Synonyms include: conventional, accepted, traditional, conformist, approved, established, mainstream, standard
Now for most people orthodoxy means right thinking or right opinions, or in other words, “What we think” as opposed to “what they think.”
And that is one of our problems: Orthodoxy seems to have become a stick we use to beat people with rather than a standard by which we measure one another.
I believe that orthodoxy, creeds, and doctrine are foundational to who are as God’s children.
So how should orthodoxy come in to practice in our lives of faith and in our churches?
So, as Christians, where do orthodox beliefs come from?
What is the “right” thing to believe? Which church has it right?
Although the term orthodox or orthodoxy does not occur in the Scriptures, its meaning is repeatedly insisted on throughout scripture.
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, then to the twelve,” 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 NASB.
This statement by Paul is considered by most Biblical scholars to be an early creed of the Christian church. As Methodists, we are not a creedal church. But remember that a creed is simply a statement of belief. A creed is simply a means to write down an orthodox set of beliefs. The difficulty we have with creeds is that too often creeds have been used to cram “right thinking” down our throats in a “it’s my way of thinking or no way” method of indoctrination. Creedal Orthodoxy has been viewed then by many as a way to have you “check your brain at the door” and we will tell you what you believe.
Paul’s statement of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ seems simple enough to us and yet it was not so simple an idea when Paul was writing it to the church in Corinth.
There was a controversy brewing in Corinth about the reality of a bodily resurrection. Paul was setting a standard so that the false teachings about resurrection and Christ might be recognized as false or unorthodox.
Orthodoxy and the creeds were developed so that we might recognize that which was false. We need an orthodoxy so that we might not be deceived into a following a false gospel. The standard doctrine of the church is discovered in most of Paul’s writings in the New Testament and most of Paul’s writings are addressing false doctrines that were circulating in the day.
Paul, the other Apostles and the early church leaders all wrote, studied, and refuted that which was unorthodox, false, or heresy. And by the year 400, there had developed what we would call “classic Christian orthodoxy.” This Orthodoxy represented mainstream Christianity in the world until to the Protestant Reformation. Orthodoxy not only defined its beliefs in terms of standard creeds, such as the “Apostles’ Creed” and the “Nicene Creed,” but it judged the conduct of its adherents in terms of certain prescribed rules and practices for worship and for private life.
Our classical Christian orthodoxy is being challenged by a movement within Christianity. This movement is coming from within our church walls. This movement pushes back against the idea of orthodoxy. This idea pushes back against the idea that there is any absolute truth.
How then do we live as orthodox Christians amidst all of this?
First a word of caution, when we choose to live like Christ we are not living orthodox. Truth is we would be living most unorthodox as compared to the world if we chose to live like Christ. I think that is part of the point that Christ makes in all of His teaching. When we live our faith we are not doing so in order to be doctrinally sound, if that were so we would seek to become the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. We become orthodox Christians when our beliefs are so a part of who we are that we act on them without having to think about them.
Orthodoxy is then all of the core beliefs and practices that allow us to live as God intended us to live – joyous and free! We need orthodoxy to guide our beliefs as a church, as a people, as individuals. But I propose to you today that our orthodoxy needs to be generous. We need an orthodoxy that upholds the early church creeds, but doesn’t use them to beat people into submission or elevates our orthodoxy by demonizing another. We need new creeds for our day that help us understand our faith. We need a generous orthodoxy guided by:
Humility that allows us to admit our past and current thoughts may have been limited or distorted; Charity towards those of other traditions who may understand some things better than us; Courage to be faithful to the path we have been given; Diligence to seek again the path of faith especially in the areas we seem to have lost our way
(Brian D. McLaren, a Generous Or+thodoxy, Zondervan, 2004. P 37-38).
As we seek out our orthodoxy we need to remember the often quoted line by John Wesley, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
The United Methodist Church is not a creedal church and yet the United Methodist Hymnal contains nine creeds or affirmations. This include the Nicene and the Apostles’ Creed as well as affirmations of faith taken from Paul’s letters (Corinthians, Colossians, Romans and Timothy) and affirmations from the United Church of Canada and the Korean Methodist Church. As a United Methodist, you are not required to believe every word of the affirmations in order to become a member of the United Methodist Church. To that extent we are generous in a “y’all come” kind of way. But, we must hold on to these affirmations and creeds as they help us come to our own understanding of the Christian faith. They affirm our unity in Christ with those followers who first wrote them, the many generations who have recited them before us and those who will recite them after we have gone. Therefore while we do not use them to divide, we must remember to use them to unite.
Let us unite our voices in declaring our faith – our orthodoxy – remembering: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
A Modern Affirmation of Faith, United Methodist Hymnal #885 :
We Believe In God, the Father, infinite in wisdom, power and love,
whose mercy is over all his works,
and whose will is ever directed to his children’s good.
We Believe In Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of man,
the gift of the Father’s unfailing grace,
the ground of our hope,
and the promise of our deliverance from sin and death.
We Believe In the Holy Spirit as the divine presence in our lives,
whereby we are kept in perpetual remembrance of the truth of Christ,
and find strength and help in time of need.
We Believe that this faith should manifest itself in the service of love,
as set forth in the example of our blessed Lord,
that the kingdom of God may come upon the earth.