Is it Orthopraxy or is it Legalism?

by Mike Ratliff

21 Οὐ πᾶς ὁ λέγων μοι· κύριε κύριε, εἰσελεύσεται εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν, ἀλλ᾽ ὁ ποιῶν τὸ θέλημα τοῦ πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς. 22 πολλοὶ ἐροῦσίν μοι ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ· κύριε κύριε, οὐ τῷ σῷ ὀνόματι ἐπροφητεύσαμεν, καὶ τῷ σῷ ὀνόματι δαιμόνια ἐξεβάλομεν, καὶ τῷ σῷ ὀνόματι δυνάμεις πολλὰς ἐποιήσαμεν; 23 καὶ τότε ὁμολογήσω αὐτοῖς ὅτι οὐδέποτε ἔγνων ὑμᾶς· ἀποχωρεῖτε ἀπ᾽ ἐμοῦ οἱ ἐργαζόμενοι τὴν ἀνομίαν. 24 Πᾶς οὖν ὅστις ἀκούει μου τοὺς λόγους τούτους καὶ ποιεῖ αὐτούς, ὁμοιωθήσεται ἀνδρὶ φρονίμῳ, ὅστις ᾠκοδόμησεν αὐτοῦ τὴν οἰκίαν ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν· 25 καὶ κατέβη ἡ βροχὴ καὶ ἦλθον οἱ ποταμοὶ καὶ ἔπνευσαν οἱ ἄνεμοι καὶ προσέπεσαν τῇ οἰκίᾳ ἐκείνῃ, καὶ οὐκ ἔπεσεν, τεθεμελίωτο γὰρ ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν. 26 καὶ πᾶς ὁ ἀκούων μου τοὺς λόγους τούτους καὶ μὴ ποιῶν αὐτοὺς ὁμοιωθήσεται ἀνδρὶ μωρῷ, ὅστις ᾠκοδόμησεν αὐτοῦ τὴν οἰκίαν ἐπὶ τὴν ἄμμον· 27 καὶ κατέβη ἡ βροχὴ καὶ ἦλθον οἱ ποταμοὶ καὶ ἔπνευσαν οἱ ἄνεμοι καὶ προσέκοψαν τῇ οἰκίᾳ ἐκείνῃ, καὶ ἔπεσεν καὶ ἦν ἡ πτῶσις αὐτῆς μεγάλη. (Matthew 7:21-27 NA27)

21 “Not all the ones saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in heaven.  22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name, and perform many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from me you who work lawlessness.”  24 “Therefore, everyone who hears my words and does them will be compared to a wise man who built his house upon the rock. 25 And the rain came down and the rivers came and the winds blew and beat against that house and it did not fall for it had been founded upon the rock. 26 And everyone hearing these my words and does not do them will be compared to a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. 27 And the rain came down and the rivers came and the winds blew and beat against that house and it fell and the fall of it was great.” (Matthew 7:21-27 a personal translation from the NA27 Greek text)

What is Christian Orthodoxy? There really isn’t enough space here to succinctly define that for you. However this section from the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms does quite a good job.

  • The Bible, having been inspired by God, is entirely trustworthy and without error. Therefore, we are to believe and obey its teachings. The Bible is the only source of special revelation for the church today.
  • The one true God is personal, yet beyond our comprehension. He is an invisible spirit, completely self-sufficient and unbounded by space or time, perfectly holy and just, and loving and merciful. In the unity of the Godhead there are three “persons”: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  • God created the heavens and the earth, and all they contain. He upholds and governs them in accordance with his eternal will. God is sovereign—in complete control—yet this does not diminish human responsibility.
  • Because of the sin of the first man, Adam, all mankind is corrupt by nature, dead in sin, and subject to the wrath of God. But God determined, by a covenant of grace, that sinners may receive forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ has always been the only way of salvation, in both Old Testament and New Testament times.
  • The Son of God took upon himself a human nature in the womb of the virgin Mary, so that in her son Jesus the divine and human natures were united in one person. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life and died on a cross, bearing the sins of, and receiving God’s wrath for, all those who trust in him for salvation (his chosen ones). He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, where he sits as Lord and rules over his kingdom (the church). He will return to judge the living and the dead, bringing his people (with glorious, resurrected bodies) into eternal life, and consigning the wicked to eternal punishment.
  • Those whom God has predestined unto life are effectually drawn to Christ by the inner working of the Spirit as they hear the gospel. When they believe in Christ, God declares them righteous (justifies them), pardoning their sins and accepting them as righteous, not because of any righteousness of their own, but by imputing Christ’s merits to them. They are adopted as the children of God and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies them, enabling them increasingly to stop sinning and act righteously. They repent of their sins (both at their conversion and thereafter), produce good works as the fruit of their faith, and persevere to the end in communion with Christ, with assurance of their salvation.
  • Believers strive to keep God’s moral law, which is summarized in the Ten Commandments, not to earn salvation, but because they love their Savior and want to obey him. God is the Lord of the conscience, so that men are not required to believe or do anything contrary to, or in addition to, the Word of God in matters of faith or worship.
  • Christ has established his church, and particular churches, to gather and perfect his people, by means of the ministry of the Word, the sacraments of baptism (which is to be administered to the children of believers, as well as believers) and the Lord’s Supper (in which the body and blood of Christ are spiritually present to the faith of believers), and the disciplining of members found delinquent in doctrine or life. Christians assemble on the Lord’s Day to worship God by praying, hearing the Word of God read and preached, singing psalms and hymns, and receiving the sacraments.

We Reformed folks say that if one’s theology is “right” because it is according to what I just listed above then he or she is our brother or sister in Christ. Look at the next to last bullet point. It speaks of true believers striving to keep God’s moral law, not to earn salvation, but because they love their Savior and want to obey him. What is described here is what I would call Christian Orthodoxy according to Reformed Theology, which is what I hold to. What then is Orthopraxy? 

Genuine Christians need orthopraxy, or proper practice of the faith, which means more than just proper, outward, Christian-looking conduct, or just performing certain rituals. We need a balance of both orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Orthodoxy without orthopraxy is a hollow faith, a superficial faith, a mere intellectual faith, religious intellectualism, religious rationalism, or such. This being so, what then is legalism? Orthopraxy without orthodoxy becomes legalism or going through the motions. I have also seen some pretty ugly attacks from those all bound up in man-made “orthopraxy” demanding adherence to their standards in order to be held as an “Orthodox brother.” Again, this is legalism.

Orthodoxy without proper Orthopraxy is just as out of balance as self-made Orthopraxy based on a lack of proper Orthodoxy. We have to get this right. We have seen what genuine Orthodoxy looks like so what is true Biblical Orthopraxy?

Believe it or not it is not that hard to dig out of God’s Word. The first thing we must have and openly live our lives so that it is obvious who we really are is to have and live our Confession of faith, our faith in Christ and of proper belief, which the Westminster laid out for us very well above. It starts with our profession of faith, confessing Christ publically as Saviour and Lord as stated in Sacred Scripture. This is way more than mere intellectual assent, no, this is making one’s life identified to all as one who is a Christian.

Works follow from grace, are a necessary result of salvation, and as the Westminster Confession clearly stated, they do not save us, but we do them because we love our Saviour. We are able to do them only if Christ is with us and it is by God’s grace (John 15). If we ever start to take credit for our works or our standing in the Church then our orthopraxy will start to turn to legalism. We must never forget that proper works or practice can only come from grace. Only grace can be the basis of proper works and practice in our daily lives. When we are accused or our motives are questioned or we are unfairly attacked, et cetera, we must not respond as the world does, but go to God and seek to always be in the center of his will trusting that all the circumstances around us are under his control.

Take the sacraments. New believers must be baptized and we should take communion as a local body of believers whenever possible. This is commanded in Scripture.

I could go on forever, but I think Romans 12:3-21 gives us a great summary of Christian Orthopraxy.

3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. 4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7 if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. 9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. 20 “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.. (Romans 12:3-21 NASB)

I am sure that many of you can come up with much more, but I assure you that genuine Christian Orthopraxy will not in any way contain the rules of man-made religiosity nor will it elevate some while putting others in bondage.

God works with each of us in different ways. The visible church right now is in a dark time. God has his genuine believers, the True Church and it is everywhere, yes, this is Biblical. Some of the leaders in the darkness look pretty good to those driven by the flesh, that is, legalism disguised as Orthopraxy and they don’t like it when their words are held up in comparison to what the Word of God says is truth. When the darkness in certain areas get so bad that it is impossible to find one Bible believing church in entire city it is fallacious to command believers to submit themselves under the authority of elders who are apostate. Paul withstood people like this to their face, as did Christ and the other Apostles. We are commanded to do as well. However, this is costly and can make one not welcome in any “church” that likes things they way they are. Just remember that before pointing your finger at someone who has a problem finding a church home because he won’t compromise the truth.

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

 

50 thoughts on “Is it Orthopraxy or is it Legalism?

  1. I agree with what you wrote, Mike and the entire focus of your post. I am reticent about quoting from the Westminster documents because of the theology that underlies the first sentence in the last bullet you included.

    Sola Scriptura and Soli Deo Gloria!

  2. Very excellent. This is why we “do church” via online or MacArthur on TV. ‘sad times earthly but we look to Jesus- author and FINISHER of our faith. Look to the “prize”. Surely He is coming soon.

  3. Thanks for this Mike..Shall be using it to help a young relative who seems not to want to join any fellowship at all…and he is much on my heart in prayer.

  4. Fresh meat! Thanks!
    Mike this is as fair and balanced an article as I believe I’ve ever read. It speaks clearly to the heart f the matter and does so from scripture rather than opinion. As one who lives these words to the best of my limited ability, being lifted up continually by His Word and the Work of the Holy Spirit, I am edified by your giftings. As you know, we are 6 years outside the jesus franchises, being grown by the Word in context and the Holy Spirits Work in our education. Sites like yours and FEW others have certainly been a god send.

    It is my belief that Pink, being early to the table with regard to the destruction of orthodoxy in his time, and seeing the resulting orthopraxy, in his final years pulled back from the fight, being weary, to the strength of fellowship via the written Word, and his subsequent written instruction to those of the elect that he could still minister to through his writings.
    Pink was too soon to the Good Fight to have the opportunity to contend over this internet we now share. I imagine he would have flourised in his final days had this medium been available. Certainly we have experienced many of the same things he faced. And like Pink, we have been matured in these battles for the Lords preemminence.

    As I have said before, His Ekklesia, the gates of hell has not, doesn’t now nor ever will prevail against. This be true regardless of appearances to the contrary. Yes we are scattered, throughout the earthly institutions, and homes of this age. Yet hasn’t that always been the case?

    It’s not when we get the concept of orthodoxy and orthopraxy into our heads intellectually that matters is it? Rather it is when He makes them alive as part of our being new creations in and through Him!

    Thanks again, brother for an excellent and timely seguae, and teaching!

  5. Luis, I do “attend”, but I just moved to a new city in another state et cetera. Where I moved from it had become impossible. However, let’s back the truck up. You are asking a loaded question. Your question implies that if I say no then I’m some sort of reprobate or worse and could not possibly be an instrument in the hands of God to use according to his will. Do you really think that? When the only local body of believers around and their leaders are apostate or their theology is skewed to a level that I will not be part of it then what are my options sir? I was at a point of driving 50 miles each way to go to church for the last several months before we moved. Then when we started the moving process we came to our new city each weekend and attended church here. We are still becoming acquainted and becoming part of it. This is the same church we were members of back in the 1980′s.

    Again, I do not like what you are implying with your ‘loaded question.’ You need to really reread my post.

  6. Thanks Mickey, I am amazed at how man-made doctrines can be turned into requirements for fellowship while those the Word says are what we are to be like are mostly ignored. Sigh… Of course, these real “evidences” of genuiness of by the Grace of God alone, not by our trying to produce them… Hmmmmm.

  7. Based upon my typing alone, I am not worthy of the kingdom, and furher is proof positive that my best efforts are far short of His perfection.
    Never I but always Him through me…Otherwise it’s just dead flesh works!

  8. The Lord broke me of my perfectionist tendencies when I made a wooden gate for a fence that never hung straight. took it apart and put it together 3 or 4 four times, making sure everything was square and straight – and it hung crooked. Then my dog chewed up the bottom rail. And it was THEN that I imagined God smiling at me as I recognized that I could do NOTHING perfect – none but Christ was sufficient even in the smallest of things.

    It ain’t legalism to exhort one another on to good works. It is legalism when we think such works make us acceptable in the sight of God.

  9. Manfred, it is also legalism to create “good works” that our are alien to being by the grace of God alone, i.e. things we do in flesh, and make them mandatory for fellowship, etc. Look at Jesus’ stand against that with the Scribes and Pharisees all through the Gospels. I’m sorry for being a little defensive about that, the accuser is really coming hard after me lately.

  10. “that ARE alien ..” – you failed again as a typist :-)

    I agree with ya Mike. The only good works we do are those He wills and empowers us to do. This is yet another reason Sola Scriptura is so vital – we have our own ideas of what “good” is.

  11. Great post Mike
    I attended a church for 12 years that had good orthodoxy and bad orthopraxy. That is why I was so apt to leave and lingered for so long. The “teaching” was good, but there was zero growth because there wasn’t any application of what was taught, by the pastor or the people. Ever learning never doing. The pastor was (and still is) happy to be a pulpit pastor only.

    I especially relate to your post in response to Luis. Apostate churches are nothing new in church history, nor are churches with bad leadership and or poor leadership structure. It is very sad to see. I meet so many Christians who have a passion to worship and serve the Lord, but cannot find an assembly where they can go that is “healthy”. While the old adage given by many “pastors” is that there isn’t a perfect church is true, there is also an overabundance of unacceptable assemblies that resemble Sardis at worst or Laodecia at best.

  12. Thanks Lance. Yes, the worst encounter I had was at a Church my wife and I attended for about three years. We loved it and the Pastor pastored us and and caused the church to actually be a New Testament church. However, he left to become a hospital chaplain in another state. His replacement was about 1/3 my age and he knew all about me and what I do. He became very aggressive in trying to get me to submit this ministry to what he wanted it be. If I refused then I was not welcome there. We left. I noticed that a lot of the original members who were there when that church was planted also left about the same time. After that the only church choice we had was to drive all the way across the Kansas City metro area to a church pastored by Rick Holland. There was nothing wrong with that church, but it was just a day trip to get there and back on Sunday. That coincided with the same time period when we began the process of moving from Kansas to Oklahoma. IN September we were back and forth from our home in Kansas to the OKC area almost every weekend or at least every other weekend. When we were in OKC we attended the church we are now part of, which we were members of back in the 1980′s. It’s not perfect as you stated, but the preaching is great and it does minister in every area you can imagine. The way the leadership goes about a lot of that is focused a bit younger than what we are. However, we have made friends with couples in our age group and are slowly being acclimated back into this great church. God is good, we are not. He uses broken vessels for his glory. I think we want to be made perfect first then be used, but that is the exact opposite of what God does. Soli Deo Gloria!

  13. It’s just my luck, being a Browns fan and all… One day I’ll cross Jordan, get to heaven only to hear, “Come on lets get going,you’re the last to die, now the rapture is happening! We’re going back… :)

  14. I’m with ya on that, Mike. Any time an Oklahoma State Cowboy player makes it to the NFL, I become somewhat of a fan of that team (except when it’s the Dallas team – Hail to the Redskins!).

  15. So too the Bengels were created by Paul Brown…I’ve been watching these things since Bart Starr was playing for the Packers…I too understand long suffering you know!

  16. I remember Dexter – not much past my time at OSU. He made as much news learning to read as he did causing havoc on the football field. And then there were the drugs …

    Nothing could make me root for the Dallas team.

  17. Talk about off topic! I bring up the Pope’s woes and we immediately go to old man instant messaging about football LOLOL

  18. Both of them boys – and their room mate (the OU guy) are reprobates. When Barry was the Oklahoma dairy producer’s spokesman, my grandmother (a Shawnee gal, whose eldest son – my dad – went to OU) quit drinking milk.

  19. Got to love those Indian fundamentalists! My wife is part Cherokee. Her grandma was full Cherokee from Kentucky. I’ve seen the war paint up close!! Thank you Jesus for Grace!!!

  20. My Dad’s family maternal side is all Choctaw Indian. He really looked like an indian as did all his siblings and some of my cousins. I remember visiting some of his aunts when I was really young. They were very old Choctaw Indian women, but they were very strong Christians.

  21. In Oklahoma, the Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasws, Seminoles, and Creeks are considered the 5 Civilized Tribes. However, all of them had a great warrior tradition. In fact, the Cherokee language is the same as the Iroquois so they are probably just as warlike as any of the tribes up in your area like the Mohawk. :-)

  22. Wonderful article Mike

    I would have rather the second to the last bullet point say that we “uphold” the law as Scripture states rather than saying “Believers strive to keep God’s moral law”- It just throws people off even though I understand what it is saying. Rom 3:31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

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