November 1996, Vol. 5, No. 11

What Does it mean to be “Orthodox”?

The Bible Left Out

The Trinity is “Orthodox”

The Five Steps of Apostasy

Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16

The secret of the LORD is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant. Psalm 25:14

What does it Mean to be “Orthodox”?

Today a great deal is said about the need to be orthodox. Orthodox is defined as, “1. Adhering to the accepted or traditional and established faith... 2.Adhering to the Christian faith as expressed in the early Christian ecumenical creeds. 3. Adhering to a commonly accepted, customary or traditional practice or belief.” (American Heritage Dictionary) Let us examine the definition of “orthodox” and see if it comes up to the test of Bible truth.

First, “orthodox” is that which is “traditional.” When asked why His disciples transgressed “the tradition of the elders,” Jesus “answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” (Matthew 15:2, 3) Christ further added, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:9) The Son of God clearly stated that tradition was not a reliable method of determining truth. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”(Col. 2:8) Peter continued in this same theme, writing: “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; (1 Peter 1:18)

Secondly, “orthodox” is considered to be that which has been established by the “early Christian ecumenical creeds.” A creed is defined as: “A brief, authoritative, formal statement of religious beliefs. The word creed comes from the Latin word credo (‘Ibelieve’), the first word of both the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed.”(Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary) The term “creed” is not in the Bible, but God, through His servant, has given us this counsel:

Rome withheld the Bible from the people and required all men to accept her teachings in its place. It was the work of the Reformation to restore to men the word of God; but is it not too true that in the churches of our time men are taught to rest their faith upon their creed and the teachings of their church rather than on the Scriptures? (The Great controversy, p. 388)

In the professedly Christian world many turn away from the plain teachings of the Bible and build up a creed from human speculations and pleasing fables, and they point to their tower as a way to climb up to heaven. Men hang with admiration upon the lips of eloquence while it teaches that the transgressor shall not die, that salvation may be secured without obedience to the law of God. If the professed followers of Christ would accept God’s standard, it would bring them into unity; but so long as human wisdom is exalted above His Holy Word, there will be divisions and dissension. The existing confusion of conflicting creeds and sects is fitly represented by the term “Babylon,” which prophecy (Revelation 14:8; 18:2) applies to the world-loving churches of the last days. (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 124)

The Bible, and the Bible alone, is to be our creed, the sole bond of union; all who bow to this Holy Word will be in harmony. Our own views and ideas must not control our efforts. Man is fallible, but God’s Word is infallible. Instead of wrangling with one another, let men exalt the Lord. Let us meet all opposition as did our Master, saying, “It is written.” Let us lift up the banner on which is inscribed, The Bible our rule of faith and discipline.-(The Review and Herald, Dec. 15, 1885 - emphasis supplied. See also 1 SM, p. 416)

The early Adventists were very careful to steer away from creeds. During an organizational meeting on October 5, 1861, J. N. Loughborough outlined the five steps of apostasy, of which he noted the formation of a creed as the first or foundation step.

The first step of apostasy is to get up a creed, telling us what we shall believe. The second is, to make that creed a test of fellowship. The third is to try members by that creed. The fourth to denounce as heretics those who do not believe that creed. And, fifth, to commence persecution against such. (The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, October 8, 1861 - For a more complete outline, see the reprint “Five Steps to Apostasy,” page 4.)

Thirdly, “orthodox” is that which is “commonly accepted.” In other words, the voice of the majority. However, the record is clear that as far as matters of faith and practice are concerned, the majority of humanity has always been in error. The Bible portrays God’s last day saints as a “little flock” compared to the apostate churches. (Luke 12:32) The Scripture declares that “all the world wondered after the beast.” (Rev. 13:3) Jesus said, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt. 7:22, 23)

The experience of the twelve men sent to spy out the land of Canaan well illustrates the principle that the majority is usually wrong. The majority, eighty-three percent, brought back a wicked report. It was the majority that nailed Jesus to the cross. However, our courage is strengthened when we realize that while the majority of humanity is on the track of error; all the heavenly hosts are in perfect unity with God. We should pray that God will open our eyes just as He opened the eyes of Elisha’s servant when the Syrians had surrounded Dothan. (See 2Kings 6)

The Bible is Left Out

In reviewing the definition of “orthodox” it should be noted that nothing about the Bible is mentioned. The teachings of Scripture are not considered the criteria for “orthodox.” Instead, “traditional” beliefs, based upon the “ecumenical creed” and “commonly accepted, customary or traditional” practices are the paradigm for “orthodox.” Ellen G. White certainly accepted no such axiom. This standard can hardly be acceptable to the Christian who stands on the Bible and the Bible alone. She wrote:

But God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms. The opinions of learned men, the deductions of science, the creeds or decisions of ecclesiastical councils, as numerous and discordant as are the churches which they represent, the voice of the majority—not one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence for or against any point of religious faith. Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain “Thus saith the Lord” in its support. (Great Controversy, p. 595 - emphasis supplied)

A study of the writings of Ellen G. White reveals that she did not use the concept of “orthodox” in a favorable light. In fact, it was the “orthodox” ministers from the “orthodox” churches that attacked the Seventh-day Adventists and their message.

The orthodox churches used every means to prevent the belief in Christ’s soon coming from spreading. (Life Sketches, p. 59, 1915 ed. - Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 54)

From the beginning of my work, I have been pursued by hatred, reproach, and falsehood. Base imputations and slanderous reports have been greedily gathered up and widely circulated by the rebellious, the formalist, and the fanatic. There are ministers of the so-called orthodox churches traveling from place to place to war against Seventh-day Adventists, and they make Mrs. White their textbook. The scoffers of the last days are led on by these ministers professing to be God’s watchmen. (Selected Messages, bk. 1, p. 69)

The attack of “orthodox” ministers and churches upon God’s people is not a new plan, but one that has been in progress since ancient times. It is based on human fear and weakness. The carnal mind is insecure and does not wish to be thought of as being outside the norm. Satan used this plan well to prevent the people from hearing Jesus and he continues this plan to our day.

When Christ was upon earth, frowning priests and angry rulers threatened the people with exclusion from the synagogue, and thus kept many from hearing the great Teacher. To-day the so-called “orthodox” ministers by similar threats deter their hearers from listening to the words of Christ’s ambassadors. Many fear even to study the word of God for themselves, lest they shall be convinced. Young persons who find no attractions in the Bible, and who have never searched its pages, will, parrot-like, repeat the sayings of opposers to the truth. They imagine that it savors of manly independence to talk of having a mind of their own, when in fact they merely echo the opinions and sentiments of others. What the minister says in the desk, against the truth, is greedily devoured by those who love to have it so, and his assumptions, though wholly destitute of Scripture proof, are repeated as conclusive evidence. (Signs of the Times, March 16, 1882)

The contrast between the “orthodox” ministers and the sincere seeker of truth is well presented in the previous statement. The “orthodox” preacher stands on the sinking sand of “opinions and sentiments,” while “Christ’s ambassadors” stand on the firm platform of Scripture truth. As noted in the prior statement, the times of Christ show great similarity to our day.

From its earliest years the Jewish child was surrounded with the requirements of the rabbis. Rigid rules were prescribed for every act, down to the smallest details of life. Under the synagogue teachers the youth were instructed in the countless regulations which as orthodox Israelites they were expected to observe. But Jesus did not interest Himself in these matters. From childhood He acted independently of the rabbinical laws. The Scriptures of the Old Testament were His constant study, and the words, “Thus saith the Lord,” were ever upon His lips. (Desire of Ages, p. 84 - emphasis supplied)

Jesus, “the way, the truth, and the life,” was not concerned with what was “orthodox,” but rather with what the Scriptures said. If He is our example in all things, then why are so many of His professed followers interested in being “orthodox”? God has never required His people to accept the traditions of men to receive His approbation. In fact, God’s ideal has been for them to be a separate people. “For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.” (Numbers 23:9) “And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine.” (Lev. 20:26)

The Trinity is “Orthodox”

No doctrine of the Christian faith is supposed to be more orthodox than the Trinity. Let us examine it and see if it is really “orthodox” as its defenders claim.

First, is the Trinity traditional? Yes, the Trinity doctrine is a tradition not based upon Scripture. Let us first notice a Catholic statement printed in an early Review:

“Q. Have you any other way of proving that the Church has power to institute festivals of precept?

“A. Had she not such power, she could not have done that in which all modern religionists agree with her; - she could not have substituted the observance of Sunday the first day of the week, for the observance of Saturday the seventh day, a change for which there is no Scriptural authority.”

“Q. Do you observe other necessary truths as taught by the Church, not clearly laid down in Scripture?

“A. The doctrine of the Trinity, a doctrine the knowledge of which is certainly necessary to salvation, is not explicitly and evidently laid down in Scripture, in the Protestant sense of private interpretation.” (Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, August 22, 1854 - Quoted from Doctrinal Catechism, emphasis supplied.)

A special issue of the Adventist Review devoted to the 27 Fundamentals yields the following declaration concerning the doctrine of the Trinity.

While no single scriptural passage states formally the doctrine of the Trinity, it is assumed as a fact by Bible writers and mentioned several times.

Only by faith can we accept the existence of the Trinity. (Adventist Review, Vol. 158, No. 31, p. 4 - emphasis supplied)

Therefore, by both Catholic and Protestant admissions, the Trinity is a traditional doctrine not based upon the Scriptures.

Secondly, was the Trinity established by an “ecumenical creed”? Yes, the Trinity doctrine was established in the Catholic Councils at Nica (325 A. D.) and Constantinople (381 A. D.). A. T. Jones in his monumental work, The Two Republics, documents the Council of Nica to be the “Establishment of the Catholic Faith.” (See chapter fourteen.) The Nicene Creed is the basis for the Trinity doctrine. At this council, presided over by Constantine, it was the word of man, not God, that set the standard. “In 325, Constantine played a leading role in the Council of Nica, ... he defined orthodoxy.” (Enc. Amer., vol. 7, p. 649) The Catholic Church openly claims this doctrine, established at a council ruled over by a despotic tyrant, to be the central pillar of her faith.

The Mystery of the Trinity is the central doctrine of Catholic Faith. Upon it are based all the other teachings of the Church. (Handbook for Today’s Catholic, p. 11)

Thirdly, is the Trinity an “accepted, customary or traditional practice or belief”? Yes, the Trinity is an accepted belief today and is essential to be considered an evangelical Christian. The “Basis” of the World Council of Churches, in part, states the belief in “the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” (Constitution of the WCC) While the list of acceptable doctrines varies among evangelicals, the one doctrine that must be accepted and believed to be considered a part of the body of Christ is the Trinity doctrine. The compromises made between the Seventh-day Adventists and the evangelicals forty years ago could not have occurred if the doctrine of the Trinity had not been first accepted.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church was considered a cult for over 100 years because the rest of the Christian world did not consider us to be orthodox. With the acceptance of the Trinity doctrine after the death of Ellen G. White, the church put herself in a position to join hands with evangelicals. However, if we were going to be embraced by the rest of the world, we had to be willing to accept them. In 1926, the General Conference Executive Committee voted a statement: Relationship to other Societies. Part one of that statement declared:

We recognize every agency that lifts up Christ before men as a part of the divine plan for the evangelization of the world, and we hold in high esteem the Christian men and women in other communions who are engaged in winning souls to Christ. (Quoted from, So Much in Common, p. 73)

We were sending a message to the nominal churches: if you tone down on calling us a “cult,” we will tone down on calling you “Babylon.” The results are clearly seen today. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is accepted by most evangelicals as a part of the body of Christ; and we,sadly, have toned down the three angels’ messages.

Israel was not considered “orthodox” by ancient Babylon. Jesus, nor the Apostles, were considered “orthodox” by the religious leaders of their day. The Adventist pioneers were not considered “orthodox” by the nominal churches. If drinking of the wine of mystical Babylon is necessary to be “orthodox,” then I would rather take my stand with the unorthodox!

The Five Steps of Apostasy

In setting up of this “abomination that maketh desolate” (Dan.12:11), we see that five distinct steps were taken:-

1. Forming a creed, expressing their faith in man-made phrases instead of adhering to the word of the Lord.

2. Making that man-made creed a test of fellowship, and denouncing all as heretics who would not assent to the exact wording of their creeds.

3. Making the creed a rule by which all heretics must be tried. Many were thus declared sinners whose faith was more in harmony with the direct statements of the Bible than that of those who decreed against them.

4. Constituting themselves a tribunal for the trial of heretics, and excluding from their fellowship all who would not assent to their creeds. Not content to debar such from church privileges in this world, they declared them subjects for the lake of fire.

5. Having thus kindled a hatred in their own hearts against all who did not conform to their creeds, they next invoked and obtained the aid of the civil power to torture, and kill with sword, with hunger, with flame, and with beasts of the earth, those whom they had declared unfit to remain in the world.

Then appeared on the stage of action one class of professed Christians with a head over them, actually declaring that he was “God on earth,” persecuting another class of Christians who were conscientiously following the Lord and his Word, - a class of whom it might be said, in the light in which God views them (as was said, of the ancient worthies), “of whom the world was not worthy.” Heb.11:38. (J. N. Loughborough, The Church, Its Organization, Order, and Discipline, pp. 76, 77)

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