Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Difference between Heresy and Orthodoxy

Jude 3-4 Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. 4For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Yesterday we explored what Paul meant when he was warning his readers at the church of Galatia about listening to "a different Gospel".  We discovered three criteria for judging whether or not a given teaching matches the True Gospel by whether they add or delete from the Bible, Jesus Christ or Justification by faith alone.  Today we want to understand a related issue, namely the difference between "heresy" and "orthodoxy".

What is "heresy"
Heresy is one of those words that immediately alerts people to the fact that some form of teaching or a certain group is being compared to a "standard of truth".  The word itself comes from a Greek word "heresis" meaning "choice" or "intentional decision".  A heresy then is marked by the premium of choosing to believe whatever I want rather than evaluating that belief in light of the well established standard of God's Word. 

What is Orthodoxy?
In the passage above, Jude contrasts "the faith handed down once and for all to the saints" to "certain persons who crept in unnoticed".  Another name for the "faith handed down" is what is termed "orthodoxy".  Orthodoxy comes from two Greek words.  "Orthos" refers to something that is "straight or standard".  Perhaps you have heard of an "orthodontist"?  An "Orthodontist" is a doctor who helps me to have "straight teeth" (ortho = straight and dontal = teeth).  Orthodoxy refers to a standard or straight teaching from the Scriptures.  If anything, orthodoxy functions like good medicine for the soul, ensuring that I'm led in the right direction in matters pertaining to life and eternity. 

Orthodoxy's source, accountability and fruit versus that of heresy
When we compare Orthodoxy and heresy, we need to look at how they handle their own respective source, level of accountability and fruit.

1. Orthodoxy's Source = The scriptures; Heresy's source = scripture plus something else
Orthodoxy aims to be biblical, meaning that although it is never produced apart from well reasoned thinking, conversation with Christians of the past and sincere heartfelt passion, it values the Bible as the chief, main and final authority above all secondary sources.  Orthodoxy identifies key biblical doctrines that comprise the core of the Christian faith such as:
a. The Trinity
b. Christ's Deity and Humanity, virgin birth and bodily return,
c. The Personality of the Holy Spirit
d. The Inerrancy and infallibility of scripture
e. Salvation by grace through faith alone (Justification by faith)

Heresy on the other hand will sometimes appeal to scripture, however it will also elevate experience, reason or tradition to at least equal if not superior status to the scriptures.  Heresy by its nature will tend to either subtract or delete from the core doctrines and take doctrines of less importance and make them central teachings. In Heresy, the qualities of a teacher will take the place of the Bible in defining the experiences of future followers.

2. Orthodoxy is accountable to history; Heresy thrives on only being "new"
Though biblical doctrine uses the Bible as its standard and source, it is essential to know whether or not a teaching or doctrine has been consistently held by Bible believing Christians down through the ages.  The list of "core doctrines" listed above have been held by every major branch of Christianity in every age, and have been articulated and defended by godly, reliable Christian teachers and preachers appealing to scripture alone.  Though Church History is not equal to the Bible, yet it helps those of us who preach or teach to check our "orthodoxy".

Heresy on the other hand will typically disregard the testimony of Christians through the ages.  If its "new" or "has never been taught" in the history of the church, it is a good chance that one is dealing with heresy.  It is true that the Spirit of God will shed clarifying light to sharpen understanding on already well established doctrines.  However to propose an idea that has not been considered by any Christian in the 2,000 years of church history is quite another matter.  Furthermore, today's heresy's are often yesterday's heresy's repeating themselves.  Just as an example, Jehovah's Witnesses deny the deity of Jesus Christ and claimed He is an exalted creature with some aspects of divinity.  A fourth century heretic by the name of Arius taught similar error, denying the Bible's clear identity of Jesus Christ as fully God as well as being fully man. 

3. The Fruit of Orthodoxy will be different from that of Heresy
Jesus said in Matthew 7:15-21 that in effect, good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit.  Orthodoxy should and will yield right practice and right attitudes.  We should expect to see humility, thus the reason for historical accountability.  We should also see concern for the truth above popularity and care for the eternal welfare of people over against self promotion.  When faced with persecution, orthodoxy produces a greater, more robust faith. (1 Peter 1:6-7)  Orthodox, biblical doctrine endures.

Heresy will always, in its various levels, promote self before it will serve others.  It will place opinion and experience above God's Word and will refuse to hold itself accountable.  When trial comes, heresies and heretics are suddenly worthless and yield further doubt and uncertainty.  Man-made teaching cannot handle the challenges of life. 

Today I would ask the reader to read the Book of Jude.  It is the next to the last book of the Bible and takes less than five minutes to read.  Though it is small, its message will provide unending benefit in knowing how to discern between orthodoxy and heresy.

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