The word “orthodox” means “true teaching.” It is the opposite of “heterodox,” which means “other teaching,” that is, teaching other than that which God teaches. So the comparison is true-teaching versus false-teaching. It is used to describe the character of an individual or assembly and the doctrine which they espouse.
One Intended Meaning
Every sincere Christian desires to be orthodox, for that means believing and teaching faithfully what God has taught in His Word. We do not want to believe or teach anything other than that which God has taught.
Two different people can both be considered good citizens and patriotic, even though they may be at totally opposite ends of the spectrum philosophically. This, however, cannot exist within the Christian Church. There cannot be those who believe and teach one thing and those who believe and teach something totally opposite, and yet both sides still be correctly considered faithful followers of God and one in Christ.
God has not given us a broad spectrum of doctrinal variations from which to choose. The doctrines taught by God cannot be correctly understood many different ways. People like to say, “Well, you can interpret a passage your way and I will interpret it my way, and we can both be right.” Not so, as we read in 2 Peter 1:21: “…no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.” Each passage has one divinely inspired meaning, not many. And God’s Word is certainly not to be the object of subjective conjectures by anyone.
The goal of the child of God in reading Scripture and seeking to learn what God teaches is to discover the one Spirit-given meaning of each passage, and not to try and find out “what does this passage mean to me?” It does not mean something different to you than it does to me. God’s meaning is the same in the passage whether you are reading it or I am reading it. This is but one way in which God’s Word is altogether different from any other writings.
Students Of The Word
So, the child of God is to be a student of the Word. We bring nothing to the Word. Our own ideas, feelings, prejudices, etc. must be left behind. They can only interfere with our discovery of what God teaches us. Our interest is in “Thus saith the Lord” and not in “And what do you think about it?”
If orthodoxy is our objective, then we must submit our own thoughts and reason to the Lord’s eternal wisdom revealed in the pages of Holy Writ. We want our testimony to be nothing more and nothing less than what God has said. Only then are we orthodox, and that is not something we can take credit for. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit who has generated such a love for God’s Word in our hearts and a desire to be true teachers of that Word. We thank the Lord that being faithful to His Word is still important to us, that die reine Lehre (the pure doctrine, teaching) is still for us the pearl of great price.
The hearts of many Christians have become numb in this regard nowadays. Emotion, enthusiasm, and pseudo-unity have become the focus. The fact remains, however, that without the pure, true, complete teaching of God, there is nothing about which to be enthusiastic and there is no true unity, no unity founded on the Word of Christ. How much more precious is the unity that is shared on the basis of a oneness of confession and faith in the unchanging Word of our Lord.
Some people say that a person’s interpretation of God’s Word must change as the situations, circumstances, and morals of the world change. Never! “Heaven and earth shall pass away (with all their latest fads and ideas) but My Word shall not pass away” (Mt. 24:25).
Orthodoxy is not an end in itself, however. It is correctly understood as being a means to an end. It is centered in that Word which is able to make us wise unto salvation. It must be kept true and pure because it is the only antidote that can deliver our souls from the poison of sin. If we permit it to become diluted with the philosophies of men, then at the very least we jeopardize salvation. St. Paul declares that “the Gospel of Christ . . . is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” Any error that is permitted by men to creep in can only reduce the efficiency of this wonderful power.
When a church is said to be orthodox, that is not the same as saying that it is infallible. Heresies are able to find their way into even the most devout gathering of believers. As we read in 1 Cor. 11:19: “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”
When a heresy looms, then it is edifying for the members to study God’s Word all the more. Additionally, a cleansing will take place, and those faithful to the Word will be revealed. Such a matter is not decided by majority but by God’s Word. (For example, the vast majority at the time of Elijah were wrong.) There is the danger that a gathering of orthodox believers will become proud, feeling that they would never be guilty of permitting error to enter their assembly. They need to beware, for they are on the verge of falling hard.
A simple review of history shows that error and errorists show up even among the most sincere believers. Paul had to scold the Galatians, saying: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth…?” Think of what terrible influence Arius had upon the outward church with his lie that Jesus was not true God!
A church that has an orthodox character needs to be always on the ready for the wolves form within and without who will speak perverse things (Acts 20:29-30). And when it is discovered that an error has found a place, and perhaps it has been in place for a long time, they dare not let pride affect their judgment. It is far better to say “Lord, be merciful to us and forgive us for giving error so long a place among us” than to say “Error? What error? We are orthodox!”
May the Lord preserve in our hearts such a love for Him and His Word, that we preserve His Word in truth and teach His Word in purity. May we never stand for anything less!
— Pastor Delwyn Maas