The word “orthodox” does not actually appear in the Bible, but its meaning is affirmed throughout the Scriptures. The Bible describes the existence of objective Biblical truth and prescribes the teaching and defense of this truth. We’re living in an age where it’s stylish for Christians to be involved in an open “conversation” about the questions and doctrines of the faith, without making decisive proclamations about what is true (or false). Many Christians have embraced a form of relativism and allowed it to influence their view of Biblical truth. But for the earliest believers (those closest to the original authors of scripture) truth was objective and exclusive:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
Early Christians sought the truth about God, fully aware of the importance of “right belief”. Scripture commanded them to find the truth and carefully share it with others:
But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.
There was no hesitancy on the part of the first believers and leaders of the faith when it came to taking a stand for exclusive claims about the nature of God, Jesus or Salvation. These objective truths were cherished as a precious gift; believers were called to guard them carefully:
2 Timothy 1:13-14
Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.
In a relativistic world in which all truths are deemed equally valid and true, a call to seek singular, objective truth (and then defend it to those around you) seems ridiculous. But this has always been the nature of the Christian faith. The Bible proclaims some things are true about God and some things are false. Scripture acknowledges the importance of faith, but also recognizes faith, in and of itself, has no power unless it is grounded in truth. That’s why the truth matters to God.
There is a common objection to the idea of Christian orthodoxy, however. It’s often said that heretics don’t think that they’re heretics at all. It sometimes seems like religious majorities get to decide what is orthodox and what is not. In most cases, it’s the majority who becomes the authority by which minority views are deemed heretical. Who is to say which side is actually orthodox and which side is heretical? As always, it comes down to authority. The fact two sides may argue about a truth claim does not negate the existence of objective truth. Just as every truth relies on some authority, we, as Christians, should not accept a claim purely because some group accepts it. As Christians, we must never let a group be our authority. The Bible alone must be our authority and each of us has been given the ability to read and determine what the Bible says on key issues.
As a Christian, I believe there are certain core objective truths related to the Christian faith; there are some Biblical truths we can know with certainty. These particular “essential” truths have been clearly described and affirmed historically. I don’t embrace them because the creeds are authoritative, but because the Scriptures are authoritative. These “essentials” are repeatedly taught in the Scripture for a reason: They are important to God. As a result, they ought to be important to us. When I disagree with a brother in Christ about a particular theological issue, I am open to discussing it, if my brother is willing to make a case from the Scripture. That’s why case making is a critical skill set and discipline for Christians. Yes, it’s important to seek a correct understanding of God. But, we must be prepared to make the case for objective Biblical truth to those within the Church before we can ever hope to make the case to the world around us.
J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Christian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, God’s Crime Scene, God’s Crime Scene for Kids, Forensic Faith, and Forensic Faith for Kids.