Orthodoxy

In Christian theology, “orthodoxy” combines the Greek roots “ortho,” meaning “straight,” “right,” or “true,” and “doxy,” derived from “doxa,” meaning “opinion” or “belief.”
This term, therefore, signifies adherence to the correct or accepted beliefs and teachings within the Christian faith. Christian orthodoxy is about maintaining and following the doctrines and practices that align with the teachings of the Bible, the early Church, and the magisterial ecumenical councils. It upholds key principles such as the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the resurrection, ensuring that these central tenets remain unaltered and are passed down accurately through generations. Hence, in Christian context, orthodoxy is the commitment to the ‘right belief’ or ‘true opinion’ as defined by the foundational Christian doctrines and traditions.

(Eastern Orthodox)

As an aside, it is important to distinguish between the term “orthodoxy” and the tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy. While “orthodoxy” (lowercase) broadly denotes adherence to accepted beliefs and practices, Eastern Orthodoxy (capitalized) specifically refers to a particular one of the three historic Christian traditions, alongside Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. Eastern Orthodoxy has unique theological, liturgical, and ecclesiastical characteristics. The capitalization helps to distinguish the general concept of right belief (“orthodoxy”) from the specific historical and theological tradition of Eastern Christian churches (“Eastern Orthodoxy”).
Many, including myself, would define all three major Christian traditions as orthodox, since they all proclaim and defend the central aspects of the person and work of Christ.

Heresy

Heresy, then, is a proclaiming Christian sect or individual, that departs from orthodoxy in an essential doctrine. It is technically reserved for those who proclaim (not simply accept) an unorthodox position about the historic Christian understanding of the person and work of Christ. Although, there are some less common exceptions.

Heterodoxy

Heterodoxy, in contrast to heresy, refers to beliefs, opinions, or doctrines within Christianity that diverge from established historic orthodox teachings, yet do not fundamentally contradict essential Christian truths. Heterodox views often involve interpretations or perspectives on non-essential or non-central aspects of Christian doctrine. While these views may differ from traditional orthodoxy, they typically do not challenge the core tenets of the Christian faith, such as the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, or the nature of salvation. Understanding tthe terms this way helps in distinguishing between disagreements on non-cardinal doctrines (heterodoxy) and outright departures from the foundational beliefs of historic Christianity (heresy).

Heretic

A heretic, in traditional Christian context, is a strong denunciation of someone who actively promotes beliefs that qualify as heresy, not heterodoxy. A schismatic would be someone who does the same with heterodox views.
Many individuals within the Christian community may unknowingly hold beliefs or opinions that align with heterodoxy or even heresy. However, the label of “heretic” is traditionally reserved for those who consciously and publicly proclaim these divergent beliefs, particularly when they pertain to fundamental Christian doctrines. The process of labeling someone a heretic typically involves a formal ecclesiastical judgment and is not used lightly. It’s important to recognize that having differing interpretations on non-essential matters does not automatically classify someone as a heretic; rather, it’s the active and public advocacy of views that contradict central Christian doctrines that defines heresy.

Schismatic

In addition to heretics and heterodox, the terms schismatic and cult also play significant roles in Christian theological discourse. A schismatic is an individual or group that causes or commits a schism, separating from the established church over non-essential issues such as governance, authority, or liturgical practices. While they may uphold core orthodox Christian doctrines, their division stems from disagreements on ecclesiastic and/or lesser theological matters. Schismatics normally maintain much of the original central theological doctrine but differ in their approach to church structure and leadership.

Cult

On the other hand, a cult, within a Christian context, refers to a group or movement that, while often claiming adherence to Christian beliefs, fundamentally departs from essential Christian doctrines. Such groups are characterized by deviating from the central teachings of Christianity, often following unique interpretations or additional revelations that contradict historic Christian faith. This deviation places them in alignment with heretical views rather than orthodox teachings. Examples of organizations often classified as cults in Christian theology include the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. These groups, despite their self-identification as Christian, are seen as having deviated from key Christian doctrines, leading to their categorization alongside heretical movements rather than as part of the broader Christian church.


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. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    26 replies to "Getting Orthodoxy Right and Heresy Wrong"

    • Bibliophile

      “Heresy, being a deadly poison generated within the organism of the Church, must be ejected if she is to live and perform her task of continuing Christ’s work of salvation. Her Founder, who foretold the disease, also provided the remedy: He endowed her teaching with infallibility.”

      Happy is the man who submits to infallible Church authority, for he shall be saved from all forms of heresy and sectarianism.

      😁

      • C Michael Patton

        Unless that which the man submits himself to is heretical 😁

        • Bibliophile

          Well, then it wouldn’t be infallible, would it? 😏

          So, if, for example, that man happens to be an Evangelical protestant who, with no legitimate, reliable and consistent means of discerning truth from falsehood (apart from his own personal, subjective interpretations of the Bible; which quickly descends into relativism); and who, for no apparent reason other than his own personal incredulity and rebelliousness, rejects the infallible teaching authority which Christ himself gives to his Church to protect her from doctrinal errors and false teachings, as he promised to do -; then the likelihood of that man submitting to heresy and falling into heaps of error and falsehood is thereby greatly increased…

        • C Michael Patton

          Well, we are a pair. Because you have to personally interpret the interpreters infallibility. We’re all stuck with subjectivity. But here we go again, same thing. But it’s not rocket science.

    • Bibliophile

      Yes, we are quite the pair. But when you say we are all stuck with subjectivity – that’s where you are misguided. Because you (deliberately?) ignore the distinction made between active and passive infallibility… But, of course, if not for the obstacle of sheer personal incredulity and a distinctly modernist desire to rebel against Church authority, you would be well aware of the relevance and significance of this distinction by now…

      • C Michael Patton

        i’m not listening to you. I will only listen to an infallable Bishop. Your assessment can only be interpreted subjectively. I’m not saying I don’t respect you, I do. But you like everybody else are prone to give false information. I shall listen to a magisterial authority, a bishop, or the pope. I’m gonna try to go down the street and ask them at the Catholic Church to speak in fallibly to my particular situation, and see what happens. Maybe I can get the Pope on the line

        • Bibliophile

          🤣

      • C Michael Patton

        😃

    • Bibliophile

      So, yes: not rocket science. At least not for those who approach the topic of infallibility with a desire to learn and understand, rather than just stubbornly look for a way to engage in polemical attacks against whatever doesn’t jive with their personal theological bias, or cultural conditioning and traditional prejudices…

    • Bibliophile

      “Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

      (Quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church to keep things on track here)

    • Michael W Craven

      There is a reason why we need a savior. Bridging the gap between what we, in our humanity, perceive as true, and
      because the link between our corporeal selves is inescapable, have to trust in what God has done for us. Even when we think of ourselves as having a measure of knowledge and wisdom, we may find ourselves thinking that it is a completed task. We lift verses from their context, we pass judgment on our brothers and sisters in the faith. Even our human languages work at cross-purposes to our understanding.

      Philosophy, logic, and critical thinking can only carry us so far. But, they will never carry us all the way there. I believe that in the final analysis, all of our mental and moral efforts can never accomplish what Jesus did in Judea all those years ago… I believe that we would never even be aware of the inkling of holy truth had not God first drawn us to that place where through faith we could get even a peek at what may be true.

      We bat around terms like inerrancy, infallibility, omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence without a complete understanding of just what they mean and what implications they have for our faith.

      Choose your receptacles of faith with care and prayer, then trust what Jesus did, not what we did in our attempt to build our understanding of what he did.

      There has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. No one can come to Jesus said, “Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” Even our most basic, elemental interest in salvation is placed there by God! But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, since otherwise grace is no longer grace. If righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.

      Infallibility is just a doctrine that screams “Trust me!” “Infallibilitas” it rips at our attention, placing itself in the center of our attention “trust me.” In our humanity, we are doomed by what we think, feel, and act on.

      It is by the teaching of his Word and Spirit that men are drawn to God. This shows that it is not compulsory, and that there is no obstacle in the way but a strong voluntary ignorance and unwillingness.

      • Bibliophile

        Why start with such a dim view of humanity and the power of the human intellect? Yes, it might be true that humans are prone to error in the quest for knowledge; but that hardly means that truth is unattainable. Truth is for the intellect after all.

        And why denigrate and incapacitate humanity in such a way, when the Incarnation itself reveals that as humans we are joined to the divine nature? Revelation contradicts your view of humanity by showing that God and Jesus – and therefore, we all – are one. And not only that: the unity extends to all creation, the entire cosmos, because Jesus has been revealed to be all things and in all things.

        It seems protestants like yourself are still stuck in dualistic false dichotomies, polarising law and grace, faith and works, God and man, etc. This is your presumption. Revelation tells us that law and grace, faith and works, Gid and man, etc -; all were made to be as one. A lot of Biblical imagery – especially marriage – captures this truth which all ancient mystical traditions in all major religions try to convey, though the language and culture may be confusing to the uninitiated. The only reason we need revelation – and what makes Christianity unique among religions, especially in Jesus Christ – is to guarantee salvation is made easy. And infallibility ensures that the revelation is preserved and perpetuated free from error for generations in official Church teaching.

        So it would appear that your rather morbid outlook doesn’t necessarily come from the Bible, and is mostly just philosophical presumptions influencing theology in one direction.

        • C Michael Patton

          Michael Craven, don’t mind this guy. He just likes to be a contrarian at all costs. You could write a complement about his mother and he would not acknowledge the good parts while going to the other side of the couch to find some bad points. He likes to put people into categories and then attack the categories as a whole.

          Remember, he is a Catholic. Classic Catholic insecurity.

          He is not so bad tho.

          I’ll put this in a hidden comment so he doesn’t see.

          Oh, wait, there is no such thing as a hidden comment! 😉

    • Bibliophile

      Nah. You can compliment my mama. She’s the best. See? I’m not contrarian (even though I just contradicted you) 😁

    • Bibliophile

      But in all honesty, what a gloomy outlook: “In our humanity, we are doomed by what we think, feel and act on”. Lighten up, guy; it’s not all that bad…

    • Bibliophile

      He sounds like you, Michael, when you get into one of your sceptical moods and it starts to influence your philosophical thinking: “I can’t be certain of anything I think I know; not even whether Jesus is real; or if God exists; or that Christianity is true. But it probably is (maybe not?). At least I hope so.” Hehehe 🤭

      • C Michael Patton

        He sounds like you, Michael, when you get into one of your sceptical moods and it starts to influence your philosophical thinking: “I can’t be certain of anything I think I know; not even whether Jesus is real; or if God exists; or that Christianity is true. But it probably is (maybe not?). At least I hope so.”

        Thanks a lot. Now I just spun into existential Doubt. I probably won’t be writing anything for a couple of weeks. You can thank yourself for that.

        • Bibliophile

          Okay, Michael “Descartes” Patton. Maybe go climb into an oven and meditate for a few days and you will be inspired to write something indubitable 🤣

        • C Michael Patton

          I am perfectly happy with being compared to him. Just call me an eclectic philosopher. I only choose that which is Wright from all positions. 😃

        • C Michael Patton

          The oven was probably metaphorical. More than likely is the upper room in his house (his sister’s?) that was typically very hot. Maybe I’m wrong, but the “Dutch oven” could not have been that big.

    • Bibliophile

      I have already noted in your recent post on Aquinas that your philosophy is an eclectic blend of randomly selected bits and pieces from various schools of thought, in particular scepticism and rationalism in the modernist tradition…

    • Bibliophile

      As in, “What’s cooking, Descartes?”, kind of metaphorical?

    • Ewan Kerr

      The idea that History is written by the winners is well known. Therefore, what became orthodox in the fourth, fifth and sixth cennturies in no way necessarily represents the views of earlier believers . It is quite wrong to project later beliefs back into the biblical text.

      • Bibliophile

        The idea that “history is written by the winners” is also unwarranted scepticism that renders history as a discipline practically impossible…

        But aside from that sceptical presumption: what makes you think that, after the fourth century (a rather arbitrarily selected cut-off point, to be sure), all conciliar determinations merely “project later beliefs back into the Biblical text”? That seems like a rather bold-faced assertion without any justification… It’s makes more sense to just accept that conciliar pronouncements simply reflected centuries of faithful Christian tradition and belief – which was already widespread by then – than it is to believe this baseless theory that the ecumenical councils invented novel doctrines and imposed them on the whole Christian world.

    • Ewan Kerr

      The post-Apostolic Two Natures doctrine caused bitter divisions and schism in the Church.

      • Bibliophile

        What’s your point in stating that?

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