Orthopraxy: A Critique of Oversimplified Theology

[This blog is in response to my friend Chad’s post (Orthopraxy- A Critique of Disengaged and Disembodied Theologies). Please read his post first for context.]

*Here is our friend Tony’s response to Chad: Orthopraxy: Right Living

Please know that the purpose of our ecumenical blog is to invite you, the readers, into the conversation, too, so please engage us. 🙂

Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy consider each other “Sister Churches,” so my theology is in alignment with Chad’s. Therefore, I will expound upon the soteriological (theology of salvation) orthopraxy that Chad has laid out, and consider how a rudimentary hamartiological (theology of sin) orthopraxy can limit our fulfillment of loving God and loving people.

“How do you know you’re saved?” Asked my pastor in September 2009. My response, “April 21, 2007.” With a puzzled look on his face, he asserted, “That’s just a date. what does that mean? “ I said, “That’s the first time that I enter a church. My pastor then explained the gospel to me, and invited me to actually accept Jesus into my heart.

For the first two years of my Christian experience, I thought that I was saved because I walked into a building. Re-read that sentence if you weren’t shocked. I went to service every Sunday, went to bible studies, read my bible, and did all the other Protestant things, and thought that I was saved because I walked into a building on a Sunday. Now, obviously I knew that Jesus died on the cross to conquer sin and death, but I had never been told what that meant. In my time of being Protestant, I attended three different communities (Pentecostal and two Non-Denominational), and somehow missed the “Why?” of the Gospel. Too many Protestant communities guilty of the oversimplification of the faith, and it is creating ignorant, uneducated, and mediocre Christians. Yes, not everyone is called to be a theologian, but we are all called to have a knowledge of the faith to the degree that is appropriate for our state in life.

As a starting place, what does a pedestrian view of salvation say about how our theology is lived out? Furthermore, if salvation can be reduced to a simplistic prayer, what does that imply about our understanding of the impact of sin?

Within Catholicism, the idea of an individualized faith is not accepted to the degree that it is within Protestantism. Please don’t misunderstand, “I [Jesus] came so that [you] might have life and have it abundantly,” but the fullest expression of that isn’t to live egocentrically. The fulfillment of that is our capacity to emulate Jesus in loving God and loving people. Since I’m focusing upon the theology of sin, I will be expounding upon what it means to love God and love people through an appropriate recognition of personal/corporate sin.

One of my favorite corporate prayers, which occurs at the beginning of the Mass, is known as the Confiteor (Latin for “I Confess,” and goes like this:

I confess to almighty God and to you [emphasis added], my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you [emphasis added], my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.

How beautiful is that! Not only am I confessing to God that I have sinned against Him, but I am also confessing to my fellow brothers and sisters. As a side note: I’m not encouraging you to confess you personal sins to people. This is something that should be reserved for your personal confessions between you and God, your spouse (if appropriate/necessary), and your priest (Catholics and Orthodox).* It’s important to recognize that our sin doesn’t just affect our relationship with God, but it also damages our relationship with the community of faith. Confession is the sacrament that repairs our relationship with God and the community of faith. To demonstrate my point, let’s look at a couple examples of how personal sin has devastated a community:

Adam and Eve – Genesis 3:

The personal sin of Adam and Eve are still seen today, and for non-baptized Christians, the stain of original sin is still upon their souls!

Achan – Joshua 7:

In Joshua 7, God gives victory to the Israelites of the people of Ai, but tells the Israelites that they are not permitted to take any of the spoils of war. In an act of greed, Achan takes a Babylonian robe, 200 shekels, and a bar of gold, and. Scripture then says, “[They] took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. … Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them.”

In a Synod of Bishops discussing the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Pope, now Saint, John Paul II wrote,

To speak of social sin means in the first place to recognize that, by virtue of human solidarity, which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual’s sin in some way affects others. This is the other aspect of that solidarity which on the religious level is developed in the profound and magnificent mystery of the communion of saints, thanks to which it has been possible to say that “every soul that rises above itself, raises up the world.” To this law of ascent there, unfortunately, corresponds the law of descent. Consequently one can speak of a communion of sin, whereby a soul that lowers itself through sin drags down with itself the church and, in some way, the whole world. In other words, there is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, the most strictly individual one, that exclusively concerns the person committing it. With greater or lesser violence, with greater or lesser harm, every sin has repercussions on the entire ecclesial body and the whole human family. According to this first meaning of the term, every sin can undoubtedly be considered as social sin.”

Reconciliation and Penance, 2 [December 1984]

Within Catholicism [and Eastern Orthodoxy], we have seven sacraments: baptism, reconciliation (confession), confirmation, Eucharist, marriage, holy orders, and anointing of the sick (a.k.a. extreme unction). I love all of the sacraments, but the one that I’ve had to dedicate exponentially more energy to is the sacrament of reconciliation. The reason? 1. Protestantism gave me a faulty understanding of the impact of my sin, and told me, “Don’t worry about it. God forgives you yesterday, today, and forever!,” and 2. because of that faulty understanding, I have a difficult time identifying sin in my life. Now, I don’t mean the glaringly obvious sins, rather, I mean the covert sins that hide from my gaze… like cockroaches that come out in the night, and scurry off into the dark corners when the lights come on. The identification of sins requires serious introspection, dedicated contemplation of how I chose to live my day, and humility. To be fair, this isn’t true for all Protestants, but for most, sin is seen as something to be struggled with, but ultimately benign.

What I’m getting at is that an oversimplified understanding of salvation leads to an underdeveloped capacity to emulate Christ, which results in a mediocre fulfillment of the two greatest commandments. Another way to say that is, a faulty understanding of orthodoxy results in a failed orthopraxy. Please don’t assume that I’m only accusing Protestantism of this… Catholics are JUST as guilty. The difference is that Protestantism lacks the theology and support system, although God is still capable of using these efforts for His glory, to aid the faithful to in executing successful orthopraxy. Therefore, as an act of love and devotion to God and people, take the time to make an honest Examination of Conscience (see the link for an example), contemplate the Litany of Humility, learn what it is to live a life of reparation. Saint Josemaria Escriva wrote, “The essential act of Penance, on the part of the penitent, is contrition, a clear and decisive rejection of the sin committed, together with a resolution not to commit it again, out of the love one has for God and which is reborn with repentance.”

“To those who have been far away from the sacrament of Reconciliation and forgiving love I make this appeal: come back to this source of grace; do not be afraid! Christ himself is waiting for you. He will heal you, and you will be at peace with God!”

– Saint John Paul II

Ubi Caritas Est Vera, Deus Ibi Est.                                                                                           (Where true charity is, God is there.)

* We see the power to forgive sins (this is a nuance, but priests aren’t the ones who forgive sins. They are the conduit through which God alone forgives sin.) is something that I’ll talk about in my post regarding the priesthood, but we can see it being given to the apostles in John 20:21-23, “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’”

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