What’s the difference between Orthodox Christianity, Heterodoxy, and Heresy?

7 minute read

Does doctrine matter?

Luther and the Reformers thought so. So did the religious leaders of the time in the Roman Catholic Church.

A reader sums up the Christian’s dilemma1:

I am a great believer in Matthew 7:15, but it does open the door to dogma wars; and, of course, anyone who disagrees is apostate. The danger, or so it seems to me, is that no one struggling with their faith (which is to say, knowing what to believe, knowing who to credit) benefits from the wolves in sheep’s clothing argument. The warning is valid, but engenders a “dmd if I do, dmd if I don’t” dichotomy. The question always remains, “What if I have chosen un-wisely?” We all have doubt, but the struggle of overcoming it is a might endeavor.

There are many good points in this reader’s comment. Fortunately, we don’t have to recreate the principles by which we can come to an understanding of God’s truth. By his providence through study of the Scriptures, believers before us have shown us the way.

The most important thing is to consider the Bible the Word of God and to compare Scripture with Scripture. Understanding this basic truth, and having the Word of God available in a language we can understand, are the greatest inheritances we have from the Lutheran Reformation.

Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy does no refer to members of the Greek or Russian Orthodox Church. According to Webster’s Unabridged, orthodoxy is soundness of faith; a belief in the doctrines taught in the Scriptures, or in some established standard of faith; – opposed to heterodoxy or to heresy. These standards of faith - literally confessions and creeds - place a frame around Christianity. They help groups of Christians understand what others in the past have believed, and make it easier to come together with others who have like faith. The creeds were written to counter attacks by people who pretended to be Christian, but who actually sought to weaken or destroy the faith.

Here is one of the oldest standards, known as the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; The holy Catholic (Christian, not Roman Catholic) Church; The Communion of Saints; The Forgiveness of sins; The Resurrection of the body, And the Life everlasting. Amen.

In the Fourth Century, this was enough to identify people who were not united in Biblical faith. But as the centuries have rolled forward, new errors have continued to appear. Assenting to the Apostles’ Creed is no longer sufficient to identify orthodoxy.

Heresy

Websters Unabridged defines it this way: Heresy: An offense against Christianity, consisting in a denial of some essential doctrine, which denial is publicly avowed, and obstinately maintained.

This definition has three important points:

  1. The heretic denies an essential Christian doctrine.
  2. The person publicly admits, preaches, or publishes the denial.
  3. The person maintains their position.

Someone believing and maintaining a denial of an essential Christian doctrine is not Christian.

You may rankle at the idea of rejecting someone’s claim to be a Christian. The church has long preached (falsely) judge not as the first commandment of Christian love. But Christ and the apostles command you to discern between the saved and the unsaved.

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily (secretly) shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many shall follow their pernicious (very mischievious, destructive) ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. 3 And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: -2 Peter 2.1-3

The apostle Peter is saying that heresies leave a person who believes them in a state of damnation. That means that they are unsaved, or not truly Christian.

A heretic will always claim to be a Christian. He will say that he believes the Bible. But he won’t accept correction of his heresy. He will reject the truth that would set him free.

For an example of this, see the comments at the end of this post.

If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into [your] house, neither bid him God speed: 11 For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. - 1 John 1.10-11

There are many examples of supposedly Christian teachers, churches and ministries which hold to heretical beliefs. Therefore, you must exercise your God-given powers of critical reason and judgment.

Heterodoxy

Many readers of this blog find themselves struggling with churches which are more or less orthodox in their preaching and teaching, but with practices or beliefs that are a bit off. These beliefs do not challenge the basics of the Christian faith. But they can make it impossible to have harmony in a church body.

An eschatological (study of the teachings of the end-times) joke

A Christian friend quipped that he was neither pre-millenial nor post-millenial, but rather pan-millenial. “It will all _pan out_ in the end.

Everything written in the Bible is there for a reason. The doctrine of last things is a major part of Scripture. God put it there to strengthen, instruct, and prepare His children. It matters.

Much of what American Christians believe about the end times doesn’t jibe with Scripture. But people can have different eschatological ideas while remaining brothers and sisters in the faith. Yet they may not be able to stay in the same church. This is one example of division arising from heterodox beliefs.

The true God gets angry

The idea that everything will be fine because God is love reveals a profound misapprehension of the nature of the Lord. When Jesus comes back, it will be to judge. Jesus told us that many will be cast into hell.

Because strait [is] the gate, and narrow [is] the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. -Matthew 7.14

The number one commandment for Christians

And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. -Exodus 20.1-6

Conclusion

Doctrine matters. If we take Christ’s commands seriously, we need to contend for the faith.

Many mainline and mega-churches are doctrinally heretical. Even conservative churches teach or overlook various types of heterodoxy which tend to destroy true unity and depth between believers in a congregation.

Just because a person says she’s a Christian doesn’t mean she’s orthodox in her beliefs.

Ultimately it’s up to you to steer clear of the increasingly apostate churches and find the remnant who seek to worship God in Spirit and in truth. God promises that they are out there.

Prayer

Dear Lord, you have taught us that good friends strengthen each other just like iron sharpens iron, and that wherever two or more are gathered together in your name, there you are in the midst. Be with your children. Help us. Protect us. Guide us from all error. Send us true pastors and teachers who will show us how to avoid the snares of false doctrine by grounding our hearts, minds, souls and spirits in your truth. Forgive us our sloth. Inspire us with your unfailing love and grace to do better than we’ve done. May we walk with You today, and be a blessing. Amen.

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some [is]; but exhorting [one another]: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. -Hebrews 10.25
Originally published at: Comfort for Christians
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Comments

“Comedy Plus:” Be that as it may - and, I have my suspicions that you have many frustrations from past “church experience,” that has left you staying away because you have been agitated rather than blessed. However, dont allow yourself to grow stagnant. Daily read your Bible and pray. Meet informally with other Christians to encourage one another and pray for one another.

Excellent commentary! Very good concise summation of “Orthodoxy – Heresy – Heterodoxy!” While reading it I could not help but think of 2 past friendships Ive had with 2 Catholics. Both professed to be Christian and one professed a personal relationship with Jesus. Both are immersed in Catholic Church doctrine via beliefs / observances. That “immersion” in Catholic Church doctrine (in time) became to me to be a huge roadblock to a continuing friendship. With the one friend, he became obnoxious and mean when (to the understanding of my wife and me) he could not make in-roads with us, to lead us to the “true church.” Both friends are highly intelligent and decent people. I believe the one, has allowed false Catholic church beliefs and practices to “over-cloud” (aka, interfere) with that one Catholics, lifes calling. This has vexed me so much that I now perceive the friendship from a very distant perspective. Ive come to the conclusion that even acquaintances and friendships are only able to reach a certain level (point) before they become “thudded” and even “disintegrate.” If one in a friendship tenaciously holds to false doctrines, that in itself, can cease any progression of friendship; and, may very well spell an end to that friendship. Genuine friendships are never meant to grow stagnant. But that is what transpires when the poison of false doctrine (teachings) continually shadow a persons life. “Iron sharpens iron.” But when iron rusts (due the deadening forces of nature) that sharpening process is halted. “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” - Proverbs 27:17 What does the Bible say? “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” - Amos 3:3

Hello, I ran across your website via your visit to the Winging It blog and, if you dont mind, I have a few questions to politely raise. First of all, my name is Dan and I grew up Southern Baptist and thoroughly conservative traditional. My fans as a teen and a young man were (well, besides Jesus and the heroes of the Bible) Chuck Swindoll, Billy Graham, Leonard Ravenhill, Jonathan Edwards, CS Lewis, etc - ie, I was a soundly conservative Christian. While I am still a Christian and still appreciate those who raised me in that tradition (teaching me to take my walk with Jesus seriously, teaching me to take the Bible seriously and to read and pray without ceasing), I am now in the camp that most conservatives would call “liberal Christian,” and many others would call a heretic. I am not a heretic, I believe in and am saved by Jesus, the risen son of God, who came preaching repentance and a salvation by Gods grace, not one of works. IF we MUST be “right” on every topic (or even a subset of “several topics”) that, to me, comes much too close to the notion of being saved by our own genius, not by Gods grace. I, sinner that I am and imperfect, but sincere, am glad to fall on Gods grace for salvation. With that said… You cite Peter and biblical instructions/warnings about “false teachers”… But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily (secretly) shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. My concern: I fear that many conservative brothers and sisters confuse the notion of “being sincerely mistaken about a topic/some topics” with being a false teacher. When false teachers are talked about in the Bible, they are almost without fail, specifically NOT the merely mistaken, but those who are being deliberately deceitful. In the passage you cite, it talks about them “secretly” bringing in heresies and “denying the Lord…” But there are many, many of us who are doing nothing secretly, nor are we denying the Lord. Instead, we sincerely read Gods Word, sincerely pray and seek Gods ways and, as a result, sincerely disagree with fellow Christians on topics like the historic interpretations of Genesis or on marriage rights for gay folk or on Christians taking part in wars or investing, etc. We sincerely disagree with more conservative folk just as they sincerely disagree with us. My question to you/concern I have about what youre saying is, Do you allow for the distinction between those who might deliberately lie and try to cause disruptions for reasons of power or money (as is usually specifically mentioned in the Bible) vs those who are sincerely disagreeing on some of these topics? In Christ, Dan Trabue

Hi Dan, Thank you so much for writing. If you look around at some of the other posts on While its yet day, youll see (I hope) that my perspective is quite critical of what is generally known as American Christianity. In the social-political commentary posts, one theme I try to get across is the con game of liberal-conservative, left-right, and republican-democrat. These divisions are artificial constructs cynically used to divide people, poison conversation and point us at each other rather than looking for the true causes of the issues that are making us consistently less free. All of that is just to say that my mind does not work using the models of “liberal Christan” or “soundly conservative”. None of the men you mentioned - Chuck Swindoll, Billy Graham, Leonard Ravenhill, Jonathan Edwards, CS Lewis - would be people Id point anyone to. Id go even further to say that Im not aware of any Christian denomination in American of any size that is not significantly troubled by non-Biblical teaching. The denomination youve come from, Southern Baptist, is among the worst. Im so sorry that you have grown up drinking from such a well. Its completely understandable that you have pulled away as you have. You drank poison! Thank God it did not kill you. I know that it didnt kill you because you are (a) still physically alive and (b) respectfully looking into these things. Before moving to your questions, let me add one more thing. Those elect of God who respond to the Holy Spirit who works through the written Word of God, are all sinners saved by grace alone. The salvation is Gods work. Our ability to respond is the result of Gods work. Faith itself is Gods gift. He saves. We can add nothing. Now, to your observations.

(Dan writes:) IF we MUST be "right" on every topic (or even a subset of "several topics") that, to me, comes much too close to the notion of being saved by our own genius, not by Gods grace.

Exactly correct. It is not up to us to be “right” on every topic, or even most topics. But as we spend more time with the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit leads us into greater understanding and - as importantly - greater humility and compassion. The written Bible is Jesus Christ in a very real way (John 1.1). Reading it, memorizing it, and thinking about it changes us from the inside out. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord. -2 Corinthians 3.18

(Dan writes:) My concern: I fear that many conservative brothers and sisters confuse the notion of "being sincerely mistaken about a topic/some topics" with being a false teacher.

They may very well think this way. Thats why we have to go back to the Word and be careful about confusing what people say with what God says.

(Dan writes:) When false teachers are talked about in the Bible, they are almost without fail, specifically NOT the merely mistaken, but those who are being deliberately deceitful.

Its not possible to know whats in another persons heart. We can only see the outworking. People who intend to deceive often are quite good at it. So we can only compare what they say/teach/write with what the Scripture says. If, like someone in the Latter Day Saints church, they tell us that Jesus is a created being, then we know that they are a false teacher. Is that Mormon who tells me this trying to deceive me? I dont think so. Is he sincere in his faith? Yes. Is he more outwardly moral than some or even many mainstream Christians? Quite possibly so. But is he teaching heresy? Yes. Need we consider him a non-Christian/ unbeliever? Definitely. This is not my choice or yours. Its what God tells us we must do. Its not optional. A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself -Titus 3.10-11

(Dan writes:) Instead, we sincerely read Gods Word, sincerely pray and seek Gods ways and, as a result, sincerely disagree with fellow Christians on topics like the historic interpretations of Genesis or on marriage rights for gay folk or on Christians taking part in wars or investing, etc.

These are all serious issues. If you (Dan) believe that the Bible is Gods Word, and come to it wanting to understand, rather than bringing preconceptions to it and making the Bible conform to those ideas, then you may find your positions changing in unpredictable ways. True Christians are continually trying to understand how to live honestly and justly in a fallen world. Its not easy with sin (our own and others), the flesh and the Devil working against us. But God is greater than these three. When a well-known conservative Christian pastor who I will not name rejects certain parts of Genesis because he doesnt think they are correct as written, he is betraying his lack of faith in the Bible. Even some militant haters of Christianity understand that all of the Bible rests on the factual accuracy of Genesis. If Genesis is fable, then the whole lock, stock and barrel of Christianity gets thrown out.

(Dan writes:) We sincerely disagree with more conservative folk just as they sincerely disagree with us.

This is the first thing youve written that concerns me. Whos the “we”? No “we” cares about you, Dan. The “we”s in the world only care about power. I care about you, because youve taken the trouble to reach out to me and weve connected here.

(Dan writes:) Do you allow for the distinction between those who might deliberately lie...vs those who are sincerely disagreeing on some of these topics?

Heres the real question as I see it Dan. Do you consider the Bible more true than your current ideas, or do you consider yourself the judge of the Bible? This question is the best measure of a Christian soul. Hope this is helpful. May God bless you. Alec

Alec, Dan Trabue has been blocked from multiple blogs because he isnt just “mistaken,” rather he is a blatant and rank heretic who always tries to get people to agree with him. He worships a whole other Jesus than the one of the Bible, and another god rather than the God of the Bible. Neil Simpson has posted two articles exposing Dan for what he is: https://1eternitymatters.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/false-teacher-profile/ https://1eternitymatters.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/false-teacher-profile-updated/ Ignore Dans sophistry. Oh, and he will most likely call me out for “false witness” or “slander,” etc, because that is his usual routine. Just warning you so you dont get bogged down in lengthy discussions with a person who has been proven to be unteachable.

Hi Glenn, Thank you for providing this information. Dans further (non-published) responses reveal a fundamental difference in his understanding of the Bibles nameity to that which orthodox Christians believe. In addition he became abusive in his comments. That is another indication of his heart condition. It makes me so very sad to see these souls at war with God. Alec

Just as a follow up, this above comment has resulted in stronger abuse and invective from this person. If you are still reading Dan, you are not displaying gentlemanly behavior. So I will be absolutely clear what I mean, here is the Websters Unabridged definition of abuse: to attack or injure with words : reproach coarsely. Your words in your response to the Keith Green post definitely fit that definition. Since you continue to abuse, I cannot see how we are having a discussion or conversation. I do care for you, and hope that you will consider my lengthy response to your first post. Alec PS For the sake of fairness, Dan considers my remarks about him (above) slanderous. He says that he did not mean any abuse. I will give him the benefit of the doubt, but will not continue the conversation.

Hi Alec, I think this is an important topic, although I can relate to “Comedy Pluss” frustration. Its similar to Ferlinghettis line about seeing “the best minds of our generation destroyed by boredom at poetry readings.” Sound doctrine is really a matter of life and death, health and illness. For many years I labored under the false teaching that my acceptance by God depended on my performance—did I pray enough, fast enough, read the Scripture enough, and on and on—the answer whispered in my ear, “No! Not enough, not near enough, youre probably not even a true Christian!” God in His mercy, however, taught me about grace—undeserved favor—how that it is CHRISTS performance in my behalf (as I am united with Him by faith) that makes me acceptable to our heavenly Father. This and similar teachings are called the Doctrines of Grace, which allow the child of God in Christ to REST in his heavenly Fathers care, trusting His providence and guidance so that the life of faith is a joy, even in the midst of suffering—the presence of God being the source of joy. Sound and wisely applied doctrine promotes robust spiritual life. Thank you for your remarks above! Steve

Ive told Dan that every time I seem him on a blog, I will post those links. Yes, he is very abusive when he gets exposed. I dealt with him for at least a year on two of my blogs before I finally got fed up with his heresy. All one has to do is look at his blogs to see how aberrant, apostate, and heretical his beliefs and teachings are, and he continues to troll Christian blogs trying to spread his deception.

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