When I first made my exodus from organized religion, I remember talking with someone online about aspects of the Christian faith and the term “orthodoxy” came up. Now, up until that time I had always presumed I held to orthodox Christianity, because my understanding of orthodoxy was with regard to the doctrine established by Jesus Christ and His apostles in the first century. I still hold to that ideal; However, as I began to re-examine the actual definition of the term orthodox, I found that embracing this concept was not as simplistic as I once presumed.
Here is this literal definition of orthodox from Webster’s Dictionary:
1. accepted as true or correct by most people : supporting or believing what most people think is true.
2. accepting and closely following the traditional beliefs and customs of a religion.
This is the dictionary definition of “orthodox” and was a bit of a shocker to re-read… “Accepted as true or correct by most people…” What? I could care less about what “most people” think with regard to the Christian life. What the Lord Jesus says is true is the only truth I desire to accept! Orthodox refers to “supporting or believing what most people think is true…” What they THINK is true? Since when has the Lord Jesus called anyone to support and accept what most people THINK is true? If you don’t mind me saying, that’s likely one of the major reasons why we have so many church organizations today that are all over the place with doctrine. It’s not that there is a problem with doctrine; The problem is that they are basing their doctrine on orthodoxy – what most people think is true… rather that drawing the truth from out of the Scriptures as plainly as Jesus spoke. We have pastors and teachers everywhere, giving their twist on doctrine and these become divisions apart from the sound doctrine once delivered to the saints, as we read about in Scripture.
Denomination is, really, just another word for division, but it’s even more serious than that in this author’s opinion. The word “denomination” originated in the mid 15th century and refers simply to the “act of giving name to a religious sect” and, by this time in history, there were plenty… and there are even more now. But the important thing to recognize is that the term has no biblical origin. It has NOTHING to do with right doctrine, but only perhaps various forms of orthodoxy that exist (the teachings/doctrine that MOST PEOPLE in a given sect believe to be true).
These days, denominationalism is how Christians tend to identify one another’s beliefs… If someone indicates they are part of a specific, identifiable denomination, then it is often thought to be much easier to identify what they likely believe concerning doctrine (in comparison with their own church’s doctrinal opinion)… but just being part of a “denomination” is no indication that one ascribes to the doctrine of Jesus, even if Jesus is their “mascot”.
The Scripture declares that there is one doctrine! In Matthew 16:12, Jesus said to beware of the doctrine of the religious leaders, whose teaching is like leaven in bread which spreads throughout the whole batch of dough. The Scripture exhorts us to hold fast to the truth we learned from Christ and through the first apostles He sent. Scripture also very clearly instructs us to avoid those who make denominations (divisions) which deviate from the one true doctrine of Scripture. That is not to say that we are to search for the right “denomination” to belong to… Rather it is saying, there is only one truth! There is one right doctrine! It has been given to us… Those who bring another variation on it, are not serving the Lord Jesus and are acting essentially as nothing less than deceivers. Watch out for them!
- Romans 16:17-18 – And I exhort you, brothers, to watch those making divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and avoid them. For they who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches they deceive the hearts of the simple.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 – For a time will be when they will not endure sound doctrine, but they will heap up teachers to themselves according to their own lusts, tickling the ear. And they will turn away their ears from the truth and will be turned to myths.
2 John 1:9-11 – Everyone transgressing and not abiding in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house, nor speak a greeting to him. For he who speaks a greeting to him is partaker of his evil deeds.
Some suppose they get off the hook by ascribing to a label of “non-denominationalism”; however, often this may be just another way of saying that no clear biblical doctrine is held to at all… and, often times, this is exactly what we see among church organizations that describe themselves as “non-denominational”. On the one hand, this sounds better than denominational if we intend to suggest that we agree the Body of Christ is not divided; however, the very nature of an organization that ascribes to no denomination should be examined, for if they are unwilling to identify that they hold strictly and unashamedly to the clear doctrine of Scripture, then they are actually not ascribing to right doctrine at all. This is common mark among what many refer to as “emergent churches”. These refuse to stand firmly on the clear teaching of Scripture in the event that it may offend someone. Ironically enough, non-denominations have really just become another kind of denomination, which means they are not really non-denominational after all anyway.
Of course the larger problem here is that the Lord’s true Church is not comprised of autocratic denominations who are charged with some kind of authority over the Lord’s people and to govern how they relate to whatever aspect of belief in a doctrinal position a particular organization espouses. There is only ONE mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5) and it is NOT some local church organization, NOT some pastor or apostle, NOT anyone or anything but Christ Jesus! Is it not abundantly clear that the modern church system has the whole thing upside-down from the truth.
- Matthew 23:8-12 – But none of you should be called a teacher. You have only one teacher, and all of you are like brothers and sisters. Don’t call anyone on earth your father. All of you have the same Father in heaven. None of you should be called the leader. The Messiah is your only leader. Whoever is the greatest should be the servant of the others. If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honored.
Matthew 20:25-28 – So Jesus called them all together and said, “You know that the rulers of the heathen have power over them, and the leaders have complete authority. This, however, is NOT the way it shall be among you. If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, you must be the slave of the others—like the Son of Man, who did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.”
The Church is the Body of Christ and each member of His Body is accountable to Christ alone and to the doctrine that was once delivered to the saints!
- Jude 1:3 – Having made all haste to write to you about the common salvation, beloved, I had need to write to you to exhort you to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.
So, coming back to the beginning of this discussion, we ought to have no fear in asking the question, “what in the world do Christians suppose they are up to by trying to fit their relationship with Christ in the orthodox box?” This may be the mark and common course of a people who believe in supporting and accepting religious consensus, but it is not and cannot be the mark of a people who identify Christ Jesus alone as Lord, Savior and God!
No longer will I describe myself as “orthodox”. I rather prefer the term “heterodox”, which holds the following definition:
adjective \ˈhe-tə-rə-ˌdäks, ˈhe-trə-\
1. not agreeing with established beliefs or standards.
2. contrary to or different from an acknowledged standard, a traditional form, or an established religion.
3. holding unorthodox opinions or doctrines.
I once believed that “orthodox” meant to hold to sound doctrine, but the truth is that it only means to hold to established religious traditions and beliefs about doctrine – not necessarily the plain and pure doctrine of Christ itself as presented without apology in the written Word of God. My faith in Christ, also, is not based on anyone’s religious perspectives (let alone submission to the sham authority of false leaders), but on a living relationship with Christ Jesus Himself! With this revived understanding, I’m happy to declare that I may very well be “unorthodox” as far as many are concerned. I care not.
As my friend Shean Smith made note of on his website, “Modern society, Historical Christianity, and the church teach and support ideals and doctrines that I believe are contrary to Jehovah.” This is a most true statement! Just because the organized church has always taught something one way, or supported ideals and doctrines and declared them to be “sound” doesn’t mean they are sound at all. In fact, the truth is that Scripture has so often proven them to be unsound! Therefore I will let Scripture tell me what is sound and I will listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit who is alive and whom abides within me! As Peter and the apostles said (Acts 5:29), “We ought to obey God rather than men!” I guess the only thing “the orthodox box” is really good for then is as a place to store excrement… as Paul noted:
- Philippians 3:8 – But no, rather, I also count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them to be dung, so that I may win Christ.
Dung (G4657 – σκύβαλον – skubalon)
Thayer’s Greek Dictionary Definition:
1) any refuse, as the excrement of animals, offscourings, rubbish, dregs
1a) of things worthless and detestable
On that fragrant note, I wish you all God’s very best and that you would be made joyful in the Truth that He has established in Christ Jesus and that you would happily flee the refuse of religion in the pursuit of His wondrous life!
In His grip,