Who Owns the Title to Orthodoxy?

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Orthodoxy–authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine, or practice. Many claim it for themselves.

But I ask: who really gets to own this word?

Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, wrote last year claiming “orthodoxy” for the conservative arm of the United Methodist Church:

What we actually have is a group (however imperfectly) which is committed to historic Christianity. The second group (however imperfectly) is committed to a re-imagined church. One, however flawed, is committed to the recovery and defense of historic Christian orthodoxy. The other, however nice and erudite, has not demonstrated a robust commitment to historic Christian orthodoxy. Thus, we actually have two groups; one orthodox and one heterodox.

This last Sunday, I attended a real “Orthodox” church: The Greek Orthodox Church in Dallas, TX. Their doctrines and practices go back much further in Christian history than do the practices of the more recent evangelical movements that claim orthodoxy for themselves.

The Orthodox Churches (Greek, Russian, Bulgarian, etc. are simply language variations of Eastern Orthodoxy) all follow the same liturgy and adhere to the same beliefs. Because they see their doctrine set in 325 a.d. with the formation of the Nicene Creed and forever unchanged, they have a far more plausible claim to the word “Orthodox.”

However, the Eastern Orthodox view of salvation is far different than the substitutionary atonement theory that has become the only acceptable view for current evangelicals.

This short video gives a simple and understandable overview of the differences between the two views:

Recently, the Wesley Brothers website published this great cartoon about the various understandings of atonement.

atonement theories of relativity


A more full explanation of the atonement theories can be found here. Many of these understandings reach deep into Christian theological history, yet are not affirmed or taught by those who now lay claim to the title of “orthodox.”

We easily slam others for having inadequate or simply wrong belief systems. However, everyone in a particular system is sure he/she is right.

I recently saw this blog about someone who grew up as Jehovah’s Witness, sure that it was the only way to salvation until he discovered that others in far different traditions claim the same thing.

After my year spent visiting as many different faith traditions as possible, I, too, am more aware than ever that each of us owns a deep certainty about our own bedrock beliefs.

Now, we cannot all be right. There are significant differences, with gaps too big to pull under one big human-created tent.

But we can all be wrong–and there is power is being able to understand that. When I say “wrong” I mean at the very least, “incomplete, partial, seeing through a glass darkly, imperfect.”

Our upbringings, our prejudices, our educations, our privileges or lack of privileges all combine to mean that we read and see things differently. That includes the Bible–we will interpret it differently even if we hold to the same presuppositions about the accuracy and truth of the texts themselves.

When we acknowledge that all of us are wrong, we have hope of making peace with one another.

The call to Christian unity has never meant a call to unanimity. From the earliest workings out of our faith, there have been deep disputes about practices and beliefs. The power of the Gospel is not that we all think alike, but that we all kneel before the name of Jesus in humble gratitude for his willingness to empty himself and become like us.

Let us never forget the words to that great Wesleyan Hymn, “And Can it Be?”

He left his Father’s throne above

(so free, so infinite his grace!),

emptied himself of all but love,

and bled for Adam’s helpless race.

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,

for O my God, it found out me!

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,

for O my God, it found out me!

Mercy for all–and that mercy seeks all of us, calls all of us to the love of God and to love of neighbor, even in our deep differences.

We unite not because we think or believe perfectly alike, but because we are all wrong and grateful and that the True Right finds us out anyway.

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