David Kinnaman’s UnChristian and You Lost Me provide sobering studies of spiritually-minded people who want nothing to do with church or institutional Christianity. Even those raised in the Christian faith are now turning away from the churches they grew up in.
In this “give me Jesus but not religion” climate, churches are struggling. In my book Preaching to Pluralists I identify one of mistakes being made by churches as they respond to this indifference and hostility. It’s a mistake made especially within Churches of Christ. Here it is–an overemphasis on orthodoxy.
If we define orthodoxy as “right teaching” then most in our tribe know it’s a hallmark of our formal and informal marketing strategies. We have branded ourselves as the church who’s got it right when it comes to doctrine and teaching. We identify ourselves as a people of the Book. And some neighborhood mailouts I’ve seen from local congregations still emphasize that those disenfranchised from the church ought to give X Church of Christ a chance. Why? Because it’s got the right teaching.
But in a culture where Truth has been replaced with truths, and where pluralism has replaced absolutism, there’s less and less interest in orthodoxy in and of itself.
Thankfully, orthodoxy is not all the church has to offer.
While beliefs are obviously important, what is more likely to connect with many today is talk of the church’s orthopraxy (its right practice–no, not the 5 acts of worship) and its orthopathy (its right passions and zeal).
For instance, consider Acts 2:42-47, the “blueprint” often referred to by many in our tribe. If there is a picture of church which is appealing to even the most dechurched, this is it. Rather than focusing on the church’s orthodoxy (its beliefs), this text focuses mostly on the church’s orthopathy (its zeal and passion) and orthopraxy (its practices).
Notice the rich spirituality present in this church:
- “They devoted themselves…to prayer (2:42).”
- “Everyone was filled with awe…(2:43).”
- “Everyday the continued to meet together in the temple courts…praising God (2:47 48).”
Notice the warm fellowship:
- “They devoted themselves…to the fellowship (2:42).”
- “All the believers were together and had everything in common (2:44).”
- “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts (2:46).”
Notice the sacrificial ministry:
- “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need (2:45).”
Here is an image of church which is deeply biblical and appealing to a postmodern world. These themes of spirituality, fellowship, and service connect powerfully with many today.
I’m not suggesting the old bait-and-switch–draw people with orthopathy and orthopraxy, then, once we’ve got them in, hit them over the head with orthodoxy. I’m suggesting a change of emphasis. Let’s put our best foot forward. And right now, that’s either orthopraxy or orthopathy.
Orthodoxy still matters. But even here, perhaps it’s best to reframe the discussion. Perhaps we should be pointing to the Story or Narrative which undergirds our lives as congregations, rather than pointing to dry and context-less lists of Scriptures. In many ways, I think even the dechurched are hungry for a Story that inspires, informs, and makes sense of their lives. We’ve got that. But sometimes it’s lost in our discussions of other beliefs which characterize our tribe.
Orthodoxy is ultimately aimed at the head. What many are hungry for today are issues related to hands (action) and heart (passions). Let’s leverage this and point people to congregations whose hands are actively engaged in life-changing ministry in the community and whose hearts are filled with joy and sincerity. And, along the way, lets share His Story, the only Story in which they will fully find themselves.