'Orthodox' with a capital has a specialised meaning, regarding the Eastern Orthodox Church, but its uncapitalised meaning (which is not necessarily a matter of Christianity and neither the English word, nor the Greek, is found in the Holy Bible) is :

Of, belonging to, or in accordance with the accepted theological or ecclesiastical doctrines of a particular religion.

Oxford English Dictionary

When used of Christian doctrine or Christian practice, I would expect - speaking for myself - that 'orthodox' would therefore mean the same as 'apostolic'. I would expect that what is stated by the apostles in the four gospel accounts and various epistles reliably attributed to the apostles would be what is considered to be 'orthodox' by those who follow Jesus Christ.

And it would be my expectation that each generation - including my own generation - would look back to that foundation in order to be assured as to what is 'orthodox'.

Paul says, in I Corinthians 3:10,11 :

According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

I understand by this that Paul laid the foundation in his preaching, and we have the reliable record of his epistles. Thereafter, all others are to build (each in their own generation) upon the foundation that is already laid.

Some, in their lifetime, will build something solid which will withstand the fire. Some will heap up wood, hay and stubble, which will be burnt. Yet they themselves will be saved, albeit without a permanent, personal, legacy, I Corinthians 3: 12,13.

Is the above what Protestant churches would regard as 'orthodoxy' ?

Or have I misunderstood its application within Protestant Christianity >

  • Why would it mean "apostolic"? "Apostolic" means "apostolic", it doesn't need another word. "Orthodox" means right thinking.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 4, 2019 at 22:27
  • This answer has a lot of overlap here. christianity.stackexchange.com/a/67682/3961
    – user3961
    Feb 5, 2019 at 21:08
  • Short answer, most non-theologically trained protestants use the word to mean "right and original christianity". In other words, their own beliefs. They don't use the word intellectually honestly.
    – user3961
    Feb 5, 2019 at 21:10
  • @fredsbend Every position has its own orthodoxy and heterodoxy. I wouldn't call that intellectual dishonesty.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 5, 2019 at 22:25
  • @curious I'd say it starts to be, once you realize there's an infinite regress. Everyone's orthodox in their own mind. They all think they believe what jesus did, therefore "orthodox". When there was one church, it made sense. You believed what the church taught or you didn't. With 40,000 denominations, the term's newer meaning is "original or traditional belief" rather than "correct belief". Theologians use the new definition. Common believers use the old one, and it's dishonest to continue once you step in a little deeper and realize what you're actually doing.
    – user3961
    Feb 6, 2019 at 3:02

3 Answers 3


Overall, orthodoxy is pretty loosely defined. You may well find protestants (again, a very wide group) to come to different conclusions. But I think in general orthodoxy is understood as teaching which falls within the bounds of what has always been considered the Christian faith. So then what falls in that range? It is really the content of some of the great definitional statements of the church:

  • The Apostle's Creed
  • The Nicene Creed
  • The Formula of Chalcedon
  • The Athanasian Creed

Within these statements there is much defined, but also much left undefined. For example, you will search those statements in vain trying to answer questions of:

  • which eschatological system is correct
  • should baptism be administered to infants or those who can give a credible expression of their faith?
  • what is the proper church government
  • what is the relationship between God's sovereignty and man's free will
  • what is the current status of Israel

Many other questions could be added to that list. The idea is that you could have, say, a Calvinist who believes in infant baptism and covenant theology who has strong disagreements with a dispensational Arminian who only baptizes believers, but they could both acknowledge one another as brother/sister in Christ within the bounds of orthodoxy.

I hope that helps.

  • It is interesting that you refer to the four Creeds. Does that imply that the scripture is not the absolute source of doctrine ? Or does it imply that scripture is unclear - or even ambiguous ?
    – Nigel J
    Feb 5, 2019 at 19:28
  • 1
    @NigelJ it certainly implies (as does the Bible in places) that Christianity is "creedal" or "confessional": i.e. summaries and deductions from the Bible can be quite profitable. But I think you're talking about "perspicuity of Scripture", which I am inadequate to explain or defend well. And tangled up with that concept is also that of authority, another subject worthy of prayerful study.
    – rje
    Feb 6, 2019 at 16:02
  • @NigelJ ... that is a different question. I think that truth is defined in Scripture alone and I believe that all of those questions that I asked have true answers. I believe that if you disagree with me on those things, you are probably reading scripture wrongly. That said, the question of orthodoxy is really "is this interpretation legitimate to be called Christian"? Jehovah's Witnesses claim to be making a Biblical argument, but they are not within the sphere of orthodoxy
    – Steve
    Feb 6, 2019 at 20:52

The only orthodoxy that counts for anything, with regard to matters of faith in God, is what God considers to be orthodox.

As the Apostles of the first century A.D. were inspired of the Holy Spirit to write what they wrote in the Christian Greek scriptures, that would reveal to Christians of every succeeding generation what the orthodox foundation of faith was - Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, to return in glory, the builder of his Church. I reckon all Protestant churches would agree with that in theory. The problems come with practice.

However, there is a general consensus within Protestantism as to what beliefs and practices became unorthodox. Many books have been written about Church history, detailing where groups developed that could no longer be considered orthodox. I was at a Protestant lecture on Church history yesterday where the following points were made, that may help clarify any answer to your question.

Two types of heresies arose, Legalistic (e.g. the Nazarenes, the Ebionites, the Essenes) and Philosophical (e.g. Gnosticism. Docetism, Manicheanism, Neoplatonism). Heresies need to be distinguished from errors, however. Errors arise from misinterpretations and over-emphases. When the errors are not to do with the foundational doctrines of Christianity (the actual gospel about the person of Christ) then grey areas are entered into where it becomes more difficult to say whether the groups in question are unorthodox or still fit to be considered within mainstream Christianity, or not.

Then schisms also need to be distinguished from heresy. This is where schism arises on matters of discipline and/or ritual, e.g. the Easter controversy (about the correct date for celebrating Christ's resurrection) and Donatism (where Donatus wanted to exclude from the Church Caecilian of Carthage as a traitor who had apparently renounced his faith due to the horrific persecution of Diocletian.)

It would require a person very learned in the history of Protestant history to give a categoric answer to your question. I am not that person. However, I offer the above comments in the hope that they might help a little to open up the complexity of this subject.

  • Up-voted +1. And accepted as the answer on the basis of the first two paragraphs. Thank you.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 8, 2019 at 1:51

I think your suggestion -- apostolicity and grounded in scripture -- is a good start, and in fact sounds to me a lot like Sola Scriptura.

Answer 1. The Solae

That thought led me to Wikipedia, which says the Five Solas are the founding principles of the Reformation... so to me, that sounds like at least part of the protestant definition of orthodoxy.


I'd add that the Solas leave room for deepening the faith -- for instance, the Trinity was, is, and ever shall be Good Theology.

And that leads me to the last point: the solae are self-based reforms. Church history and tradition is not thrown away with the garbage; rather, it is subjected to Scripture. Presumably, the chaff is sifted from the grain. God willing, it would be done increasingly, gently, and motivated by love for God and one's neighbor.

Answer 2. Paleo-Orthodoxy

THAT reminded me of "paleo-Orthodoxy", a protestant theological movement in the United States which emerged in the late 20th and early 21st centuries and which focuses on the consensual understanding of the faith (Regula Fidei, probably) among the Ecumenical councils and Church Fathers.

Being a protestant thing, I assume it still views the early church through the lens of the Five Solas.


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