The LCMS Praesidium wrote in its decision on March 29, 1999 that Dr. Nordlie’s book, teaching, and preaching confuse Law and Gospel. However, one of the reasons they say they will not suspend him is because many others in the Synod are guilty of the same error. It may therefore be appropriate to review the distinction between heterodox and orthodox.
Every “Christian” church is either heterodox or orthodox. “Christian” means that the congregation and/or church body confesses the basic parts of the Christian religion such as the Holy Scriptures, the Creeds, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.
The Greek word “dox” means to give glory to God (John 9:24) by telling the truth about Him. But the current meaning is more related to the word “dogma” or belief. The prefix “hetero” comes from a Greek word “heteros” which means other, another, different, strange, altered or changed. Heterodox means another, different, or altered doctrine taught in the church. Orthodox comes from the Greek word, “orthos” which means rightly, plainly, correctly, or properly. Orthodox means the correct or right teaching of doctrine in the church. Any addition to or removal of the correct teaching of true doctrine immediately makes a church heterodox.
In his three volume set titled “Christian Dogmatics” published by CPH in 1957, Francis Pieper gives some of the following criteria and characteristics of a heterodox church.
1. A church is heterodox if it teaches reconciliation, wholly or in part,
by man's own works. (I 9)
2. Heterodoxy leaves man in the fear and despair of uncertainty (I 11)
3. Heterodoxy demands toleration since, "saints," true children of God, had taught these errors (I 88). In other words, the sincerity of the confused teacher is more important than what he taught.
4. In their writings the heterodox vitiate the article of justification by introduction of works, but in their heart and before God they believe in justification by faith alone. (II 517)
5. There are Christians among heterodox churches. (III 392, 424)
6. Toleration of false doctrine in its midst makes a congregation or church body heterodox. (III 422)
7. Heterodox church bodies are "Church" in so far as they retain enough Gospel to save men (III 423). They exist only by God's sufferance. (III 423)
8. Christ denied the Samaritan Church the right to existence as a separate church organization, but repeatedly acknowledged individual Samaritans as true children of God. (III 424)
9. Fellowship with heterodox churches is prohibited by God (III 425ff) and is call unionism. Unionism with a heterodox church automatically makes both churches heterodox. (III 425)
Part one of the Epitome of Formula of Concord gives a clear definition of orthodoxy in the Lutheran Church
“Of the summary content, rule and standard according to which all dogmas should be judged, and the erroneous teachings [controversies] that have occurred should be decided and explained in a Christian way.
1] 1. We believe, teach, and confess that the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas together with [all] teachers should be estimated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament alone, as it is written Ps. 119, 105: Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. And St. Paul:
Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you, let him be accursed, Gal. 1, 8.
2] Other writings, however, of ancient or modern teachers, whatever name they bear, must not be regarded as equal to the Holy Scriptures, but all of them together be subjected to them, and should not be received otherwise or further than as witnesses, [which are to show] in what manner after the time of the apostles, and at what places, this [pure] doctrine of the prophets and apostles was preserved.
3] 2. And because directly after the times of the apostles, and even while they were still living, false teachers and heretics arose, and symbols, i. e., brief, succinct [categorical] confessions, were composed against them in the early Church, which were regarded as the unanimous, universal Christian faith and confession of the orthodox and true Church, namely, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, we pledge ourselves to them, and hereby reject all heresies and dogmas which, contrary to them, have been introduced into the Church of God.
In his three volume set Pieper makes reference to some of the characteristics of orthodoxy as follows:
1. We strictly confessional Lutherans owe everything (including our
orthodoxy) to God's grace. (I x)
2. Orthodoxy is the divinely intended form of the Christian Church.(I 184)
3. Only the Symbols (the Lutheran Confessions) the of orthodox church are the affirmation of Scriptural doctrine. (I 354)
4. An orthodox church confesses the doctrinal content of the Lutheran Confessions, without any exception whatever, as not conflicting, neither in a fundamental nor in a secondary point of doctrine with Holy Scripture. (I 357)
5. Orthodox Lutherans substitute infused grace for God's favor, when they rely on their feeling of grace instead of objective Gospel. (II 13)
6. An orthodox Lutheran correctly regards as superfluous any reflection on his own inner status in seeking assurance of forgiveness. (III 174)
7. An orthodox Lutheran turns to Word and Sacrament to cure weak faith. (III 205)
8. A congregation or church body which abides by God's order as to Word and Sacraments is orthodox. (III 422)
9. Doctrines laid down in the Lutheran Confessions must be professed and actually taught for a church to be orthodox. (III 422)
10. Orthodoxy is not lost through the casual rather than the formal intrusion of false doctrine. (III 423)
11. A church body loses its orthodoxy through toleration of false doctrine without reproof. (III 423)
12. God desires that all congregations be orthodox. (III 423)
13. An orthodox church is aware that it cannot manufacture doctrine, but can only profess articles of faith against insurgent error. (III 430)
14. There have been times when orthodox Christians had to depend on the preaching of the Word in homes. (III 449)