Humpty DumptyI was urged recently by several people to watch a videoed debate between two ministers who both would use the word “Evangelical” of themselves (and others would use it of them). The topic of their heated disagreement is unimportant for this particular post. Suffice to say that the word “orthodox” was bandied about a lot (as it so often is nowadays). “Orthodox” was understood to refer to the opinions and beliefs held by most Christians for the majority of Christian history including the church of the early great councils (Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus,…)

The intense clash concluded with one minister claiming that they were both still brothers in Christ, and if they “got out the bread and the wine” they would both participate. [It is an interesting side-note, the pursuing of which would distract from this thread, that unity be ultimately driven and measured by worshipping together. Another thing I will leave to the side this time is, when they talk about bread and wine, do they mean (scare-quotes) “wine”, ie. Ribena or its equivalents, or actual wine?]

In this post I want to highlight the extensive use of the word “orthodox” disconnected from its historic understanding. This use of “orthodox” is a revisionist practice.

The word “orthodox”, of course, aside from its obvious (etymological) meaning as “right worship”, is about “right belief”.

From the early church, through the majority of Christian history and most Christians, orthodoxy involves

  • bishops
  • apostolic succession
  • worship following the forms inherited from our Jewish roots

People currently use the word “orthodox” profusely to make judgements on themselves and others approvingly or disparagingly. But often when they use the word “orthodox” it is with a revisionist understanding; it has been stripped of the meaning that early and the majority of Christianity understood it to include as essential aspects of that word.

The two ministers use the word “orthodox” (as so many people do) without a moment’s hesitation that their usage is not an orthodox usage of “orthodox”!

When people use “orthodox” to approve of and themselves and commend their own opinions while disparaging others, it seems they too regularly use it to mean right thinking as opposed to left thinking, rather than what it should mean – right thinking as opposed to wrong thinking.

It is time to reclaim the orthodox use of the word “orthodox”. There’s a perfectly good neologism I’ve just made up for when people want a word that means right-as-opposed-to-left thinking. From the Greek δεξιά (rather than from ὀρθός). So next time someone misuses “orthodox” – correct them. Tell them to use “dexiadox” instead!

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

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