The Need for the Practical

Over the years we have emphasized teaching on practical Christian living in our church community, but always with an aim to connect the practical with the biblical principles in view. This is why our church magazine is named Credenda (things to be believed) Agenda (things to be done). The believing must come first, but it must be followed by the doing.

Simply believing is not enough; we must be doing, working out what we believe by how we live. My husband grew up in a family that was strong on practical teaching, and he will readily credit his parents with much of what he knows about living Christianly. Ephesians is one of his favorite books, and I have heard him say many times that the first three books in Ephesians have no imperative statements: they are all declarative statements. The last three books are full of imperatives or commands: do this, don’t do that.

When Christians learn much practical Christian teaching over many years (the Agenda), the danger always exists to drift away from the Credenda part. And after awhile we might even forget the principle behind the action. This can happen when parents are strong on the practical part with their kids, but forget to lay the foundation of doctrine first.

For example, take Christmas. The reason our culture celebrates Christmas is because Jesus was born, and something of that magnitude requires a culture-wide celebration. You have probably read stories about when and why Christians began bringing trees into the house, who first put lights on the tree to signify Jesus as the Light of the World, and so forth. But many people in our culture have little or no idea really why we celebrate Christmas. They still do it, but they have lost the first principle behind it.

The same may be true of Sunday worship. Christians worship on the first day of the week because Jesus rose from the dead and remade everything on the first day of the week. Many other Christian practices can fall into this category. We started a Christian school for our children so that we could obey the commandment to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We believed then (and still do) that unbelievers should not be enculturating our children with their secular beliefs, so we did not put them in the state-run schools. But I think some parents can forget the point of a Christian education, not because they are evil parents, but simply because it has become routine.The longer you drift away from first principles, the weaker the practice becomes until it falls away all together.

As we live as Christians, we must stay connected to our Head, remembering that our lives are centered around Him and His infallible Word; we worship our Triune God with all of our lives. This results in practical Christian living that is vibrant and alive, not dead works or empty rituals.

So read those books (or blogs!) that give you practical tips on childrearing or marriage or singleness or Christian education or any number of other things. We all need help in many ways. This is why God established the offices of pastors and teachers and why he told older women to help out the younger ones, teaching them how to live in their homes in practical ways that honor and glorify God.  But never forget the connection. Never forget to read and reread those first three books of Ephesians that lay out so clearly what we are to believe before you go on to the last three books that tell you how to live.

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8 thoughts on “The Need for the Practical

  1. One of the glaring weaknesses my husband and I have seen in reformed Presbyterianism is the disconnect between believing and doing. It is hard to put into words what the doing should look like, especially when the doing isn’t right. Keep writing summaries on the why and giving illustrations on the “what does this look like?”. The Sabbath dinner blog explanations and photos that you posted are one example of what is so sorely needed. Thank you. We want to live like orthodoxy and orthopraxy really are married. Just like when truth and mercy kiss.

  2. I think this balance is what makes the ministry I receive out of Moscow, Idaho, so effective. Not a balance of half of each, but and insistence on pursuing all of both — practice fully informed by theory and theory fully enfleshed in practice. Not that any of us is there yet, but that’s where we’re all called to be. Thank you, Wilsons et al., for your persistent pushing of this principle!

  3. I guess I see the world differently. You said, “The believing must come first, but it must be followed by the doing. “ It is easy to get someone perform a loving act. As they become more loving, it becomes easier to talk with them about where love comes from. It also creates a crack in their heart that allows the Holy Spirit a place to start work. In addition, by creating a history of work it is easy to expand on their effort as they become more aware of God and all that they can do with His help. God becomes someone who can help them do more of what they are already doing rather than someone who demands they do something they feel unprepared to do.

    God becomes their partner in life rather than someone who makes demands of those who serve Him. I like having a partner I can trust, call on when needed, and work with to change the world. My God is a great guy to work.

    Again, I see the world differently. You said, “We believed then (and still do) that unbelievers should not be enculturating our children with their secular beliefs, so we did not put them in the state-run schools.“

    I see public school as a place for children to learn to defend their beliefs. When they become adults, they need the ability to defend what they believe. They need the ability to share what they believe. It is best for them to learn that skills under the watchful eye of their parents. Protecting them for that challenge risks raising a person who is swept away once they become an adult. Does that explain why so many adults today attended Christian schools when they were young and don’t attend church today?

    I also believe in Christian schooling but for different reasons. There are five elements to developing a child. Those elements are intellectual (any classroom can do that), social (dealing with a diversity of people is best for this), emotional (any life situation can do that), physical (any athletic or exercise can do that), and spiritual (only a Christian or religious school can do that in our society). Therefore, the Christian school is the best way to produce a well-rounded individual capable of performing up to their God given potential.

  4. Seymour, as Chesterton said, a thing must be loved before it can become lovable. That love can come in a multitude of different ways but I generally find that believing in and loving God is the love that really allows a person to *do* what they must, even if it is something they feel totally unprepared to do. The Bible is full of examples of people being called to something new or strange: Gideon is just one example, Isaiah is another. God Himself calls us to follow Him, to be holy and pure, and countless other things: and these are things totally impossible to us fallen men and women on our own accord. It takes grace.

    I agree that belief, love, and actions all feed off each other to a certain degree–the more we believe, the more we love, the more we do to confirm that love. The more we progress in sanctification, the more we love and believe. But belief comes first.

    I respectfully disagree that *any* school can develop a child’s intellect in a God-honouring way, if it neglects God’s sovereignty over the child’s intellect. If it could be done, why not send the children to secular school five days of the week and just make sure they learned their catechism on Sunday? That would give the child a deap-seated secular postmodern philosophy whitewashed thinly with Christian teaching. The purpose of Christian schooling is to bring *all* areas of learning under the lordship of Christ, so that the child learns nothing *but* Christianity (and hopefully, how to defend his beliefs and hang onto them in hard times).

  5. I grew up in a church that strongly emphasized doctrine on the one hand, and then on the other strongly emphasized correct behavior…however, they were rarely connected. A list of things to know and a list of things to accomplish. By the time I hit high school I was wondering what else there really was to learn and feeling completely crushed by the weight of what I needed to DO. Through my husband’s teaching of Romans 7, a good dose of John Piper and a *lot* of Wilson reading / listening, I saw that they were supposed to be together…what a relief. I remember the first time I read “Surprised by the Trinity” by Doug Jones – I had thought that the Trinity was probably the least applicable area of theology…and I couldn’t have been more wrong. 🙂 My life, right along with Valerie’s, is so much better because of what comes out of Moscow. Thank you!

  6. Suzannah, I agree with what you have to say about Gideon and others. Those are individuals who had a relationsip with God. Those individuals provide us with an insight that helps us furtther develop an existing relationship. That for me is one of the many things that church does.

    My thoughts, poorly expressed, were about the individual who lacks a relationship with God. I am interested in helping those people know, feel, and experience what you and I already have.

    One your thoughts about “child’s intellect in a God-honouring way”. I beleive that God, the Creator, is the source of all wisdom and knowledge. He shares knowledge with creation as He sees fit. Therefore, whatever we learn is knowledge He wants us to have. So any source of knowledge is a good one because it is all knowledge God wants us to have.

    He has an expectation that we will use the knowledge for good rather than evil but He trusts us and allows us to err. The Atom bomb is a good example. In my view it was not a good use of the knowledge about how atoms work. On the other hand, our use of the atom in medicine to extend life, eliminate pain, and heal is exactly what God would have us do with the knowledge. Those acts of mercy are part of bring God’s grace to believers and non-believers.

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