Well, this is quite a question. Are you orthodox or a heretic? Let me offer you my thoughts and then open this up for some discussion.

The term orthodox can be defined in a few ways:

1. Historic Christian Orthodoxy: This refers to the sine qua non (the “without which not”) of Christian belief. This belief is held, to paraphrase Augustine, “by all Christians, of all time, everywhere.” In other words, it is not limited to time or geographical region. Therefore, it would be found very early in some sort of articulated fashion, though not necessarily in formal document, in the early church. Historic orthodoxy did take a few centuries to articulate in thought and word. It is unthinkable that in the first few centuries Christians would have developed in their understanding beyond a seed form of the basics below. They were too busy trying to stay alive, legitimize themselves to hostile Jews and Romans,  and encourage the local congregations. These basics were handed down in tradition (the regula fide) and Scripture.

In this case, a historically orthodox Christian would be one that believed in these essential elements:

  • Deity of Christ
  • Doctrine of the Trinity
  • The Sovereignty of God
  • The historicity of the physical death, burial, and resurrection of Christ 
  • Hypostatic union (Christ is fully God and fully man)
  • The sinfulness of man
  • The necessity of the atonement
  • Salvation by grace through faith
  • The reality of the body of Christ (the catholic [universal] Church)
  • The authority of the visible body of Christ
  • The inspiration of Scripture
  • The canon of Scripture made up of the Old and New Testaments
  • The future second coming

2. Traditional Orthodoxy: This focuses upon the further articulations and nuances of an individual tradition, implied or dogmatized. As the above doctrines developed in understanding, people began to part ways in their interpretation of these doctrines. Traditional orthodoxy takes time to develop since it comes primarily as a result of controversy and challenge. There is a Catholic orthodoxy, Protestant orthodoxy, and Eastern Orthodoxy traditional orthodoxy. I will list all three (although I could have missed something). Notice that the further articulations are inserted in bold.

Historic Protestant Orthodoxy

  • Deity of Christ
  • Doctrine of the Trinity
  • The Sovereignty of God
  • The historicity of physical death, burial, and resurrection of Christ
  • Hypostatic Union (Christ is fully God and fully man)
  • The sinfulness of man in corrupt nature, imputed guilt, and personal sinfulness
  • The necessity of the vicarious substitutionary atonement on the cross
  • Salvation through grace alone by faith alone on the basis of Christ alone
  • The reality of the body of Christ (the catholic [universal] Church)
  • The authority of the visible local bod[ies] of Christ
  • The infallible, inerrant inspiration of Scripture alone with final authority on all matters of faith.
  • The canon of Scripture made up of the Old (39 books) and New (27 books) Testaments
  • The future second coming

Historic Roman Catholic Orthodoxy

  • Deity of Christ
  • Doctrine of the Trinity
  • The Sovereignty of God
  • The historicity of physical death, burial, and resurrection of Christ
  • Hypostatic Union (Christ is fully God and fully man)
  • The sinfulness of man in corrupt nature, imputed guilt, and personal sinfulness
  • The necessity of the vicarious substitutionary atonement on the cross
  • Salvation by grace alone through faith as God works these out through our cooperation with Him
  • The reality of the body of Christ (the catholic [universal] Church) which subsists only, explicitly and implicitly, in the one true Catholic Church that resides under the ultimate authority of the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter.
  • The infallible authority of the visible body of Christ as expressed by the Magisterial authority of Rome
  • The infallible, inerrant inspiration of Scripture.
  • The canon of Scripture made up of the Old (39 books + Deuterocanonical books/Apocrypha) and New (27 books) Testaments
  • The future second coming

Historic Eastern Orthodox Orthodoxy

  • Deity of Christ
  • Doctrine of the Trinity
  • The historicity of physical death, burial, and resurrection of Christ
  • Hypostatic Union (Christ is fully God and fully man)
  • The sinfulness of man in corrupt nature and personal sinfulness
  • The necessity of the recapitulation found in Christ’s atonement in his life and on the Cross
  • Salvation by grace through faith as God works these out through our unification with Him
  • The reality of the body of Christ (the catholic [universal] Church)
  • The infallible authority of the visible body of Christ as expressed by the first seven ecumenical creeds
  • The infallible inspiration of Scripture.
  • The canon of Scripture made up of the Old (39 books + the possible inclusion of the Deuterocanonical books/Apocrypha) and New (27 books) Testaments
  • The future second coming

3. Denominational Orthodoxy: Finally, there is the further division that can be broken down as Protestants continue to further define each of these areas. Of course Calvinists would further define issues of salvation, election, security, and God’s meticulous sovereignty. Arminians would do the same emphasizing God’s universal atonement and God’s providential sovereignty. Baptists would add issues such as believers baptism and congregational style of leadership within the local church. As well, Catholics have continued to further define areas as well such as the Marian dogmas.

OK, so this is the question: Are you orthodox or heretic? It depends on what you mean. My thoughts are that we need to define our terms here and be careful with our pronouncement of heterodoxy. I suppose one can be a heretic with regards to a particular traditional or denominational orthodoxy, but this does not necessarily make them a heretic in the proper sense.

My thoughts are these: To be a heretic in the proper sense means that you deny a doctrine that has been held by all Christians of all time, everywhere. To be orthodox in a proper sense means that you affirm all the essential doctrines of historic Christianity.

Thoughts?


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    43 replies to "Are You Orthodox or Heretic?"

    • Vance

      I think you are right, when you are discussing heretical positions in general, it has to be based on the first of your lists only. Otherwise, a lot of question begging going on. I am perfectly willing to be considered a heretic to Calvinism, but I am not a heretic to Christianity.

    • C Michael Patton

      Anathema! Vance! Anathema! (whatever that means). And I thought you were saved! 🙂

    • Vance

      I am going to get a t-shirt that says “Heretic on my way to Heaven”! 🙂

      Or maybe “Heretics for Jesus!”

      Seriously, for the record, I tend to fall generally into the Arminian camp, but don’t hold to any of the points under constant Reformed/Arminian debate with a high degree of dogmatic assurance. I know I am saved and believe in all the things on the first list, and generally consider the remaining details to be either aspects of the mystery we can probe for growth in our walk with God, or treat as procedural matters. Kinda the “under the hood” how God does things, which are nice to know, but not necessary for salvation. Since I don’t think ANY of us can know these matters with a high degree of certainty, it is hard for me to get too excited about them. I find them interesting for study, though.

      My background is in ancient history, with a degree in that area before heading off to law school (at attorney now for the last 16 years).

    • stevemoore

      Where can I go to understand more of what:

      The authority of the visible local bod[ies] of Christ
      The authority of the visible body of Christ

      actually means in practical terms?

    • Dave Armstrong

      I’ll have to get my own t-shirt that says “Pelagian, antichrist, idolater and worshiper of Baal on the way to heaven.” 🙂

    • kurtvader

      I just want to ask you guys, the historic church always affirmed the creeds like the Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian, that determines orthodoxy.

      I wonder if you can affirm those, since for example in the Nicene Creed there is a line which I think if you are baptistic you should step back ie the practice of re-baptism. The line is

      We acknowledge one baptism FOR the forgiveness of sins.

      Kurt Vader

    • C Michael Patton

      I think we could since it is simply biblical language left uninterpreted. Peter says as much in Acts 2:38.

      Baptism was something in this day that was more comon and understood. It would be like me saying “Pray to Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” In actuality, theologically speaking (from a Calvinist remember), the prayer is a response not the instrumental cause of justification.

      I would say the same thing here.

    • C Michael Patton

      Dave, get me one of those T’s. I want to give it as a gift 🙂

    • Finrod

      I appreciate your delineation of the various types of heresy and agree with what you say. These are helpful categories in which to think.

      The problem I have encountered in interacting with some groups is that they maintain that their particular denominational orthodoxy is identical to both historic Christian orthodoxy and historic Protestant orthodoxy. All other systems are bastardizations of their pure theology; variant beliefs are regarded to be heretical in every sense of the word. For them, for example, Catholic orthodoxy is an oxymoron.

      When confronted by such rigidity, how is one to proceed? Is it even possible to proceed? There seems to be no willingness on the part of some to consider possibility that other positions may be biblically defensible. Such denominations declare that they own the dictionary, history books, and the corner on truth.

    • C Michael Patton

      Finrod,

      Great question. I often get the same response. I think the solution is hard to come by because of a major problem: Most Protestants are totally deficient in Church history. If they have studied it, they simply do so to confirm what they already believe. In this case, they will pick out certain people and statements that they like and anachronistically read their own theology into them exactly. It is not just Protestants, Catholics are notorious for this as well.

      As a Professor of mine in Historic Theology (John Hannah) once said, “We all walk through the gardens of Church history and choose the flowers we like the best.” This is sad, but true. I even do this from time to time 🙂

      Anyway, if one were to study history objectively, not seeking to confirm their denominational or traditional prejudice, then I think they would see a more basic form of Christian that I have described above.

      Hope that helps, and thanks for the comments!

    • kurtvader

      I wonder how a baptistic Evangelical can affirm that baptismal line in Nicene, since they practice re-baptism, that is, they re-baptise an individual who has been baptized as a child. Then on profession of faith/conversion, they as a rule, re-baptize that individual.

      Do you not see that practice as a contradiction?

      Now, some Baptists like Dr. Piper’s church I understand has stopped re-baptismal practices. I think he has seen than non-catholicity of the Baptist policy.

      Kurt Vader

    • Perry Robinson

      Michael,

      I don’t think that your reading of the baptismal clause is going to fly. First it is easy to establish that the bishops that composed and assented to it thought it meant baptismal regeneration. This is fairly obvious from the canons of the councils of Nicea and Constantinople not to mention their writings.

      So what you are doing is redefining the meaning of the text, which in principle is not anything different than what theological liberals do. I’d say either be honest and accept the Creeds for what they intentionally say or not.

      Kurtvader,

      The Athanasian Creed isn’t going to be acceptable. First it is entierly a western/latin construction and second it advocates the filioque not to mention inserting dialectic into theology, neither of which will be acceptable to the Eastern Orthodox.

    • Vance

      If you are talking about the line something like “there is one baptism”, I always took that to mean there one community into which we are “baptized”, wherein the word “baptism” does not mean a physical act per se, but is used more in an organizational sense. I recall some early language also reading “we are of the same baptism”, so the word had a broader meaning. I am not a Baptist, though, so I don’t know what their answer would be.

      But, Finrod, I think that is a VERY true statement regarding the ossification of extensions of the core doctrines eventually becoming dogmas, and treated as core. And that is where the problems start. Not in the attempt to fine tune our theological understanding, but the treatments of our attempts to fine tune AS Gospel itself.

      Let’s face it, much of our byzantine theological language is simply human constructs which are grasping to best describe glorified concepts. It will not do to treat them as absolutes.

    • Perry Robinson

      Vance,

      Does it matter what you took it to mean or does it matter what the authors intended it to mean? Is it permissable to take a text and assent to it on the basis of what you want it to mean contrary to the intention of the author? If that is acceptable with the creeds, why not with scripture?

    • kurtvader

      Perry,

      I agree with you, Michael is putting a spin on the Nicene Creed, it was interpreted and still is by confessing churches the way you put it. Michael (sorry to use this word but it) is rather post-modernistic in his take on that clause.

      You have a point on Athanasian but does not the Orthodox subscribe to it without the ‘proceeds’ clause? I have to check.

      Kurt Vader

    • C Michael Patton

      I agree with you both that the practice and belief of the day was with regards to believer’s baptism. But I would add these two things for consideration:

      1. It was the principle of an expression of belief that was important, not the act in and of itself. Again, it would be the same today if a Baptist wrote a creed that included the necessity of the “sinners prayer.” Granted that Baptism is different and contains the principle inherently in the act and is commanded by the Lord, but you see what I mean.

      2. As well, many creeds leave things in simple biblical language, not wanting to over interpret its meaning. I don’t believe that the creed says anything unbiblical. Therefore, it does ultimately come down to how you interpret the Bible with regards to baptism, not so much how you interpret the framers of the creed. That is the way they may have set this up. Consider the phrase “I believe in the Holy Spirit” in the Nicene Creed. Intentionally obscure, simple Biblical language.

    • Vance

      Perry, I am not an expert on the creeds, but as an historian of ancient history, I am definitely of the mindset to look to what the original authors intended, and not what our common parlance would be, or even what it has traditionally been held to mean over the years (since even an interpretation hundreds of years ago was hundreds of years after the fact). So, that is exactly what I attempted to do. As I said, my recollection (and I would have to go back to do some research if necessary) was that AT THE TIME THE CREED WAS WRITTEN, the term “baptism” had a broader meaning than just the physical act of immersion. My recollection is that it had broadened in use to include reference to a community, as in the phrase I mentioned.

      So, it has nothing to do with what I want it to mean. As I said, I am not a Baptist.

    • Perry Robinson

      Kurt,

      My worry then would be, if this is acceptable here, why not with Scripture then too? And isn’t this an implicit denial of Sola Scriptura which entails the idea that Scripture is materially AND formally sufficient? And of course, that is just talking about baptism. How about “apostolic?” Episcopacy anyone?

      As to the Athanasian Creed, the Orthodox have never accepted it. We have always accepted the idea that the Son is begotten and the Spirit proceeds as found in the original text of the Nicene-Constantinoplian Creed. Here are some reasons why we don’t care for the Athanasian Creed. http://3rdmillennium.blogspot.com/2006/06/warning-controversial-subject-top-ten.html

    • Perry Robinson

      Vance fair enough, but in the canons of Nicea for example, not to mention in the writings of many at the council, baptism is identified as the washing of regeneration. I think it is fairly easy to see that baptismal regeneration is what they had in mind and that the view was widespread. But look for yourself.

    • Vance

      Oh, I think that baptism has always had that meaning as well. But here we have two uses of the word “baptism” at the time, which possibly overlap since one use derived out of the other. We then have to look at the way it is used. It just seems to me from a simple grammar and usage point, that it sounds more like the “community” usage. But, again, I am not an expert of the creeds, much less a Latin expert, so I would not argue the point insistently, of course. Just tossing it out as a possibility.

      And, Michael, I liked the original title to this thread better! 🙂

    • Perry Robinson

      Counter to point 1. It was an expression of the belief which included baptismal regeneration.

      Counter to point 2. Creeds also contain highly technical language or biblical language which the authors in fact think MEAN something very definite. If over interpreting is a worry, then so is UNDERinterpreting just as equally. Besides, I think you granted that neither I nor Kurt are overinterpreting the Creeds at that point. And if you take the creed in terms of its authors intent, either you must say that it does in fact say something that is unbiblical since it teaches baptismal regeneration or you must advocate re-interpreting the creeds to suit your own judgment (or you must agree with baptismal regeneration). Of course this creates another tradition out of thin air since people whom you teach will just take it for granted that the creed means something other than its authors intended and so the meaning of the creed will have been deliberately subverted. I think it is better just to be honest about it and say that such and so doesn’t believe that part as intended.

    • Vance

      Unless, of course, Perry, my suggestion is right about what the word “baptism” meant at the time, and as used in the creed.

      I only point this out, because so often there is unfortunately a bit of mushiness when we wish there was firmness, and if we treat it as firmness and move forward, we could be end with a seemingly strong combination of arguments with a hidden flaw.

      This is the type of thing which should cause us all to remain humble and keep a hint of un-dogmatic-ness (to coin a phrase) in all such issues.

    • Vance

      You know, Perry, doing a bit of looking around, I would have to agree with you that the creed probably did not refer to the community aspect of the meaning. While this was a use at the time, the additional “for the remission of sins” seems to point to the other meaning.

      Still, I think Michael’s point is well taken as another possibility. After all, if we hold to the wording strictly, then it brings up the free will because it would mean that the remission of sins ACTUALLY comes from the act of baptism taken freely by the person, so hardline Calvinists would balk at that.

      A Baptist could also point out that there is only one TRUE and effective physical baptism and that any baptism before adulthood was simply a non-baptism, since it accomplished nothing regenerative at that point. Just another thought.

    • C Michael Patton

      Perry, thanks for the comments. Again I agree to an extent, but I also believe that you are being rather simplistic with the entirely of the dynamics of this issue. Both historically and biblically it is not quite as clear as you want it to be. Otherwise their would not be such disagreement about it by those who are committed to Christ and believe the basic essentials of who He is and what He has done.

      You said:
      “Counter to point 1. It was an expression of the belief which included baptismal regeneration.”
      A bit of question begging at this point. I would say that this may or may not be the case to varying degrees. I might be able to say that someone believes in “sinner’s prayer” regeneration and express this accurately. But when you push my theological back to the wall, I would have to redefine myself according to the controversy and clarify that I did not really mean, in a theological sense, that the prayers saves, but that it is the first-fruit of true faith. The same could be said about “Calling on the name of the Lord” in Romans 10. Does that save? Yes and no. Yes in that it is biblical language. No in that theologically speaking it simply expresses the first-fruit of my regeneration. I truly believe that this is what the Bible teaches about Baptism (which is my final authority) and I am open to this about the early Church.

      You said:
      “Counter to point 2. Creeds also contain highly technical language or biblical language which the authors in fact think MEAN something very definite. If over interpreting is a worry, then so is UNDERinterpreting just as equally. etc . . .”

      Again, the early church was very simplistic in their theological understanding. Therefore, unless their was a controversy over the issue they would, as a rule of thumb, speak in simple Biblical language about these issues. There was no significant controversy about baptism and its effects in the first few centuries, therefore, I would lean toward the framers simply using a simple biblical language like they did with the “I believe in the catholic church” and “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Once controversy arose with these issue, then the articulation of thought and expression were further defined. But that is where you begin to see that people were not all of the same accord since they begin to separate over these issues.

      So you see, at the very least, there is significant room for disagreement about these issues.

    • Perry Robinson

      Michael,

      I think we aren’t communicating at this point. You seem to place the text and belief in a different context than I am. I am talking about the creed given its authorial intent and that intent includes an expression of belief in baptismal regeneration. The sinners prayer example I think shows the same kind of ad hoc re-interpretation according to your own theological principles, except this time with a text/practice that had Arminian underpinnings.

      I suppose I disagree about the early church being theologically “simplistic.” I suppose that in part comes from my view that the apostolic doctrine doesn’t develop over time (Jude 3, Eph 2:20). I never was a fan of the Jehovah’s Witness quip, “the light gets brighter and brighter.” And there was plenty of controversy concerning baptism in the first four centuries, specifically with the Gnostics for example who denied its efficacy, not to mention that baptismal regeneration played a key role in say Athanasius’ arguments against the Arians or Cyril’s arguments against Nestorius And even if there weren’t any distinctive controversies on baptism, plenty of Fathers wrote quite sophisticated things on it.

      Moreover, even when fuller expression occurs I don’t take that fuller expression to be anything other what was already deposited by the Apostles. The reason why get disagreement say with Nestorius, Arius and the like is because they are mixing Hellenistic philosophical content with Christian theology such that it distorts it. The “development” is not an extension of concepts but a search for undistorting grammar and vocabulary. In any case, I think it is less than hones to play the “re-interpret” the creeds to suit my own beliefs game because I think it is less than honest to do so with Scripture.

      Moreover, re-interpreting the Creeds like this will only move the question of what is to function as universal statements of CHristian Orthodoxy since we will in fact mean something quite different when we employ them.

    • Vance

      Not to mention that the first version of that creed did not have the baptism language in it at all, but that was added more than 50 years later, for what that is worth.

    • C Michael Patton

      Perry,

      I don’t think we are talking past each other at all. Keep in mind that I am Protestant for a reason and you are orthodox for a reason. Both of us are informed, yet come to different conclusion. Both of us love our Lord and are committed first to him. The very disagreement about these issues illustrates my point that it is not as clear as it may seem.

      I don’t think it is necessary to compare us to the JWs at all (kinda cheap, don’t you think). This just illustrates to me that you either don’t understand the evangelical view of history or you are playing games of guilt by associate. This could very easily go both ways, but I will spare you of such.

      Session 10 of Introduction to Theology deals with where we part ways in historic methodology. I do think it is naive to believe that those who came after the apostles had everything figured out. This does not square with history (as many of the church fathers disagreed as well) nor is it the way in which we see things biblically. There was not only intra-canonical development, but also intra-testamental development. Paul was not zapped with full knowledge when he encountered Christ. His own theology developed as can be illustrated by Scripture. Why would we say that we cannot better understand the issues as time goes on?

      This does not mean that the essential issues contradict a previous understanding, but that our understanding can develop. Look at the development of the early church from a subordinationalist view of Christ’s deity to one of full ontological equality. This is development, but not necessarily radical change.

      With these other issues, like I have said, principles are the key. As well, obscurities should lead us back to historical-grammatical hermeneutic of the Scripture first, tradition second.

    • Perry Robinson

      Michael,

      I wasn’t making a comparison with the JW’s per se. I was cracking a joke to illustrate that this kind of methodology can be used to justify just about anything. (I’ll leave hyperbolic statements out in the future. Sorry, didn’t mean to offend.) This in turn justifies continued fragmentation and innovation. I never claimed that the apostles or their successors had everything figured out. A bit of a straw man here, don’t ya think? I do think my view entails that the apostolic deposit was sufficient, while at points an adequate vocabulary needed to be constructed later. But adequate terms and conceptual development in a Newman-esque type mode are not the same things.

      I do agree that we have different methodologies, but those methodologies didn’t just pop out of the sky and aren’t disconnected from every other theological position you or I take. This is the point of the patristic Rule of Faith and why Athanasius thinks people should learn it first prior to reading Scripture. Theological compartmentalism is just false. And as to the Fathers, well in part that depends on the definition of a “father.” Is Origen one? How about Tertullian? I’d say no for obvious reasons. An early witness sure. So here I think there is quite a big equivocation going on in the term “development.” Progressive revelation from one Covenant to another isn’t the same thing as Newman-esque conceptual development.

      Paul’s knowledge increased but again, is that conceptual development? I don’t think so. Moreover, if you endorse this view of development, the only in principle difference at this point between you and Rome is that Rome has a referee for what constitutes a legitimate development and what doesn’t. But you both agree that conceptual development occurs and is sometimes legitimate. I don’t. Tradition is about preservation, not perpetual extension. There are no new doctrines waiting to be discovered or articulated in nasent form.

      As for Subordinationalism, I think it isn’t a case of doctrinal development at all. In fact, it is just the opposite. It is a case where the church disentagled Christian theology from Greek philosophical categories which distorted Christian teaching. Plato and Aristotle have no concept of hypostasis qua person. You can read Plato all day and there isn’t a concept of personhood there. Justin, Origen and others get into trouble regarding subordinationalism because they are trying to explicate Christian Trinitarianism in terms of Plato’s essentialism. But if what it is to be Father is this essence, that is Fatherhood defines this essence, and essences via Platonism are metaphysically simple, then the essence of the Son is not the same as the Father so that the Son has to be essentially subordinated to the Father. This same line of thinking runs all the way up through the late Arian controversy to Nestorianism (and beyond). So no, the rejection of subordinationalism isn’t an instance of doctrinal development.

      In fact, given writings by Hurtado and others I’d argue that via divine identity full blown Trinitarianism is quite apostolic and that even well meaning people like Origen and Justin mess it up in their program to synthesize Hellenism with Christian theology. (Just for the recored, Open Theists do this too.)

      As for the historical-grammatical method, I don’t think that is the method the bible uses. Jesus doesn’t (Matt 22:31-32-how do you get the resurrection out of God’s identifying statment via the application of grammatical rules?) and the Apostles didn’t (Gal 4:21ff & Gal 3:16). Besides, it doesn’t fall out of the sky without any theological or philosophical presuppositions. In fact, it usually, historically speaking grounded and motivated Adoptionism and Nestorianism. http://www.thirdmill.org/newfiles/jul_grisham/CH.Grisham.theodore.mopsuestia.pdf

    • Vance

      This may be an oversimplification, but after Jesus left this earth, it took a while for even the Apostles to grasp the full meaning of what had happened. They had to think it all through, with the guiding of the Holy Spirit. And, yes, I think that there were some concepts that were developed that some of the original apostles may have been surprised by (even if they would not ultimately object to them). For example, I believe based on Acts 2, that Peter AT THAT POINT, did not yet grasp the full concept that Jesus WAS God (Michael and Rhome discussed my take on this on a Theology Unplugged). Was this a new doctrine, then, when it developed even if it was not one held immediately by all the apostles (assuming I am correct for the moment)? Not really, it was just something they eventually worked out. But a pretty major one, no?

      How long did this go on? When did the process end? When did they get all the major concepts down?

    • Hawke

      My T-Shirt will read…. “TTP Student on my way to Heaven!”

      I have to agree with Michaels statement:
      [i]”To be a heretic in the proper sense means that you deny a doctrine that has been held by all Christians of all time, everywhere. To be orthodox in a proper sense means that you affirm all the essential doctrines of historic Christianity.”[/i]

    • Vance

      Here is a simple question (which I won’t be around to hear the answer to for a couple of days):

      Can a heretic be saved? Can a heretic go to heaven?

      Once we define what orthodoxy is, and thus what heresy is, that would mean that anyone who does not accept ANY one of those essentials is a heretic.

      If we say that heretics can not be saved, then we say that anyone who does not accept one of the essentials, even if he accepts the rest, is not saved and is eternally damned.

      So, looking at the list for an example: It someone believes, with all their heart, every single thing on that first list EXCEPT, say, the authority of the visible church, are they damned to Hell?

      What if they accept the authority of the visible Church, and all the others, EXCEPT for the infallibility of the Scripture? Also damned to Hell?

      I am not saying that it would not be the case, but it makes for interesting consideration. Ultimately the question is one that Michael and Rhome have brought up before: how LITTLE can a person get right, with a sincere heart, and still be under God’s Grace? How MUCH can a person get wrong in their understanding and still be going to heaven?

      I am glad I am not the judge of that, but I see a lot of people who seem willing to pass judgment on such issues by labeling heresy/false Gospel. I agree that we must draw the line somewhere and be willing to call a spade a spade, but where do we draw the line?

    • C Michael Patton

      Perry, thanks again for the response. On the issue of doctrinal development, why do you suppose that we cannot develop, progress, and better understand and articulate the faith once for all given to the saints? It is not as if when John died that he was handed a systematic theology on how to interpret the Bible or tradition. Doctrine develops through controversy, right? Why is it that you suppose that the earliest Fathers had such a correct understanding of everything? Major point that are clear both in Tradition and Scripture, sure. But even these can be better defined and articulated. Anyway, I think we will agree to disagree as I cannot keep up on all this activity.

      One more thing about historical-grammatic interpretation and the Apostles. You must remember that they were inspired and able to see the sensus plenoir (fuller sense) in a way that no one else can. Why? Because there is no way outside of the illumination of the Holy Spirit to justify such a method. Therefore we are left only with historical-grammatical interpretation.

      As well, its repudiation in Antioch was a guilt by association with Nestorianism and the supposed theological methodology of that community. But this in no way suggests that it is wrong. In fact, it is the only method that can produce any degree of certainty. Why would God expect us to interpret it in any other sense. While authoritative hermeneutic is therapeutic and expedient to the difficulties (keeping people in line), pragmatics cannot justify such an approach.

      Michael

    • kurtvader

      Sorry for the delay of this post I am on a different time slice.

      Michael,

      You said this It was the principle of an expression of belief that was important, not the act in and of itself

      Not really you should practice what you say you believe. Hence, all Nicene complying churches never re-baptize an individual who was baptized as a baby. So again, I am afraid you are wiggling your way out of this line. Your practice should conform to your confession otherwise you are paying lip service to the Creed. You then do not take seriously what you affirm because you practice something contrary to it.

      The devil may recite the Creed for in fact he even says Jesus is Lord but he recites is not his conviction.

      When the creed starts with “I believe” — you are believe therefore you speak. It is a conviction, so how can your conviction do not match your practice?

      My point is that the Baptistic Christian who does not affirm that one line in word and deed, is not (small c) catholic, he is sectarian because he does not acknowledge other Christian’s baptism.

      Perry,

      If you believe that the Nicene Creed contains nothing contrary to Scripture, if it speaks what Scripture speaks it has no clash on sola Scriptura then. Lutherans do not take their Bible and say I got my Bible, I got Jesus and that is all I need. No, this is not what we mean by sola scriptura. What we mean is that scripture alone is the supreme arbiter so if a creed complies with Scripture we are bound to accept it. The Nicene is judged to be accurate with Scripture. So we accept what it says and make it our confession, our conviction. We do not assume that there was no Church before Luther came along, we do not assume that all the things done were wrong, no we use what is in accord with Scripture.

      The Lutherans are into Reformation, they are not into Reconstruction doing Christianity all over again.

      Kurt Vader

    • C Michael Patton

      Sorry guys, while I think that this is the more important thread, I am trying to keep up with the newest. Please forgive me if I don’t continue this great dialogue. Hopefully I can come back.

    • […] do believe in absolute essentials. Please quit saying I don’t. Please read this blog if you want my view of […]

    • Perry Robinson

      Kurt,

      Well said, but I disagree. If the Creed is judged to be in line with Scripture, who is the judge? Sure, Scripture is the RULE, but who applies it and with what authority? Surely if Scripture were formally sufficient, we wouldn’t need words like homoousious or creeds or people like Luther at all.

      Michael,

      If the Apostles had the full vision into the meaning, then why isn’t it possible that they passed this meaning down to us? Your model presupposes no historical continuity or that history necessarily distorts. I can’t see that as a Christian view of time or anthropology. I think the society of people that Jesus began has continued. So I find it strange that you would indicate that you think the apostles understanding was superior and yet we are cut off from it. I suppose I don’t think that the apostolic ministry ceased and that the church isn’t specifically a human institution of like minded individuals. That is, the unity of the church isn’t the Spirit but the humanity of Christ (It’s that whole “body of Christ” thingy). And that humanity is deified so that the church per se isn’t merely human though not less than so. This is why many of the Ecumenical councils spoke of the Fathers and themselves as “inspired.”

      Moreover, such a dialectical development of doctrine is contradictory to the correct view of the Incarnation since it moves via method that distinguishes by opposition, a thoroughly pagan methodology. So I don’t think that the Apostles handed on a systematic theology, but they didn’t need to either. They deposited the faith with trustworthy men in major churches. So no, doctrine does not develop through controversy, unless we equivocate on the term development.

      It seems strange to me that you would divorce your method of exegesis from the work of the Spirit. It smells to me like a kind of exegetical pelagianism or at best nestorianism where the human effort and the Spirit’s activity are contiguous. Logically speaking it doesn’t follow that this if this is the only method, that it is the right one. There is no truth preserving inference from, I can’t help but think this way, to, this is the correct way to think. It also commits you to a rather low ecclesiology where ministers are nothing more than elected individuals. The Gnostics used to draw lots for the various positions every week so that people wouldn’t get the idea that those serving in the body were anything special.

      Oh I don’t think it is guilt by association since it is well documented that not only was it the basic methodology of Theodore of Mopsuestia and which grounded his adoptionism, but it was also explicitly employed by Nestorious and functioned in much the same way to support his dual subject Christology. I’d recommend McGunkin’s St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy, SVS, for documentation. And inductive methodologies don’t produce certainty, at least not with respect to knowledge they don’t. So if that is what you are after, you have misplaced your hope and your argument. I don’t know what you mean by “pragmatics” but I am not a pragmatist. In any case, the reason as to why God would expect us to interpret in a different way would be the simple reason that it presupposes a false view of Jesus.

      Thanks for the intelligent convo.

    • C Michael Patton

      Well, certainly we are coming from a different presuppositionalist base that defines the way we look at these things. But I appreciate this opportunity to learn from you.

      “If the Apostles had the full vision into the meaning, then why isn’t it possible that they passed this meaning down to us? etc”

      They did, both through word of mouth and Scripture. You must know that the basic argument from those of us who believe that the Scripture is the only inspired source of revelation simply comes down to the inherent difficulty with preserving accrual unwritten tradition. As well, the argument that the reformers made is very valid, if true, that tradition does contradict itself and there is ultimately no way to test to see if someone consistently accurately preserved it, especially when it comes to the nuances that inevitably arise as a result of the questions of the day.

      Therefore, while we look to Tradition as a generally accurate record of much of the faith, we ultimately only have one record of first hand evidence that is worthy of our complete commitment. This is the written Scriptures.

      Hopefully that helps with the first half.

      You said:
      “Moreover, such a dialectical development of doctrine is contradictory to the correct view of the Incarnation since it moves via method that distinguishes by opposition, a thoroughly pagan methodology. So I don’t think that the Apostles handed on a systematic theology, but they didn’t need to either. They deposited the faith with trustworthy men in major churches. So no, doctrine does not develop through controversy, unless we equivocate on the term development.”

      I said: huh?

      The reason why I would first say that doctrine does develop is first and foremost because it did develop. The question is whether or not your system will allow such an occurrence. My does. In fact, I believe that it is rather naive to believe otherwise. It obviously does not change drastically, but our articulations of doctrine expand, are clarified, and sometimes are faced for the first time as history moves forward.

      You said:
      “It seems strange to me that you would divorce your method of exegesis from the work of the Spirit. etc.”

      Why should it seem strange? God has given everyone a mind to be able to understand history, argumentation, and literature. While you see my method as Pelagian (nice one BTW), I see yours as Gnostic (ohhhh…what a comeback). In reality, I don’t think that there is anything in the Scriptures that is necessarily hard to comprehend from an intellectual basis. I have learned much from liberal commentators who reject Christianity. Why? Because they can understand the historical issue involved and understand the intent of the author. Again, if you don’t go with the original authors intent, you have one of two choices: 1) Practice a subjective hermeneutic and blame the results on the Holy Spirit (see this one way too often), or 2) don’t read your Bible because you may misrepresent the truth.

      In truth, the Holy Spirit is needed not to understand the Scriptures on a cognitive level, but to accept its message. (cf 1 Cor 2).

      Oh I don’t think it is guilt by association since it is well documented that not only was it the basic methodology of Theodore of Mopsuestia and which grounded his adoptionism, but it was also explicitly employed by Nestorious and functioned in much the same way to support his dual subject Christology.

      Even if the your associations are true (which I don’t agree with about Nestorius, I am not sure he was really a Nestorian-political issue taint all of what you are implying), this does not condemn the standard hermeneutic that is used in all interpretation, not simply the Scriptures. There is simply no other way to interpret and have any degree of assurance outside of an emotional conviction. Emotional convictions are nice, but they are a dime for twelve dozen, all different, all blaming the Holy Spirit.

      Good night my very intellegent brother

    • Perry Robinson

      Michael,

      You are quite right that we share different presuppositions. The real fun is to figure out who is the presuppositional squatter. If the apostles conveyed the full meaning then you’d think that we wouldn’t need inductive methods that do not guarantee its delivery. I think the argument against tradition is flawed for a number of reasons. First, scripture is tradition and it is just as easy to corrupt a text as word of mouth as history demonstrates. Liberals just applied the same critiques of tradition to scripture. Moreover working back inductively to the autographs fails to take into account fact that textual families were preferred or rejected by different theological traditions. Textual selection was a function of an already existing theology and not the other way around. And certainly Tertullian, Ireneaus and Vincent of Lerins give us a method to test and even if they didn’t, the positivistic notion you seem to have in mind doesn’t seem to work, given the fact that theories aren’t confirmed by facts but the other way around given underdetermination. Verificationism and falsificationism have been dead for a while.

      I’d argue that many of the Reformers’ arguments against tradition are specious or based on either a misunderstanding of tradition or a false tradition in some places due to papal ambitions. The popular line for example on why Augustine didn’t get sola fide from the text because of Latin simply won’t wash in the East. There’s no Latin there and certainly the East wasn’t a bunch of papal sychophants. They chose slavery and death to papal submission. It stretches credibility to think that all of the churches that the Apostles founded failed to pass on the gospel. And the accuracy of tradition aside, the focus on independent seemingly autonomous methods of verification indicates the injection of a new tradition (humanism) and a departure from the faith and practice of the apostolic church.

      From my view, I don’t see how Scripture can be worthy of your complete commitment given that the canon you work with is a function of human judgment. Protestants have altered the canon in the past and I can see no in principle reason to think that they might not do so in the future. In the last century, not a few Protestant scholars argued for the exclusion of 3rd John given its strong implicit support for episcopacy. What you have a commitment to then is the product of your fallible judgment, which cannot warrant a complete commitment. A little Humean skepticism goes a long way. In any case, this isn’t development but in principle full scale revision is always possible. If there is no infallible judgment, then no teaching, including the canon is beyond revision. That is what simper reformada implies.

      Let me translate the second part. The methodology of the historical grammatical method is incompatible with orthodox Christology. Clear? As for doctrinal development, I think we mean two different things. The notion I am objecting to is something like the following. In scripture there are ideas that authors intended but weren’t fully aware of. This content is only gradually grasped by the church through rival interpretations and is codified in formal definitions. Hence there is conceptual discovery and advancement in the history of the church. It is not by accident btw that this method came about when it did. In any case, that is the notion I reject. So I am not being naïve. This is what Newman and many Protestant Scholastics had in mind. It is grounded in ultimately an Idealistic view of reality a la Plotinus or Hegel.

      My view of development is quite different, which is searching for adequate vocabulary for a constant apostolic deposit. It doesn’t follow that everyone in the church had full blown access to it though. And this is why principle sees like Antioch, Rome, Ephesus and Alexandria were important because they were places the Apostles taught and ordained and passed on their teachings. This is why ecumenical councils required some kind of consent or presence by the apostolic sees together and why Rome was thought to have a higher rank, because it was founded on two prominent apostles, Peter and Paul. This is why the earliest traditions about Rome’s primacy include Paul with Peter incidentally. This is also why certain people had a better grasp of the tradition than others, the test being a demonstration of historical continuity. This is why “new” was a curse word in the early church and still is for the Orthodox.

      So take homoousious. There is no advancement in conceptual understanding there over earlier “divine identity” expressed in the NT and the Apostolic Fathers such as Ignatius or Clement. Why? Because homoousious is an apophatic term. This is why all attempts, even to this day to pour in positive conceptual content into the term ends in some form of heterodoxy-witness the current debates on social Trinitarianism and now Moreland and Craig’s Tritheism (which is really modalism ironically enough.) What Nicea advances is the old thesis that deity is undefinable such that whatever the Father is, the Son is too. There can be no conceptual development if there is no conceptual content to develop. This is why the Orthodox don’t have new doctrines and Philosophy isn’t the helper of theology.

      I agree that God has given a mind to everyone, but while nature can get you so far, given the intact status of the imago dei, it doesn’t follow that the mind has the sufficient power to grasp what truly matters. It seems strange that I should have to stave off Pelagianism here for someone who is Reformed. Of course, prelapsarian Reformed anthropology strikes me as pelagianism seeing that nature and grace are identical and hence the covenant of works. The Jewish leadership were quite adept ad exegeting Scripture too and yet they weren’t interpreting it Christologically and hence missed the entire point. (Jn 5:39) Consequently my approach isn’t Gnostic, but with Ireneaus, just the opposite, which is incidentally why recapitulation (Eph 1:10) impinges significantly on hermeneutics. A Christological approach isn’t “spooky” but it certainly takes into account the moral standing of the exegete and this is quite Scriptural since the Scriptures teach that the moral position of a reader determines what they can grasp. So yes, you can learn quite a bit from liberals, but you will only grasp constructions and not realities.

      So I am not denying authorial intent, but rather denying that the methodology you propose is fundamentally Christian and this explains why it produces fragmentation as well as bringing back many of the traditional heresies. More specifically, I am denying that your methodology can grant you sufficient access to authorial intent. Method and Christology are not things you can separate.

      Obviously the Spirit was needed to see Christ in the Scriptures, specifically the OT. Do you think the rise of the historical-grammatical method and its cousins brought about the questioning of messianic prophecies by accident? (Is 7:14) How can you understand the Scriptures apart from seeing that they are speaking of Christ? If that is Gnosticism then Jesus was the chief Gnostic and then I am happy to be called one.

      As for the method and Nestorian Christology, method is not divorced from Christology. And this is as it should be, at least if one wishes to be Christ centered. Persons are prior to principles. And if you read Nestorius all by himself his commitment to a Hellenistic metaphysic which has no notion of a distinction between hypostasis and essence is quite apparent. This is why the old line about “Nestorius wasn’t such a bad guy after all” died in patristic scholarship, witnessed by McGunkin and other scholars. I don’t know if you got it from Harold Brown’s book, but not only is Brown wrong, but quite unreliable in terms of misquotations and cherry picking. In any case, Brown isn’t a patristics scholar and certainly not a specialist on Nestorius and Cyril.

      I outlined above a method for interpreting apart from emotional liver shivers and humanistic and Hellenistic assumptions. But again, even if there weren’t, the product doesn’t confer truth on the method that produced it. As Nietzsche so aptly put it, false ideas can be useful too. There is no legitimate inference from, I can’t help but use this method, to, this is the correct method to use.

      Hopefully I have clear some things up between us and there are some things you may find helpful in what I wrote.

    • C Michael Patton

      Perry, I just noticed this long response. Forgive me as I have to cut this short. This conversation has been helpful. Hopefully the dialogue can continue.

    • C Michael Patton

      BTW: I agree that the Scriptures are understood Christiologically which creates a necessary hermeneutical spiral that helps us to interpret them Christiologically. But advocates of Historical Grammatical hermeneutics would not necessarily deny this in the major interpretive process, we simply would warn about this method in the exegetical process. In other words, what you are saying applies to the construction of a full systematic and biblical theology, not so much with authorial intent hermeneutics, which is the first step, not the last.

    • Nate

      Thanks for the listing Michael. This was extremely helpful.

    • […] orthodoxy and, while true and important, do not define historic orthodoxy (see my blog “Are You Orthodox or Heretic“ for more on this). In other words, the doctrine of sola fide, for example, may not have […]

    • Bible Study

      I guess I would be, and am, considered a heretic by most professing Christians. Why? Am I? Absolutely not. However, I believe the bible, that faith in Jesus is sufficient for salvation without the deeds of the law. Because of this, I have been cast out of church after church. I have had my preaching papers revoked and a letter sent to three states telling many churches not to allow me to preach anymore. But I am still at it, lol. My former pastor actually said that I hold a doctrine contrary to orthodox religion. I don’t care what they say, I know the truth that is all I need.

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