Orthodox, Unorthodox, and Heresy. Part 1

Orthodox, Unorthodox, and Heresy.

These are terms that we hear thrown out a lot today, especially heresy. But what do they mean exactly, specifically from a Reformed perspective?

If you were to go to dictionary.com you would see orthodoxy defined as “sound or correct in opinion or doctrine, especially theological or religious doctrine” and “conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early church.”

Unorthodox is defined thus, “not conforming to rules, traditions, or modes of conduct, as of a doctrine, religion or philosophy; not orthodox.”

The “H” word, Heresy, has this definition: “opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, especially of a church or religious system”, and “any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.”

I want to suggest a more precise and practical theological definition so that we can classify theological beliefs in a more coherent manner. I suggest the following definitions:

Heresy: A belief that is so destructive and contrary to the Gospel, that to hold to it annihilates the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, and is indeed “another gospel.”

Unorthodox: A belief that does severe damage to the Gospel and cause of Christ.

Orthodox:  The scope of beliefs that are in accord with the Gospel of Jesus Christ; the beliefs that are necessary for the Gospel to be coherent .

First, let’s take a look at Orthodox. By way of introduction, I don’t mean “Eastern Orthodoxy, Greek Orthodoxy or Russian Orthodoxy”. I mean orthodox as defined above. But for the above definition to be valid, we have to ask ourselves, what are the necessary beliefs for the Gospel to coherently make sense? In other words, what does one have to believe to be Orthodox? I will suggest 7 basic things:

1. A proper view of God. Namely, accepting the Biblical God, The Holy Trinity. Father, Son and Spirit.  The doctrine of  The Trinity was hammered out in great detail in the Apostles and Nicene creeds in the early Church, which is where a proper view of this subject may be found. But to be orthodox, it is essential one accepts the Biblical picture of God. Namely one eternal God consisting of 3 eternal persons, Father Son and Spirit. For a precise definition I would suggest you to go the Nicene Creed or Westminster Confession Chapter 2 on the Trinity. In addition to accepting his other attributes, such as his sovereignty, eternal nature and righteousness, omniscience, omnipresence etc.

2. A proper view of Christ. The doctrine of Christ was also hammered out in great detail by the early Church. Namely, that which is exposed in the Chalcedonian creed. That God the Son the second person of the Trinity, took on a human nature, Jesus Christ. That Jesus Christ was fully God and fully Man, in one person. That he lived a sinless life to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of his people. A proper view of Christ is essential for a proper view of The Gospel.

3. A proper view of the Scriptures. Without the scriptures, we would know nothing of redemption. We would be without hope and without God in the world. Essential to Christian Orthodoxy is the trust in God’s word in the Scriptures, that we believe the scriptures to be breathed out by God, our only infallible and inerrant rule for all matters of faith and practice. In addition, holding to the unity of the Scriptures as one coherent whole detailing God’s plan of redemption, and detailing his eternal standard of righteousness, his Law.

4. A proper view of man. This is twofold, on the one hand it is essential to hold that Man was created directly and specially by God, made in the image of God.  On the other, we must accept what the Bible says about Human Nature today; that we have fallen into Sin, into total depravity and are totally hostile to God in mind, word, and deed. That we can in no sense do anything to rescue ourselves from our sin laden condition.

5. A proper view of salvation.  Because of the views in number 4., man cannot save himself. He has to be saved totally by the power of God and cannot cooperate with God to achieve salvation. God must save, and God alone. So Salvation is by Grace ALONE. God’s Grace is the only cause of Salvation in man. This is done by the instrument of  God-given faith ALONE. This salvation coming through the sacrifice of Christ alone. So holding a Biblical view of Salvation by Grace alone through faith alone, in Christ alone is key.

6. A proper view of the church. Holding to the truths that Christ established his Church for the faithful, to administer Baptism and The Lord’s Supper and to proclaim all that he has commanded them, is a key component of orthodoxy.

7. A proper view of the future. A hallmark of orthodox Christianity is the confession of Jesus Christ’s Second coming, that he will resurrect all the dead and consign believers to an Eternal new heavens and new earth, and all unbelievers to an eternal Hell.

 

That is just a basic overview of Christian orthodoxy from a Reformed perspective. These are the beliefs that I believe are necessary for the Biblical Gospel to be clear and coherent.  It is important to remember, however, that just because somebody holds unorthodox views on a subject does not mean they have nothing valuable to say or are not Lovers of Jesus. Many great minds have held unfortunately unorthodox views on certain subjects but have contributed much to the faith, an example would be C.S. Lewis, who despite his great insights into Life and Godliness, held views on Scripture and Man’s sin nature that did great damage to the Gospel and cause of Christ. Many people do in fact believe a Biblical Gospel despite holding view that can muddle and distort it.

I’m sure not everybody agrees with everything I listed as being a part of orthodoxy and I am sure others would have added more.

So who can meet all the qualifications of everything I just listed?

Unfortunately not very much of “Christianity” , due to the sad state of affairs that prevails in the Christian world. Only the evangelical Reformed Churches, Lutherans, and some Anglicans and Baptists make the cut.  None the less, among those who agree on the orthodox essentials, there is plenty of room for disagreement on smaller (but still very important) issues such as The nature and mode of Baptism, The millennium of Revelation 20, and things of that sort.

Now that I have given my humble definition of what it means to be orthodox, I will move on in part 2 to describing unorthodoxy and heresy.

 

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5 comments

  1. Ken Ranos

    I look forward to what else you have to say on the subject. I like your approach to what is orthodox–very broad, covering the essentials. I think you and I would quibble slightly on point 3 though, as it seems to suggest that the Bible is a mystical Answer Book, which I think greatly limits the richness and Spirit-inspiration of the scripture, rendering it into nothing but dead paper and leather.

    I’m interested to hear though why Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians don’t make the cut.

    • trh1292

      Thanks Ken. Could you elaborate a bit more about what you mean specifically in regards to scripture? I am interested in what you have to say. I should do the second part which will talk about Catholics and Eastern Orthodox soon, after I make a post about “Kony 2012”.

      • Ken Ranos

        I have to answer your question with one of my own, for clarification: when you say that the scriptures are the “infallible and inerrant rule for all matters of faith and practice”, do you mean that every word and sentence is factually, historically true and binding? Or do you mean that the scriptures as a whole are inspired by the Holy Spirit and are the means through which the Word of God comes alive?

        Where scripture is involved, I can’t just relegate it to a manual. For me, the scripture is alive, breathing, continually inspiring, with a rich history of its own. There are love poems, songs, literary masterpieces, and fanciful tales included -as well as- historical facts and rules. To only focus on the latter is a great injustice to the ways in which the Holy Spirit moves and breathes.

        If that makes any sense…

      • trh1292

        Let me reply to that as best I can with a clarification of what I meant and hopefully we will not be left with dancing around each others viewpoints/comments. When I say that the Scriptures are ““infallible and inerrant rule for all matters of faith and practice”, I don’t mean that every sentence is factually historically true in a literal regard because not every part of the Bible is supposed to be a historical narrative. For instance, much of the Bible is apocalyptic literature that is meant to convey truth in symbolic terms and representations, using things such as a dragon or the number 666. To be sure, they have real meaning, but are not literally historically true. However, for the parts of the Bible that are historical narrative or the Bible presents in a way that lead us to believe they are factual events must be taken as such, such as Israel’s exodus from Egypt, the account of Jesus Resurrection from the dead, should be taken as historically true on the Authority of scripture.

        The scriptures certainly are alive, as Hebrews 4:12 says “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”. So scripture certainly is alive, breathing, it has a unified story line with a lot of different genres and literary styles. So it is more than a historical narrative, but it isn’t less than that. The scriptures are true and trustworthy. I think a good summary of where I line up would be “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy”.

  2. Ken Ranos

    Ah, then we do agree–and I apologize for dancing around the issue. So many times the mere hint that x may not be exactly historically accurate sends people into angry hysteria that I sometimes fear even brining it up.

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