What are Christians talking about when they’re talking about “orthodoxy?” Or maybe more to the point, what ought Christians be talking about when they’re talking about “orthodoxy?” Orthodoxy, broadly defined, is what the Church has claimed is true. These are the claims that the Church (whether Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant) has historically affirmed. The particulars of what those affirmations *are* aside, I want to talk about the relationship between Truth, truth and orthodoxy, and then suggest some reflections.
Capital T “Truth” is what is actually true. To hold that there is such a thing as Truth is a faith claim, but one that I and most people that I know are comfortable with. Lower-case “truth” is what I believe to be true. Whether or not what I believe to be true is, in fact, Truth, I can’t know, but I can believe that it is true.
What then is “orthodoxy”? Orthodoxy is not necessarily Truth. The Church could be wrong about what it affirms. Orthodoxy is not what *I* believe is true. *I* don’t get to make up what the Church has affirmed. We inherit it as a gift. Orthodoxy is what the Church has believed and does believe is true. Whether or not it accords with Truth and whether or not it accords with me or you, are different questions.
Why might any of this matter?
I see a real tendency to blur these distinctions and enter into category confusion that isn’t helpful for dialog between Christians of differing traditions nor is it helpful for Christian’s dialog with the wider world. If what *I* believe is synonymous with “orthodoxy” anyone who disagrees with *me* is a “heretic!” If what *I* believe is synonymous with Truth, anyone who disagrees with *me* is flat wrong or worse, delusional.
Just as individuals don’t get to make up what orthodoxy is, individuals don’t get to make up what heresy is. Heresy is NOT ‘things that I disagree with strongly.’ Heresy is that which is contrary to the received orthodoxy of the Church. Individuals also don’t get to make up what Truth is. Truth just *is* whether you or I affirm it or not, and since all we have is what we believe to be true, a healthy dose of humility is in order when making claims about we believe is Truth.
What shall we say then?
Any claim about anything has a particular starting point. I want to suggest a few things…
- Christians ought to reflect on their beliefs as, first of all, ‘personal beliefs.’ What *I* think is true. Before we claim “orthodoxy” or “Truth” we must claim “us” as the subjective and fallible beings that we are.
- Christians ought to reflect on their ‘personal beliefs’ as not ‘our own.’ Much history and various influences get us to place we are today, believing the things that we do. We need to see that, appreciate it, and reflect on it often.
- Christians ought to reflect on orthodoxy as not ‘our own.’ We don’t get to adjust the content or the scope of Christian orthodoxy. We reflect on whether or not what we believe is in accordance with it, and we do our best to recognize when what else we believe is not a matter of either orthodoxy or heresy.
- Christians ought to reflect on the pursuit of Truth as not ‘Our own.’ The Church doesn’t own the Truth. We have orthodoxy and we have what else we affirm and we trust it’s Truth. We have Christian community, Church tradition and its scriptures to help us along the way.