Rector’s note: Over the past few weeks there has been a formidable amount of conversation around my blog. The conversations have been respectful and insightful. It is what a blog should engender. There have been discussions as to the nature of Salvation, and recently a discussion on orthodoxy (right belief) in relation to orthopraxy (right practice) I have contended that it is the practice of the faith that forms belief. The Gospels and early writings in the church imply as much….Do the right thing and then the theology will follow….There is challenge to that way of thinking however, always has been…Martin Luther being one such challenger. One thoughtful contributor made the observation that orthodoxy and orthopraxy are rightly described as two sides to the same coin. Pete Wilson weighed in with another metaphor which I think is quite ingenious, and has caused me to think again…which is a healthy thing for all of us to do in this ever unfolding life of faith. For those of you who did not see Pete’s response I am reprinting it here. Thanks to all for these enlightening conversations:
June 9th, 2012
To Ashton Hill:
Since you asked for feedback from other readers, please let me make three points.
One, you say that orthodoxy and orthopraxy may be two sides of the same coin. Let me suggest a different metaphor: an estuary. In an estuary, it is difficult to know precisely where the freshwater stops and where the saltwater begins. There is an area of brackishness where the two types of water swirl and mix. In theological reflection, it is likewise difficult to know where belief and practice begin and end. Theology is a swirling and mixing of belief and practice. In the Episcopal tradition, the three resources we use to do theological reflection are Scripture, tradition, and reason. Reason includes not just rationalism and logic, but also experience and imagination. We use these tools to reflect on our life experiences, and thus our theological understanding evolves.
Two, the Church’s liturgical life is also part of our formation and theological reflection. There are two main cycles in the liturgical calendar: the Incarnational cycle (Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany), and the Paschal cycle (Lent, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost). These seven seasons of the Church year mark the turning points in the life of Jesus. In marking and living these moments liturgically, the Church lives the life of Jesus and makes the same earthly pilgrimage. This draws us over time into deeper relationships with others, the whole creation, and God. Thus, the practice of living liturgically shapes our belief which in turn shapes our practice. Where does belief start and practice end? The answer is unknowable, so we’re back to the estuary metaphor.
Three, the Church’s sacramental life is also part of our formation and theological reflection. Sacraments like Holy Baptism or Holy Eucharist are rituals that the Church celebrates regularly in corporate worship. The sacraments are outward and visible signs of God’s self-giving. God gives part of himself through the sacraments. The Church in turn gives itself to the world. The Church, then, is a sacrament in, to, and for the world. The sacramental life, like the liturgical life, is part of the Church’s belief which informs its practice which in turn informs its belief. So just like an estuary where it is difficult to mark precisely where freshwater ends and saltwater begins, so too in the Church’s theological life it is difficult to know where orthodoxy (belief) and orthopraxy (practice) precisely begin and end.
The Episcopal Church offers a way to do theological reflection using Scripture, tradition, and reason; through the liturgical calendar it offers a way to make an earthly pilgrimage by following the life of Jesus; and through its sacramental life it offers an ethic and witness based on giving oneself to and for the greater good, which is the way of God. The experience of all this is estuarial. And as anyone who has been in the delta knows, estuaries teem with life.