orthodoxy

Have you ever been called a heretic? Have you ever had someone say that your faith is “unorthodox”? Have you ever wondered what it meant to be “orthodox”? No, I don’t mean Greek Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox. I am talking about orthodoxy which carries the meaning of “straight or right teaching and worship.”

The answer is not easy. For some people, “orthodoxy” is a shallow word meaning that you agree with them. For others, it means you agree with their particular denomination or local church confession. For many, it is a meaningless heavy handed designation that should no longer be used.

What does it mean to be orthodox in your beliefs?

There are really six primary views that I find represented in the church today. I am going to try to explain these views using both established and original terminology.

1. aOrthodoxy. Belief that there is no such thing as orthodoxy as a set of “right beliefs” or, at the very least, Christianity should not be defined by our beliefs except in a very minimalistic way. This view of orthodoxy takes a very pessimistic view of the Church’s need and ability to define truth, believing that orthopraxy (”right practice”) is the only thing that should be in focus. This pessimistic approach is influenced by the belief that defining the “boundaries” of Christianity according to beliefs has brought nothing but shame and unnecessary divisiveness to Christianity. This is illustrated most in the bloodshed of the inquisition, Crusades, and wars among Christians. To be labeled “orthodox” or “unorthodox” to the aOrthodox is an arrogant power play that is oppressive to the cause of Christ. Orthodoxy, therefore, is a contextualized subjective “moving target” that cannot be defined.

Primary Adherents:

Progressive Protestants (formerly known as Emerging Christianity)

Strengths:

  • Sees the importance of orthopraxy.
  • Understands the difficulty of defining Christian orthodoxy.

Weaknesses:

  • Christianity loses any distinction.
  • Follows a self-defeating premise by establishing a new minimalistic orthodoxy of its own.
  • Unjustifiably follows a “guilt by association” premise. Just because others killed in the name of orthodoxy does not mean that those who seek to define orthodoxy will do the same. In fact, most have not.

2. Scriptural Orthodoxy. This is the belief that Scripture alone sets the bounds of orthodoxy without any aid from the historic body of Christ. This should not be mistaken for sola Scriptura—the belief that the Scripture is our final and only infallible authority in matters of faith and practice—but as a radical rejection of any other sources of authority such as the church, tradition, natural revelation, etc. It is often referred to as solo Scriptura or nuda Scriptura. Here, there would not be any authority derived from the body of Christ, historic or contemporary, as an interpretive community that either fallibly or infallibly has the ability to define orthodoxy. Adherents would often be found saying, “No creed but the Bible.”

Primary Adherents:

Fundamentalist Protestants

Strengths:

  • Understands that the Bible is the only infallible source.
  • Causes people to go back to the source (ad fontes).

Weaknesses:

  • Discounts the historic Church as a Spirit illuminated interpreter of the Scriptures that must be respected as a voice (albeit fallible) of God.
  • Creates their own orthodoxy based upon their subjective interpretation. This way there will be many orthodoxies.
  • Often results in cults who deny essential elements of Christian theology that have been held throughout church history.
  • Fails to see that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.

3. Paleo-Orthodoxy. This is the belief that the Christian faith can be found in the consensual beliefs of the church. This is a form of “consensual orthodoxy” (consensus fidelium). This search for consensus follows the dictum of Saint Vincent of L’rins: quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus, “that which was believed everywhere, always.” Normally, according to Thomas Oden, who coined the term “paleo-orthodoxy,” this consensual faith can be found in the first five centuries of the Christian church (Oden, Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements), before the “speculative scholasticism” of western Catholicism. The idea of theological progression is normally thought by strict adherents of Paleo-Orthodoxy as a post-enlightenment influenced methodology that should not be followed.

Primary Adherents:

Eastern Orthodoxy and some Evangelicals

Strengths:

  • Looks to the early historic body of Christ for orthodoxy.
  • Understands that God’s providential concern for the Church would have established the most important truths early.

Weaknesses:

  • Can elevate the authority of the early church above that of Scripture.
  • Hard to find justifiable reasons to believe that theology cannot develop or mature beyond the first five or six centuries.

4. Dynamic Orthodoxy. This view of orthodoxy would be highly influenced by a dialectical approach to theological development, believing that orthodoxy is not in any sense static, but dynamically changing as new discoveries are being made. Early views of orthodoxy might be completely overshadowed by new discoveries. This approach has characterized the more liberal theologians, especially in the early twentieth century. Theology, according to dynamic orthodoxy, can change radically in an antithetical way once new discoveries are made through the advancements of human knowledge.

Primary Adherents:

Liberal Christianity

Strengths:

Open to change and advancement.

Weaknesses:

  • Too open to change and advancement.
  • Christianity loses any roots.
  • Often values the credibility of human progress above the credibility of Scripture.

5. Developmental Orthodoxy. This view of orthodoxy is unique to Roman Catholicism, therefore, it must be understood according to the Catholic view of authority. Developmental Orthodoxy sees the fullness of Christian orthodoxy contained in the one deposit of faith given by Christ to the apostles. These Apostles handed this deposit over in two forms of tradition, written and spoken. The written tradition is found in the Scriptures, the spoken is primarily contained in the early church. This tradition is interpreted by the infallible magisterial authorities in the Roman Catholic church. Orthodoxy itself is defined progressively by this authority as situations develop throughout time. According to this theory, it is not as if orthodoxy develops ex nihilo, but only as the situations make necessary. Once orthodoxy has been defined, then Christians are responsible to believe it, even if it was previously obscure or non-existent (e.g. acceptance of the Apocrypha, assumption of Mary, rejection of birth control).

Primary Adherents:

Roman Catholics

Strengths:

  • Can be more definitive about a definition of orthodoxy.
  • Ability to contextualize orthodoxy.
  • Sees value in church history.

Weaknesses:

  • No regulation for abuse in the Magisterium.
  • No justification for an authoritative system of infallibility beyond pragmatism.
  • Elements of newly established orthodoxy that cannot be found in church history is hard to justify.
  • Does not take a consensual approach to orthodoxy which, in the end, positions most members of the Christian faith, living and dead, as unorthodox according to their current definition.

6. Reforming Orthodoxy. This is the belief that the ultimate authority for the Christian faith is found only in the Scriptures (sola Scriptura) and that orthodoxy is a progressive development of the Church’s understanding of the Scriptures. Like paleo-orthodoxy, progressive orthodoxy seeks the consensus of the Church throughout time for the core essential theological issues, finding most of these in the early church expressed in the ecumenical councils. But it also believes that our understanding of these issues can and may mature and reform both through articulation and added perspective. This “maturing” does not amount to any essentialchange, but only progressive development as theological issues are brought to the table of church history through controversy and exegetical discovery. In other words, once orthodoxy has been established, its antithetical opposite cannot be entertained. Orthodoxy can only be advanced.

Adherents:

Most Evangelicals, Protestant Reformers

Here is the chart that illustrates this view:

Weaknesses:

  • Often hard to define what is the difference is between maturity and change.
  • Who defines when a doctrine has “matured”?

Strengths:

  • It is anchored in the Bible while having a great respect for tradition.
  • Leaves the door open for the Holy Spirit to mature the church’s understanding.
  • Seeks first to define orthodoxy in a consensual way.
  • Leaves room to distinguish between essential elements of orthodoxy and non-essential.

Of the options given above, in my opinion the two that are the most credible are Paleo-Orthodoxy and Progressive Orthodoxy. Both are rooted in the ultimate authority of Scripture and both have a high view of God’s providential care throughout Church history. I appreciate the consensual approach which I think must be present to some degree if one is to have a proper defense of the history of the Church.

In the end, however, I do lean in the direction of the Reforming Orthodox view. I believe that all the essential doctrines of Christianity were established in the early Church, but that their maturation came throughout church history. Some, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, matured earlier than others. Because of this, we find that these enjoy a greater Christian consensus. I put a higher priority on these. Yet I also believe that we need to take seriously others which matured later, even if they do not enjoy the same consensus (i.e. sola fide, substitutionary atonement, imputed sin, etc.—which I believe existed in seed form in the early church, but did not develop more fully until later controversies.)

Where do you all stand?

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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]

    36 replies to "Six Views on What it Means to Be Orthodox"

    • Eluros Aabye

      Thanks for the interesting post!

      I’m one of your weirder readers– I fall very liberal on the theological spectrum, and thus would affirm something like what you call “dynamic orthodoxy”. I suppose that someone who affirms it would defend it by saying that, really, everything you described above (even Paleo-Orthodoxy) is really just dynamic orthodoxy; whether we recognize it or not, we’re constantly changing our theology (even when we think we’re affirming what our forefathers affirmed). For example, take the idea of marriage and compare it to the historical role it played (how late clerical polygamy was allowed, consent wasn’t required until ~1100AD, et cetera). It wasn’t even declared a sacrament until– what, Trent?

      Not meaning to get on a soapbox about marriage, of course, or even dynamic orthodoxy. Just thought it’s interesting how, I imagine, someone affirming it would probably say that all the views you outline “slip into it”, even if they don’t do so intentionally. I wonder if that’s universal across the views?

      At any rate, I’m curious about your account of Reforming Orthodoxy:
      “In other words, once orthodoxy has been established, its antithetical opposite cannot be entertained. Orthodoxy can only be advanced.”

      Interestingly, that sounds like a falsifiable claim (not saying it’s false, simply that it’s falsifiable). Would it be true to say that, at any point in Christian history, if the “orthodox” viewpoint on a given perspective flipped to its antithetical opposite, Reforming Orthodoxy is not an accurate view?

      No pressure. Enjoyed the blog, as always!

    • Greg

      My first thought is “Who gets to decide what view for determining orthodoxy is right or wrong?” This “six views” is nice, but it doesn’t really solve the actual question at hand. Just pushes it back a step. Do we just pick what makes the most sense to us? Then doesn’t that just make you and I and a billion others the ones who decide what is orthodoxy or not? I like this quote from Thomas Aquinas: “Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith. . . . Now it is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. (Summa Theologiae II.II.5.3)

      I don’t see the possibility for orthodoxy or heresy outside of an infallible authority led by the Holy Spirit to settle a matter for good. Because even without that, you have no real means other then personal interpretive opinion for even deciding what the criteria for orthodoxy or heresy is. Choosing what your criteria is becomes a personal preference and is somewhat arbitrary. Bible only? Says who? Bible plus tradition? Says who? Bible plus only your preferred line of tradition? Says who? First 500 years? First 300? Only the last 500? Why not the last 200? Without a final authority, its anyone’s game and no one’s say is final.

      A good analogy is what the atheist does with morality. An atheist can have morality, and adhere to a moral code, but he doesn’t have anything objective to ground that morality in to make it anything more then his personal opinion. He’s doing nothing but piggy-backing on the objectivity that only a theist can have. Likewise, so too for the Christian without a belief in a final, infallible interpretive authority. They can adhere to the faith that has authoritatively been decided on in the past, essentially piggy-backing on an interpretive authority they normally reject, but they too have nothing to actually ground their faith in outside of their own personal interpretive opinion.

      You can’t really knock the Catholics by reducing this idea only to a pragmatic one. Every single other version is also pragmatic. Establishing what is true and not true is entirely pragmatic in nature, especially when its not as simple as opening the Bible and settling the issue. And a negative is that the Catholic view creates an orthodox and unorthodox category of believers throughout history? Why is that even a problem? That’s the whole point of defining orthodoxy and heresy. If you hold that up as a weakness, you have the apply that to all the other views too, which do the exact same thing. That’s just an argument from outrage.

      I think this is all pretty much a reaction against Catholicism as a whole, and the alternatives aren’t very good. In my view its picking at table scraps, to put it mildly. The Catholics were here first and got all the good theology. Without that, you’re left with essentially ecclesial deism, the idea that after the apostles died, the Holy Spirit ceased guiding the Church into all truth. He got the whole thing started, then left it to run on its own.

      If the Holy Spirit is still guiding his Church, then which church? Can’t be all of them for obvious reasons. Not only is there huge amounts of disagreement on non-essentials, theres a large amount of disagreement on the essentials (not to mention the question of who even gets to decide what is essential or not.)

      So there aren’t six options. There are only two:

      1. A sole, infallible authority exists to decide, once and for all, orthodoxy and heresy. There’s only one game in town.
      2. Ecclesial Deism. The Church is on its own to work out its faith as best as it can without the aid of the Holy Spirit. Its anybody’s game.

    • C Michael Patton

      The who’s to say issue continues even into Catholicism. Who’s to say who chooses the pope? Who’s to say who chooses the people who choose the pope?

      We even have that problem now. There’s not consensus even within Catholicism about which statements the Pope has made that are infallible. Who’s to say how to interpret the pope? Who’s to say how to interpret the councils? All it does is push the issue up one level, and everything is still a personal issue.

      At this point even the pragmatism of Catholicism falls apart. And this says nothing about the problem of trying to justify an infallible authority through the Scriptures or even through early tradition.

      So while Catholicism seems practical and attractive at the beginning, I think it falls apart.

    • Jared Tremper

      Reforming Orthodoxy seems to fit me the best. This is well-stated, thanks for sharing!

    • Luke

      As far as I understand it (having converted to it from evangelical Protestant), Eastern Orthodoxy believes that orthodoxy was established by the apostolic deposit of faith as recorded in the early writings (of which scripture is the most important) and as practiced liturgically, with progressive development as controversy stirred the church and required resolution. Unlike Roman Catholicism, there is no infallible magisterium; issues are resolved at ecumenical councils pending ratification by the church at large. The last ecumenical council happened 13 centuries or so ago, but it is not impossible that another one could happen. Thomas Oden’s definition does not appear to well capture Eastern Orthodoxy as far as I can see.

    • Greg M.

      If it falls apart, then we’ve got nothing.

      We are the equivalent of the moral atheist, the ecclesial deists with a church wound up and let to run off on its own, with no real direction, no real certainty, and not even any indication that we’ve gotten it right over these two thousand years. I mean, if one of the take away points of the Reformation was that the church got the canon of scripture wrong (and the reformers corrected it), how can we have anything reliable to ground our faith in? The Bible’s huge! Its the first thing talked about in many of the systematic theologies that I’ve read! But if the church got it wrong, and it took 1500 years to correct it, whose to say the church didn’t get it even more wrong and that blunder won’t be corrected for another 1000 years? Augustine was certain the canon of scripture was correct and closed when he wrote “On Christian Doctrine”, and now we’re certain the canon of scripture is correct and closed after the Reformation. Why us and not him? What if future believers and not us?

      I don’t think Catholicism pushes the question back a step though. It all comes down to whether it has the authority to make decisions like who should be pope or not. If it does, then that changes everything and it can make those decisions. If it doesn’t, then the same problem that plagues everyone else remains (not settled). I think the only possible legitimate authority (of any sort) that can be held within the faith is that which is part of the line of Apostolic succession. Because again, if not that, then no one and everyone is authoritative. You, me, Driscoll, Keller, the crazy street preacher over there on the corner, The Westboro Baptists, the Mormons, the Catholics, Geisler, Licona, and Olson and Horton.

      That line is the best and only candidate for any sort of legitimate authority within the faith that can even begin to address these issues. Because if that isn’t the case, then anyone can claim that authority, and be just as legitimate as the next guy. I don’t see a way around this problem. Do you?

      If there is confusion about what popes have said in the past, then couldn’t a living and infallible authority theoretically settle the matter? That seems to be one of the advantages with having a living authority and not a dead tree authority.

      I think its the witness of the early church, the so called parallel and living tradition, or collective memory of the church, that gives credence to the claim of apostolic succession. Before scripture was written, and even before scripture was canonized, what other authority was there? What was the church using and doing to settle issues that scripture could never settle on its own, either because it wasn’t in the form we have it in now and widely available, or simply because it didn’t even address the question that needed answering (like the canon, and the criteria to determine the canon. There is absolutely no way at all that question could be settled with scripture without resorting to a circular argument. There had to exist some other legitimate authority before the Bible that Protestants have to piggy back on to claim the Bible as the sole rule of faith. Its impossible to get around.)

      If we have apostolic succession, then we have a link back to Christ Himself. If the authority given to the apostles was transferred down, as the witness of the (very) early church suggests, then we have a line that legitimately exists that has the authority to determine the very questions that are essential to our faith. From that succession flows the apostolic traditions, in both written and practiced forms, that become authoritative not simply because both come from the apostles and their successors, but because the apostles come from Christ.

      I’ve been reading your blog for 6 or 7 years now. I’ve learned a whole lot from doing so, and one of the biggest things I’ve learned is just how many theological options there are within Christendom for the believer to explore and pick and choose and adopt and believe. I used to love the fact that I had searched the scriptures and read all the theology books and parsed all the controversies and ended up with the one, true, and best expression of the faith out there. The one true set of beliefs that I can use to judge the churches I may or may not attend, and the “believers” I happen to encounter (in quotes because I needed to know their beliefs first). Somewhere in doing all that I figured there’s got to be a better way. Am I really the sole and final authority when it comes to issues of faith and morals? Is that everyone’s job? To obtain as deep an understanding of their faith and all of its options and intricacies, so as to align themselves with the right set of salvific beliefs and the right church that agrees with them and the right actions that support them? Am I really the authority on all these matters? What if I got baptism wrong, or sin, or justification, or once saved/always saved, or holy communion, or inerrancy, or a dozen other things that some group out there believes is part of the “essential” list? What if we just tried our best and hoped for the best? Would God take into account the limits of our knowledge and judge us accordingly, as the Catholics believe, or would He damn us to Hell in a show of total justice and sovereignty like Piper thinks?

      I’ve learned a lot from you Michael, but what I’ve learned the most is that its not my job to figure these things out. Its the job of the Church Christ established, and which has existed in an unbroken line these past 2,000 years. That’s gotta count for something, and more so then anything else.

    • Rebecca

      I have never had Christian differences explained in these terms. So, I’ll address the differences in the terms I have heard. R.C. Sproul usually explains different Christian beliefs as being Augustinian, semi-Pelagianism, and Pelagianism. Also, Arminianism, which opposes the absolute predestinarianism of John Calvin. I am a Calvinist. After speaking to a Catholic friend of mine regarding the beatification of Chiara Lubich, a Socialist, my friend told me Catholics believe they go to heaven through works. Now, that is different than what Catholics believed a century ago, at least the works they did were different then, as compared to now. The “Emerging Church” came out of the Unitarian Church…The Unitarians of today are behind what passes as religion on NPR and PBS. One of their publishing companies is Beacon Press Boston. If you google it, you can see what they believe in, political activism. Please google it. The Unitarians started taking over the “liberal” churches in northeastern America in colonial times, and kept it up after the revolution. By the late 1800s Marxism was incorporated into some of these (Unitarian type) churches, like the Congregational Church. John Spargo wrote books on the subject of mixing Marxism and Christianity. First he was for them being incorporated, and then he was not. David Virtue, of virtueonline.org battles the liberal beliefs in his church. The Catholic Church has the social justice movement… A traditional believer is conservative and would like to preserve Biblical thinking. A liberal church goer works for social change and that means changing Christianity into something other than what it is. Sorry if I sound too political, I would prefer not to be. Also, google Union Theological Seminary, New York. Many of the church “doers” have gone away from Jesus.

    • Paul Hosking

      One of the most noticeable features of Christian dialogue (particularly within or between denominations) is a seemingly incessant need to define matters of belief, and having created a definition to seek the acceptance of that definition by others to establish (in varying degrees) boundaries of “fellowship”.

      Interestingly Jesus rarely, if ever, used definitions in this way. For example he might have said “The Kingdom of God is… xyz” and by that means he would have given us something that could be used as a credal statement, but he didn’t. What he did often say was “The Kingdom of God is LIKE …xyz”. And from that his hearers could learn new insights for themselves, and great teaching to pass on to others but not the kind of definition that we seem to need as a kind of mental anchor.

      Probably the nearest Jesus gets to a definition is when he asked his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16:15)

      Peter’s reply “You are the Christ (or, Messiah), the Son of the Living God” was simple but highly significant in that it also “defined” the direction of his life.

      Christ’s response, “…on this rock I will build my Church…” indicates that Jesus expected there would be others who would share Peter’s insight, and together they would form his Church. Could this “rock” also be the ONLY definition of true “Orthodoxy” to be established in the Bible?

      I think it is possible for people to make such a confession from a purely intellectual point of view and yet not to be personally moved by it. The “Church” has had and will continue to have such people in it, but for the confession to be “from the heart” involves them also becoming “sons and daughters of God” by a relationship of commitment. Initially to the pattern that Jesus gave us, but finding that this is actually “The-Pattern-of-God-Himself”, and that not to follow it is actually to reject it.

      With this recognition there is no need to establish credal definitions apart from being able to confess Him as our Lord and Master. From there on it is a way of life that has its own unique characteristics
      “You are my friends IF YOU DO whatever I have commanded”(John 15:14), and “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples: if you have (agape) love one toward another” (John 13:35)

      As for “orthodoxy”. The Jews loved it. The Rabbis developed and preserved it.
      But Jesus knew, and was at pains to teach, what really mattered to God.

    • Paul Hosking

      On further reflection the confrontation between the teaching of Jesus and that of the rabbis was not so much a matter of orthodoxy as of orthopraxy:- how to “keep” the Law of Moses and by doing so win God’s favour. In either field (i.e. details of “doing” or details of “believing”) it is a (universal?) human tendency to be influenced too much by tradition!

    • Greg M.

      If it falls apart, then we’ve got nothing.

      We are the equivalent of the moral atheist, the ecclesial deists with a church wound up and let to run off on its own, with no real direction, no real certainty, and not even any indication that we’ve gotten it right over these two thousand years. I mean, if one of the take away points of the Reformation was that the church got the canon of scripture wrong (and the reformers corrected it), how can we have anything reliable to ground our faith in? The Bible’s huge! Its the first thing talked about in many of the systematic theologies that I’ve read! But if the church got it wrong, and it took 1500 years to correct it, whose to say the church didn’t get it even more wrong and that blunder won’t be corrected for another 1000 years? Augustine was certain the canon of scripture was correct and closed when he wrote “On Christian Doctrine”, and now we’re certain the canon of scripture is correct and closed after the Reformation. Why us and not him? What if future believers and not us?

      I don’t think Catholicism pushes the question back a step though. It all comes down to whether it has the authority to make decisions like who should be pope or not. If it does, then that changes everything and it can make those decisions. If it doesn’t, then the same problem that plagues everyone else remains (not settled). I think the only possible legitimate authority (of any sort) that can be held within the faith is that which is part of the line of Apostolic succession. Because again, if not that, then no one and everyone is authoritative. You, me, Driscoll, Keller, the crazy street preacher over there on the corner, The Westboro Baptists, the Mormons, the Catholics, Geisler, Licona, and Olson and Horton.

      That line is the best and only candidate for any sort of legitimate authority within the faith that can even begin to address these issues. Because if that isn’t the case, then anyone can claim that authority, and be just as legitimate as the next guy. I don’t see a way around this problem. Do you?

      If there is confusion about what popes have said in the past, then couldn’t a living and infallible authority theoretically settle the matter? That seems to be one of the advantages with having a living authority and not a dead tree authority.

      • Paul Hosking

        “If it falls apart, then we’ve got nothing.”

        This would be true if we are putting our trust in “the church”. However that should not be where our trust lies, but in God and in his Son and Heir to whom he has given “all authority”. Christ will still have his church though perhaps not as you or I know it. It will simply consist of all those who have a relationship with Him, and who “In Him” have everything they need.

    • Greg M.

      I think its the witness of the early church, the so called parallel and living tradition, or collective memory of the church, that gives credence to the claim of apostolic succession. Before scripture was written, and even before scripture was canonized, what other authority was there? What was the church using and doing to settle issues that scripture could never settle on its own, either because it wasn’t in the form we have it in now and widely available, or simply because it didn’t even address the question that needed answering (like the canon, and the criteria to determine the canon. There is absolutely no way at all that question could be settled with scripture without resorting to a circular argument. There had to exist some other legitimate authority before the Bible that Protestants have to piggy back on to claim the Bible as the sole rule of faith. Its impossible to get around.)

      If we have apostolic succession, then we have a link back to Christ Himself. If the authority given to the apostles was transferred down, as the witness of the (very) early church suggests, then we have a line that legitimately exists that has the authority to determine the very questions that are essential to our faith. From that succession flows the apostolic traditions, in both written and practiced forms, that become authoritative not simply because both come from the apostles and their successors, but because the apostles come from Christ.

      I’ve been reading your blog for 6 or 7 years now. I’ve learned a whole lot from doing so, and one of the biggest things I’ve learned is just how many theological options there are within Christendom for the believer to explore and pick and choose and adopt and believe. I used to love the fact that I had searched the scriptures and read all the theology books and parsed all the controversies and ended up with the one, true, and best expression of the faith out there. The one true set of beliefs that I can use to judge the churches I may or may not attend, and the “believers” I happen to encounter (in quotes because I needed to know their beliefs first). Somewhere in doing all that I figured there’s got to be a better way. Am I really the sole and final authority when it comes to issues of faith and morals? Is that everyone’s job? To obtain as deep an understanding of their faith and all of its options and intricacies, so as to align themselves with the right set of salvific beliefs and the right church that agrees with them and the right actions that support them? Am I really the authority on all these matters? What if I got baptism wrong, or sin, or justification, or once saved/always saved, or holy communion, or inerrancy, or a dozen other things that some group out there believes is part of the “essential” list? What if we just tried our best and hoped for the best? Would God take into account the limits of our knowledge and judge us accordingly, as the Catholics believe, or would He damn us to Hell in a show of total justice and sovereignty like Piper thinks?

      I’ve learned a lot from you Michael, but what I’ve learned the most is that its not my job to figure these things out. Its the job of the Church Christ established, and which has existed in an unbroken line these past 2,000 years. That’s gotta count for something, and more so then anything else.

    • bethyada

      in my opinion the two that are the most credible are Paleo-Orthodoxy and Progressive Orthodoxy.

      Which of the 6 is Progressive Orthodoxy? That followed by the progressives, ie. A(n)orthodoxy, or that is progressing, ie. Reforming Orthodoxy, or changing, ie Dynamic Orthodoxy?

    • C Michael Patton

      Curious of this: who has the authority to make the determination for you own belief that Catholicism has the authority?

      Do you know with infallibility that you have chosen to place your trust in the right place?

    • Pete again

      CMP,

      Please feel free to call yourself “Orthodox” if it gets you closer to God. Really, whatever it takes.

      As usual, you provide us with an interesting and thought-provoking post. But a huge difference between the Protestant vs. Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox view of salvation is this: do you need the Church to be saved?

      In your view (correct me if I’m wrong), someone sincerely says the sinner’s prayer during an alter call. Then, he never again sees the inside of a church. He tunes into Joel Olsteen once per week for a feel-good hour. 10 years later he dies and goes to heaven.

      On the other hand, RC/EO’s would charitably say “I greatly fear for the state of this person’s soul”.

      I’m finding that a lot of our differences come down to this: for 1500 years there was no “individual salvation”. It was a group thing. Then suddenly some western Europeans got the idea that an individual could get “saved” without anyone’s help…not even their own. The rest is history.

      And is there any ground more fertile for this “rugged independent individual” brand of salvation than the good ole USA?

      • Paul Hosking

        “for 1500 years there was no ‘individual salvation'”
        Are you sure about that Pete?
        The section of Revelation that contains letters to 7 churches seems to lean very strongly towards individual salvation. Sardis, for example, had a church that was “dead” but it had a few members who would be saved (Rev 3:4), presumably because they were more alive than the church they were in. It seems (also from many of Paul’s letters e.g. 2 Cor 13:5 ) that being “in Christ” is much more than being “in the church”.

    • Craig

      This is a great post! I’ve never seen all the disparate views specifically delineated, and I think this does a really good job of it.

      I’m solidly Reforming/Progressive. For me particularly, proper Christology is paramount, for if one has a wrong conception about the Person of Christ this has potential negative ramifications on the Trinity, the Atonement, etc. And the Definition at the Council of Chalcedon remains the definitive statement on Christology.

    • Paul Hosking

      It appears to me that orthodoxy has grown to become a very complicated and intellectual version of Christianity, way beyond the mental capabilities of ordinary folk, the kind of people that Jesus came to save. Our Lord seemed to be quite satisfied with the confession of Peter “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16).

      Peter would no doubt have got a totally different response had he made his confession to the Council of Chalcedon, who would have demanded a great deal more. I can just imagine the ensuing interview!

      However Jesus said he would build his church on the Rock of Peter’s confession, and that in my view is what should be taken as the mark of Orthodoxy in regard to Christology.

      • Rebecca

        Orthodoxy is about Biblical scholarship. Renewing the mind. John 3:16 sums up what a Christian has to do. Since none of us are able to do even that simple thing for any length of time, many of us look to the Bible for additional comfort and help.

        • Paul Hosking

          Thank you Rebecca, you have reassured me as I am not a scholar. It is good to know that fully committed Christians who love their Lord and do their best to follow him are no longer in danger of being burnt at the stake, or drowned, or beheaded, by other Christians at least, for not being orthodox.

          • Rebecca

            You are welcome, Paul. I have known deacons in churches who serve the Lord by doing, not studying. Serving the Lord is the sign of the Christian and that can be done in many ways. Not everyone has had an epiphany like Paul or Luther, but they may have a feeling of being lost and then found. They do have a conviction of sin. They try to go and sin no more. The people sitting in the pews, if believers, are saved.

          • Rebecca

            Just one more thing, I think you will find the names of some scholars of the Reforming Orthodox movement if you google Chicago statement of “Doctrine of Inerrancy,” and look for Spurgeon.org and get on their site. The signers have written books. Also, “The Screwtape Letters” by C. S. Lewis is a great read about modern problems as seen by a modern Christian and I think most R.Os would approve that read.

    • Craig

      Paul Hosking,

      The reason I think that Chalcedon is important is that, unfortunately, we must define our terms. This wasn’t important when Peter made his confession, as Jesus well-knew what Peter meant, and 2nd century Gnosticism was not yet born. Sadly, there is very prevalent neognosticism today.

      You may be aware that the early Church Councils were convened in response to specific distortions about the Trinity, Christ, etc. The resulting Creeds were culled from Scripture, though, of course, not considered as being on par with Scripture. They are a sort of ‘shorthand.’

      These Creeds are just as important today for determining just what is and isn’t correct doctrine – again, keeping in mind that these are all derived from Scripture. For a real world example, one who adheres to the teachings in the popular, neognostic, New Age/New Spirituality book The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ by Levi Dowling would have no difficulty with Peter’s confession; yet, if one asks the right questions, one will find out this ‘Jesus’ is not the one described in the 66 books of the Bible:

      (1) Jesus and the Christ are not ontologically equivalent. For Jesus, “Christ” is merely an office he attained.

      (2) Jesus was not always the Christ during His time on earth, having been ‘christed,’ or “anointed” at His baptism when the “Christ Spirit” descended as a dove.

      (3) This ‘christing’ is not unique to Jesus, as others can also be ‘christed.’ So, while Jesus can be called Christ/Messiah, essentially, anyone receiving this “Christ anointing” can be called same.

      And, similar doctrine IS taught within churches identifying as Christian – BIG Churches with worldwide influence. Ever heard of the Word of Faith “little gods” heresy?

      Here are two quotes of Bill Johnson, Senior Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, an individual with world-wide influence, from his popular book Face to Face with God:

      The outpouring of the Spirit also needed to happen to Jesus for Him to be fully qualified. This was His quest. Receiving this anointing qualified Him to be called the Christ, which means “anointed one.” Without the experience [“Christ anointing”] there could be no title [of “Christ”].

      …The outpouring of the Spirit comes to anoint the church with the same Christ anointing that rested upon Jesus in His ministry so that we might be imitators of Him…

    • Paul Hosking

      Thank you Craig, maybe I was being rather simplistic.
      I do like, and agree with, your 3 numbered points.

    • Craig

      Paul,

      Thanks for your comment. However, it seems there’s some sort of miscommunication here. The 3 points are illustrating the views of Dowling’s New Age/New Spirituality doctrines, and the Bill Johnson quotes were showing how his teachings are congruent with them. Let me take the 3 points above and reword them for Christian orthodoxy, providing Scripture references:

      While Christ is not Jesus’ last name, He is identified as THE Messiah/Christ. Jesus is the one and only Christ, and He was identified as Christ from birth (Luke 2:10-12, 1:35); so, it was not an “office” He attained later. Jesus was certainly ‘anointed’ when the Holy Spirit (not the “Christ Spirit,” or “Christ anointing”) came as a dove (Matt 3:16-17; Luke 3:21-22; Mark 3:10-11), but He was the “Anointed One” from birth – more accurately, from conception. To separate Christ from Jesus is explicitly antichrist, as per 1 John 2:22, 4:2-4; 2 John 1:7. This separating of Christ from Jesus was first done in 2nd (or perhaps late 1st) century Gnosticism.

      There is some dispute as to the exact significance and ramifications of just what the Holy Spirit’s descent and landing on/in Jesus means. I don’t wish to enter into a long discussion or debate about this, but most agree that this was at minimum a commissioning. Some think this was also an empowering, as if Jesus could not do anything supernatural without this empowering, but this denies Jesus’ knowledge to be ‘about His Father’s business’ as a 12-year-old in the Temple in Luke 2:49-50 as a supernatural event, i.e. an occurrence of Jesus’ omniscience. There are other Scriptural difficulties with this view of Holy Spirit ‘anointing’ as empowerment for Jesus (John 2:11; John 5:21-22).

      Some claim this was Jesus’ “baptism in the Holy Spirit;” however, one thing should be clear: the event immediately following Jesus’ baptism by John is unique, as no one else can claim that the Father said to any of them, “This is my Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” There is also dispute as to whether Christians receive a ‘second blessing’ called “the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” using Jesus as the example.

      To reiterate, I don’t wish to get into a debate, or even a discussion about some of these disputes. They would be far afield of the subject of CMP’s post.

      It seems prudent to provide full citation for the Johnson quotes above:
      Face to Face with God: The Ultimate Quest to Experience His Presence (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2007), page 109 and 77, respectively.

    • Paul Hosking

      Whoops!
      Sorry to misread your post Craig. That must make me very clearly in the unorthodox camp, which I did realise anyway but more from other considerations (in particular my personal difficulties with the Trinity and Jesus being in existence before the virgin birth). I do understand your point about keeping to the original topic which I am happy to do, but maybe more as an reader than a participant!

    • Craig

      [cont]

      As for Jesus’ preexistence, He Himself proclaims this in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I am!” with the Jews picking up stones in order to stone Him for such ‘blasphemy’ – as they saw it. The key to understanding John’s Gospel (my favorite book of Scripture) is a good reading of the prologue (1:1-1:18), as this governs the understanding of the entire Gospel. And it’s here that the Gospel-writer, explicitly affirms the Word of God’s preexistence, as well as Christ’s deity during Incarnation.

      The Word was “with God” in the beginning, also the Word “was God” (1:1) – this identifies the Word as deity. Through the Word all things were made (1:3, 1:10; see also Col 1:16-17; Heb 1:1-3). In this Word “was life,” and this Word was “light” (1:4-5; see John 3:19-21). John the Baptist testified about this “light” (1:6-9). Yet the Word, the light, came to “His own” (the Jewish people) who “did not recognize Him” (1:11), yet there were those who DID receive Him, believing in His name (1:12-13). Then the Gospel-writer gets more explicit: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14), and those seeing Him saw the “Glory of the One and Only,” who “came from the Father” (1:14), “the One in the bosom of the Father” / “at the Father’s side” (1:18) the One who made the Father known (1:18).

      • Paul Hosking

        Thanks for your ideas here, Craig.
        My initial thoughts on first reading.
        I love John’s use of logos, so much more meaningful in Greek than any single English word! It makes me think of the detailed drawings of an architect putting on to paper what he has in his mind. The greek idea would also include the placing of the orders for the work to be carried out.

        And then at some future date it all takes shape in reality. The building rises majestically from the building site. Or to use John’s vivid language “The word become flesh”

        No doubt I also need to digest what you have said a little more.

        • Paul Hosking

          By the way, I don’t actually know Greek apart from a few fairly well known Bible words, it’s just that I’ve done a little reading on the subject, e.g. William Barclay’s “New Testament Words” some while ago and using on-line study aids fairly frequently. But I am keen to hear what scholars have to say on the subject

    • Craig

      for some reason my comments are not coming through – I’ll try one last time to post the initial part of my comment:

      Paul,

      When I mentioned about not wanting to get into a discussion, I was speaking specifically about the extent of Jesus’ commissioning when the Spirit came down as a dove, as well as the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” However, I can have a go at assisting you with understanding the Trinity – the mystery of the Trinity.

      The Trinity is somewhat similar in that we have to take not just one Scripture or two to understand the doctrine (as you know, the word “Trinity” is not in Scripture), and this means, first of all, you have to accept that all Scripture is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). A good starting point is Jesus’ “anointing” following John’s baptism. Here we have the Father speaking as the Holy Spirit descends as a dove and lands upon Jesus – all three ‘Persons’ of the Trinity. Jesus speaks about the role of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room Discourse (specifically John 14:15 – 16:15). Jesus even explicitly speaks about the interrelationship of the Trinity in 16:13-15. Prior to this, Jesus equates Himself with God the Father (John 5:16-18, 5:21, 10:29-30, 14:7, 14:9-11)

    • Paul Hosking

      Thanks Craig, especially for the verses from John where I can clearly see Jesus associating himself very closely with the Father (they are obviously in the Heavenly Business together) but I am struggling to find which verse or phrase speaks of them as being equal. The closest I can get to it is 5:18 but I prefer not to take the Jews as an authority for obvious reasons. Are there any other verses that might help?

    • Craig

      Paul,

      Some of the verses I supplied were very explicit in Jesus equating Himself with the Father. I will attempt to tie this all together. Pay special attention to the ‘seeing.’ First the explicit verses, most especially: “I and the Father are one” (10:30). “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him” (14:7). In the same context as the preceding:

      “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves” (14:9-11).

      Going back to 1:18, no one sees God ever (see Exodus 33:20-23); however, Jesus made the Father known. He did so because He was Himself God. When the Word, who exists ‘from the beginning’ manifested in the flesh, He retained full deity. The Incarnation should be understood as an addition of a human nature/body; the Word did not subtract anything from His eternal deity. Yet his full glory was veiled under His flesh, as “no one sees God and lives” (Exodus 33:20; John 1:18). So, Jesus, as God in the flesh, revealed the Father just shy of allowing us to fully ‘see’ the Father. This theme of ‘seeing’ gets even better!

      In chapter 5 we note that the Jews were angry that Jesus not only healed on the Sabbath, but that He instructed the now-healed man to ‘sin’ by ‘working’ on the Sabbath (5:16). Once Jesus equated Himself with God as God’s Son working on the Sabbath along with His Father (5:17), the Jews desired all the more to kill him (5:18). Jewish teaching understood that Jews were God’s children, but they comprehended correctly that Jesus was talking about something more – an explicitly familial relationship with God the Father.

      [cont]

    • Craig

      [cont]

      In response to the Jews’ anger about His proclamation of His relationship with the Father, Jesus goes even further. He reiterates that He is His Son (5:19) and His equal (5:20-21). False teachers like Bill Johnson proof-text a portion of 5:19, claiming Jesus had inferior status because “the Son can do nothing of Himself;” however, when His complete statement is properly understood with the latter part of this statement intact, we understand that He is stating something quite extraordinary! “…unless it is something He sees the Father doing…” – not only does this not illustrate inferiority, it explicitly states that Jesus can do something no mere human can. He can SEE the Father! The point of the verse is that Jesus does not do anything on His own; He’s not autonomous, as He works in concert with the Father, by SEEING what the Father does.

      In verse 20 Jesus reiterates His ability to see the Father, because the Father “shows Him all he does.” Jesus goes further yet in 5:21, claiming “the Son gives life to whom He is pleased to give it.” This negates those who claim that Jesus was not acting divinely in the Incarnation – that Jesus relied on the Holy Spirit for all miracles. Jesus could not have ‘given life’ as a Holy Spirit-moved man, as this would imply that Holy Spirit-indwelt Christians could ‘give life to whom WE choose’ – an obviously erroneous notion. So, verse 21 indicates even more divine activity by the Word made flesh.

      Moreover, Jesus Himself judges rather than the Father (5:22; cf. 14:6 – “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”). Jewish beliefs recognized that God performed two major works on the Sabbath, namely, ‘giving life’ in the form of births and exercising judgment in the form of physical death. However, verse 22, along with verses 24-25 are speaking about Jesus providing eternal life and death – ‘judgment’ as an all-encompassing term for life and death (22-23) and ‘giving life’ (24-25). That this is referring to the Jesus’ time on earth is indicated by contrasting 25 (“time is coming and has now come”) with verses 28-29 (“a time is coming…”), which refers to end-time judgment. But even this judgment is not done on His own, as Jesus seeks to please “him who sent me” (30).

    • Paul Hosking

      Craig, In respect of the first of your explicit verses I’m not sure whether my difficulty lies in the theology or the English language. I always thought there was a difference between the meaning of unity and the meaning of equality. Should I be seeing these as synonymous terms?

      The problem really comes when Jesus says “My Father is greater than I” because although that does not deny the unity it certainly denies the equality. Could you please therefore explain in what way the equality is to be seen?

      Seeing the Father in Jesus is something that I feel able to do very effectively (by God’s grace) without seeing them as equal. The concept of a Father/Son likeness is ever so easy to understand in the human context but it never implies equality. All the explanations of the trinity that I have ever come across all seem to turn a simple relationship that I can understand into something so very complicated and confusing. In fact the Athanasian Creed actually describes it as incomprehensible. It certainly is that!

      Please tell me what’s wrong with just taking and believing the simple gospel message that Jesus is the Son of God? John says he wrote his gospel to help me do just that.

    • Paul Hosking

      Craig, some practical issues that I have to deal with will reduce (perhaps to zero) the amount of time I can give to this thread over the next few days, so you will understand any delays in responding to the other interesting and thought provoking points you have made, and any you have yet to make. But I do thank you for the efforts you have made to help me and hope to give further attention to your replies before too long.

    • Craig

      Paul,

      On quick skim, the article on the Trinity on Wikipedia seems to do a good job. This section on the ontological and immanent Trinity may help:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity#Economic_and_immanent_Trinity

      The economic Trinity refers to the acts of the triune God with respect to the creation, history, salvation, the formation of the Church, the daily lives of believers, etc. and describes how the Trinity operates within history in terms of the roles or functions performed by each Person of the Trinity—God’s relationship with creation. The ontological (or essential or immanent) Trinity speaks of the interior life of the Trinity—the reciprocal relationships of Father, Son, and Spirit to each other without reference to God’s relationship with creation.

      The ancient Nicene theologians argued that everything the Trinity does is done by Father, Son, and Spirit working in unity with one will. The three persons of the Trinity always work inseparably, for their work is always the work of the one God. Because of this unity of will, the Trinity cannot involve the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. Eternal subordination can only exist if the Son’s will is at least conceivably different from the Father’s. But Nicene orthodoxy says it is not. The Son’s will cannot be different from the Father’s because it is the Father’s. They have but one will as they have but one being. Otherwise they would not be one God. If there were relations of command and obedience between the Father and the Son, there would be no Trinity at all but rather three gods…

      In explaining why the Bible speaks of the Son as being subordinate to the Father, the great theologian Athanasius argued that scripture gives a “double account” of the son of God—one of his temporal and voluntary subordination in the incarnation, and the other of his eternal divine status.[61] For Athanasius, the Son is eternally one in being with the Father, temporally and voluntarily subordinate in his incarnate ministry. Such human traits, he argued, were not to be read back into the eternal Trinity.

      But what about the verse you cited about the Father being greater than the Son? Why did Jesus pray to the Father? And, perhaps more important, what about when Jesus states in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not My will but yours be done”? Then there’s “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”

      This is where a good understanding of the hypostatic union comes in. Jesus was/is eternally God, but He ‘took on’ human flesh; thus He was fully divine and fully human in one Person. While He was/is One divine Person in two natures, there were times He spoke out of His humanity, and times He spoke from His divinity. So, it’s not a contradiction – though certainly a divine mystery! – for Jesus to claim ontological equality/unity with the Father in “I and the Father are one,” yet also stating “the Father is greater than I.” And when Jesus exclaimed, “Before Abraham was (born), I am!” He was declaring His divine eternality. In fact, there are a number of “I am” statements in the Gospel of John, and most scholars see these as correlative to Yahweh’s words in Exodus 3:14.

      The Trinity and Incarnation are both divine mysteries that our human finite minds cannot fully comprehend. If we concede that God is greater than we, is it not proper to conceive that a full understanding of His Being is beyond are grasp? The Apostle Paul Himself declared that the Incarnation is “beyond our comprehension” (1 Tim 3:16).

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