Opinion—Bad Orthodoxy Leads to Bad Orthopraxy
By Scott Beha
Editor’s note—Views expressed in the following op-ed do not necessarily reflect those of Church of God Ministries, Inc., or its affiliates. We publish op-ed features to provoke thought, stimulate healthy discussion, and inspire us to be with Jesus, become like Jesus, and do what Jesus did. We’ve asked to hear from a diverse range of voices across the Church of God movement. This op-ed features one of these voices.
Bad orthodoxy leads to bad orthopraxy—or, in simpler terms, when we teach wrong doctrine in the church you get wrong living out of the church.
I have sought over the past year to preach consistently about the presence of two competing kingdoms in this world, for which all of the conflict and upheaval we have seen over the past year, and at any other point in history, have been responsible. These two competing kingdoms are constantly at war with one another. The first kingdom is what the gospel writer Matthew calls the “kingdom of the heavens,” or what is sometimes called the “kingdom of God.” This is the reign and rule of King Jesus or new creation being spread through the corrupt creation. The competing kingdom is what I will call, for lack of a better term, the “kingdom of the earth.” This is the world system and is absolutely everything that is contrary to the kingdom of the heavens and the rule of King Jesus.
So, what false doctrine is it that I am referencing that leads to wrong living in the church? One of the most damaging doctrines, which I will admit I have preached most of my ministry, is the doctrine of heaven as some far-off place that our spirits will one day float to in order to escape this treacherous world. The problem with this doctrine, besides the fact that it truly does not stack up to the true intention of the Holy Scripture from beginning to end, is the fact that it teaches people to minimize their role in the here and now, in the broken creation, and we do not behave as new-creation spreaders as we are meant to be. The church has sung songs about flying away to heaven and such, and for centuries the church has embraced this doctrine. The problem is that it sets people up to care very little about the kingdom of God, which was meant to combat the defeated, but still present, kingdom of the earth.
What happens when our hope is in escaping earth to go to some disembodied place called heaven? We care very little for the things that happen in the broken world we call earth. Therefore, our religion becomes about a lot of different things, but very rarely is our religion about that which it was meant to be about. Jesus summed it up as loving him and loving others. This is why we care very little for people that disagree with us, or we demonize any position that threatens the small little kingdom we have invested in in this creation. We worship temporary thrones and seats of power, like elected officials, rather than only bowing a knee to the one true King of everything, Jesus.
Jesus was the first of the new creation and everyone who has been rescued from allegiance to idols, through the forgiveness of sins, has become part of the new creation. You experience the second birth, or what is commonly called being “born again.” When we are constantly thinking about leaving this earth, we will care very little for spreading the kingdom of God here in our midst, and fulfilling our divine vocation of being image-bearers and reflecting the glory of the one true God wherever we are. If your soteriology (theology of salvation) is all about leaving this earth one day, you will never fully understand the reason why you were rescued from sin and death in the first place.
Here is the important part to grasp in light of everything we have seen in the United States over the past decade, and a case could be made for much longer. “Christians” who have their eye on a place far off called heaven will have no issue elevating a political party, agenda, social justice issue, or anything else to being supreme in their affections in the here and now because for them, there is no contest right now. But, if the kingdom of God and the reign and rule of King Jesus in the here and now are what we are living for, we will realize that politics, or any other idol that we could attach our affections to, are nothing more than false and competing gods to the one true God and King, Jesus.
Until the church fixes our orthodoxy and begins to preach new creation as true human destiny and not heaven, then the church will never fully engage in the mission to spread new creation and the kingdom of God in this world, and things will not get better. It doesn’t matter how much you dress up an idol, at the end of the day it is still an idol that has been defeated and should have no power in this world. But as we bow our knee to false gods of this society, we release more and more power to a defeated enemy that will ultimately enslave us and work against what we were called to do.
If Christians would realize that you are already living in eternity and you are already part of the new creation through your profession of faith in Jesus, then you would see how futile your efforts to build earthly kingdoms are in light of the fact that you are fighting against yourself. You spread old creation and corruption when you should spread new creation and life and restoration.
I finish with this reminder again: bad orthodoxy always leads to bad orthopraxy.
Questions or comments? Scott Beha can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. Scott is the lead pastor at Southridge Church, where he has been on staff for ten-plus years, in the capital city of West Virginia. He and his wife Meghan have been married for close to a decade and have two kiddos, Landon and Olivia. They spend a lot of time in their volunteering in their community and relax at the end of their busy days with an episode or two of The Office (you’ll catch several scenes or quotes used in his sermon illustrations!).