After forty years of studying the Bible, the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, the pseudepigraphal writings and the history of the Classical period of the Mediterranean world, I’ve come to the realization that the Church has never been completely Orthodox and that I am neither orthodox, apostate, or a heretic, but simply a Heterodox.
Let’s first examine the definition of Orthodoxy.
Orthodoxy (from Greek ὀρθός, orthos (“right”, “true”, “straight”) and δόξα, doxa (“opinion” or “belief”, related to dokein, “to think”), is adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion. In the Christian sense the term means “conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early Church”.
But we need to be aware that some people consider the early Church to be the fourth through tenth centuries when the great Catholic ecumenical councils met. I’ve even heard Protestant ministers refer to it as the times of the Protestant reformation. But I only consider the first through third centuries as the times of the early Church, before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire by the Edict of Thessalonica, which was jointly issued by Theodosius I, Gratian, and Valentinian II on 27 February 380 AD. It ordered all subjects of the Roman Empire to profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria, making Nicene Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.
Before Rome conquered the Church there was a form of unity amongst Christians of the early Church, for they were all subject to persecution. The early Christians had “all things in common, except women;” they lived as social outcasts, hiding in deserted catacombs, and being thrown to lions and boiled in oil. They more or less adhered to the Apostolic teachings and what would become known as, The Old Roman Symbol, which was referred to by Tertullian and Irenaeus in the late second and early third centuries. Here is a translation from the Latin text. The Greek text adds, “life everlasting” at the end.
I believe in God the Father almighty;
and in Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord,
Who was born from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
Who under Pontius Pilate was crucified and buried,
on the third day rose again from the dead,
ascended to heaven,
sits at the right hand of the Father,
whence He will come to judge the living and the dead;
and in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Church,
the remission of sins,
the resurrection of the flesh.
I am in complete agreement with this creed and in the early Church age I would have been considered completely Orthodox, but now I’m definitely Heterodox because I do not believe in latter creeds and the primacy of any church’s traditions. I only believe in clear precise statements found in the Bible. So to me the theology of the Trinity is not a litmus test of your salvation and I’ve found very few people who can accurately state what the exact theology of the Trinity is let alone the Hypostatic Union, Homoousian theory or that the Holy Spirit is a person as some believe.
Let’s examine Heterodoxy.
Heterodoxy in a religious sense means “any opinions or doctrines at variance with an official or orthodox position”. Under this definition, heterodoxy is similar to unorthodoxy, while the adjective “heterodox” could be applied to a dissident. So I’m not a heretic or an apostate, I am merely a dissident heterodox.
The great Protestant minister, commentator and preacher Charles H. Spurgeon summed up the distinctions rather well when he proclaimed,
“…you shall find spiritual life in every church. I know it is the notion of the bigot, that all the truly godly people belong to the denomination which he adorns. Orthodoxy is my doxy; heterodoxy is anybody else’s doxy who does not agree with me.”
C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 17 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1871), 449.
So if you should encounter “Christians” who want to brand you a heretic, cult member or an apostate because you were not dunked three times or you do not accept their teachings as the only thought on any given theology, rejoice because none of the Apostles would have agreed with every Orthodox theology as you find it in mainstream denominations today.
May the One God bless you and keep you. I ask this in the name of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ our Lord. And may the Holy Spirit guide you in the Way of the Truth.