“Orthodox” — “Conforming to what is accepted as right or true” (from the Merriam-Webster dictionary)
Christian denominations, or even various divisions in each, like to claim (or even insist), that they are the only truly orthodox Christian group; the only “true” church. Somebody has to be wrong here. One practices infant baptism while another believer’s baptism; in one church the Lord’s supper is a memorial while in another it is a sacrament. Even two sacramental church bodies can disagree. Catholics and Lutherans, for instance, disagree on the number of sacraments ordained by Scripture. The list of differences between the “only” truly orthodox Christian churches goes on and on. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod will not even “fellowship” with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America synod because of their different views of what an orthodox church body believes.
Problems and disagreements arise (I think) because each church group has a need to provide an exact prescription for Christianity. This is their doctrine, which usually involves intricate interpretation of God’s word. There is a group of Missouri Synod Lutherans (my denomination of choice), for instance, whose members quote the Lutheran Book of Concord much more frequently than the Bible. Why? Because the Book of Concord and Luther’s Catechism (in their opinion) reflect the meaning of God’s word perfectly. To not abide in and believe in the statements of these extended doctrinal premises casts suspicion on any such pastor or layperson. In other words, only one group of Christians, who have managed to correctly define every jot and tittle of Holy Scripture will be truly honored in heaven. Others will be there of course, but not of the level of understanding as the holders of the complete doctrine of the real truth. Most Christian denominations believe that this is most certainly true–that to some extent they are the only truly orthodox church. This they believe even though Paul wrote that we will not understand everything clearly until Christ returns or until we join Him at our passing from this life to the next.
Denominational disagreements hold back the power of the Christian Church in its mission to care for the community, help the needy, and spread the gospel of Christ to every corner of the earth. I am often disappointed that particular denominations seem to think that Jesus began their church, and no other. Jesus did not establish denominations. He established His catholic (universal) church on earth.
So what does an orthodox Christian have to believe? 1) Jesus died for me, a sinner; He paid the price for my rebellion against God, and opened the gates of heaven for me. 2) Jesus is the only way to God–no other faith can lead to God. 3) I cannot do enough to make myself worthy of salvation, for it is a free gift by the grace of God. I can only say “Thank you.” 4)Jesus will come again to claim His own and judge the earth.
There are things that the Bible teaches us that explain why our faith is logical, reasonable, and true. To not believe these teachings may not cost one’s salvation, but not believing them removes the logic of faith. 1) Jesus had to be the Son of God because to pay for our sin, He had to be a perfect, unblemished offering for sin. If He was not perfect, His death meant nothing. 2) Jesus had to be born of a literal virgin in order to be perfect, for no common man can be sinless–he is born with a rebellious nature. 3) If He is the Son of God, and God himself, there is no reason to doubt His miracles–most particularly His resurrection. 4) Jesus was bodily resurrected. If there was no resurrection of Jesus’ body, then there is no proof that Jesus was what He claimed to be. St. Paul said that if Christ was not bodily raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain and we are still lost. I believe that it was historian Paul L. Maier who talked about this in his book “First Easter”–that if Jesus was not bodily raised from the dead, he was a charlatan or a lunatic.
Unfortunately, the things that keep Christians apart often do not concern any of these points. We avoid working together for God’s glory because one group practices sacraments, but antother does not; one group believes in closed communion, another practices open communion. We argue over what is the proper form of worship: is a worship “band” acceptable to God? Do women pastors destroy the faith? Do elders have to be male? Does one have to publically confess faith to the congregation? The Catholic Church once argued over whether or not the mass had to be presented in Latin. Missouri Synod Lutherans, around 1849, argued about the use of English in worship–could the gospel be properly communicated in any language but German?? Churches rarely mention other churches in the community for fear that “they might steal our sheep!” How sad.
Today, I describe myself as a Christian, then as a Christian who believes that the Bible is true, then as a Christian who chooses to attend a Lutheran church. I am not a Lutheran anymore, I am a Christian who chooses to be a Lutheran, and works to convince others that a Christian’s first guide on faith and life is God’s Word.