Answering reader questions about orthodoxy

Does orthodoxy exist in stagnation?
Perhaps not, but it also doesn’t exist apart from history.  While we can’t declare without a doubt what someone will call orthodox tomorrow, we can make a pretty good judgment about what’s considered orthodox today, as well as what was “orthodox” in various contexts and at various times throughout the past two thousand years.  If someone has been unorthodox in the Christian mind since unorthodoxy “began,” then it can probably be considered unorthodox from a historic Christian perspective.

Are Protestants orthodox?
Schism can corrupt, preserve, or have nothing to do with orthodoxy, so from breaking off, alone, we know nothing about a group’s commitment to orthodoxy, even as historically understood by the Church.  Even one that thinks Protestants have some wrong theology or that Catholics have some wrong theology can consider one or both groups “orthodox” when it comes to a lot of basic tenets of Christianity.  Clearly, determining orthodoxy is largely subjective–but considering the perspectives of those unlike us (in theology, time, or culture) can help us keep a more balanced approach.  If Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians would all (at most points in history) have considered an individual or group unorthodox, I think it’s pretty hard to make a case that they represent Christianity as understood by Christians throughout the ages.

Who defines orthodoxy?
Individuals.  Groups of people.  Whoever wants to.  What counts?  Nothing really counts as far as defining what’s truly right belief—we don’t create truth by believing it.  As far as how people should label themselves, however, I think that when you go against the historic self-understanding of a group, especially a group as diverse as the Church, you should consider ceasing use of the Christian label.

A complicated way of trying to simplify things (I’m good at that):

Catholics believe A, B, and C.
Protestants believe A, D, and E.
Orthodox believe A, F, and G.

They all claim Christianity.  And we don’t need to know which one of them is “right” right now.

If an individual believes J, K, and maybe even B and G and D but not A, should they use the label “Christian”?  To me, it is just not accurate.  All words have been subjectively assigned to concepts, but if the term you wish to use is already associated with a possibly related but ultimately different concept, why not just choose a new word?  It seems irrelevant who is truly the “most orthodox” when it’s already clear that according to any historic Christian standard, a new group isn’t.  It also becomes irrelevant precisely what Christians before all of the councils and creeds believed—for regardless of how diverse the movement began, there are certain ways in which it defined its borders, borders which have existed now for a long, long time.  Whether or not they are correct borders, they are there.

What about orthopraxy?  And what we can learn from the “unorthodox”?
Caring about orthodoxy need not mean we neglect good deeds, and challenging conversations can still happen as interfaith dialogue.  Sometimes when our beliefs are better defined, I think those conversations can be even more productive.

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