How Orthodoxy Includes Practice -- By: Tom Wells

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 12:1 (Winter 2003)
Article: How Orthodoxy Includes Practice
Author: Tom Wells


How Orthodoxy Includes Practice

Tom Wells

The word orthodoxy has an uninviting look, but it is a perfectly good word. It means right teaching, the kind of teaching you get in any field when you consult the best authorities. To say that someone is orthodox is to say that he holds and teaches the things that are considered correct in the subject he teaches. That is the kind of teacher and teaching that, presumably, we all want to have.

Like every definition, orthodoxy or right teaching raises questions, especially the question: “In whose opinion is the teaching right?” Or put another way, “What standard must we use to know that this person is accurate in what he or she teaches? Can we rest on his opinion of his own accuracy? Is he the standard?” In the eighteenth century Bishop William Warburton said to Lord Sandwich, “Orthodoxy is my doxy; heterodoxy is another man’s doxy.”1 Was he serious?—probably not. Was Lord Sandwich naive enough to believe him? I doubt it.

For the Christian, however, the question of orthodox teaching is settled by using a God-given standard, the Bible, God’s own Word. Orthodoxy is everything that conforms to the truth in the Scriptures.

I think most Christians, including myself, tend to hear the word orthodoxy in a more restricted way, however. We tend to hear and use the word only in reference to theology or doctrine.

In our practice, the way we live, we often draw a contrast with doctrine. This is, of course, in keeping with the English usage of these two words. But we must be careful that in our own minds we do not divorce these two. The Christian faith includes the way we live as well as what we believe.

This truth did not come home to me with power for many years. It took preaching through the book of Jude to show me that I had gone astray in this matter. Let me tell you how that came about.

One of the best known verses in Jude tells us “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (v. 3). Having grown up in fundamentalism I suppose I heard that verse quoted umpteen times in the battle against modernism. And each time I am sure I heard it say something like this: “Don’t let them get away with attacking the deity of Christ, the inspiration of the Bible, and the doctrinal truths we all love!” Oddly enough, when heard in that way it was, in fact, good advice. So when I came to expounding Jude for my people I assumed that I would find that very theme in the rest of the book. In that I was mistaken.

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