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Orthodox, Heterodox and Heresy

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I recently screwed up. Someone asked a simple, direct question and I gave a simple, direct answer to the best of my understanding. A brother in Christ was hurt by my answer and, ultimately, I discovered that my answer was probably wrong because I was operating from some flawed definitions of words. It turns out Heretical is NOT the opposite of Orthodox. It is a word that we need to use with a great deal more caution.


Some definitions courtesy of Thepoedia:




The word orthodox comes from two Greek words, ortho + doxa, meaning "right opinion" or "correct thinking."


In Christianity, it generally means adhering to the accepted or traditional historic Christian faith. Some see "orthodoxy" as that which is defined by the early ecumenical creeds which would include the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, popularly known in the West as the Nicene Creed, that was formally accepted by the second Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. The Apostles' Creed and the Athanasian Creed are accepted as ecumenical in the Western Christian confessions, i.e. the Roman Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations (e.g. see the Lutheran Book of Concord where all three of these creeds are given as "ecumenical").


"Orthodoxy" may also be described as the least common denominator by which an individual, group, or church may legitimately claim the name "Christian." In this sense, orthodox would refer to essential doctrines defining the essence of Christianity.




The term heterodox simply means "any opinions or doctrines at variance with the official or orthodox position." [1]. Used in contrast to orthodoxy, it is synonymous with the term "unorthodox" and is even closely tied to the word, " heresy".




Heresy is a teaching or practice which denies one or more essentials of the Christian faith, divides Christians, and deserves condemnation. The term is derived from the Greek word hairesis, literally meaning a choice, but referring more specifically to a sect, party or disunion. Luke uses the term in Acts to refer to the sects of the Sadducees (5:17), Pharisees (15:5; 26:5), and even the Christians - called Nazarenes and the Way (24:5,14; 28:22). When Paul uses the term in 1 Corinthians and Galatians, he refers to the divisions which cause strife in the church, while Peter links the term to false prophets and teachers.


While there is a temptation for Christians to label whatever is not in keeping with sound doctrine as heresy, the Bible seems to make the distinction that heresy is not merely the opposite of orthodoxy. Rather, heresy is a divisive teaching or practice which forces those who call themselves Christians to separate from it or face condemnation for it. John the Apostle gave a prime example of such a doctrine: denying the true nature of the person and work of Jesus Christ (I John 4:1-3; 2 John 1:7-11).



A related issue worth throwing in is:




Essential doctrines are particular doctrines that an orthodox Christian is expected to hold. One who has recently received Christ is not expected to fully understand or articulate doctrines like that of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ, however, if he comes to reject these "essential doctrines" he no longer falls within orthodox Christianity. Therefore it is important to note what doctrines are rejected by a person or group, as well as what doctrines are affirmed.

A common list of essential doctrines would be:

  • The deity and humanity of Christ
  • The doctrine of the Trinity (including the deity of the Holy Spirit)
  • Virgin birth of Jesus
  • The bodily resurrection of Christ
  • Salvation by grace through faith
  • The second coming of Christ
  • The existence of Heaven and Hell
  • the Resurrection of the dead
  • Life everlasting

The most common lists of essential doctrines define orthodoxy such that it would include most Protestant denominations as well as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Critical doctrines coming out of the Protestant Reformation, such as justification by faith alone ( Sola Fide) and the sole authority of Scripture ( Sola Scriptura) are often argued as "essential" by Protestants, but not so by the general academic community.

So let's talk about some hard things.

Let me start with the easier of the two, first. In this one, I get to point the finger at myself and 'question' my own personal beliefs. I am a Reformed Baptist at heart. So I read the Bible and I came to believe in monergistic sotierology and a believer's rather than covenant baptism.





I think it is very hard to argue that the traditional, historic view of the church (certainly that during the millennium plus of Roman Catholic dominance) was not covenant baptism. So does that make Covenant Baptism "Orthodox"? If Covenant Baptism is "Orthodox", does that make believer's baptism "Heterodox" or even "Heretical"? It certainly does not seem an issue that no saved person (Christian) could associate with someone who believed differently about. It is not a Nicene Creed issue. So if it is not an ESSENTIAL DOCTRINE, then it is not grounds for the label of Orthodox and Heretical.


So whether one affirms the baptism of households into the covenant or the baptism of individuals into the church, one can be Orthodox and not Heretical (if one believes the other Essential Doctrines).





So what about these two issues? Is there anything that makes either more or less "Orthodox" than the other? Frankly, I think SYNERGISM has a slight edge in 'historical' dominance since it was embraced by the same 'church' that embraced infant baptism (and Papal supremacy). However, even setting that aside, this discussion seems to be one that even the earliest church fathers debated without clear resolution.


I made the mistake of equating "Orthodox" with "historic", but that is not the correct litmus test. "Orthodox" must be measured against "Essential". Can one believe that God 'dragged' them to the Son and be a Christian? Can one believe that they accepted God's invitation to meet the Son and be a Christian? Is this an issue so vital that one cannot believe incorrectly and still be part of the Body of Christ?


I do not think that Arminianism can rightly be called a Heresy.

I do not think that Monergism is an essential doctrine.

One final question for the CHRISTFORUMS Community to think about:


Are Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura "essential doctrines" on ChristForums?

How will we react to those who advocate a true Faith plus Works salvation (like the Roman Catholic Church) or a Tradition interpreting Scripture (like the Eastern Orthodox).

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I have been giving this a lot of thought.


I think that I want CF to remain a place where "ESSENTIAL DOCTRINE" is the litmus test and those who do not embrace the essential Protestant beliefs do not have a right to speak from the soapbox. I do not wish to endlessly debate the Deity of Christ with JWs.

On the flip side, the penalty for Heresy (expulsion from the Christian Community) is so high, that I want to be careful that we are only condemning to silence those topics which truly violate Essential Doctrines and MUST be silenced. I, too believe that synergism is incorrect, but I also believe that covenant baptism is incorrect. So is it essential to silence all Baptists and Arminians? I think not. I think that polite disagreement and discussion would be beneficial to the Church. Even if no minds are changed, it may help individuals examine and become more certain of what they believe.


It would also be nice for people to learn that all Arminians are not 'Pelegians' and all Calvinists are not 'Hyper-calvinists'.

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