In a recent editorial in the Christian Standard the reader is asked to consider trends among Christian Churches. One of these trends is described as:
The question is changing from “What do you believe?” to “What are you doing?” This doesn’t mean today’s church leaders no longer believe anything. Most of them hold firmly to the deity of Christ, the authority of the Scriptures, and the efficacy of baptism. But correct doctrine isn’t their first discussion; crucial to them is correct practice: How are we living out the gospel and offering God’s hope to our world? Is ours a good church for the community as well as in the community?
The editorial ends by challenging us to “respond to such changes.” If I am reading the editorial rightly, the kind of “response” called for is to accept the “trend” and simply work with it as a fact.
This idea of “practice first” goes beyond Christian Churches, beyond Christendom in general, and even beyond religion. In no field can the first question be “practice.” It is simply a nonsensical order of things.
There is absolutely no way to know that your practice is correct apart from correct theory. To put this in terms of the Christian faith, you cannot even begin to know if what you propose to do will please God unless you first consider what God has said about that matter in scripture.
Doctrine controls practice. Therefore, doctrine must logically precede practice. You cannot “live out the gospel” if you are not clear what the gospel teaches, and what the gospel teaches is doctrine – what you believe.
I know I am beginning to repeat myself here, but this trend is really not all that new, and it is completely untenable. It reminds me of people who want to play a game without reading and comprehending the rules. We want to “just do it” because we are impatient pragmatists. But there is no way to know what to do, or if you are doing the right thing, without first knowing the rules.
The editor tells us that this whole trend “doesn’t mean today’s church leaders no longer believe anything.” But what it does mean is that this trend is in fact a trend toward not allowing beliefs to define or constrain practice. That lack of definition and constraint is beginning to become obvious in the practices advocated by some “church leaders.”