I saw an interesting article at Trevin Wax’s site “Kingdom People” called “Looking for a Church? 3 Suggestions.” It discusses (watch Dave state the obvious) how to find a biblical church. In the article, he uses three words that I would like to apply to the future of the SBC. He mentions three “orthos” – words that describe a genuine church. Orthodoxy. Orthopraxy. Orthokardia.
A church must be orthodox in doctrine – Bible-believing and faithful to the fundamental doctrines of the faith, especially those that relate to the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.
A church must have orthopraxy of mission – being committed to carrying out the mission of God in this world, representing Christ and proclaiming the gospel in this world.
A church must have orthokardia of community – genuine Christian love and fellowship. I’m not sure who coined this term and it is one I’ve not seen before. But I think it describes something very biblical. I will expand the term a little and use it to refer to the heart of passion for Christ – one that seeks vibrant worship and engages in committed fellowship and the spirit of joy and unity that results.
Seems to me to be a pretty good description of the kind of church I want Southern Hills Baptist Church to be, and if I was ever looking for a church, these are the things I would be looking for. Just because a church is theologically sound does not mean it is a healthy church. I realized about a year ago that while my church was orthodox and grounded deeply in the Word, it lacked orthokardia and was not centered and focused on the mission of God. So, we’ve spent the last year trying to work on the last two without sacrificing the first.
The SBC That Needs to Be
Perhaps this rubric which, to my mind at least, well describes a healthy church can also be used to describe a healthy denomination. Our convention is not a church, of course, but the essence of healthy denominational existence is not that different from a healthy church.
We Must Be Orthodox!
The scriptures promise us that false teachers will abound in the church and that we must be on guard against them. We waged a long battle in the 70s and 80s to return our convention to its biblical moorings – a struggle I believe was necessary and fruitful, even if it was not always perfectly conducted. We are a better convention today because we have established ourselves as inerrantist, faithful to the gospel and distinctively biblical.
But there are those for whom that seems to be the only thing that matters. Some act as if every doctrinal difference is a threat to inerrancy and constantly call into question the theological bona fides of those with whom they disagree. But in spite of the pettiness that some demonstrate, the pursuit of theological orthodoxy and an absolute commitment to the biblical gospel cannot be overstated.
But it takes much more than orthodoxy to be a good denomination. My church was completely orthodox, even theologically deep and biblically grounded, but it was not healthy. The Southern Baptist Convention cannot be satisfied with only being orthodox. We must start there, but it is only a start. We must go beyond that to orthopraxy and orthokardia.
We Must Have Orthopraxy!
We have been called to live for God’s glory and for his purposes; to be a part of God’s mission in this world. It is so easy to get off track and become about denominational identity and institutional advancement, instead of about the mission God has given us.
We need to not only maintain those distinctives that make us Baptist (believers baptism, congregational ecclesiology, autonomy, etc) but we need to make sure that we are serving the purposes that God has given us.
It is important that we not see orthopraxy as methodological uniformity. It is not our methods, our programs or our strategies that unite us, but the mission God has given us to take the gospel to the world.
It is beyond obvious that we are divided about the effects of the Great Commission Resurgence in the SBC. But the stated purpose (and I believe the heart of those who led it) was to refocus our denomination on the mission God has given us. It’s about building his Kingdom. I think that wise people saw that there was a need for us to focus on orthopraxy as well as orthodoxy.
We Must Have Orthokardia!
The Southern Baptist Convention has fought to establish orthodoxy in my lifetime. In recent years, we have struggled to reestablish our gospel mission and our divine purpose. This is an unfinished process, to be sure.
But there is something else we must do. We must guard our spirit in the process. We must imitate Christ’s humility, love and service as we define our doctrine and . The same Bible that defines the Trinity commands us to love one another. You cannot choose one at the exclusion of the other. I’ve told people throughout my ministry years that we cannot abandon fundamental doctrine in the name of unity. But neither can we abandon unity in the name of our doctrinal preferences.
We must prize the exhibition of the Fruit of the Spirit as much as we do theological orthodoxy or ecclesiological orthopraxy. We must not only proclaim the Savior but we must honor one another. I am deeply concerned about the way Baptists treat each other. In fact, I am much more concerned about our Our orthodoxy and orthopraxy will mean nothing if we do not honor God with the way we treat one another as well. If our hearts are wrong, nothing else is going to work.
- When we exhibit more of the “works of the flesh” than we do the Fruit of the spirit, we are not demonstrating orthokardia. When “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy” mark our discourse and relationships, we are dishonoring our Savior and destroying his work as surely as if we denied the gospel.
- When we ignore Paul’s warnings in 1 Corinthians and divide into theological schism-groups, we are not demonstrating orthokardia. When we divide the Christian world into the white hats and black hats, our us vs them attitude is as anti-biblical as any false doctrine.
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 1 Cor. 3:1-4
- When we express our love to God and then with the same mouth we “curse” one another with our harsh words, we dishonor the Word of God. I’ve seen people open the harshest of comments with “Brother” or “My Friend” and then close it with some meaningless wish like “May God bless you” as if that nullifies the viciousness of the words.
With it (the tongue) we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. James 3:9-10
Orthodoxy matters. We cannot be the denomination we are meant to be with squishy doctrine on key issues. Orthopraxy matters. We need to help our churches serve God’s purposes in this world. But if we simply focus on these and ignore our relationships, our unity, our treatment of one another, we will damage the work of God through Southern Baptists.
It is hard to make a case that orthokardia is prevalent in the SBC if you simply read the Baptist blogs to get your sample. There is too much evidence of schism, of slander, and of dishonoring the brethren to lay claim to a healthy orthokardia among us.
In the early years of my ministry, we battled to return our convention to a place of orthodoxy. In more recent years, many of us have been concerned that perhaps we lost our missional way and have focused on orthopraxy. But there is one great crying need right now and that is orthokardia. We must honor one another, love one another, forgive one another, bless one another, believe the best about one another, walk in unity with one another.
Our orthodoxy and our orthopraxy will mean little without the right heart among us.
So, here are the questions we must ask.
- Is the Southern Baptist Convention holding the line on theological orthodoxy?
- Is the Southern Baptist Convention focused on the Great Commission and our divinely-ordained purpose to bring the gospel to the world?
- Is the Southern Baptist Convention a united community filled with people with a passion to serve Christ, honor him and walk in the fruit of the Spirit?