The word “orthodoxy” refers to the generally held doctrines of the Christian church. When someone talks about the orthodox teachings of the Church, they are talking about beliefs that are held more or less strongly by all branches of the Christian Church. This includes the evangelical church, the Catholic church, the Orthodox church, the Lutheran church, and their many branches and offshoots.
Succintly: it is the points on which we agree.
Why does this matter?
Because the reasons we agree on these are meaningful and substantial.
These teachings have usually been held more or less consistently for 1500 years or more. They were arrived at by painstaking research, careful study, and deep debate by men and women of the very early church. These people were scholars, teachers, pastors, scientists, and lay-people of their time, and their minds and thoughts would lay many of us to shame.
To think that because they were thinking and studying 1500 to 2000 years ago their thoughts were less advanced or less able to catch nuance or to dig through enigma and paradox is foolish.
They also weren’t operating in a vacuum. When Solomon said there is nothing new under the sun, he wasn’t speaking in hyperbole.
Most of what we hold today as orthodox and can describe clearly and concisely in a catechism or systematic theology was held before it was codified, but it was assumed, or there had simply not been careful thought given to the specific implications and or outworkings of the generally-assumed belief.
Heresy plays an important part in the development of a clear theology because through history it showed where more careful thought had to be given to what a certain belief was or wasn’t.
For example, while the doctrine of the Trinity is clear throughout scripture, both in the old and the new Testaments, and many early church fathers wrote more explicitly about it, it was assumed that all Christians accepted it for truth, and therefore little specific thought was given to what it meant that we worship one Godhead in three Persons.
There are many heresies regarding the Trinity, and each had their teachers popularizing their particular deviations, and with each one there were discussions and research and careful thought, and a response was given clarifying what specifically scripture taught and how the heresy departed from that teaching.
The result of this is that we can clearly state the nature of the Trinity such as it has been revealed to us, that God is one in essence, but three in Person, that all three are coequal and coeternal.
The Athanasian Creed, which came to be after the church had dealt with the heresy of Arianism, which taught that God the Father had created God the Son, is the most comprehensive definition of the Trinity, and is a worthwhile meditation as we seek to understand who God is as He has revealed Himself to us.
So summarize, orthodoxy is that set of teachings which have been arrived at after much deliberation and study by wise and godly people who have been led by God to carefully note what scripture does and does not teach so that we can know God more truly and so that we can trust that what we understand of God is true and accurate.
Scripture is sufficient, and all orthodox teachings come entirely from scripture and will not disagree with it in any way.
None of this is to say that we cannot study scripture carefully and understand God’s word on our own, but it is a blessing that we are standing upon the shoulders of myriad great men and women who have done the same before us and left us a great legacy of knowledge and wisdom on the matter.
If you believe you have found something which seems to disagree with orthodoxy, tread carefully. Learn why this idea was studied in the past, and the reasons it was rejected.