When I was growing up, I was taught that being orthodox (little “o”), or saying to believe in the correct things, was the most important part of Christianity. Orthodoxy, in fact, is what made you saved, supported by Romans 10:9, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”. When I was little, I found this to be compelling. It seemed by only speaking, we had the power to change our reality! We could change what was bad about us into good things by mere thoughts and words. To reflect Jon Foreman’s words in “Innocence Again”, my strength was innocence.
But the world brought me to my knees. I was hurt, physically and mentally by those who claimed to love God. And those who claimed to love God did not come to my defense. And I hurt people, sometimes in the name of the religion I was taught. I thought that imposing my abstract belief onto others was love, and that was affirmed for years. But my imposition changed nothing. My words of belief did not stop my abuse, or my aggression towards other people.
And I had the misfortune of growing older, and experiencing things. And many of those things disrupted by tidy belief in salvation by orthodoxy. Those people who said those beautiful, wonderful things about being able to change for the better were not actually changing for the better themselves either. And they taught me things about Jesus and how Jesus loves everyone, but there were these unspoken limits and excuses for why we did not have to love like Jesus loved, but only had to believe that Jesus’ love was divine love.
And eventually I began reading the Bible for myself, and it looked a lot different than what I was taught all those years. Jesus spent a lot of time teaching how we should act opposed to how we should think. In fact, some of his most harsh teachings are ground in the consequence of refusal of action, not refusal of belief- the consequence of not giving forgiveness is not receiving forgiveness, how we are to love those proximate to us (our neighbor), and that love itself was comprised of action, not belief- being patient, kind, not angry or boastful, proud, rude, or self-seeking, not eagerly angered, ignoring the records of wrongdoing, refusing to delight in evil and finding joy in truth. Then even the most famous verse of belief seems to be tempered by a need to act right.
““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”- John 3:16-21
So recently I wandered away from orthodoxy, though not away from Christianity. I listened to some people teach, and act, and one day something clicked for me. In a class in college, the idea of orthopraxy, or correct practice, was introduced to me. Orthopraxy meant that faith was not a belief or profession, but an action that arose from belief. In fact, belief is not actually belief unless it is an action. You cannot claim that you believe Jesus died for you and for creation unless it causes you to do something. This theological affirmation of orthopraxy caused me to change. It caused me to recognize the immanent meaning of the incarnation. Jesus was God in meat and bones. Jesus’s message was love in action. We are meant to participate in the incarnation. We are meant to incarnate love. And that changed everything for me.
I have found that once again, by merely speaking, whether with our bodies or with mouths, we have the ability to change reality. I have been able to comfort, and teach, and catalyze healing in ways I never thought I could. And I’ve been given innocence again. Innocence without ignorance. The ability to see the ways I am broken, and the world is broken, and our systems are broken, but also the way they are beautiful. The ways that flowers grow through concrete, and the trees forgive us of our desecration of the air, and that those who are most broken so clearly can see wholeness.
So what is Christianity?
Is it a belief? An action? A system? An economy?
Is it love? Is it joy? Is it peace? Is it hate?
Can you have it? Can you lose it?
Does it change you? Or maintain you?
Is it death? Is it life?