie. If it doesn’t cause you to walk in righteousness, it is false.
Theology is at its very core the study of God, but is at its very core the outworking of being the Church. Theology leads you to loving your brother and being the light of the world. If that is not true, then you are either studying theology wrongly, or you have made an idol of worship rather than the one true God. It is Christ alone that captures our hearts. It is the Spirit of God alone that will move us from glory to glory, and that motion is only found in the beholding of one another’s faces. While the old covenant was established through the veil of Moses, and that veil remains upon the heart of every person who desires to come to God through law, the new covenant is established upon the face of every believer, reflecting the very image and glory of God through the Spirit of God. That is theology in practice.