Orthopraxy: Actions Speak Louder Than Words


Actions speak louder than words. How many times have we heard this phrase? Right actions make our relationships better: our relationship with God and our relationships with other people.

Words can divide

Yesterday was Trinity Sunday. One of the few days on the church calendar that celebrates a doctrine rather than a person or event.

Most pastors and priests dread Trinity Sunday. Preaching on the doctrine of the Trinity is tricky. Put simply, the nature of the Trinity is not logical. It’s a mystery. And like other mysteries, the Trinity can’t be easily explained with words.

(Think the Trinity is easy to explain? Check out this video that illustrates how easy it is to fall into an ancient church heresies using analogies to describe the Trinity.)

Words can condemn

Every student of church history knows about the long list of people who were either excommunicated or condemned for trying to explain theological mysteries with words that inadequately expresses the nature of God.

They were labeled heretics and vilified for their theological beliefs. But have you ever wondered what kind of people they actually were? Were they justly condemned for their words, but unjustly condemned for their actions?

Orthopraxy: Moving from words to actions

I’m not trying to defend or promote any particular doctrine. I’m just trying to cast a light on the way Christians sometimes treat other Christians.

As I interact with people from many different churches and denominations I sometimes find that an emphasis on “correct belief” (orthodoxy) prevents Christians from “correct practice” (orthopraxy).

Let’s face it, not all Christians have the benefit of a theological education focused on doctrinal nuances. Most Christians in most times and places have had to rely on educated (or uneducated) clergy to guide them in orthodoxy. To give them the words that describe their faith.

But what really matters to most of us isn’t the words, but the actions.  How we practice our faith.

Do our actions speak louder than words?

Are we good examples of Christ’s disciples? If no one knew what we believed would they still be attracted to the gospel based on the way we treat them?

I’m not talking about a list of dos and don’ts that make people feel righteous. I’m talking about how we treat other people. Do we act like we love them?

For me the gospel is all about love. A loving God sent Christ because God loved us. We demonstrate that we are Christ’s disciples by loving God and loving other people. That’s how our actions speak louder than words.

A biblical view of actions

One of my favorite scripture passages is the “love” passage read at weddings.  1 Corinthians 13:1-3 is a great illustration of the fact that actions speak louder than words because it reminds us that our actions are worthless if we don’t love other people.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing. (NRSV)

Love. If we allow love to guide our actions, we will have orthopraxy. That’s what it means to say that our actions speak louder than words. And they’ll know that we are Christians by our love (John 13:35).


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