On Orthodontics, Orthodoxy, and Orthopraxy

Kevin Gasser

Staunton Mennonite Church

On Orthodontists, Orthodoxy, and Orthopraxy


Isaiah 1:10-20

10Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. 12When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; 13bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. 14Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. 15When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

16Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. 18Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I begin by defining these fancy words.  They all come from the Greek language and each can be broken down into two separate words.  Let’s begin with orthodontist.  Each of these words begins with ortho.  Ortho in the Greek means to straighten.  And dontist sounds a lot like dentist, so we can assume that an orthodontist is one who straightens teeth.  Now I bet that many of you already know what an orthodontist is.  An orthodontist is the person who straightens teeth.  He or she is the one that puts the braces on your teeth. 

So Ortho means straight.  We can see this in orthopedics, orthodontics, orthodoxy, and orthopraxy.  But it is that doxy and praxy that is problematic.  Doxy means belief.  So to say that something is orthodox means that it is straight or right belief.  Some of the churches have even gone so far as to include this word “orthodox” in their denomination’s name, like the Greek Orthodox or even Orthodox Jews.  It is a claim to having the right belief, not that I have found many churches that claim to have the wrong belief.

Now praxy is a little different.  Praxy sounds a lot like another word that we use from time to time in English.  Praxy sounds like practice, and it is the word from which we get the word practice.  So orthopraxy is straight practice, or the right practice.  Now we have these three orthos, orthodontics, orthodoxy, and orthopraxy.  Two of these three matter to God, and I’ll give you a hint, Jesus probably never had braces.  So we are not going to talk about orthodontics anymore today.  But let’s look at these other two “ortho’s”, orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and let’s try to see which is more important for us as followers of Jesus Christ.  Is it more important to have the right belief or is it more important to have the right practices? This scripture seems quite clear, something is not quite right.  This is what God is saying to the people of the southern kingdom of Judah through the prophet Isaiah.  And in verse 10, how does God address Judah?  He refers to them as Sodom and Gomorrah.  And if you know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, then you know that this is not a compliment.  These cities were corrupt with sin.  And God punished these cities for their sinful nature.

So God is making this connection between the Jews and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  He is saying that the Jews are sinning against God.  And what is this sin?  Well, it has to do with their worship.

There is this huge critique on their sacrifices, on the burnt offerings and the blood offerings and the incense offerings given to God by the people.  Now it says here that the people have been bringing a multitude of these offerings.  They would have been bringing them to God by the truckload if they had trucks in those days.  Verse thirteen says that the people are bringing these things to God at the New Moon, or about once a month, and they are bringing them to God on the Sabbath, that’s once a week.  The people have poured out themselves and given of their own livestock and their own incense.  And how does God receive these gifts?  He says they are detestable to him.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, all is not well between God and the people of Judah.  But if you look at what they are doing, the giving of sacrifices to the Lord, are these not the things that God has asked of the people?  This is part of the covenant at Sinai.  The people are to bring sacrifices to God.  And they appear to be doing it zealously and frequently.  So what is the big deal?  Has God changed his mind and not told anybody?  Did God decide he didn’t want anymore sacrifices and waited until he could not stand it any more before he told anybody?

I believe that the problem lies here.  The people were doing what God had told them to do.  They had their orthopraxy down pat.  The ways in which they were worshiping God were right.  It was what God had commanded.  But they were doing it for the wrong reasons.

These Jews seemed to think that all God wanted was for them to bring him a multitude of sacrifices.  They are thinking, “Well, God commanded that we make sacrifices, so I am going to make the most sacrifices possible!”

Well let me ask you this, Do you think God required sacrifices of the people because God likes sacrifices?  Does he require sacrifices of the people because he likes goats blood and burnt incense?  And does he require sacrifices because there is something magical about the shedding of blood that brings God and humanity closer together?  No, the people were missing the point.  What God wanted from the sacrificial system was for the people to obey God first.  You see, in the sacrificial system, the Jews brought unblemished items and gave them to God.  Some of these sacrifices might sound gory and disgusting to us today, but the people were giving some of their best livestock and crops to the Lord.  And a part of this is so that the people would learn to put God first rather than their own financial gains.  It was their faithfulness that God really wanted.  It was their faithfulness that made things right between sinful humanity and God.  Remember Abraham was faithful and it was credited to him as righteousness.  They missed the point.  Their orthopraxy was good in this sense.  But their orthodoxy was off.  They were doing the right thing, but for the wrong reason.

I love it when people today do what is right, don’t you?  When we hear stories of how people go out of their way to help someone else, it makes us feel good.  When I see people in right relationship with God and humanity, I am happy about that.  But how do we define what is right and what is wrong today?  In a post-modern world where many people don’t believe that the Bible is the authority for their life, that can be a difficult question to answer.  So much of the world that does not believe the Bible is left floundering, not knowing what is right and what is wrong.  And much of the world has come to the conclusion that what is right for you may not be right for me.

Now I’m not talking about small things like what is the best color in the world or who makes the best pumpkin pie in the world.  These things are up for individual interpretation.  But much of the United States would say that I have no right to tell another person that it is wrong to go to hate someone else.  Some people would say that I have no right to tell another person that they need to give money to the poor rather than keeping every dollar they make for themselves.  Some people would say that I have no right to tell another person that Jesus came to this earth to show us the better way to live and then he who was without sin died for our sins.  Much of the world would say that I don’t have the right to make such claims.  And you know what?  I agree with them.

Who am I to tell you what to do with your life?  And who am I to tell you how to spend your money?  Who am I to tell you what to believe?  I am just another man.  But God…God has the right to tell you what to do with these things.  Because it is God that has given us everything we have, from our life to our last penny.  Doesn’t God have a say in how we use these things.

So while I might not have the right to tell you how to use the things that God has given to you, God does have the right to do so, doesn’t he?  And He has told us what to do with the things that he has blessed us with.  It is revealed to us through the book that so many people don’t even care to pick up.  God reveals his will to us through his Bible.  And though society tells us that I don’t have the right to tell them what to do, I do have the obligation to do so.  I believe the Bible and I believe that the whole Gospel message is meant for the whole world to hear.  Jesus commissioned the disciples in Matthew 28 to go forth and make disciples of the world.  And because of this we are obligated to do just that.  We are obligated to tell the world about Jesus, his message of ethics, his message of peace, his message of justice, and his message of redemption.  We are called to believe this story, we are called to tell this story and we are called to live this story.  That is the dance of orthodoxy and orthopraxy.  We must believe what it right and practice what is right, even when those in the world around us don’t recognize what we know as right and wrong.

But there are people in our world today that seem to have half that dance figured out.  Like the Jews that Isaiah was telling us about, they seem to have either the orthodoxy or the orthopraxy part of religion figured out. 

A friend of mine lives in Harrisonburg and he has these roommates.  Great people.  His roommates grew up in Mennonite families and two of them even did work with Mennonite Central Committee.  But these two that have served with MCC are an interesting couple of guys.  While they grew up in the church, today they would claim that they were not followers of Jesus Christ.  They would say that Jesus is a really cool guy, but they do not worship him.

We will call these two guys Ralph and Dave.  Ralph and Dave are very involved in the community.  They volunteer their time at a soup kitchen called bread not bombs.  They give of themselves freely working for peace and justice.  They have a part of orthopraxy that many of us miss out on.  But their orthodoxy is non-existent.  They are doing what is right, but they are not doing it for the right reasons.

Now these are good things that they are doing.  They are helping those who are less fortunate than themselves.  And I would never say that they shouldn’t be doing them.  But working in such situations is different from what I belief.  I love other people because I serve a God who is love.  I love other people because Jesus taught us about servant leadership when he bent down and washed the feet of his disciples.  Serving others is good, but serving Jesus by serving Christ is the way my Bible tells me is the right way to live.

But there are people on the other end of the spectrum as well.  There are the people that believe what is right, but don’t do anything about it.  There are people that confess on a Sunday morning that Jesus Christ is Lord, and then live from Monday to Saturday like he isn’t.  And I think that I even fall into this category from time to time.  I believe we are to seek justice, work for peace, love our neighbor, pray for those who persecute us, care for God’s creation, and tell people about the gift of salvation that Jesus gives to us.  I believe this to be true, but do I always do it?  No way.  If I need a hammer, I buy where I can get that hammer the cheapest, even if that means the local hardware store goes out of business.  I walk past someone that I know is not a follower of Jesus Christ without ever making eye contact with them.  I think I have my orthodoxy in pretty good shape because I believe in the God revealed in the Bible, the God revealed in Jesus Christ.  But sometimes my orthopraxy can really stink it up.

So who do you think is in better shape?  Me or Ralph and Dave?  I have more orthodox views, but Ralph and Dave may be actually living a more Christ like life, even if they don’t understand his divinity.  Their orthopraxy is better than mine in some areas.  Who is better off?  Well I hope I am.  I think I am better off because God does provide his grace when we fail to live as he would call us to live.  That is evident in the scripture for today.  Let’s look at verse 18 again.  Though your sins may be like crimson… So perhaps I am better off in the long run, but that does not get me or anyone else off the hook.

Brothers and Sisters, we cannot separate orthodoxy and orthopraxy.  If we are choosing to be followers of Jesus Christ than I assert today that we need both.  A Christian that has orthodox belief can come to church on a Sunday morning, be alive for Jesus Christ, talk a good game, but then live from Monday to Saturday like everyone else in the world, living for him or herself as if Jesus had never come to this fallen world.

Or a secular person can go into the community in which he or she lives and engage in the lives of the people, sharing in their joys and concerns, helping the poor, loving their neighbors and their enemies without ever recognizing Jesus as Lord.  And their actions are good, but their motives are wrong. 

We cannot separate orthodoxy from orthopraxy.  If we believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, then we must live as if Jesus Christ is Lord.  If we believe that Jesus saves, than we must live as if Jesus saves.  If we believe that Jesus calls us to love our enemies, than we must live as if Jesus calls us to love our enemies.

This is major critique against Christians today; that we are hypocrites.  And it can be true.  I have already told you some of the ways in which I have been hypocritical.  I don’t always practice what I preach.  We cannot separate orthodoxy from orthopraxy.  If we do, we not only jeopardize our relationship with God, but we also jeopardize our relationship with others.

So what are we to do?  We are in the church, I hope we are learning together the things that God requires of us.  I hope our orthodoxy is right.  Now one last time, lets look at our scripture today.  Verse 17 says, “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”  Just as we are learning about Jesus, we must learn to be like Jesus. 

Imagine if we could learn about Jesus and become more like him.  If we had both the correct orthodoxy and the correct orthopraxy.  Imagine what this world would look like if we truly cared about everyone else in the same way that Jesus cares about us.  If you imagine these things, than you can imagine a world without hunger, a world without war and strife.  If you can imagine these things, than you can imagine the Kingdom of God.

Orthodontics, Orthodoxy, and Orthopraxy.  Two of these things matter to God.  Lets make sure they matter to us as well.


About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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One Response to On Orthodontics, Orthodoxy, and Orthopraxy

  1. A. D. Strickland says:

    Good Job Kevin!

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