What is orthodox Christianity?

by Justin 16 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • Justin

    We frequently contrast what Jehovah's Witnesses believe with orthodox Christianity (or what they call "Christendom"). But what does orthodox Christianity look like if allowed to stand on its own, not defending itself from outside attack? The Archbishop of Canterbury (Rowan Williams) recently gave his own description to a group of non-Christians - his audience being at the Islamic University in Islamabad. This description is not in reply to a competing form of Christianity. As the representative of the Anglican branch of the Christian family, the Archbishop attempts to present Christianity at its best.

    Link: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/articles/40/75/acns4081.cfm

  • Nate Merit
    Nate Merit

    Hello Justin

    It isn't necessary for me to read what Archbishop Rowan Williams had to say to a group of Muslims to know what Orthodox Christianity is. Orthodox Christianity is not a response or reaction ot Islam, except in one instance.

    Modern Christians have a difficult time wrapping their minds around what early Christianity was actually like. They seem to think early Christians were much like today. That we could find Bible thumping evangelicals and fundies in the early church, that the modern church is pretty much simply a continuation of what existed in the past. Such is not the case.

    Orthodox Christianity, in its simplest most authentic expression, resulted as a reaction to the teachings of various "heretical" movements/teachings. People weren't running around with their personal copies of the Bible. There were no Bibles. It would be hundreds of years before the canon of Scripture was settled upon, and over athousand years before the invention of the printing press began to make printed copies of the Bible affordable for everyday people.

    Instead, the early church had a certain oral tradition, a "catholic" (small c) tradition, of the content of the Christian faith. It existed separate from the NT, which did not yet exist as an authoritative body of fixed books which could be consulted. The faith was expressed mainly in the annual Liturgical cycle of feasts and fasts, in iconography, hymnody, the sacraments. A sort of Christianity via consensus of participation, not simply a Christianity via an abstract intellectual conception of theoretical dogmas. The early church lived it's faith, it did not sit around studying it faith from a nonexistent unavailable Bible. This is so hard to get fundiots and their somewhat brighter cousins, the evangelicals to understand.

    For the early Church, Christianity was not a list of abstract dogmas to be believed but a way of life in union with Christ that was to be expressed within the community of faith via participation not via ratiocination as it is in modern Thumper religion. Christianity was a complex and rich fabric not of abstractions but of culture. Music, art, processions, chants, prayers, psalms and hymns, of an entire yearly cycle of various commemorations that were not simply dead holidays as they are today. It was a total immersion into a living faith Tradition lived out in community that predated the Bible.

    When various "Heretics" arose, they were recognized as such not because someone had a NT and was able to quote Book, Chapter, and Verse (in fact, it was the heretics that first resorted to this method as they do today), but were recognized as heretics because their teachings and practices were not part of the Tradition, a Tradition that incorporated every aspect of life both communal and individual. Christianity was personal, but not private as it is today. It was very much a communal life. By communal I mean community. Today Christianity among protestants, evangelicals, and fundys is not only personal but private. "Me and Jesus and my Bible." Such a life completely denies the nature of the BODY of Christ and in fact encourages and expects each part of the Body to be off doing its own thing.

    So, when one of the earliest arch-heretics arose, Arius, his novel teaching caused great commotion among the community of faith for the simple fact they were not the majority consenus. Arius appealed to the Bible, as do the 35,000 sects today, rather than the Tradition. He nearly succeeded in changing Christianity from a faith that lived the Deity and true humanity of Christ to one that denied it. Athanasius was the hero of the day, having penned a brilliant refutation of Arius titled On The Incarnation which is available in English. It was on the basis of the Tradition, the Consensus, that was lived out by each memeber of the Body of Christ, that heretics such as Athanasius were defeated.

    This process continued for many centuries. As new heretics and heresies arose, the Tradition of faith was the final arbiter, over and against the Bible-wielding heretics. The church fell back upon Christianity as they had lived it and known it for centuries. In reaction to these heretics the church formulated and adopted a number of doctrinal positions that were expressed in creedal form. For the Easter or Byzantine church, this process came to a close with the Second Council of Nicea in the ninth century I believe. The Byzantine church recognizes a total of seven such councils, which are referred to as Ecumenical because most of the various geographical expressions of the church catholic participated and later ratified these councils. The Western, or Roman half of the church catholic continued these councils for many centuries more. However, since such Roman councils were not truly Ecumenical (did not include the many Eastern churches and Patriarchates).

    So, my answer to you is an historical one. Orthodoxy is that type of Christianity that does not simply have the Bible as its base (which results in the unstoppable sectarian splintering that has become a cancer on the life of the church since the Reformation), but the continuous living Tradition which it had known and lived from the beginning.

    Any other answer is a purely subjective one, based on the answerers own personal/private interpretations, or their own narrow (and recent) sects abstract understanding of Christianity.

    Nathaniel J. Merritt
    December fifth, 2005

  • Nate Merit
    Nate Merit

    Modern day Protestants, especially fundamentalists (who are the ignoramuses of the Christian world) and to a lesser extent evangelicals, have a very odd notion that somehow the Bible created the church rather than the church having created the Bible. Even if they do not think this on a conscious level it's evident in their writings they do in fact believe this on an unconscious level.

    The facts of the matter is that the New Testament is the product of the Christian church, not vice-versa. Let's have a look at the unspoken unconscious silliness that is lodged deep in the unconscious of the fundamentalist. "The Bible fell out of the Sky! The early church found it lying there, they studied it, and then formed the church accordingly! The Holy Spirit led them all into a correct understanding of the New Testament." How assinine. How ahistorical. How juvenile. What a fantastic fairy tale!

    Those who penned the NT books were members of the church, the Body of Christ. It was the church that passed these books on and finally canonized them. The church produced the NT.

    Most fundamentalists and evangelicals also think the church immediately selected the current crop of NT books and used them exclusively. Such is not the case. The books of the so-called NT are just a sampling of the hundreds of gospels and epistles and apocalypses that were circulating for centuries in the church catholic. These books were accepted as just as "inspired" as any others. It took centuries of squabbling and conciliar councils to finally decide on the paltry few books of the current NT. This was not accomplished in an historical vacuum by a process of spiritual osmosis. On the contrary. The grassroots level didn't own books, so no "spiritual osmosis" was happening. No, the selection of the NT books was done by the church catholic meeting in council. It took many centuries and many councils to finally iron this issue out. At least to their own satisfaction.

    It was this question of authority, of asking "Who says these are the right books? Who says all these other books aren't inspired? Who says such and such is the correct (or Orthodox, literally orthos/straight doxia/glory) teaching? that led me to embrace the Orthodox Church for a time. If one is going to be a straightforward Biblicist, then one should enter the Church that wrote it, selected it, canonzied it, and brought it to the present. One should enter the Church whose faith preceded the NT, the Church which lived a common catholic life long before the NT was canonized. The church catholic that said "This is true Christianity, and this is not." If you're a Trinitarian who accepts the full Deity and true Humanity of Jesus Christ, as well as the contents of the NT, you have already submitted to a large extent to that Church.

    I went all the way in. Then I went all the way out.

    I remain out, and outside the pale of mainstream Christianity entirely.

  • TopHat

    Nate what are you saying? That Luke, Matthew, Mark, John, and other letters of the NT were not written by those particular people who knew Jesus personally?

  • Nate Merit
    Nate Merit

    LOL Tophat

    No, that is not what I am saying. That is utterly irrelevant to your question. Get your head out of that space, thats not the discussion.

    You asked what Orthodox Christianity is. I gave you the actual historical answer, rather than a subjective answer based on my personal doctrinal preferences, my personal opinion of what is "Orthodox." Such opinions are like ***holes, everyone has them and they're only usful to the person that expressed them.

    How could a personal/ individualistic/subjective opinion of what is orthodox answer such an objective/historical question "What Is Orthodox?" which is the question you asked.

    Not trying to confuse you, but simply awaken you to historical reality so the historical answer to your historical question can be answered.


  • Nate Merit
    Nate Merit

    I meant heretics such as ARIUS, not Athanasius. Athanasius was the hero lol. Sorry for the confusing typo.


  • TopHat
    You asked what Orthodox Christianity is. I gave you the actual historical answer, rather than a subjective answer based on my personal doctrinal preferences, my personal opinion of what is "Orthodox." Such opinions are like ***holes, everyone has them and they're only usful to the person that expressed them.

    Holy Lucifer!! I didn't mean to get your panties all in a knot!!

    I didn't ask you that question about Orthodox Christianity...someone else did.

    But in reading you answer to that person, I got the jest that you didn't believe in the inspired writtings of the Apostles.

  • Narkissos


    It's an interesting text, but I wouldn't say it is neutral, objective or non-reactive. It is a honest but "muslim-friendly" self-presentation of Christianity, preventing a lot of well-known Islamic objections (on "Son of God," for instance). I think an address to Buddhists or atheists would have been completely different.


    I was somewhat surprised at the... "orthodoxy" of your presentation of orthodoxy . It probably suits the 4th-century situation pretty well, but if we moved two centuries backwards I guess we would get a completely different picture: a considerable power struggle and accompanying negotiation, leading to the emergence of a "centrist orthodoxy" which, by its mass, attracted the centripetal elements in the fringe and dismissed the centrifugal ones as "heretic". Those who were attracted to the "catholic" centre brought their sacred texts with them -- Matthew from the Judeo-Christian border, the Pauline corpus from the Marcionite border, the Johannine texts from the Gnostic border... of course to be adapted to the "catholic" requirements.


    Luke, Matthew, Mark, John, and other letters of the NT were not written by those particular people who knew Jesus personally?
    "Luke, Matthew, Mark" are anonymous works (in spite of the titles in our Bibles which come from tradition). "John" refers to the authority of the "beloved disciple" (not "John") who is presented as an eyewitness by someone who apparently did not know him (21:24). Paul was admittedly not an eyewitness of any historical Jesus.
  • Nate Merit
    Nate Merit

    But in reading you answer to that person, I got the jest that you didn't believe in the inspired writtings of the Apostles.

    Hello Tophat

    I reread my post and for the life of me cannot find the word "Apostles" or anything really that you said you deduced from my post.

    Also, I think you meant "gist" not "jest."

    The apostles were members of the "out-called" the ekklessia, the church, yes? They were part of the Body of Christ, yes? Perhaps that is what confused you when I pointed out the simple fact that the church precedes and produced the NT. You are used to thinking in fundamentalist ways about the NT and the apostles. You are used to thinking the NT produced the church, and that the apostles somehow stand outside the Body of Christ, the church.

    As to apostles having written the gospels, "Mark" and "Luke" were not apostles. Furthermore, no one knows who wrote these books. The names attached to them now did not appear for over a century after they began to circulate, anonymously, among the church. The authorship attributed to them is an early church tradition.

    If you'd like assistance in navigating church history and understanding how the NT came to, etc, please feel free to PM me.

    Have a good evening Tophat.

  • Evanescence

    Do you mean the Orthodox church? or Eastern Christianity?

    I know that there was one church in early christians... but there was a schism that divided into Catholic and Orthodox... It wasn't until the reformation that the Prodestant churches came to be...


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