The standard and norm of Christian orthodoxy is of course the Word of God, the Bible. It would seem right and proper to assume that since we have an infallible rule of faith and practice that orthodoxy would come naturally. It is easy to claim orthodoxy yet very difficult to achieve and maintain. We live in a woefully fallen world and that causes orthodoxy to be easier said than done.
We are not naturally orthodox. Romans 8:7 says, “The carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” Christian orthodoxy then naturally begins with regeneration. Yet, even after regeneration and the indwelling of the Spirit of God, orthodoxy is still a difficult endeavor. Always struggling against the flesh, battling against reason and good common sense, orthodoxy strikes against the evil heart resident within. There will always be that evil heart that longs to be unfettered and venture out on its own apart from the God who fashioned it and redeemed it.
A third problem is the imperfect and sinful world we live in. The influences of unbelief, wayward thinking, and error are a constant threat and are always making their attacks on the Christian who would desire to be truly orthodox. Add to the struggle with the old man so many competing ideas that present themselves daily for consideration and Paul’s words become dire: “Bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). For these reasons, Christian orthodoxy can and must make several demands.
To be truly orthodox, the Christian must have a pure heart. As I stated in the last post, orthodoxy is more an exercise of the heart than of the mind. An earnest desire to know God more must be present and an active pursuit of His Truth must follow from that desire. This will flow from a heart longing for God, not one that is unshackled looking for one’s own way. Jeremiah said in 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?” Yet Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Purity of heart comes from acknowledging before God that its pursuit is not natural and much help is needed.
Even though, a mixture of idolatry can invade even the heart with the purest of motives. Some will quickly belittle discussion of sound teaching. Instead of attempting to benefit from such discussion, you might hear something like, “Christ unites and doctrine divides.” “You should not ask, ‘What do you believe?’ Rather you should ask, ‘Whom do you trust?’” The minimization of doctrine is common. Can pursuing Christ with a pure heart substitute for holding to sound teaching? In a sense it can, but it is not sufficient. The apostles taught that to depart from sound teaching is a departure from Christ Himself. “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9).
Purity of heart has its place but only at the beginning. Orthodoxy begins with a pure heart and is sustained by a pure heart, but at best it is orthodoxy’s minimum requirement.
To be truly orthodox, the Christian must have a clear mind. One of my life verses is Matthew 22:37. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Loving God with all your mind is not simply giving mental assent to the teachings of God, but rather willfully embracing them and allowing them to become the texture of who you are. Again, John Murray: “It is thus that we shall become assimilated to [the Word of God] and that it will be assimilated by us.”
Much talk is made of how much one must understand in order to be saved and it may sound as if I am painting a grim picture of excluding the mentally deficient or the very young. In no way am I doing that. I believe the Gospel. I believe that in order to be saved a sinner must see his need for forgiveness, see that it can only be supplied by Jesus, turn from his sinful ways, and accept Jesus’ work on the cross as sufficient to pay the debt for his sins. The Gospel in a nutshell is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, stated more eloquently by the beloved Apostle than I could ever proclaim. “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died according to the Scriptures and that He was buried and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” I believe orthodoxy can end there for the one who is mentally deficient and is by physical limitation unable to understand much more.
For the very young and all the rest (including me), I believe orthodoxy is a continued endeavor. Peter ended his second letter, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” The word grow in the New Testament, auxano, can have the simple meaning of increasing in size, as plants grow, but can also carry a very technical meaning of the increase of Christian growth. Not to mention the fact that “grow” comes to the Christian as a command (present active imperative). And in what are we to grow? We are to grow in grace and knowledge, a perfect union of heart and mind. The Greek word for knowledge is gnosis, which can mean just knowledge in general, but used in this context, it refers specifically to the body of teaching that Peter understood as beginning with the holy prophets and continuing through the apostles of the Lord and Savior (2 Peter 3:2). This perfectly compliments a previous post where I stated, “Sound doctrine is an active pursuit of the Christian.”
To be truly orthodox, a Christian must have clean hands. What use is it to know God’s Word, to believe God’s Word, and to study God’s Word, if we do not practice (obey) God’s Word? Orthodoxy must progress beyond sterile academics. It is a prodigious mistake to think that we can have a reservoir of truth, filled once for all, and that without any further effort, it will supply our needs and the needs of others for the rest of our days. If we ever come to the point where we are content to rest upon our laurels we have already become part of the conceit that is, ultimately, Satan’s deceit. We must constantly replenish our minds and fill our hearts with the pure Word of God that will put us on that path of straight thinking and therefore true orthodoxy.
This leads to a second concern I have, and an exceptional mistake made in holding to orthodoxy as simply an academic exercise. Holding to creeds, affirmations, statements, or confessions does not an orthodox Christian make. Such things are useful tools, but that is exactly what they are; tools. I see nothing inherently wrong with making statements of faith as long as they do not progress beyond the natural bounds of Scripture nor read anything back into the Scriptures; nor should they make any exacting requirements of the members of the body to whom the document serves. Such mistakes elevate creeds and formulas to the status of idols, imposing unnatural requirements upon Christians, that in order to be seen as truly orthodox, one must affirm a statement or creed.
Orthodoxy rather flows from a pure heart, a clear mind, and clean hands, ready to get dirty doing the work of the Lord. The work is done not out of obligation, contractual duty (because You saved me, I will do…), in reverence of a creed, but because one knows God, has been redeemed by Him, and desires to do the right things because they believe the right things about Him. Orthopraxy is borne of orthodoxy; it necessarily follows. Pastor James understood this.
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:18-19). James attacked a wordy and worthless faith. James is referring to the greatest confession that a first century Jew could make, the doctrine that God is one God. Deuteronomy 6:4 was often on the lips of the orthodox Jew and often in the phylacteries they tied upon their foreheads; shema israel adonai elohenu adonai echad. Hear O Israel, the Lord your God the Lord is one. It was the highest confession a Jew could make, that the Lord is one.
James wrote in effect that he agrees that the oneness of God is an important doctrine but on the other hand even the demons acknowledge that. They exercise a rudimentary faith. Even the demons ar orthodox to a certain extent. James however demonstrates the inadequacy of words not backed up by action. “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20). I once heard a preacher call James the New Testament man from Missouri. Missouri is nicknamed the “show me” state. So for James, if you were to tell him you had faith, he would respond by saying, “Show me.”
That is my conclusion to this matter; if you tell me you are orthodox, my response is, “Show me.”
*All Scripture taken from the New King James Version.