Dr. Jamie Jenkins: Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy Go Hand In Hand

WWJD? Someone has painted that on the street in large letters. I see it every time I drive to my office. No doubt some well meaning person hoped to influence motorists and persons who walk and run through the neighborhood.

This pithy little saying spread nationwide in the 1990s when Christian youth groups started wearing bracelets bearing the initials. It was intended to help young people be better Christians by questioning whether their actions reflected the mind and attitude of Christ. The thought was that if one asked the question, "What Would Jesus Do?" they would more likely behave in a manner that would demonstrate the love of Jesus.

Although John Wesley did not frame it that way, the question is supported by his teaching and lifestyle. Acts of mercy and acts of piety (he called them Means of Grace) would certainly result from honestly asking," WWJD?"

Charles Sheldon's book, In His Steps, is a Christian classic. It was written in 1896 but the principles contained in its pages are relevant today. The book was sub-titled "What Would Jesus Do?" and was based on his belief that Jesus was more than a Savior; He was the ultimate moral example.

In Sheldon's novel Rev. Henry Maxwell meets a homeless man who cannot understand why many Christians ignore the poor. The homeless man wonders what a difference it would make if all the Christians would live out what they say and sing in church worship services. He suggests that the world would be a better place "if the people in the big churches (with) good clothes and nice houses to live in, and money to spend for luxuries, and to go away on summer vacations and all that" would ask, "What would Jesus do?

Walter Rauschenbusch, one of the prominent leaders of the Social Gospel movement in the early 20th century, credits Sheldon's novel as a primary inspiration. Rauschenbusch believed that the Kingdom of God was advanced more by leading a Christlike life than by "fire and brimstone" preaching. He said that the Kingdom of God "is not a matter of getting individuals to heaven, but of transforming the life on earth into the harmony of heaven."

Before anyone jumps to a wrong conclusion, I believe that right actions are informed and undergirded by right beliefs. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy go hand in hand. It is not just believing right or acting right; it is a both.

It is important to ask WWJD? but life is not as simple as I wish it was.

An Associated Press news story last week told how thousands of sacks of food meant for famine stricken Somalia is often stolen and "sold at markets in the same neighborhoods where skeletal children in filthy refugee camps can't find enough to eat."

Families at one of the government-run refugee camps said they were often forced to hand back aid after journalists had taken photos of them with it.   Ali Said Nur said he received two sacks of maize twice, but each time was forced to give one to the camp leader. "You don't have a choice. You have to simply give without an argument to be able to stay here."

"While helping starving people, you are also feeding the power groups that make a business out of the disaster," one official said. "You're saving people's lives today so they can die tomorrow."


I don't know the answer to that question in every situation but it is good to continually ponder it- and to act responsibly as a result.

One thing I am sure of--Jesus wouldn't paint WWJD? in big red letters on the pavement of a public street.

Jamie Jenkins

[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," August 22, 2011. North Georgia Conference, United Methodist Church.]