Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Orthodoxy: A Case Study in the Pastorals

I have been involved in a discussion on Steve Sensenig's blog Theological Musings. Steve had been discussing the right understanding of orthodoxy on another post when the question was raised whether or not Mormons hold to orthodox Christian doctrine. Here is where our differences began.

Before I continue, if you are unfamiliar with Steve or his blog, you need to be. His loving and generous spirit are models all Christian bloggers need to emulate. You can disagree with him and though he can be passionate, he is never accusatory or hurtful and his tone is always moderated with grace and wit. At the end of the discussion, even if lines are drawn, Steve will still call you brother and invite you to join another discussion. I like that about him.

That being said, I desire that my readership offer their understanding of orthodoxy as well. I began with a case study of the pastoral epistles in the comments section of Steve's blog as a defense of sound doctrine. I was not as elaborate in the comments section, not feeling it appropriate, but will air my understandings here, a more appropriate venue, without being too laborious at Steve's blog.

I have no problem with using either the word orthodox or unorthodox. There must be an established set of doctrinal parameters to detrermine what is “sound” and “unsound” doctrine. I shall take the pastoral epistles as a case study.

In 1 Timothy 1:3-4 Paul warns Timothy about wrong doctrine and to guard against it. He sought that Timothy might “remain in Ephesus that [he] may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables…”

In 1:10 Paul wrote that the law is against all that was ungodly and contrary to sound doctrine.

In 4:1, there is a doctrine that arises from demons and not from God.

4:6 shows us that Timothy was told this: “If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed.”

4:13: Paul told the young minister “Till I come give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.”

4:16 is an additional exhortation to “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them and you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”

The young pastor was to give himself to sound doctrine. It necessarily follows that if Paul is commanding Timothy to take heed to good (orthodox) doctrine, then it necessarily follows that there must be bad (unorthodox) doctrine. I do not see this as imposing anything artificial on the Word of God or erecting barriers around it, not when the formulation of holding orthodox, acceptable doctrine is clearly stated.

In 5:17, the Apostle counts the elders (read, shepherd, pastor) as worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.

6:1 teaches that bondservants are to count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine not be blasphemed.

6:3 warns of the futility of wrangling with men who hold unsound doctrine and even recommends that those who ascribe to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ (as sound doctrine) withdraw from those who are unsound.

So, I think then that Paul is having Timothy devote a large amount of time in his ministry to the formulation of orthodox doctrine, to training men in that doctrine to teach it to the congregations entrusted to their care, and then to propagate that doctrine as what is true and correct and that it should be accepted as sound.

I think the qualifier Paul uses to describe doctrine in 1 Timothy 1:10, hugiaino, sound, speaks to orthodoxy. It speaks primarily of one who is in good health but can also be applied to one’s teaching and that it can be unhealthy; laden with error. The Greek word is also a verb (present active participle), which I do not think it is a stretch of the exegesis to say that sound doctrine is an active pursuit of the Christian.

Paul commends the green pastor in 2 Timothy 3:10; "But you have followed my doctrine..."

The locus classicus for the inspiration of Scripture, 2 Timothy 3:16, teaches that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine..."

What is Timothy to preach? "The Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching." The word used for teaching is a synonym for doctrine, the Greek word didache, which simply means teaching, but has the technical meaning in the New Testament of that which is taught in the religious assemblies by Christians.

2 Timothy 4:3 is a sober warning to the local congregation that "there will come a time when they will not endure sound doctrine." Again, it goes without saying that Paul assumes that there is a such thing as unsound (unorthodox) doctrine.

Paul also had much to say to Cretian pastor Titus as well about sound doctrine. Like Timothy, Paul left Titus in Crete with a job to do. The church there too was given to old wives' tales and fables. 1:9 instructs Titus in his duty of appointing overseers in the church "that [they] may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convict those who contradict." Again, a simple exercise in logic proves Paul was concerned about unsound teachings at the Cretian church.

In 2:1 Titus is commanded to temper his speech with "the things that are proper for sound doctrine."

In 2:7 Titus' doctrine is to show integrity, reverence, and incorruptibility.

Finally, Titus 2:10 is a command to bondservants that Titus is to pass along that they prove themselves well-pleasing in all things so that they may "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things." The conclusion is clear in that God is pleased with those who hold sound doctrine and they are an adornment of Himself to the world.

Orthodox would mean, then, an established set of doctrine, accepted by the church as fundamental and necessary to faith in Jesus Christ. A departure from accepted tenets indicates a departure from the faith and a holding to unorthodoxy or departure from orthodoxy should affect fellowship. I would not call someone who is unorthodox in their beliefs about Jesus Christian, though I think this statement needs qualification.

For a Mormon who has come to Christ, I understand there is going to be a time where that new believer must grapple with their new understanding of the faith found in (the true) Jesus and there may be some mixture of error in their faith system. However, I am confident that the Holy Spirit is capable enough to stimulate a love for and a pursuit of sound doctrine in the regenerated believer. So, as a new believer wrestles with these things, he may hold some beliefs that are unorthodox while at the same time believing orthodox beliefs.

And the question of accountability? It goes without saying that the unorthodox are accountable to God, but how so that the unorthodox one is kept from misleading others, the reason why Paul had Timothy remain in Ephesus and Titus in Crete? I think it falls in the hands of the spiritual leadership of local churches, as Paul advised Timothy, as Paul handed that responsibility over to Titus, as he advised the church in Galatia, as John warned the church in Pergamos (specifically addressed to the church’s “messenger” or pastor) for holding to the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolatians, and as Jesus admonishes the church in Matthew 18. This I believe also applies to the deacons of the church in that they are to hold to the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience and have great boldness in their faith (1 Timothy 3:8-11).

I have not included what I believe is orthodox nor a rationale for my beliefs in this post for the sake of brevity. If you would like you can go to the first post I wrote to get an idea of where I am coming from.

In conclusion, sound or orthodox doctrine means teaching that is true to the Bible and uncorrupted. There are doctrines that are taught that are contrary to the Scriptures and can mislead many. In the pastorals the church is given direction in how she should operate, emphasis on the propagation of orthodoxy (which leads necessarily to orthopraxy), how to deal with the unorthodox, and the praise God has for those who are orthodox.


Steve Sensenig said...

Tony, thanks for the link and the continued discussion. I appreciate all that you have taken the time to write. I hope to be able to respond more in length this weekend.

I'm not sure you and I are very far apart, when all is said and done, but we'll see! :)

Thanks, too, for the very gracious comments you made here in this post about me and my blog. May God receive all of the glory!!

steve :)

Skybalon said...

It sounds like an interesting discussion you are having about orthodoxy versus heterodoxy, or as it's been called- heresy. One thing that stood out to me in your last post was how you describe orthodoxy in terms of sound doctrine. Now I don't say that unsound doctrine is orthodox, but this also does not mean that sound doctrine isorthodox. What I mean is, Paul seems to be speaking of something different than what we typically mean by orthodoxy. And I don't think it's a small difference.

I think this is a good text to go to for understanding what makes teaching sound. But to say it speaks immediately about orthodoxy or heterodoxy is to make a jump that seems natural given our context, but not appropriate given what is in the text. I understand the tendency to go to orthodoxy and heterodoxy right away from these passages, but to do so might imply we know better than the Spirit that inspired the text we are reading and misses an important aspect of what this passage has to teach us about the nature of the Truth that is Jesus versus something that might simply be true.

First to the text- contextually, Paul is telling Timothy to make his stand against people who are teaching differently. Specifically, they are Judaizers with an incorrect understanding of the law. They do not know what the law means in light of God's good news. I think we can agree that's what this portion of I Timothy (3-11) is about. Even though this letter was to an early church struggling to know where it stood in relation to Judaism, it is important for us to understand that still today there are Judaizers of sorts. There are those that would choose an external relationship to the law versus an inward knowledge of God. It is for this I think it is important we distinguish between orthodoxy (a term not used here) and sound teaching (the term that is used here, and elsewhere)

From the first we should distinguish between sound doctrine and orthodoxy. When someone says orthodoxy, they may mean sound teaching. And when they say sound teaching they mean orthodoxy. But that tautology tells us nothing about either. Sound teaching is the scriptural concept, so that should be what we understand before we make any move to defining orthodoxy or saying we are orthodox. Doctrine is not opinion- didaskalia is not doxa. This might just seem like semantic quibbling, but I think it's actually a very important difference. The text here refers to sound teaching or doctrine, versus unsound teaching or doctrine. The text is not teaching about orthodoxy- correct opinion.

The idea of teaching sound doctrine refers to teaching for the full development of the whole person. That is, it is about more than just knowing something. If doxa were our concern, then simple intellectual assent would be fine. That was fine for the Judaizers, Pharisees, and any number of people throughout history who have thought it was good enough to know the law but not fulfill it. Doxa is only concerned with knowing. Didaskalia is concerned with the whole person that is changed by instruction. It's kind of like the difference between "knowing" why a joke should be funny after it is explained to you (doxa) and "getting" a joke (didaskalia) without explanation. There is an ontological difference in the knower- something is fundamentally different about the person who gets it.

The hazard with thinking first about orthodoxy is that we understand doctrine as something beyond us- something to treat as an object. It is a very old and classical approach to posit the truth as something external to us, something beyond us that only relates to us intellectually. But that classical understanding of truth is not what we have here. God is not a geometric proof or a scientific observation we simply agree with. Humanity managed well enough without knowing how many degrees are in a circle or whether the sun or earth is the center of our the solar system. The same is not the case with knowing God. Our knowledge of God matters to our life. It is a different kind of knowledge. It is the knowledge of didaskalia.

So didaskalia is different from doxa, or even dogma as the church later understands it. It is a teaching that is meant to continually build and transform the learner. That is what didaskalia means. But Paul goes further in telling Timothy that the teaching that corresponds to the good news of God is sound- or hugiaino. So this knowledge that builds and transforms is more than just something like learning to drive a car or some other craft wherein knowledge builds so that over time the learner is different from a time before. Here it is specifically a true and proper knowledge. That is, it is true and appropriate to us as human. It is proper to who we are and our end.

Sound teaching- as it is used and understood scripturally here and elsewhere refers to teaching that applies to the whole person in the church. It is not just the creed of a community, it is the teaching that makes the love of God known among and between the brethren. Soundness describes the teaching because it is more than any other type of didaskalia. So it is not just intellectual knowledge or agreement, nor is it like any other kind of discipline. It is the communication of knowledge in a way that is for the person in community and life. It already teaches that knowledge manifests itself in action and here the action is living out the command that we love God and one another. If it does not do that, it is not sound teaching. And if we ever say this doctrine is "established," as in static and done, then we have not yet understood it as the type of knowledge the Spirit is communicating to us through Paul.

When we do finally make the move to understanding orthodoxy correctly- a term at its root suggesting something primarily subjective (correct opinion)- we see that it requires a type of relating to the truth we do not simply get from "correct opinions." To say Jesus is Lord is not orthodox in itself. This knowledge must come to us through sound teaching and it changes us. It will express itself in our lives. So orthodoxy is no longer a subjective issue. Neither is it a purely objective relation, as in simply being correct about facts. One has the correct opinion that Jesus is Lord- so does the devil. Would we say then that God is pleased with the devil and he is an adornment of Himself to the world? I wouldn't guess so. Nor is orthodoxy an external knowledge that is unconcerned whether or not I agree to it. The sun could not care less if we know that we go around it. Instead it is the Truth that is known by me in the commitment of faith. A commitment I can make by the Grace of God and results in an ongoing change in being. So it is an active pursuit- but not as in a chasing after a purely external fact that has no bearing on me. It is active in that it forever transforms me, bringing me into a deeper and nearer love and knowledge of God that must be lived.

Only lately in the church is orthodoxy separated from orthopraxy. That is because, of late (in the big picture), we imagine orthodoxy is a set of propositions we either agree with or don't. And then orthopraxy is set of things we do or do not do. In understanding what is meant by sound doctrine that split is not possible. It is sound doctrine because it is knowledge that affects life. It is knowledge in the Truth of whom we live and move and have our being. To say they can be made separate is like saying "bisect this ray." It's impossible because of what they mean.

I know that's long but you did say you desire that we share our thoughts.

Tony said...


Thanks for stopping by and I have certainly enjoyed the discussion. Please forgive my tardiness in getting back to you; my wife and I went to a homeschooling conference in Winston Salem this weekend, so I am a little slow in getting around to all my necessities. We received a lot we will have to digest over the next few weeks!

Blessings and I concur, may our God receive all the glory!


I appreciate the time it took for you to formulate your response to my post. The purpose of this post was to make observations from the pastoral epistles for the establishment of sound doctrine vs. unsound doctrine. I have made no case for orthodoxy, as you have stated, nor any leaps in logic, only to make the general observation that the Scripture does allow for the case that some teachings are sound and some are unsound. This is where Steve's and my differences are which may just boil down to a little misunderstanding of definitions. I encourage you to visit his blog to get a better idea of this discussion.

I think that you and I are not on the same page either when it comes to simple definitions of words, where I am arguing that orthodox just simply means true or sound teachings, derived from the Scriptures, as opposed to unorthodox or unsound teachings. I have made no case for the more modern words orthodox or unorthodox, just that the way we as students of God's Word understand these words and that they do indeed exist.

And I am not quite sure I understand when you say that I am making a jump in context to apply the Scripture to present day. Is Scripture not timeless? Would it have meant something that radically different to the people of Pauls' day or have I pressed a foreign meaning on the text? I don't think I have.

How else are we going to understand true vs. false teachings unless we make correct inferences about what those teachings are from the Scriptures?

Regards, and thanks for reading.