Six Views of What it Means to Be “Orthodox”

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)


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


  • 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


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


  • 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


  • 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.


  • 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


Open to change and advancement.


  • 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


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


  • 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 essential change, 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.


Most Evangelicals, Protestant Reformers, some emergers.

Here is the chart that illustrates this view:


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


  • 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 Progressive 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?

19 Responses to “Six Views of What it Means to Be “Orthodox””

  1. Michael, what are some resources for further study in this?

  2. Ah! So, as far as talking about the maturation of a principle or doctrine that Scripture teaches…It’s not an understanding any more “true”…but more “full”? That’s weird!–I’ve been learning that kind of a progressive approach of learning in my relationships with friends and parents. It’s also the way my Sunday school class has been trying to express one’s walk with God–coming to a fuller understanding, but not necessarily any truer as though what was known before was false or off the mark.

  3. Malcolm Robertson February 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    The objective reality and didactic finality of the SCIPTURES is never circumvented or obviated by the Holy Spirit. But rather his testimony and validation is in accordance therewith.

  4. I would have to come in somewhere between 2 and 6. It is conceit to think we can simply ignore the teaching of the important Christian leaders of the past, but it is impossible to tell what really represents progress without referring it back to Scripture. While we should not ignore church history, at the end of the day we do not refer everything back to Scripture, we are either left with no certain message or must find some other authority such as the Roman Catholic Magisterium to base our faith on.

  5. Truth Unites... and Divides February 4, 2011 at 4:15 am

    Can we get another descriptor for #6 other than “Progressive”?

    “Progressive” has a distinct connotation and unhelpful equivocation can result.

    For example “progressive Protestants” who hold to aorthodoxy (#1) might claim that they hold to “Progressive Orthodoxy” when in fact they do not.

  6. Truth Unites... and Divides February 4, 2011 at 4:17 am

    How about calling Progressive Orthodoxy the neutral term of

    Reform Orthodoxy.

    There. That’s much better.


  7. TUaD,

    Good stuff. I agree. From now on I am going to call it “Reforming Orthodoxy.” I really like that.

  8. I’m not one for standing by a standard of blogging edicate so I changed it without explaination!

  9. Truth Unites... and Divides February 4, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Thank you CMP!

    A good move! It’s much, much better now.

  10. 7. Eastern Orthodoxy

    8. Oriental Orthodoxy


  11. I think I’d go for number six with maybe a bit of number two and number four thrown in. The number four part because I think on non-essential doctrines more views may arise that completely contradict earlier interpretations.
    But on the core doctrines like the trinity or the God/man nature of Jesus I wouldn’t say this is the case.

    It becomes tricky though because with hard-to-imagine doctrines like this different denominations or churches are actually often saying the same thing from different angles. But both think they are orthodox and their opponents are unorthodox, when really the full truth is a whole lot more complicated.
    Which I guess fits in with “reforming orthodoxy” too

  12. Excellent assessment, Michael; however, I would point out that historically orthodoxy has had a fairly narrow definition. Traditionally orthodoxy has been scriptually based (ideally) and Church sanctioned in praxis. So, to separate orthodoxy using any description is, in my opinion, firmlly wedded to scripture and the ecclesia; which in turn, rest solidly on the Word.

  13. Hello:

    I am a Christian but my views have changed over the years, for I no longer believe “Everything” I hear from religious leaders or read in the various Christian Bibles. Join any religion and all individuals will feel their Jewish, Islam or Christian etc. faith is superior to all others (how egocentric and self-centered all humans become).

    The Evolution of Christianity

    The miracles in the 1st Century Christian Church is like no other time in Christian history. These miracles performed validated the words spoken by Jesus, and the Apostles/disciples; so that many of the pagans and Jews changed their minds and stop believing what their pagan and Jewish religious leaders, family and friends had taught them about their worship of God.

    I have read that God does not respect one human as being more important than any of the other 900 billion humans born to Adam and Eve. Throughout human history there has always been a “Remnant” in every generation who has loved God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. These individuals love and forgive themselves and also love and forgive others they meet. They embrace Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other local and world religions in the family of true faith before God and His angels.

    It is amazing that all local and world religions believe and teach that the Creator God they serve has promoted their religion as superior to all others. Whether it be 100 plus Christian denominations or all other religions; they all are basically teaching that God is the author of confusion. This just means that all humans are guessing at “What is Truth”; for no one is truly righteous in their thoughts, actions or Theology.

    I know the Bible says that “Blessed are those who believe and haven’t seen” (a miracle implied). But this firestorm of interest into Christianity lessoned so much so that the original “Spiritual” forest fire that was consuming all opposition to Christianity has now become tens of thousands of individually held candles of flickering lights of Truth (which is no longer an all-consuming fire) for it has lost its “Wow” factor.

    What circumstances or events around the 4th Century caused the Christians to be less effective in convincing Jews and pagan/gentiles to become Christians? The death of all the apostles, individuals healed by them and any children and grandchildren etc. who heard stories passed down to their generation. Jews and pagan/gentiles started to again embrace their families’ heritage for the Christian leaders were no longer doing miracles that would trump the religious beliefs of Jews and pagan/gentiles.

    After the Roman Empire was destroyed (or should I say split-up) a general came to Rome and wanting to bring peace to the land, put all Christians under one church leader, which was the Pope of Rome; who later became the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope and none of his leadership team are performing any miracles of raising the dead, or healing anyone physically etc. and neither will the Protestant clergy after the Protestant Reformation. Therefore Christianity and other religions are on a more level playing field; and all religions have to focus on the concept of spiritual healing being of utmost importance and is the only healing that can’t be taken away from us (for our bodies will get sick and die).

    I use to go to a Southern Baptist Church that taught that the King James Bible is inerrant, infallible and implied that it is “Perfect”. But I know nothing in this fallen universe is perfect; no human or holy book is perfect. The Catholic Bible has more books in it than the Protestant King James Bible; so did the Catholics add to God’s Word, or did the Protestants delete some of God’s Word. The heavenly language that God and the angel’s converse in, use perfect words in their conversation; and in human language words are ambiguous (many meanings), that is why there are probably over 100 Christian denominations.

    Christianity evolved in a very subtle way that is hard to notice and see the clever and indirect ways that humans changed Christianity these last one thousand and 600 years. People want to think that the Jews and pagan/gentiles changed all their belief systems when they became Christians 1,600 years ago. In the 1800’s Joseph Smith started the Mormon faith and the Jehovah’s Witnesses also would become a world religion. They basically say or imply that their groups have corrected all of those pesky little errors in the Catholic and Protestant Bibles (we can trust them) L.O.L.

    Around the 4th Century many changes confront Christianity. All the Apostles, their children and grandchildren as well as everyone else on the planet who met Jesus and the Apostles are “All” dead. The miracles of Jesus and the Apostles trumped the religious beliefs taught by the pagans, Greek mythology and the Jews beliefs and customs. Individuals would tell their family members, friends and even strangers that the words of Jesus and His Apostles were a “Very clear” sign that they speak for God. So everyone’s personal belief were blown-away when God healed tens of thousands (collectively—hands on, word of mouth or prayer cloths etc.) during the life of Jesus and all His Apostles.

    After the Roman Empire was destroyed, or should I say divided-up, a general came to Rome and he put all Christians under one church leader, the Pope of Rome. The group the general represented wanted to bring “Peace” to the land. The Pope and his leadership later became the Roman Catholic Church.

    In every generation societies tend to promote “The love of money”; for all corporate and religious leaders throughout history sing the song of “Show me the money” ideology or mantra (secular or religious prayer) to their customers or faithful believers.

    Christianity almost died out around the 4th Century and the Catholic Popes and their leadership team were helpless to stop the decline in conversions to Christianity; because the Pope and his leadership couldn’t duplicate or compete with the miracles of Jesus and His Apostles, so the pagan/gentiles and the Jews were disillusioned with Christianity and were more comfortable with and convinced that the faith of their ancestors and friends were more in line with Truth as they perceived it.

    The Pope is very aware that he has to win the minds and hearts of the pagan/gentiles because they outnumber the Jews (maybe 514 to 1 Jew). The world Jewish population is around 2 tenths of 1% (roughly one in every 514 people in 2010). I am pretty sure that the Jewish population in the 4Th Century wouldn’t be much different than in the 21st Century.

    If he chooses to teach about the “Real” Jewish Messiah and please the Jews, he will have a very small congregation of Christian believers; but if he teaches doctrines that are in line with what the pagan/gentiles and Greek mythology already teach, his descendants in the 21st Century can boast of 1 billion Catholics and 1 billion Protestants that claim to be Christian.

    When Jesus or the Apostles were teaching a group of gentiles and Jews everyone spoken to had one major question for Jesus or His Apostles to answer, “Who is the father of Jesus”. Jesus answered this question when He said “For the son of man (Joseph implied) has come to seek and to save that which was lost”. If Jesus had of said He was the son of woman, everyone would know He was speaking about His mother Mary. Saying this means son of mankind is ridicules.

    So, for business reasons it was far more financially lucrative to acquiesce to the wishes of the non-Jewish community. In doing so, the Jews now found it impossible to accept the Christians half human Messiah who is only 50% of a fulfillment of the covenant that God made with David and Bathsheba. Christians say that Jesus is “Like us” but then they make Him abnormal and a freak of nature; not giving Him a “Normal” birth, not letting him date-marry-or have a family or be a human example of how to be a son, husband, or parent on this earth (but still claiming he is a normal human being like us). L.O.L. My conception and birth is just as miraculous as a virgin birth because God is doing the miracle and His miracles don’t have any degree of difficulty.

    Here is a parable or a mystery that reveals convoluted logic in Christian Theology: God has a Covenant with Abraham and Sarah and a Covenant with King David and Bathsheba. Sarah becomes the step-mother of Ishmael which keeps Ishmael from being the child of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah. Christians try to make Joseph the step-father of Jesus and then they try to say that Jesus is still the child of God’s promise to David and Bathsheba. No Covenant of God can be altered or changed just to please sinful human’s pagan/gentiles and their traditions of men added to the Christian Bible.

    The Jews were told that Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenant that God made with Kind David and Bathsheba. People call it the Davidic Covenant but God needs to use a man and his wife to fulfill this covenant; so it is the David/Bathsheba Covenant is how God blessed the nations with a Messiah Emmanuel (God with us). All the Jews know that for Jesus to be the promised Messiah then Joseph has to be the biological father of Jesus. No Jew in the 1st or 21st Century is looking for a virgin born Messiah; this violates nature and the fulfillment of the Covenant that God has with David and Bathsheba.

    The Catholic Church during its infancy established many traditions of men in their ecclesiastical doctrines of faith; and the Protestants continued those traditions after the Protestant Reformation. The pagan/gentiles believed in a few or many God’s and the Catholic church started using the phrase, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit (which really pleased the pagan/gentiles); but the Jews say “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one…”. (not many).

    The pagan/gentiles believed that sex is part of the sin nature of humans (and not the blessing of God). Therefore God cannot be born to two humans without making God sinful. For pagan religions and Greek Mythology observed and concluded that for whatever reason God couldn’t keep Jesus sinless and be our Savior if He wasn’t virgin born.

    Superstitious pagan/gentiles worshiped God out of fear of displeasing Him and the Catholics and Protestants conclude that God has to kill all of us who disobey Him and will send us to hell. You would think an all-powerful God would love us and be able to separate us from our sins and “Only” cast the sinful part of our being that “Isn’t” made in God’s image into hell.

    The Pope wanted to please the pagan/gentiles by promoting the marriage of piety (self-righteousness) and celibacy (sexual purity) which is an unholy marriage. Everyone knows that single religious leaders are more righteous that married religious leaders (lawsuits prove different). The verse “Flee from youthful lust and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” is talking about getting married. If you stay single you are running toward lust and you will continue to be tormented by it, and there will be no peace in your spirit, soul or body until you get married.

    Catholicism like other religions financially benefited from the practice of celibacy in their priesthoods. Religion produces a thirst for power, piety and profits. A Pope demanding celibacy before a priest can be in the Christian ministry transfers power to the priest (becomes a servant of God), which makes a celibate person feel superior (more righteous, Godly, pure and better than single men and women in the ministry) and at the same time accomplishes the Catholics primary objective to take in a whole lot more money than the church pays out. The Catholic Church is the wealthiest organization on the planet (and not like the U.S. Government that is 17 trillion in the red). But if a priest could have a wife and 4 children; he would need 2 to 3 times more money to support his family (this was and is a very crafty, cunning, and cruel way to mistreat messengers of God)!!!. And if he takes a vow of poverty, he won’t even ask for a pay raise L.O.L.

    Over these last 2,000 years if every Christian leader had rejected the idea of being celibate in the ministry, then there could literally be billions more Christians living in 2014; but financial greed got the Catholic Pope and priest to abort the concept of marriage, companionship, sex and children and replace those 4 blessings of God for the love of money and false piety that produces character qualities that destroys God’s best for all of humanity that are made in the image of God.

    One thing all pagan/gentiles, Catholics and Protestants do is to deify the flesh of Jesus (and say it is God. The words “Emanuel” and “Jesus” represent two separate and distinct conceptual ideas that emphatically delineate the crystal clear differences between God and Jesus. My concept of “One” God is motivated by the Bible verse that says “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one”. Emanuel literally means “God is with us”.

    Since we can’t physically see the Creator God that we believe in; then we conclude that our Creator must be a “Spirit” only being (no body like ours). From my Christian viewpoint I now view the words “Jesus” and “God” in a different way than most Christians have been taught. Long before Jesus was born, God put His Spirit in a temple made with hands “Solomon’s Temple” which is a “Tabernacle” a dwelling place for God to abide in. The flesh and blood body of Jesus became a Tabernacle for God to put His Spirit in. But the human body of Jesus isn’t Deity because it is just like our human bodies that we received from Adam and Eve’s descendants.

    When Jesus is praying to God, He isn’t praying to himself; for the human mind, body and emotions of Jesus are mortal, finite and emotionally needy just like the rest of humanity. When Jesus says “Before Abraham was, I am; he is saying that the creator God living in Jesus existed before Abraham. But Jesus isn’t saying that He existed before Abraham.

    The human body of Jesus literally became the Tabernacle to house the Spirit of God. But His body isn’t Deity because flesh and blood can’t enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ body is only the dwelling place for God’s Spirit, which means that he can be like us; date, marry for companionship, sex and children. Any other viewpoint just means God didn’t “Really” become human like us.

    God could have come into this world in the feminine gender form of a person but no one would respect, honor or believe in a female Messiah. Religionist and their followers would reject her because males in almost all cultures don’t give equality to females in religion, the workplace or in the family unit. If Jesus was born in the year 2000, and started His ministry in 2030 He would have women apostles. Remember the Bible quote “There is neither……there is neither male nor female…..”. Even women would reject a female Messiah because they have relegated a woman’s worth and value to pleasing the man, having children and house work; with no chance of being a spiritual leader in their religion or at home.

    A man and woman can get married, but neither of them can say they already have a child until the husband gets her pregnant. Just because a doctor tells them they are capable of being parents, they don’t have a son or daughter until the wife is pregnant. It is more accurate to say that God became a Son than it is to say that God sent His Son into the world.

    If a human son can’t exist before he is conceived then it stands to reason that if God is going to be like us humans, then His Son is going to “Begin” being a Son when He is conceived in the womb of Mary just like the “Beginning” existence of all other human sons. Otherwise the Messiah is only pretending to embrace our laws of nature and limitations; because God is “No respecter of persons”. Since this Jesus is 100% human then he could marry another human and it would not be the case of God committing incest with the human race; as most Christians would conclude from their Theological world view. God has no body, so the human marriage relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene would mean that their marriage bed would be undefiled. Human sex is “Always” between 2 created beings that are descendants of Adam and Eve.

    Protestants are naïve when they think the Protestant Reformation took Biblical Truth back to 1st Century teaching. Christians have no idea what texts have been deleted, added or changed in our Bible back when the Bible was hand-written. The lust for money, power and fame has corrupted the leadership of the Protestant and Catholic Church’s and all other religions.


    P.S. If Jesus exists as the Son of God before he is conceived in the womb of Mary, then who is his mother; did God get one of the angels pregnant (shame on Him)? L.O.L. The term “Son” always refers to a conceived child. There is no need for Jesus to exist before he is born into this world. If you have a “God the Son” or Son of God in heaven; you will also have to have a “God the Mother”.

    Joseph’s wife Mary isn’t the mother of God; she is the mother of the human temple or tabernacle (not made with hands) that God put His Spirit inside of.


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