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Orthodoxy vs. living out the Gospel: which is more important?

"I consider this question part of a standard test for orthodoxy: any theological system which claims adherence to the system as being more important than living out the gospel fails."

I posted that on the internet somewhere. This is written to explain what I meant by that.

I do not want to imply that adherence to orthodoxy is not important. If I believed that, then I wouldn't care whether a theological system placed orthodoxy or "living out the Gospel" on top.

But I do care, I do believe that there is a theologically correct answer (which is what orthodoxy is), I believe that it is important for us to get the answer right, and that the correct answer is "living out the Gospel" is more important than acknowledging the truth of doctrinal statements.

At this point I should specify what I mean by "living out the gospel". It's simple: believe in Jesus. Furthermore, believing in Jesus will naturally lead to orthodoxy. For example, we come to believe that the Scriptures are inspired because Jesus himself cited the Old Testament and implied that he would cause the apostles to write the New Testament. If I believe in Jesus, then I should naturally be lead to believe in the Bible. That is to say, "if Jesus then Bible". If you believe in Jesus because you first believe the Scriptures to be true (which I'll summarize as "if Bible then Jesus"), I think you have your cause and effect backwards: the Author is greater than his word. But one thing is for sure: "believe in the Lord Jesus Christ" is more important than "which is right: if Jesus then Bible, or if Bible then Jesus?", or any other such debate we may get into about the inspiration of the Scriptures.

Alright, so believing in Jesus is well and good, but what am I to do with that? How should I live my life? Jesus gives us the answer: love God, love one another. These things - believing in Jesus, which directly leads to loving God and loving one another, are the main things I have in mind when I say "living out the Gospel"

My position is strongly supported in the Bible in the holistic sense and in specific "proof texts". Whenever there is discussion about the "most important thing" in the Bible, it is pretty much ALWAYS either "Jesus" or "Love". James says that "faith (in the sense of intellectual adherence to certain doctrines, even correct and important ones such as belief in one God) without works is dead". Paul is probably the biggest stickler for doctrinal purity in the Bible, but even he says that all knowledge - including all heavenly knowledge such as the understanding of "mysteries" and the tongues of angels - is nothing without love. It is only a childish reflection of the perfection that is love. Jesus himself says that loving God and loving one another is the most important commandment, which sums up all other commandments.

In contrast to this, orthodoxy or doctrinal purity is NEVER stated to be the "most important thing". This of course does not mean that it's not important, merely that it's not the most important thing. I personally believe that it is very (but not supremely) important. Otherwise I would not be writing this lengthy post about it. The Bible does have much to say about watching out for false prophets or teachers, keeping the faith that was handed down to us, etc., but never in the context of it being the most important thing.

Therefore, I believe that someone who claims orthodoxy (in the sense of intellectual assent to the right set of facts) is more important than believing in Jesus, loving God, and loving one another (summarized as "living out the Gospel") is in doctrinal error. I believe my position is strongly supported by the Bible, my personal experience, tradition, and the majority of other people I know to be Christians.

Let's say that I come across two people, called Alice and Bob. Alice doesn't know much of anything about theology, even about really important thing such as the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, or the inspiration of the Scriptures. She's even in blatant error about some of those doctrines. But she believes in Jesus wholeheartedly, and therefore actually does the things that she believes that Jesus would want her to do. This leads her to love God and love people.

Bob, on the other hand, has the perfect doctrine: he is right about everything and knows everything. But this does not lead him to trust Jesus, nor to love God or other people.

Between the two of them I would say that Alice is doing better. In fact I would say that Alice is saved while Bob is not. Now, Alice is still in a ton of trouble. Her deviation from orthodoxy will cause her to sin repeatedly, severely cripple her ability to love, and will cause her faith in Jesus to weaken. But this only means that it is obviously better to both "live out the Gospel" and maintain orthodoxy, than to do just one. It's not an either-or choice. In fact they reinforce each other.

All of this though - everything that I've written here - is only explaining a particular doctrine I hold to. It is, by its own argument, not the most important thing. So if you read it and forget it, or if you read it and think that I'm wrong or get angry at me, I will not mind all that much. As long as you believe in Jesus, which leads you to love God and other people. Because that is the most important thing.

You may next want to read:
Jesus is like these things in his incarnate nature:
The Gospel: the central message of Christianity
Another post, from the table of contents

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