March 31, 2009


In lieu of a some discussions happening over at New Ways Forward (What Is Unity Worth and Rule of Faith) and continued over at Dan Martin's site, I wanted to just add to the discussion to some degree. This will consist of two posts: one talking about the essential doctrines of Christendom, and this one regarding the concept of "right" Christianity.

The Orthos

The Greek word orthos means right, straight, or correct (which is used only once in Scripture, where Paul tells a crippled man to "stand straight"). For the sake of simplicity, we'll go with correct. So when I am discussing the orthos, what I mean is the right faith, or what is truly Christian.

Throughout Scripture we get a sense that there are many that claim to be Christian that are not. Jesus said:

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'
-Matthew 7:21-23

and John teaches us:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
-I John 2:3-6

And so we know that tests of Christian faith are appropriate, for the claim of Christ is not the same as being a follower of Christ. Therefore, the question is how should we test a person's orthos?


Orthodoxy means "right doctrine" or "correct teaching". To test a person's orthodoxy is to test a person's beliefs. Indeed, out of all the ways to test a person's orthos, this is the one we hear of the most, and is assumed within Protestant circles as the best way.

Naturally the best judge of orthodoxy is Scripture. I agree with the concept of Sola Scriptura as articulated by the magisterial reformers. In this view, Scripture is viewed as the only infallible teaching on the faith, though other teachers may be viewed as authoritative. What is known as the Rule of Faith, or the standard core of Christian testimony, character, and world-view, as articulated through the historical teachers of the Church acts as a guide to interpreting Scriptures. In defining this, Thomas Oden helps:

By orthodoxy I mean integrated biblical teaching as interpreted in its most consensual classic period. More simply put, orthodoxy is ancient consensual
scriptural teaching.
{Thomas Oden, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy, (New York, New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003) 29}
Like Dr. Oden, I am what has come to be known as paleo-orthodox, meaning that we seek orthodox understanding by examining the full breadth of Christian historical teaching, focusing on those areas which are held in consensus and are consistent with Scripture.

However, it is important to note that orthodoxy, even in its best form, cannot tell us who is truly Christian. All it can do is tell us who is not. Thus, orthodoxy, by its very nature, is more divisive than anything else. This isn't necessarily bad, for we need to separate out the good teaching from the bad teaching to protect the flock. But a focus on orthodoxy as the test for orthos will result in more and more division (as we can see within Protestantism).

Additionally, an overemphasis on it can lead to a form of gnosticism, where one begins to believe that someone can be saved by affirming a certain set of ideas. But we are not saved by our assent to Christ's existence and activities, but by our faith and trust in Him personally. The gnosticism that is sweeping so much of evangelicalism must be undone.

Thus there needs to be a better way.


Orthopraxy means "right practice" or "correct behavior". This is not the same thing as moral living, though it includes moral living. It also includes the rites of the church, such as baptism, marriage, Eucharist, ordination, etc. It is looking at the full lifestyle, as in the pattern by which you live your life.

A Christian is expected to live like a Christian. This is the standard which is maintained by the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church (despite the name). And there is something higher and more biblical (IMO) by judging a person by orthopraxy over orthodoxy.

However, there are two problems that are associated with focusing on orthopraxy. The first is recognising that, like orthodoxy, it does not guarantee that a person is a Christian. One could just be going through the motions. So, once again, orthopraxy becomes more divisive than anything else. This is especially true since certain practices are culturally bound, and can become more than that if we are not careful. We see this today in the "worship wars" that are going on.

Additionally, because orthopraxy includes moral living, an overemphasis can lead to legalism. This has occurred in many places within the Catholic Church's history (though I will insist that the RCC isn't legalistic in doctrine). Legalism can confuse the matter in terms of what causes salvation. Orthopraxy is the results of salvation, not the cause, and those caught up in legalism can often forget that. Our good works are but filthy rags in the eyes of God, unless washed by the blood of Christ. It is the blood that saves us, nothing else.


Orthopathy means "right pathos" or "correct attitude". It is my belief that the true measure of a person's orthos, is one's orthopathy. Do you have the attitude that Christ teaches us we are to have? When you look at the Sermon of the mount, you see Christ attempting to shift our focus from the earthly realms and the earthly tests, toward the heavenly ones. It is by orthopathy we will ultimately judged.

This does not mean that orthodoxy and orthopraxy are unimportant. Indeed, it makes them more important, for it is orthodoxy and orthopraxy that shape your attitude, it is is by your attitude that your actions and beliefs will continue to be shaped.

As a human being, I cannot truly see what your attitude is, but I can see what your beliefs are, and what your actions are. Because I can see these things, it is primarily by these things that I judge you. But God sees the heart, and it is by your pathos that He judges you.

But if we cannot see each other's attitudes, then isn't considering orthopathy somewhat moot? Not really. If you judge a person purely by doctrines or actions, then we are likely to condemn based on a certain set of actions or beliefs. But if you know in your mind that you are attempted to gauge a person's attitude through their doctrines and actions, then you can temper legalism and gnosticism on focus on the person. This is the hallmark of Christian faith that values loving a person over anything else. They will know we are Christians by our love.

Thus, I will encourage each of you to focus on orthopathy. Attempt to shape it in your own walk in Christ, and judge one another by this before anything else. This is our calling from Scripture, and it is higher and more heavenly than simply judging the things we can see.


Dan Martin said...

JC, I appreciate the nuance you are describing here. It is a struggle, and as long as approached with humility and in community, it's a necessary struggle. It's when we get the metrics of orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy out of balance (and IMHO most of the time they ARE out of balance) that nasty things start happening.

Your reminder of the nuance between infallible and authoritative is also useful. I might (or might not) draw the line differently than you, but it's a line that needs to be recognized.



ps, I don't know why I haven't been following your blog more faithfully before now--an oversight on my part given your useful dialog on mine and Mason's. Consider it rectified! ;{)

Jc_Freak: said...

Actually, I might say the same about your blog. I believe today is the first time I've commented on it, and I've always loved your thoughts over at Mason's.

Pizza Man said...

How about orthofruit? :)

Dan Martin said...

Oh, man, JC, if it's mangos I have to concede I really am anathema! ;{)

Jc_Freak: said...

Ok, for all those that didn't know, I made a reference to Kevin that right fruit had to be mangos. I then thought this wasn't very funny, so I deleted before anyone read it, or so I thought. Apparently Dan read it, and made a funnier joke.

Lesson, don't edit comments. Now I'm off to shower to get egg off my face.

Pizza Man said...

Mine was pretty dumb, yours couldn't have been any worse. :)

Jc_Freak: said...

I think the problem was in acknowledging your joke ;) (jk)

Mason said...

JC, while I can’t say I’ve ever heard people use the term orthopathy I like the direction you are taking it.
The intention behind someone’s beliefs and practices is incredibly important, and looking at their faith in this way allows a more charitable assessment of places we might feel they fall short of what Christianity is about, so long as we can see they are trying to get there.

I wonder though how you would respond to a teacher who, though possessing an amazing passion for living for God and a real desire to understand his Word rightly, is teaching something clearly unorthodox (like denying the deity of Christ) or living in a way clearly outside the bounds of orthopraxy (marital infidelity or something like that).
Couldn’t they have all the best intentions and still end up posing a threat to those under their teaching?

Jc_Freak: said...


To me, that is more of a polity issue. Someone like that should not be in leadership. I'll be getting more into this in my next post, been when it comes to recieving a position within the church where you can teach and lead, you need more than just the right heart. Just like you need more then a desire to help people to be a doctor. You need skills and training, and in America evangelicalism and its antiintellectualism, we often promote people for the wrong reasons, setting them up to fall.