Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy, and Heresy – Important Words with Important Differences

Orthodoxy-Heterodoxy-HeresyI often see words and terms tossed about on social media without clarification that I feel should be clarified. It is my firm belief that we all need to be careful about how we use words and phrases when we write or speak, and we need to seek to understand how others are using terms when we’re reading and listening. How terms are defined and used make all the difference when seeking to understand or be understood.

The terms I want to address with this post are orthodoxy, heterodoxy, and heresy. These are words that are not always easy to define or describe and yet the differences between them are very important. Misunderstanding these terms leads to miscommunication and, often, unnecessary strife.

I have a couple of further disclaimers before I give my descriptions and uses of these three terms.

  1. In my definition of orthodoxy, I am not using this term to address what is known as the Orthodox (capitalized) churches, such as Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc. I am writing about the basic definition of the word orthodoxy (lowercase) as it relates to followers of Christ.
  2. These are not easy terms to define or describe as they seem to have some ambiguity built in, especially as they deal with people’s belief systems. What one person considers orthodox, another may consider heterodox, and what is heretical to some is orthodox to others.

With those disclaimers out of the way, here is my take on these words.

Orthodoxy (from Greek “correct belief”)
The true and correct teachings of Scripture. In my position, orthodoxy is the body of teachings of the Evangelical church so far as it corresponds to the truth of Scripture. The belief that Jesus is fully God is an orthodox belief.
Heterodoxy (from Greek “different belief”)
Beliefs or teachings that differ from orthodoxy but not so much as to be categorized as heresy. Those who hold to heterodox beliefs are still within the fold of Christ and are saved, though they are mistaken about some non-essential issues. The age-old debate between Calvinism (or monergism) and Arminianism (or synergism) is an example of what may be a heterodox belief. These systems are opposed to one another and therefore cannot both be orthodox, but neither is heretical.
Beliefs or teachings that differ from orthodoxy to such a degree that they can no longer be called beliefs of Christianity. Those who hold these beliefs, properly understood, fall outside of the fold of Christ and are not saved. The belief that Jesus did not physically die on the cross (e.g., Docetism) is an example of a heretical view.

Everyone who traffics in truth (which should be every true believer in Christ) believes that their understanding of Scripture is the correct understanding and is therefore orthodox, so there is obviously a blurry line between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. However, I believe that every true believer holds some heterodox beliefs. Throughout our Christian lives we seek to grow in our understanding of what Scripture teaches, correcting our heterodox beliefs when we become aware of them. In this way we grow more and more orthodox, more and more in line with the true teaching of Scripture.

I also believe that there are some who are truly saved that hold to some heretical view because of ignorance or misunderstanding only. This is simply a matter of training or education for such brothers and sisters. They hold to views that they do not fully understand. Given the correct understanding, those who are true believers will abandon heretical beliefs.

Regarding mistakes with the word heresy, I have seen two extremes:

  1. I have seen people say of someone with whom they disagree that he or she is a heretic but still saved. I believe that is a contradiction; a true heretic is outside of Christianity.
  2. I have also seen people say of someone with whom they disagree that he or she is not saved because of a belief that they hold which should rightly be called heterodox. They would say that anything beyond orthodoxy, as they understand it, disqualifies the person from being saved. I disagree with this position based on the word descriptions above.

One more thought on the word orthodoxy. Some will disagree with my definition, claiming that the classic definition of orthodoxy is that which the church has taught down through the ages. The problem I have with that definition is that the teachings of the church through the ages has been erroneous in some cases, having been corrected later. This makes the classic definition somewhat useless, in my opinion.

In closing, let me say that these are very basic descriptions of these words as I see them. Some will certainly disagree. Regardless of the positions we hold, as we discus and debate them we should be careful with how we use the words we use, giving and asking for definitions where needed.

I hold to some beliefs that others—even most—would consider heterodox. I have been in debates and discussions that have challenged my beliefs on many issues. These encounters have forced me to re-evaluate those beliefs. I have studied what Scripture says about those beliefs and have either come away having changed my belief or having a firmer hold on my belief. Both have happened and I imagine both will continue to happen. It is in this way that we grow in our knowledge of God and his word.


A Simple Plea to Decide—Yes or No?

hard or easyI want to tell you something that I believe is a true statement. I then want to get your reaction to that statement. But this is not just an academic exercise; there are rewards or earnings for your decision. There are positives and negatives involved. So, here is the statement and the simple plea for your reaction to it.

The Statement:

God created you. You are, therefore, owned by God. You are given over to his command by right of that creation. There is an eternal penalty for disobedience—the penalty of death. Since you have disobeyed, you are under that penalty. The only way out of that sentence of damnation is for someone else—someone who is like you (human) and who is worthy—to pay the penalty for you. That human substitute has to be absolutely perfect in order to qualify. No one is perfect but God alone. So, if you are to be rescued from the penalty that you rightly owe, God has to become a man, live the perfect life you failed to live, and then die in your place. Jesus, who is God, did that very thing!

All who believe that and who place their hope and trust in Jesus alone as the righteous substitute that he is, will receive the perfect righteousness of Jesus as Jesus received their imperfections and paid for them with his life.

If you will change your lifestyle from whatever it is, if you will turn from your current trajectory in life, if you will turn to Jesus and give your life over to him and place yourself under his command—the command that he rightly owns—as his slave, he will apply the payment of your debt to you, declare you righteous, and rescue you from the penalty of death. You will live your life on this earth with real meaning and purpose and you will then live forever with him.

If you will not believe this statement, if you refuse to give God his rightful claim over you, you will pay the penalty for the debt that you owe.

Your Reaction?

So, today, make a choice. The choice has to be made during this lifetime. As I’m sure you’re aware, you are not promised a single more moment to live on this earth. According to one report 151,600 people die each day; that’s almost 6,317 each hour. I would guess that many of them didn’t see it coming.

So make the choice. Yes or No. For Jesus or against him. The default position is that you pay your own debt, which will mean an eternity of suffering. So if you make no decision at all, you decide against the payment of Jesus.

I beg of you to decide for Jesus and change your life. Call out to him. Pray to him. Tell him that you want his payment to apply to your account. Tell him that you want to live for him now and for eternity. Tell him that you want to be under his command rather than your own. Will you cry out to God today?

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” —Romans 10:13

“Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” —John 3:36

Modern-Day Idolatry Is All-Encompassing

idolatry-answeredHave you thought much about the biblical sin of idolatry lately? Most people don’t think much about it because, after all, it’s not something that we deal with too much in the 21st century West. We don’t see many people bowing down and worshiping statues and shrines today, do we? But is that all idolatry entails? Is bowing down to an Asherah pole the full idea behind the biblical prohibition against idolatry?

I don’t think so. In fact, I think idolatry is the most pervasive of all sins. To be more precise, I am now convinced that all sin is a form of idolatry.

My friend and I are going through the book of First Corinthians in our Bible study right now and we just finished up the section in 10:14-22. This is part of a major section of this letter from Paul to the church in Corinth; it starts in 8:1 and goes to 11:1. In this section Paul is addressing a concern that was brought up in a letter that Paul received from the Corinthian church, that of whether or not it’s OK to eat meat sacrificed to idols. In this section he’s more specifically addressing the issue of Christian freedom as it pertains to eating meat sacrificed to idols in the temple dedicated to that idol.

Here’s the passage:

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (ESV)

And here are the final notes to that section as they were summarized in this morning’s study.

Participation is repeated several times in this passage. The word used most often for participation is koinōnia which is frequently translated fellowship in the NT.

New Testament authors expressed the essence of Christianity in one word. It is the Greek word koinõnia usually translated as “fellowship.” St. Paul reduces the whole Christian vocation to a koinõnia when he writes “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship (koinõnia) of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9). St. Luke uses the same term to depict the life of the first Christians: “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship (koinõnia), and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). 1 John goes a step further and affirms “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship (koinõnia) with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Fellowship with Christ, leading to a fellowship with the Father, and fellowship with one another in Christ: there you have Christianity in one word.
(from the Overview of the book Koinōnia in the New Testament: A Dynamic Expression of Christian Life by George Panikulam • Pontifical Biblical Institute 1979)

By participating, or having fellowship, with demonic activity, we are joining ourselves in the same way to demons as we should to Christ. This is a smack in the face of the God who saved us and must be avoided at all costs.

An idol is anything that replaces the one, true God as an object of devotion. The most prevalent form of idolatry in Bible times was the worship of images that were thought to embody the various pagan deities. From the very beginning of God’s covenant relationship with Israel, the people were to worship God alone.

Idolatry extends beyond the worship of idols and images and false gods, however. Our modern idols are many and varied. Even for those who do not bow physically before a statue, idolatry is a matter of the heart—pride, self-centeredness, greed, gluttony, a love for possessions, and ultimately rebellion against God.

All the various forms of modern idolatry have one thing at their core: self. We no longer bow down to idols and images, but all too frequently we worship at the altar of the god of self. This brand of modern idolatry takes various forms.

  • Materialism – we like the comfort of things.
  • Pride – we want to make sure people think of us as important, accomplished, or worthy of adulation.
  • Child-worship – we do everything we can, honest or not, to ensure our children get the best education or things or accomplishments.
  • Freedom from discomfort – we often seek out, as primary importance, any escape from the difficulties and pains of life.
  • I’m sure you can think of many more.

The very basic command to us as children of God in a covenant relationship is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mk 12:28-31). We fail at that constantly. In fact, we do not obey that command for more than mere split seconds at a time. We are constantly in disobedience to that command. So, if we are not putting God first, we are putting something else first. That is idolatry.

It is my opinion that any sin is idolatry at its core, of which we are in constant violation. That is bad news. “Oh, wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Ro 7:24-8:1)

Though we are in constant violation, we must strive every moment of every day to avoid idolatry wherever we can. We must constantly seek to serve God in every decision and every activity (cf 2Pt 1:5ff). Anything that comes before that is idolatry.

“Two Crowns” — A Good Friday Poem

by Randy VaderTwoCrowns

Two crowns are placed before Him
So different to behold
Two crowns of different meaning
One of thorns
One of gold

Two crowns that tell the story
Of a blameless life laid down
The King of endless glory
Must choose between the crowns

So He gives up all His riches
Sets the golden crown aside
Takes up the crown of torment
His royalty denied

He gives His life to free us
Takes out sin and takes our loss
And in return we give to Him
Three nails and a cross

“The Corruption Of Spirituality: From Faith to Mysticism”

new-ageThe following is from an article you can read here titled “Learn to Discern: The Corruption of Christianity”. The quote below is #3 on the article’s list of “six transitions that are leading the church into apostasy at an alarming rate.”

I agree with all six of the transitions explained in the article, but I wanted to highlight #3 because I have seen this one quietly gaining much ground, and mostly going unnoticed. This transition from faith to mysticism is a cancer that is slowly eating away at the Church. And it’s not only in the local churches here and there. I’ve seen it in many churches (dare I say, most), and I’ve even seen it taking over the highest levels of leadership of some otherwise sound evangelical organizations with worldwide influence. This is widespread, indeed!

Here’s the paragraph on this from the article.

Biblical faith is simply belief in the Word of God that results in trust and obedience. Abraham is the great example of faith. God gave him a promise and a command (Gen. 12:1-3) and because he believed God’s promise, he obeyed God’s command (Heb. 11:8). The whole Christian life operates on the principle of Biblical faith (Col. 2:5-7), which is dependent on a rational understanding and growing knowledge of Scripture (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Pet. 3:18). But the new paradigm has replaced faith with mysticism. Mysticism is direct communion with God apart from the rational. The Christian life is now founded on, defined by, measured by, and consumed with subjective, sensual, tangible, palpable, sentimental emotions, feelings, and experiences. Personal visions, revelations, signs from heaven, impressions from the Spirit, messages from God, and heart-warming encounters are the new standard. These are the measure of truth, the means of spiritual growth, and the source of assurance of God’s presence. All of these experiences are, of course, justified with an attached Bible verse. Serious, analytical Bible study and sound theology are deemed cold rationalism, dead orthodoxy, and the quenching of the Spirit, all the Scriptural warnings notwithstanding. This transition has opened the doors of the church to almost any false teaching in vogue at any given time. Like a body without an immune system, the church has been overrun by every theological virus known to mankind. Yet the patient has no sense of his condition.

It’s my opinion that this transition is the most dangerous to the church today. It’s so quiet and subtle, and it appears and sounds so good and spiritual, that many people accept it as biblical. Many seminaries offer courses—indeed doctoral degrees—in the practice of this type of mysticism. I’ve heard that there are some accreditation organizations that will not grant accreditation to Christian universities that do not offer this type of contemplative spirituality as a course or degree. This is scary stuff already, much more so when you consider the future of the Church as it’s being trained in these seminaries.

Now, of course I do agree that God is still sovereign and God is still in control of his Church. But that does not mean we can dismiss this trend. Falsehood such as this must be called out and removed as the cancer that it is.

Please pray fervently about this. Please ask our great God to clarify truth in the minds of his people. Please pray for the Church at large, for more and more discernment. And while you’re praying, pray for your own local church family, especially those in positions of leadership and influence.

The Bible alone is our final authority. If we are to seek extra-biblical revelation from God in the form of impressions, images, dreams, etc., then the natural conclusion is that Scripture is not enough for us. It means that the Bible does not contain everything we need to be completely equipped for every good work that God has for us to do (see 2 Timothy 3:15-17).

God has established the Church to reach a dying world for Christ. As members of the Church, we must be about this ministry of reconciliation. But we need to be sure we’re leading people to the correct Jesus and not a false mystical Jesus. Will you consider this today?

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

A Christmas Poem by Amy Walters (2016)

A Christmas Poem by Amy Walters (2016)

Today we celebrate our Savior’s birth,
We contemplate how God came to earth.
We know of the joy that surrounded that day
But remember the reason he came.

For centuries, the prophecies foretold
The Messiah must walk a painful road.
Our minds often go to his death, but then,
When did His suffering begin?

Did it wait for the thorns to tangle a crown?
Did it start with the nails that pierced his hands down?
Did it come when the Father turned away His face
As His Son took our sin and disgrace?

Was it there in the garden of Gethsemane
As those who had called themselves friends instead flee?
Did it come with the kiss from the one who’d betray,
As he sweat drops of blood on that day?

No doubt pain was there in the angry mob
As the whips tore His flesh and made his back throb.
When the people who just the week before cheered,
Now had all gathered to jeer.

But his suffering had started long before
As God lived in flesh and humanity bore.
He learned obedience in suffering,
Jesus, our compassionate King.

Did his feet grow sore as he walked place to place?
He must have felt cold as storm rain lashed his face.
His hunger was strong as he fasted and prayed
And lived in the world He had made.

He wept at the loss of Lazarus, his friend
And saw many friendships come to an end.
Tiredness and hunger were no doubt there
As crowds followed him everywhere.

Did he get blisters while doing his carpentry?
As a boy, did he fall and scrape his knee?
Was he shamed for his out-of-wedlock birth,
As he grew on this fallen earth?

When laid down to sleep, was he scratched by the hay?
Did the noise of the animals keep him awake?
Did he miss the presence of His Father above,
And long for the warmth of His love?

On that sweet morning, when Jesus was born,
When deity arrived in humankind’s form,
He took on the hurts that live on this earth,
From the very day of his birth.

So come bring your comfort to Jesus today
Come with gratitude for the child in the hay
Come and adore the newborn king
Come join with the angels to sing.

Come celebrate that God is near
Fill your heart with warmth and cheer
Come honor the one who suffered for you
And thank Him for all He went through.

The Christmas Carol Soldier — The Story Behind A Poem

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, or if you look back at the archives, you may know that for the last couple of Christmases I’ve posted the lyrics, video, or story of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, originally titled Christmas Bells. Well, it’s that joyous time of year again and this time I wanted to share my favorite Christmas poem with you again, but as told by a Longfellow relative, Robert Girard Carroon, back in 1998.


In March 1863 a seventeen year old native of Cambridge, Massachusetts, slipped away from his home on Brattle Street, hopped aboard a train and headed for Washington D.C. to join Mr. Lincoln’s Army. He was by no means the first or the last youth that simply couldn’t stay home while so many of his peers were off participating in the great adventure of the Civil War, but he may have been the most prominent runaway from Boston and possibly New England that year. His name was Charles Appleton Longfellow, and his father was the great poet and literary scholar, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Charles Appleton Longfellow [pictured] was the eldest son of HWL (as he referred to his father) and Fannie Elizabeth Appleton. He was born in Cambridge on June 9, 1844 and was raised in a loving family, which consisted, besides his parents, of three sisters and one brother. Charley was bright and adventurous and although he became a crack shot with a rifle, he managed to shoot off his left thumb with a shotgun (this eventually kept him out of the infantry when he sought to join the Union Army). His madcap adventures worried his parents and particularly his father. Mrs. Longfellow had died in a tragic fire in their home in 1860 and so Henry, as a single parent, was doubly responsible for his son who had disappeared into the great sea of blue, which was the Union Army.

Soon, however, the mystery was solved; on arrival in Washington Charley had gone to Captain W. H. McCartney, commanding Battery A of the 1st Massachusetts Artillery and asked to enlist. Captain McCartney, who knew the boy, did not want to enlist this young man without his parent’s approval so he immediately wrote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow asking his advice. To his credit, or perhaps knowing his son’s personality, HWL gave permission for Charley to enlist so the only member of the poet’s family to go to war became a private in the 1st Massachusetts Artillery.

Charles Longfellow turned out to be a natural soldier. He grasped the elements of drill, camp, and military life with amazing aptitude. He became a great favorite with his fellow artillerymen and showed decided leadership skills, which commended him to his superior officers. In the meantime his father, thinking that his son might do better as an officer rather than a rough hewn enlisted man and began to contact friends, such as Senator Charles Sumner, Governor John Andrew and Dr. Edward B. Dalton, medical inspector of the Sixth Army Corps, with a view to obtaining a commission for his son. As he started to engage in this process of string pulling, Mr. Longfellow was surprised to hear that all his machinations were unnecessary-on his own merits Charley was offered a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, and had accepted. He was commissioned on March 27, 1863. Charley entered on his new duties with enthusiasm and was assigned to Company “G” of the 1st Massachusetts. His first action came on the fringes of the Battle of Chancellorsville. In early June Charley came down with typhoid fever and malaria and was invalided home to recover. After recuperating Charley rejoined his unit on August 15, 1863, having missed the Battle of Gettysburg. In mid-September he was in a fight at Culpepper where quartermaster sergeant Read, who was standing next to Charley had his leg taken off by artillery round. On November 27, as part of the Mine Run Campaign, while in a skirmish during the battle of New Hope Church, Virginia, Charley was shot through the left shoulder. The bullet traveled across his back, nicked his spine, and exited under his right shoulder. He missed being paralyzed by less than an inch. He was carried into the church and then by ambulance to the Rapidan River. On December 1, 1863, word was received at the Longfellow home in Cambridge of Charles serious injury. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his younger son, Ernest, left at once for Washington, D.C. where they finally met up with Charley and brought him home. They reached Cambridge on December 8 and Charles Appleton Longfellow began the slow process of recovering. As he sat nursing his son and giving thanks for his survival, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the following poem:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!

Charles Appleton Longfellow was unable to sufficiently recover from his wounds and rejoin the army. He was discharged on February 15, 1864. Charles was independently wealthy with inheritances from his grandfather, Nathan Appleton and his mother, and spent the rest of his life travelling the globe from Europe to India, Australia, Africa and the Far East, especially Japan. Charles died on April 13, 1893, in Cambridge from pneumonia and is buried in the family vault in Mt. Auburn Cemetery. The souvenirs of his travels as well as his uniforms and accoutrements from his service in the Union Army are at Longfellow House in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

On May 3, 1871, Charles Appleton Longfellow as elected a Companion of the First Class of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion through the Commandery of Massachusetts and assigned Insignia No. 1476. He was also a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, where he actively participated in a number of sharpshooting contests. In July 1998, quite serendipitously, I was able to purchase from an antique dealer, a group of insignia belonging to Charles Appleton Longfellow, which consisted of His MOLLUS, GAR, and MVM sharpshooter’s medals. As I am Charley’s 5th cousin 3 times removed a portion of the memorabilia of the man I like to call the “Christmas Carol Soldier” has returned to his family. The items are displayed on my mantle together with a nice photo of Charles obtained from the MOLLUS Collection at the USMHI at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The medals will eventually be donated to the Longfellow House and the National Park Service to take their place with Charley’s other memorabilia: but not, I hope, for a good long while. In the meantime, keep an eye out for MOLLUS Insignia-you never know who might turn up!

I received this story from http://suvcw.org/mollus/art005.htm