Beware of Dead Orthodoxy

What is Dead Orthodoxy? What are the historical conditions that give rise to the phenomenon that we call dead orthodoxy. Dead orthodoxy rises in a church that has been engaged in a fierce struggle for the truth after she has been forced to make a sharp distinction between truth and error. From one point of view a period such as that is good for a church, for she is forced to give a clear and precise expression of God’s Word over against those that oppose her. The church at such time is alive, vibrant, she is spiritually at a high point. That church gives expression to the truths that she has hammered out in battle by means of a creed, a statement of what she believes. That creed is to give a concrete formulation, and to preserve that which she has confessed over against those who have opposed her. That confession, although set down on paper, really lives in the heart of those who made it.
Soon after the heat of the battle is over that church lets down her defenses, she is weary of battle; she is not so ready to go out to battle again. She feels that once she has fought the battle and formulated the answer to the enemy, that answer, her creed, will be enough to turn back the foe. But her creed will not stop the attacks of the enemy. The church must always be ready to counter all attacks with the only effective weapon, and that being her living confession of the truth of Scripture. Once the church allows only that creed to make her confession she is in trouble. She is still orthodox, of course, but dead. Dead orthodoxy has set it.
Many churches, once truly orthodox, have become dead. Their confessions no longer live in their hearts, but only on paper. Let us cite a couple of instances in which the phenomenon known as dead orthodoxy has manifest itself in history.
The first is the great Lutheran Reformation. You will recall how Luther and his followers were engaged in a fierce battle with the Roman Catholic Church and later with others. They fought long and hard for the truth, and they gave expression to it by means of creeds. Then, weary of battle they let down their defenses as if the battle was forever finished. The orthodox truth was still proclaimed from their pulpits, but it no longer lived in the hearts of the people. Corruption and apostasy were soon rampant in the church, and it was headed for trouble.
A second instance occurred in the Netherlands prior to the Synod of Dort (1618-1619). The followers of J. Arminius (Remonstrants) sought to introduce into the Reformed Churches serious errors. After much warfare a synod was called to settle the matter and that synod formulated in answers to the Remonstrants a creed known as the Canons of Dort. But again when the battle ceased, and the issues were forgotten the Reformed Churches drifted in a period of dead orthodoxy.
You, young people, and I must be careful and concerned that dead orthodoxy does not take hold of our churches and rob us of our vitality. For our churches came into existence as a result of a battle for the truth over against error. Our church once throbbed with the vitality of a living confession of the truth. Now after 45 years, a history characterized by struggle, are our people willing to lay down the defenses? Have the issues been forgotten? Is the truth for which we fought no longer precious to us? Are we on the verge of what might be called a period of dead orthodoxy? This, coupled with the fact that a church always tends not to reformation but to deformation, should cause us to be concerned.
Let us briefly consider this matter of a tendency to decline. Why does a church always tend to deformation? What are its causes? Three causes can be cited for this tendency. First of all, there are some that come to our churches from the outside but do not really understand nor love the truth as it is maintained in our churches. There are many varied reasons why they came to our churches, but if they do not have the principle of reformation in their hearts they will be dissatisfied. They will be a constant source of trouble to the church. Secondly, there are those who are born and reared in the church but reveal themselves to be of carnal seed. They do not love the truth nor are they concerned that it be maintained; but to the contrary, they love the lie and would seek to introduce error into our churches. Thirdly, in explanation as to why a church continually tends to deformation and decline, we must not forget that among believers, even the holiest, there is but a small beginning of the new obedience. Believers, who have joined our churches for the love of the truth and those who have grown up in the church, still have a strong inclination to go along with the world.
The world today as you young people know, has more to offer in pleasures and entertainment than ever before. These pleasures are so easy to enjoy. We have all the means to obtain them. Sports and movies are now enjoyed within the walls of our homes by means of television. The pleasures of the world can lull the church to sleep. Then she will no longer jealously guard the truth which was once her living confession, but she will merely pay lip service to the creeds.
What are our creeds? Can you name them? What do our creeds say? Have you read them? Do our creeds give expression to what lives in your hearts or are they dead and meaningless? In answering these questions we can see if we have any tendencies to dead orthodoxy in our church.
What are the defenses against dead orthodoxy? The first and chief weapon against dead orthodoxy is the pure preaching of the Word, and that, by God’s grace, we have. We can thank God for ministers who know and love the truth and clearly expound that truth of God’s Word to us. There is no substitute for the pure preaching and without it a church is on its way to apostasy. Let us never forget that fact young people, lest we look for some other defense which will prove to be a tool of the enemy. Many say that the only way the church will survive is if she gets involved in the social problems and affairs of our day. Social action is not the answer. The pure preaching is.
The second guard against dead orthodoxy is to know and love the creeds. That implies that we read them and study them. The creeds are worthy subjects of our study, at home, in school and in our churches for they give expression to nothing but the truth of God’s Word. Only if our creeds are the living confession of our hearts will they be meaningful to us. If our creeds become forgotten pages in the back of the Psalter, we are in trouble. If we lose our creeds we lost the truth of Scripture. Are the creeds your living confession or are they dead documents to you? Beware of Dead Orthodoxy!

Originally Published in:
Vol. 30 No 2 April 1970