Don’t Be Afraid of Orthodoxy

My first exposure to the word “Othodox” was in reading the book “The Chosen,” by Chaim Potok, and the subsequent movie starring Robby Benson. It tells the story of two teenagers growing up in Brooklyn – one a “Hasidic Jew,” and another an “Orthodox Jew.” It also involved baseball, which is a good thing.

My other introduction with the word was in the context of learning about the Greek Orthodox Church, which split away from the Roman Catholic Church way back in 1054, due to political, social and theological disagreements. Even though it is essentially a splinter group, it is still the second largest Christian church in the world.

That was pretty much the extent of my interaction with the word “orthodox.”

Since then, I hear it occasionally in LDS circles. Often with a negative connotation. Last night a friend and I were chatting about the word and it caused me to actually dig in and try to understand it better, and how it fits in to our theology.

So I looked it up in the dictionary, and here is what is says. (Which, by the way, is the absolute worst way ever to start a sacrament talk.) I’m only including the salient definitions.

orthodox [awr-thuh-doks] adjective

1. of, relating to, or conforming to the approved form of any doctrine, philosophy, ideology, etc.

2. of, relating to, or conforming to beliefs, attitudes, or modes of conduct that are generally approved.
3. customary or conventional, as a means or method; established.
4. sound or correct in opinion or doctrine, especially theological or religious doctrine. (link)

As you can see, the main point of the word is simply about conforming to the correct doctrine or theology. In both of the examples, the religions discussed, whether they be Orthodox Jew, or Orthodox Christian, are an effort by those groups to adhere more closely to what they believe is the more correct theology.

Of course, as a kid, I just thought they were the weird fringe element of their church. A very naive way to look at things. Since then, I have come to understand the orthodoxy that runs through the LDS theology. I have also learned to love it.

I have written about “conformity before (link) so I will focus on other areas right now.

When asked where I felt orthodoxy falls on the spectrum of LDS thought and behavior, I mentioned that I don’t have much use for spectrums when it comes to gauging religious dedication – precisely because our religious standing before God is a very individual thing. As Sting once said, “Men go crazy in congregations, but they only get better one by one.”

I don’t feel the need to entertain where orthodoxy falls on some “Spectrum of Mormons,” but I do know this: What do you call a group of Orthodox Mormons?  Zion. One heart, one mind.

Orthodoxy is not something to fear, but something to aspire to. As we embrace greater orthodoxy in our lives, we become more Christlike, and more united in a Zion sort of way.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “Ultimate orthodoxy—and orthodoxy isn’t a popular word nowadays—is expressed in the Christlike life, which involves both mind and behavior. Christ’s manner of life is truly “the way, the truth, and the life,” and He has directed us to pursue His example.” (link)

Elder Maxwell does point out that the word orthodoxy has its detractors nowadays. Some people use it as a way to slam people for being what they perceive to be self-righteous. I recently saw the word used to describe “Mormon Nazis.” That ain’t right. More often I hear the term used in conjunction with the Pharisees, as in “the Pharisees were super-orthodox, but raging hypocrites.”

I would ask this: Is it even possible to be Pharisaical and be orthodox? It seems to me that the very hypocrisy would strip one of the title of orthodox.

We need to embrace orthodoxy and what it represents, even though it is not always appreciated by those shouting from the Great and Spacious. It is worth the effort. In one of the greatest General Conference talks ever given, Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “True orthodoxy thus brings safety and felicity! It is not only correctness but happiness. Strange, isn’t it, even the very word orthodoxy has fallen into disfavor with some? As society gets more and more flaky, a few rush forward to warn shrilly against orthodoxy!” (link)

The more orthodox our beliefs and our practices, the more we love Christ. The more we love Christ, the greater our desire to be orthodox.

I’m sure that put some of you back on your heels, but it is rather simple. Christ defined a very specific way to determine how much we love him: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) We don’t show our love for the Savior by merely professing it, or creating an emotional bond with Him. We show it by keeping the commandments. The better we are, and the harder we try to keep the commandments, the more we love Christ.

In speaking of the commandments, Elder Robert D. Hales taught this:

“These commandments are loving instructions provided by God our Father for our physical and spiritual well-being and happiness while in mortality. Commandments allow us to know the mind and will of God regarding our eternal progression. And they test our willingness to be obedient to His will.

The commandments are not a burden or a restriction. Every commandment of the Lord is given for our development, progress, and growth. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “God has designed our happiness. … He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 256).

How I love the commandments of the Lord! They guide and protect us and allow us to return back into the presence of our Heavenly Father.” (link)

That doesn’t sound like something we should try to avoid, or disdain, does it?

It isn’t enough that we should try to embrace orthodoxy in our religious lives, we are committed to teach it as well.

 President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “We hope that you who teach in the various organizations, whether on the campuses or in our chapels, will always teach the orthodox truth. We warn you against the dissemination of doctrines which are not according to the scriptures and which are alleged to have been taught by some of the General Authorities of past generations. (link)

For years I have been saying the same thing to anyone who will listen: If we are living the gospel the same this year as we were last year, we don’t understand it.

We are meant to refine, to become more obedient and to gain greater understanding as we move through mortality. If we find ourselves becoming less “orthodox” in our beliefs and practices, we are slackening our grip on the iron rod and at greater risk of drifting away.

Orthodoxy is good. Orthodoxy means obedience. Orthodoxy is a characteristic of Zion. Orthodoxy is Christlike. In a few weeks we will have an opportunity to have God’s mouthpieces tell us more about what they and He consider to be our orthodox duties and increase our understanding. This is important because orthodoxy is not self-defined. That’s God’s job.

So, if anyone criticizes you for being orthodox, offer them a sincere “thank you,” and keep climbing upward.

About the author


  1. Thank you for helping me to think and ponder. I have always thought that “enduring to the end” was not the attitude I wanted, I pray I may be found “striving till the end”.

  2. Joseph Smith said that any religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never produces the faith necessary. Yet today members are screaming that the church change …
    I’m so sad. I love you all but until you learn that the Lord is serious when He says you will have to sacrifice to gain faith you will not understand. We gave up all our earthly good to serve a mission and have never been happier. When we returned, though we struggled, the Lord blessed us as He did Job.
    Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.

    1. I don’t know who the “you” is in this comment, but i questioned weather to approve it or not because of the accusatory tone

  3. “What do you call a group of Orthodox Mormons? Zion. One heart, one mind.” <——– Perfect. I love this so much. If only we all made the effort to think, "That's a thing in the gospel? Ok, let's do it." Reminds me of Elder Sabin's talk from last conference about being "All In."

    Not to go against the "one mind," but the actual absolute worst way ever to start a sacrament talk is with "My phone rang and I saw it was the bishop…" or "I was walking down the hallway at church when I saw Brother [Counselor]…" Give me a definition any day over that.

  4. Beautifully and clearly said, all of you who have commented thus far. I’ve always had a favorable feeling for the word and meaning of orthodoxy. When young, I had a few Catholic friends, so I looked up and learned about the Catholic church (out of curiosity), and also discovered in that process what the Greek Orthodox Church was. I thought, ‘If I didn’t know what I know (from the LDS Church) and had to chose one or the other of these two, I would pick the Greek Orthodox church over the Catholic church simply because it did stick to the original teachings.’

    We had a lesson last year in Relief Society about the need to move upward and onward. We are like the Rich Young Man who asked Jesus what more did he need to do to gain eternal life. When told of the commandments to keep, he said he had done so all his life. Then the Savior said that he should sell all he had and give to the poor and come follow Him. He couldn’t do it at that time, at least, and I like to think that perhaps he had a change of heart later after giving it some more thought. But the question to us was, what do we need to do or to give up in order to progress? After all, most of us in the room had been members all or most of our lives, thus as the young man, we had always kept the commandments…so now what? We need to move on, do more, be more, give up whatever stands in our way of progression toward becoming all that we were sent here to become, and to serve our fellow beings, to love them as He loves them. To strictly keep our covenants. And we can’t do that without ORTHODOXY.

  5. Dear MMM:
    You know the passages about “a house divided” not standing or coming to desolation? I’ve thought about them lately as person after friend after acquaintance steps away from the Church and gospel. It leaves a kind of mournful feeling to have church family leave.

    I’ve also been wondering about the scene at the time of Christ’s return — who will be in whatever place (or places) to greet him as per our orthodoxy. I’ve also pondered when our personal second comings happen (at “death”) how one might feel having turned away from covenants, apostles, prophets and ongoing revelation. So many believe they are making their departure in fidelity to self, as a brand of integrity, as if Christ said, “Follow your heart” instead of “Follow me.”

    I’m glad for your study and sharing on the topic of wholehearted membership in the Church/kingdom of God on earth. As I walk the course of ordinances, obedience and repentance, I feel strengthened by the reminder that it is actually the confirmations and testaments of orthodoxy that have brought the greatest blessings and benefits to my life, not my own imagination. I have found little lasting comfort in my doubts and interpretations.

    So, thank you for some underlining on these thoughts.

    1. Thank you for adding to them so eloquently. Your thoughts reminded me of what I told my son who is learning how to drive, “Your opinions on this subject don’t matter.”

    2. The key is that Christ will actually purify and enlarge our heart–our challenge in discipleship is to come to the point where “following your heart” and following the Savior become one and the same. His aim is our eternal happiness, glory, and joy; can the world even come close?

  6. I grew up in the Baptists in Western Ky. in the 1950’s and 1960’s. We would sing a song titled, Give me that old time religion. I have found that old time religion in The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints. The orthodox latter day saints.

  7. In the past few years the description “TBM” or “True Believing Mormon” has been used by many who now reject the LDS faith, or who are still (obstensibly) active in the church, but who take a more “realistic and open-minded” approach to living the gospel (as they might describe it). They use the term TBM as a condescending put-down of those are orthodox in their gospel living. It’s a thinly veiled insult, and implies that those who are TBM aren’t yet “woke,”….(another annoying, condescending word that is in current fashion). However, if I am truly aligned with Christ, doesn’t this make me MORE in tune with reality, MORE “woke?” Call me orthodox or TBM any day…I consider it a compliment.

  8. Great points about orthodoxy, but the part that hits me right between the eyes today is “If we are living the gospel the same this year as we were last year, we don’t understand it.” BOOM! So maybe what I did last year was good enough for last year, but this is this year…time to take it to the next level.

  9. This is a very good and very important post. I appreciated it for many reasons. I have seen too many in the LDS Blogosphere smugly mock those who stand by the doctrine, the Brethren, the commandments and church handbook. We should not cower or apologize when we’re called “orthodox Mormons” but stand up a little tallerl

    It reminds me of something my father taught me at a young age. He came home from a Stake training meeting in Southern Alberta where the Stake President taught about the importance of orthodoxy in the church. He said, “We must work constantly to keep the orthodoxy in the church. We must be defenders of orthodoxy.”

    I think I was about 16 years old when he told me about that training, and we’ve talked about this advice in our family many times over the years. I think this teaching has helped all of us siblings stay firm in the faith and be defenders of orthodoxy ourselves, and we owe it to our good parents.

  10. Thank you for the post. I love observation, “What do you call a group of Orthodox Mormons? Zion. One heart, one mind… Orthodoxy is not something to fear, but something to aspire to. As we embrace greater orthodoxy in our lives, we become more Christlike, and more united in a Zion sort of way.”

  11. Just a thought, having spent my professional career in dentistry, I remember the basis of the word is “ortho” as in orthodontics, meaning “straight”. Straight is the way and few there be that find it. Thanks for this message MMM. From the OMW (Old Mormon Woman)

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