Thursday, May 13, 2010

Some Thoughts on Heterodoxy

While browsing through the theological blog world recently, I stumbled into a discussion that was sidetracked onto other issues as is often the case. After several exchanges, I replied with the following comments.

The gentleman wrote:
You have me a bit confused here. Are you claiming that, contrary to the vast majority of both Classical and Evangelical Arminians I've met, that Calvinism is not heterodoxy? Unorthodox theology is heterodoxical theology, is it not? Isn't that what the term means?

I replied:
Before bowing out of this off track thread, allow me these observations. Evangelical Arminians generally do not consider Calvinists to be heterodox with regard to the essential doctrines of the faith. Of course there are some who take a strong polemical stance and refuse fellowship with Calvinists. Consider what heterodox infers. It is by definition schismatic. Now, there are individuals among Calvinists who I consider schismatic (heretics by definition) but neither I nor those I fellowship with hold Calvinism to be heretical. Unorthodoxy is not heterodoxy. There is much liturgical practice and tradition that has no witness in scripture and as such is unorthodox. That does not imply that such practices and traditions are by definition heterodox. I consider much of the unique doctrines of Calvinism to be unorthodox as do many other Christians. That does not imply that we hold Calvinists to be outside the pale of orthodoxy. The contrary opinions seem formed by those who spend too much time dueling on the internet and not enough time fellowshipping with Christ. That observation holds true regardless of what side of the fence you stand on.
Have a blessed day. This thread has digressed and the tin horns are being pulled out of the britches.

I need to expand on my qualifications concerning the use of the term heterodox. When discussing various doctrines and its relationship to orthodoxy, the term heterodox carries with it the context of creating schisms, of generating a departure from the orthodox truths of scripture. Just as often as not, heterodoxy fuels the actions of heretics and as such introduces schisms into the body from both within and without. Unorthodox teachings are not necessarily heterodox although heterodoxy is in all cases unorthodox. The example I gave in my comments above is one example. The liturgy of Methodist or Presbyterian services is not an orthodox practice i.e. it is not a practice and tradition always accepted as such by the Christian church. Another example would be the historical distinctions between observing the LORD's supper with a wafer and cup vs. participating in a full agape meal. Neither is heterodox except among schismatics demanding adherence to one or the other. A further example is the distinction between substitution and satisfaction atonement theories. Various groups have subscribed to both and each has its own distinctions as well as similarities. However, neither is heterodox in that as theories, neither have laid claim to being the historic doctrine that the church has always professed. This is a touchy subject, of course. Ecclesiastical bodies are far too quick to pull the trigger on the divisive label while the ecumenical church tends to focus on those diversions that are removed from essential doctrines as identified throughout the church age. Pelagianism is certainly heterodox and heresy. Semi-Pelagianism is heterodoxy when examined in accordance with historical Christian teachings. (Interestingly, the same councils addressing the semi-Pelagian matters, 2nd Orange and Arles, deemed the foundations of Calvinist determinism to be anathema.) In summary, my point is that a simple dictionary definition of hetero-doxy as "other teaching" is insufficient to grasp the importance of the term and the dire implications of the leaven of heterodoxy. Heterodoxy is more than just something other. It is something opposed.