by Mike Ratliff

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:19-24 ESV)

As we waited for the early service folks to exit the auditorium this morning before we entered to find a place to sit for the later service we decided to look at some books for sale in the books store near the door. I ended up buying a textbook used in the seminary that meets on our campus. It is an introduction to Biblical hermeneutics. Yes, I know, it’s not very exciting and so much of it is something I already have a firm grip on. However, during the sermon this morning on Matthew 6:19-24 (above), I heard the preacher go to great lengths to put our Lord’s statement there in context and at the same time make it understandable to people living in the early years of the 21st Century. It was then that I reevaluated my purchase and how important proper Biblical hermeneutics is in both attaining and adhering to solid Christian Orthodoxy. I struggled all day on how to address this in this post. As our Lord said in Matthew 6:23, those who believe they are in the light, but are deceived by false doctrine, “How great is the darkness!

The following is an editorial by Dr. J. Gresham Machen. It was written before the founding of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and appeared in the November 4, 1935 issue of the Presbyterian Guardian. In fact, when the OPC was formed in 1939 this editorial exerted great influence in the choosing of the present name.

By Dr. J. Gresham Machen

Many years ago, in that ancient time when jokes now hoary with age had the blush of early youth upon their cheeks, when a man first asked, “When is a door not a door?” and when the answer seemed to be a marvelously fresh and brilliant thing—at some happy moment in that ancient time, some brilliant person said: “Orthodoxy means ‘my doxy’ and heterodoxy means ‘the other man’s doxy.’ ”

The unknown author of that famous definition—unknown to me at least—may have thought that he was being very learned. Knowing that the Greek word heteros, which forms a part of the English word heterodoxy, means “other,” he built his famous definition around that one word, and heterodoxy became to him “the other man’s doxy.”

Possibly, however, he knew perfectly well that he was not being learned, and merely desired to have his little joke. As a matter of fact, the Greek word heteros in heterodoxy does not just mean “other” in the ordinary sense of that word, as when we speak of “one” man and “another” man, but it usually means “other” with an added idea of “different.”

So if we are really going to indulge in a little etymology, if we are really going to analyze the words and have recourse to the origin of them in the Greek language from which they have come, we shall arrive at a very different result from the result which was arrived at by the author of the facetious definition mentioned above. The word orthos in orthodoxy means “straight,” and the word heteros in heterodoxy means “other” with an implication of “different.” Accordingly, the real state of the case is that orthodoxy means “straight doxy” and heterodoxy means “something different from straight doxy”; or, in other words, it means “crooked doxy.” [And doxy means “teaching.”]

Now I am not inclined to recommend etymology indiscriminately to preachers in their treatment of their texts. It has its uses, but it also has its abuses. Very often it leads those who indulge in it very far astray indeed. The meanings of words change in the course of centuries, and so the actual use of a word often differs widely from what one would suppose from an examination of the original uses of its component parts. Etymology has spoiled many a good sermon.

In this case, however, etymology does not lead us astray at all. Orthodoxy does mean “straight doxy” [and thus “straight teaching”], and it is a good old word which I think we might well revive. What term shall we who stand for the Bible in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. use to designate our position? For my part, I cannot say that I like the term Fundamentalism. I am not inclined, indeed, to quibble about these important matters. If an inquirer asks me whether I am a Fundamentalist or a Modernist, I do not say, “Neither.” Instead, I say: “Well, you are using terminology that I do not like, but if I may for the moment use your terminology, in order that you may get plainly what I mean, I just want to say, when you ask me whether I am a Fundamentalist or a Modernist, that I am a Fundamentalist from the word go!”

However, it is a different matter when we are choosing terminology that we shall actually use about ourselves. When we are doing that, I think we ought to be just as careful as we possibly can be.

The term Fundamentalism seems to represent the Christian religion as though it had suddenly become an “ism” and needed to be called by some strange new name. I cannot see why that should be done. The term seems to me to be particularly inadequate as applied to us conservative Presbyterians. We have a great heritage. We are standing in what we hold to be the great central current of the Church’s life—the great tradition that comes down through Augustine and Calvin to the Westminster Confession of Faith. That we hold to be the high straight road of truth as opposed to vagaries on one side or on the other. Why then should we be so prone to adopt some strange new term?

Well, then, if we do not altogether like the term Fundamentalism—close though our fellowship is with those who do like that term—what term shall we actually choose?

Conservative does seem to be rather too cold. It is apt to create the impression that we are holding desperately to something that is old just because it is old, and that we are not eager for new and glorious manifestations of the Spirit of God.

Evangelical, on the other hand, although it is a fine term, does not quite seem to designate clearly enough the position of those who hold specifically to the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith, as distinguished from other systems which are near enough to the truth in order that they may be called “evangelical” but which yet fall short of being the system that is contained in God’s Word.

Therefore, in view of the objections that face the use of other terminology, I think we might do far worse than revive the good old word orthodoxy as a designation of our position.

Orthodoxy means, as we have seen, “straight doxy” [or “straight teaching, straight doctrine”]. Well, how do we tell whether a thing is straight or not? The answer is plain. By comparing it with a rule or plumb line. Our rule or plumb line is the Bible. A thing is “orthodox” if it is in accordance with the Bible. I think we might well revive the word. But whether we revive the word or not, we certainly ought to hold to the thing that is designated by the word.

Soli Deo Gloria!


9 thoughts on “Orthodoxy

  1. True Mike. I hear the term “Jesus follower” thrown around by many who are clearly NOT following. Mormons and JW’s claim to be Bible believing following Christians. The only way we can truly know who are believers is by sharing testimonies as Bunyan points out in “Pilgrims Progress”. Even then, Scipture says it will be the angels who divide the wheat from the tares, and not us. We must do as you say, stay true to Scripture and rightly divide the Word.


  2. Amen Lance, Jesus clearly taught that he came not to draw ALL people together, but rather to divide. What he was talking about was what you shared. There are the true Christians and then there are those who are only pretenders and then there are the majority of people who couldn’t care less. Just to claim to be a Christian does not make one a Christian.


  3. I have found myself having to use the word orthodox recently to get my point across especially with people who are teaching polytheism and that it’s taught in the bible. No, it’s not taught in the bible and orthodox Christianity has always held to the bible teaching that there is only One true God and all the others are false. Just one example

    The definition of orthodox that I’m familiar with is—the original position held by the majority of Christians since the first century Church began.

    There are other ways I know I had better define terms.


  4. Linda, Amen, that’s right, Orthodox is just a Greek word made up of two other Greek words, but using as we use it in the context of Theology, et cetera, well it is what defines what we believe, how we believe it, and how we defend it.


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