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.
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 , 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.