Understanding Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy & Heresy
Orthodoxy... heterodoxy... heresy?
Terms such as these are often tossed about on religious forums like rice at a wedding, but what do they mean?
What is orthodoxy?
The term orthodoxy is composed of two Greek words – orthos (meaning “correct”) and doxa (meaning both a “view” and “glory”). So we see orthodoxy means “right belief” or “correct praise”. As it relates specifically to Christianity, orthodoxy is the fundamental truth which comprises the correct view of God, giving rise to the correct worship of God.
Example: The Hypostatic Union is an orthodox belief
What is heresy?
Heresy, from the Greek meaning a “preferred opinion” denoting “division”, is a belief so opposed to orthodox Christian theology that it undermines the basic beliefs necessary for effectively understanding salvation in Christ. In short, rather than a God given truth - heresy is a lie which alters our understanding of God so as to obscure salvation.
Those who affirm such beliefs are not Christian, though in some cases they may claim otherwise. Such individuals are properly referred to as heretics.
Example: Denying The Incarnation of Christ is a heresy.
What is heterodoxy?
Heterodoxy, Greek meaning a “different belief”, is an opinion or view outside of the mainstream. Heterodoxy, while not in conformity with the popular or established position is not necessarily an undermining or opposing belief and thus is not heresy.
While the terms and their meanings are fairly straightforward, their implications can vary depending on ecclesiastic setting. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Protestants each employ these terms differently and in defense of their doctrinal positions.
For example, a Roman Catholic believes in the Immaculate Conception – the doctrine that Mary was born sinless and was preserved sinless. They view this as an orthodox position – having declared it official dogma in 1854. However, ask a Protestant about the Immaculate Conception, being careful to note this is not the virgin birth of Christ, and they would likely view it as heresy as it elevates Mary to a state of equality with God and undermines the need for the incarnation of Christ. Meanwhile the Eastern Orthodox reject Augustine’s notion of Original Sin upon which the doctrine of Immaculate Conception is based, and therefore view the doctrine as unnecessary and heterodox (having not officially declared it a heresy).
Determining What is True
As Christians we’re not to measure truth based on how popular or even how familiar a doctrine may be, but rather we are to pursue orthodoxy as revealed in Scripture, affirmed by the early Church - all while being led by the Holy Spirit. We understand a belief may be quite popular and yet still be heretical.
As we addressed in previous articles such as The Corruption of the Church, heresy has been creeping into Christianity since the early days of the faith.
The early Church was not only under threat of physical persecution from the Pharisees and Roman government, but its very teachings were immediately under assault as well. They were warned by God and His Apostles that men, like fierce wolves, would come speaking twisted things to deceive and mislead. We see in Scripture truth and warnings against corruption of the truth. In the writings of the early Church we see the faithful working to spread the Gospel while standing against and refuting heretical corruption.
Today, there is much error being promoted on television, radio, internet and pulpit but sound orthodox Christianity still exists and is there for all who would seek it.