Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics

The misapprehension regarding “a-dogmatism” (non-sectarianism)

Dogma and hyper-Dogmatism

By Michael Mavroforakis

 Taken from a session of the Radio Station of the Church of Piraeus, from the series of radio programs on the subject of “Orthodoxy and Heresy”, by the B’ Biblical and its associates.

(Homily No. 50)

(First aired on the: 29-1-1993).

For Greek-speaking visitors, download the MP3 file from OODE, here


1. Hyper-dogmatism in Christianity as a symptom of egotism

We shall concern ourselves here with a “red-hot”, contemporary problem, which has two sides to it and which daily presents itself as even more threatening.  It is the problem of how much attention should be paid by a Christian to the dogmas of his faith. In other words, the question is posed as to how significant the dogmas are, or, otherwise, how necessary the fundamental teachings of the Christian faith are, in our “in Christ” increment and progress.

In this matter, as in practically all matters, most people do not select the middle path of the truth, but instead, incited by their inner passions and their personal perceptions, they shoot across to the extremes – to the one, or to the other.  Thus, many people believe that Man’s salvation depends exclusively on his dogmatic placement, and that it suffices to possess knowledge of the correct Christian dogmas in order for the faithful to secure a place in the Kingdom of God.  At the other extreme, we find a vast number of people who, for numerous reasons that we shall explain further along, believe that the dogmas of the Christian faith are utterly useless and in fact, in many cases even dangerous, and that the brunt of our endeavours for salvation should focus on the area of morality and good works. However, both these extreme positions are morbid and harmful, and neither of them can lead Man to perfection and fulfilment according to Christ, but on the contrary, they obstruct Man from finding the straight path to Salvation.

Those who embrace and adopt one of the above two erroneous positions regarding the dogmas of the Faith can be found in every Christian confession.  Representative examples – unfortunately not few but many – can also be found inside Orthodoxy.  Thus, although there may be people who albeit inside Orthodoxy carry these erroneous perceptions of the one hue or the other, the Church nonetheless condemns these positions as erroneous and harmful and She indicates and defines the path of Truth, which is the middle, balanced path.  In contrast, these same phenomena in the majority of the other Christian confessions have assumed an overall character and the erroneous perceptions have been given the status of an official teaching and have been rendered the objective for the mentality of the faithful. Most of the time, erroneous perceptions and extreme positions in various matters –mainly in theological ones– originate from a misconstrued interpretation or a misinterpretation of certain words, especially when the latter is combined with one’s ego, or pride, or other, similar passions and ailments of the human soul.


2. The meaning of the term «dogma»

So, before expounding each of these two extreme positions regarding the place and the worth of the dogma in the Christian fulfilment of Man, and before setting out the proper teaching of the Church, it would be useful to examine exactly what the word means and how it is used by the authors of the Holy Bible as well as the other, sanctified members of the Church, so that all the deviations and distortions that we are going to expose further along will become evident.

The word «dogma» is derived from the (Greek) verb «äļźž» (pron. dhokó), denoting an authentic opinion, of a mandatory nature and one that carries prestige. This is the context in which it was used, in order for theoretical or practical axioms to be defined by the founders of each philosophical (mainly) school; they were the axioms that had a mandatory character for the students or the followers of those schools. Later on, the word «dogma» was used to denote a supreme decision by a legal authority; in other words, the laws and the decrees of governing powers. This is the context in which it is frequently used in the Old Testament also, per the Septuagint translation:

12. Then the king in anger and fury decided to annihilate all the wise men of Babylon. 13. And a dogma (decree, decision) was issued, and the wise men were put to death.  (Daniel 2: 12-13).

It was in the same sense that Luke the Evangelist had also used it:

 1. In those days Caesar Augustus issued a dogma (decree, decision) that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (Luke 2:1).

It is therefore natural for this word to be used as denoting the mandatory decrees of the Mosaic Law, and indeed, that is the way that the Apostle Paul used it, in his Epistle to Ephesians:

15. by abolishing in His flesh the Law of Commandments, in its dogmas. (=the Law containing the Commandments, which consisted of decrees or stipulations) (Ephesians 2:15).

We see it used in the same sense in Colossians 2:14:

14…having expunged the manuscript that was against us, by means of dogmas (decrees, decisions), for it was hostile to us…

We can therefore clearly see that the Apostle Paul uses the term “dogmas” to describe the decrees and the commandments of God towards the Israelites. However, the Evangelist Luke likewise characterizes as “dogmas” the decisions of the first, Apostolic Synod in Jerusalem, in Acts 16:4:

4. ..and as they passed through the cities, they delivered to them -so that they might be upheld- the dogmas (decrees, decisions)  that were approved in Jerusalem by the apostles and the presbyters.

“Dogmas” therefore are also the ecclesiastic decisions that aspire to the solidification and preservation of the faithful inside the Body of Christ – the Church.

It is more than obvious, that there is an essential and basic difference between the various kinds of dogmas; that is, between the stipulations defined by philosophical schools and kings on the one hand, and the ecclesiastic dogmas on the other. This is because the dogmas that were approved by the Apostles and the presbyters in Jerusalem bore explicitly the seal of God. The very text of those ecclesiastic decisions had stated this (Acts 15:28):

15. for it was determined (approved) by the Holy Spirit and by us…

The determinant difference therefore that sets apart the dogmas of the genuine Church of Christ from all other human organisms, organizations and schools, is that the dogmas of the Church bear the stamp of divine revelation on them. In all of the other cases, dogmas are merely human stipulations.

We could, in summarizing the above, say that the genuine ecclesiastic dogmas are all the God-revealed theoretical and practical truths of the Faith which, from the very beginning are being preached by the Church and are upheld by Her members, and that their objective and their subject is the “in-Christ” salvation of the faithful.


3. The dogma as a simple reminder to the faithful that the Evangelical Truth is an expression of divine revelation

As previously mentioned, the Christian faith is outlined and defined by a sum of dogmas. Dogmas are in essence the theoretical and practical truths which have been revealed by God from the beginning and are considered necessary for our salvation. The genuine dogmas of the Church differ from the dogmas of other systems, religious organizations and confessions, inasmuch as they spring from divine revelation. They are linked from the very beginning to the Christian faith and are not altered or re-discovered with the passing of Time. Let us not forget that “the Faith was delivered once, to the Saints.” (Jude,3)

We need to clarify something here: quite often, we tend to label the decisions of the Ecumenical Synods as “dogmas”. And indeed they are, since they fall into the general definition that we mentioned, of “special cases”. Many of the basic and salvific teachings of the Church – especially those that pertained to theological and Christological topics – have either been subjected to alterations or have been totally distorted by various heretics at various times. This is why the Church was compelled – through Synodic decisions – to formulate in detail and precision the truths of the Faith, by exposing and simultaneously condemning all heretic pseudo-teachings. We must point out that while the teachings of the Church have always been upheld faithfully by Christians of all eras, nevertheless, they were provided with a specific form and definition whenever the Church found it necessary to defend Herself in cases of blatant and radical distortion of those teachings by heretics.

In other words, when many of the dogmas (which although originally expressed with somewhat clumsy, rough-cut terminology were nevertheless conscientiously upheld by the faithful) were altered by heretics and as a result were transformed from divine revelations into human clauses, thus losing their salvific character, then the Church was –synodically- compelled to formulate them with more precision and detail and deliver them, thereafter officially, to the faithful. This of course in no way constitutes a discovery of new dogmas; it merely constitutes a more accurate formulation of the already existing ones.  Thus, for example, as mentioned in the 15th chapter of the Book of Acts, the stipulations of the Mosaic Law were not officially abolished by the Apostolic Synod, nor were its decisions a novelty in the already existent Christian faith. With regard to its compulsory stipulations*, the Mosaic Law had ceased to apply, following the Crucifixional intervention of Christ. Thus, the dogmas of the Apostolic Synod aspired only to describe with accuracy and clarity the matter of validity of the Mosaic Law, at a time when some had attempted to distort the Christian Gospel with regard to this matter, thus eliminating the path to Salvation. In other words, the Apostolic Synod had dogmatized on the matter of the validity of the Law, at the precise moment when the already preached (albeit verbally, until then) positions of the Church were in danger of being misinterpreted and altered.

*OODE note: The compulsory stipulations of the Mosaic Law (abstaining from idol-offerings, strangled animals, fornication, respecting the Sabbath, etc.), also extended to the resident Gentiles as stipulations that were applied to everyone in general.

Whenever the God-sent revelatory dogmas of the Faith are in danger of being distorted, the Church records them with more precision by means of Synods, isolating and denouncing all heretic views. She does this, in order to safeguard the correctness and the directness of the path of Truth, whose boundaries are already defined by the dogmas, but even so, every now and then is still at risk of being distorted on account of the assorted heresies that appear.

We mentioned earlier that the dogmas of the Faith are the theoretical and practical truths that have been revealed by God, and it is precisely the point where they differ from the various other dogmas that express human inspirations and views.  So, how can we discern which are the genuine dogmas? This is an important and very serious issue, which demands a specialized study. Nevertheless, very briefly, we can say that the genuine dogmas must obviously be in complete agreement with the sources of the divine revelation. And which are the sources of divine revelation? They are of course the sum of the traditions of the true Church of Christ, which exist in two, complementary forms:  (a) the written form, the most important part of which is the Holy Bible and (b) the unwritten form, the verbal form, which has preserved everything that was not possible to be recorded, either because of its extent, or because of prevailing conditions. We must stress at this point that the bearer of divine revelation is the Lord Jesus Christ and His Body – that is, the genuine members of the genuine Christian Church – and not the Holy Bible alone, as the various Protestant groups assert. The Holy Bible simply provides a brief but unfeigned history and a description of divine revelations. It is NOT per se the divine revelation, which –through Grace- is recognized and appropriated by the faithful experientially, and not through the study of texts and intellectual processes of the mind.  A divine revelation is NOT the philosophical and literary study of texts that speak of divine revelation, which unfortunately is where the followers of various Protestant confessions exhaust themselves; it is an actual participation in the life of Christ and a communing in the Holy Spirit.

However, let us not extend further into these most interesting areas, so that we might concentrate on the issue of dogmas that we are presently discussing.  Divine revelation, therefore, is the source but also the criterion for the genuineness of the dogmas of the Christian faith.


4. The place of the dogma in the Church and its historical, gradual deterioration in the West

Now that we have placed the term “dogma” in its correct context (albeit for some people, but also for entire sectors, the word alone induces immediate and violent reactions), let us examine the place of dogmas within the Christian faith, and how that place is distorted by many.

As evidenced by what we said earlier, the dogmas of our faith are nothing more than the teachings of our Church originally delivered by God, whether they pertained to the practical life of Christians or their theoretical instruction in the mysteries of salvation. It is customary, whenever we hear the word “dogmas”, for us to assume that these are the theoretical aspects of Christian theology, thus distinguishing them apart from the practical rules which have erroneously been labelled as “morality”. This distinction is by far an inappropriate one, having sprung from the western perception that Man is comprised of an intelligence that can approach God and a body that obstructs this goal and as such, is useless and worth discarding. As we have noted, the dogmas of the first Apostolic Synod also included practical advice, such as: “abstain from consuming idol-sacrifices and blood and strangled meat and from fornication” (Acts 15:29).

Man is sanctified as a whole, and any divine stipulations (=the dogmas) have just that objective in mind.  They are not theoretical stipulations, which have come to be regarded as a kind of intellectual exercise and a means to project the mental capabilities of intellectual theologians. This is unfortunately the form that they were given in the West and comprises an equally severe perversion of reality, just as it is a perversion for one to convert one’s food – which is an essential means of sustenance in life – into an object intended only for exhibiting and for pleasure.

So, let us now slowly take a look at how the matter of Church dogmas took a wrong turn along the road, and where it stands today.  Roughly speaking, we can say that initially everything was going well; the Church, being generally united, was able to successfully confront – in the synodic manner – every large-scale attack on Her genuine dogmas by miscellaneous heretics. In time, the Franks prevailed throughout the roman West; they forcefully changed the leadership of the Church there, thus severing the Christian West from the corpus of the Church. In other words, the Schism – the breaking away of the Papist ‘church’ – had been achieved. Naturally, as expected, it was necessary for this new ‘church’ to alter some of the dogmas of the faith and add others (which were not in agreement with the divine revelations and the teachings delivered by the Apostles), in order to anchor its existence. Examples of such novelties are the theories on Papal primacy and infallibility; on the “immaculate conception” of the Theotokos, e.a.  It is obvious that the Papists were led to the distortion of the Church’s genuine Tradition, not only out of ulterior motives, but also because they had consciously cut themselves off from this same Tradition and were thus deprived of all theoretical awareness of the dogmas, in conjunction with the empirical confirmation thereof, which is granted (through Grace and originating from revelation) to those who are worthy: in other words, to the Saints.  Thus, the live experience of divine revelation per se (which is the objective of all Christians) had now been replaced by the philosophical analysis of the writings that deal with divine revelation, and specifically, with the Holy Bible.

The dogmas therefore, instead of continuing to be the living testimony of the Church regarding divine revelation, have now ended up a mere topic for philosophical processing and dogmatics have become a theoretical science taught at university schools, by theologians who do not possess a genuine experience of in-Christ life and who often declare themselves to be altogether atheist. It was to be expected, therefore, that the dogmatics of the Papist ‘church’ would deviate significantly from the true dogmatics as delivered by the Apostles and would consequently even conflict with the smallest fragment of Apostolic Tradition that is recorded in the Holy Bible.  This gradually came to the attention of many, and, despite the severe suppressive measures imposed by the Papist “church” against every objection or differentiation to the new, arbitrary dogmas it had set down, it wasn’t long before several new groups were created, who had radically differentiated themselves from the Papist “church”, simultaneously differentiating certain of its dogmas also. These groups came to be known as “Protestants”.

It needs to be noted that the questioning of certain Papist dogmas by those Protestant offshoots was not based on any actual experiences of divine revelation, or even on the existing Apostolic Tradition – whose guardian and unerring ‘road sign’ is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – but instead was based solely on literary and philosophical studies of the Holy Bible and unfortunately in conjunction with the personal pursuits of the leaders of those protestant movements.

However, by losing portions of its faithful, the Papist “church” was automatically losing a part of its domination; and it was precisely in the name of those new dogmas that scores of historical crimes were inflicted: tortures, slaughters, battles, etc… The dogmas, as we said, were only the pretexts for these crimes; the underlying reasons were basically the personal passions, the renegade perceptions and the sovereign rights that the leaders of those confessions wanted to have over their followers. And this precise phenomenon continues, even to this day. From within the various (mainly protestant) confessions, each aspiring leader of a new religion usually “discovers” certain tiny or huge philosophical differences in one or more of the dogmas of the larger whole; he will infect as many as he can from the group he presently belongs to and will depart with them, to start a new, superficially Christian confession.  That is why nowadays we have been flooded with literally thousands of Protestant offshoots: for most of them, dogmas are not God-sent, revealed theoretical and practical teachings that were delivered by Christ and the Apostles and upheld by those worthy within the Church; they are merely a means by which the lawless heresy-leaders can achieve their illicit goals; i.e. through suitable philosophical manipulations, they are utilized to acquire followers and to also achieve further illicit and ignoble pursuits.

It was to be expected therefore, that the various new “Christian” offshoots that were born in this manner would place a special emphasis on their own dogmatic beliefs versus the other confessions’ dogmatic beliefs; after all, these dogmatic differences is what gave them their own separate hypostasis and identity, differentiating them from all the others.  Dogmatic differences, which in essence are nothing more than the differences in philosophical views and interpretations of the letter – without any relevance to the spirit of the true Church are the elements that every single heresy can display, in order to justify its existence.


5. The pathology in the teachings of the «teachers of other things»

Thus, the leaderships of these superficially Christian “churches” strive especially hard to underline these dogmatic discoveries to their followers and to project them as the only absolutely correct ones.  This method – in most of its forms – is more of a brainwashing procedure; one that breeds fanaticism in followers, who come to believe themselves to be far more privileged than other fellow-humans and thus apply themselves to the preaching of those theories with added zeal - or even in heated arguments of all kinds - whenever they encounter others who oppose them or disagree with them.  It is in this category that the words of the Apostle Paul apply absolutely: “for I testify about them, that they have a zeal for God, but not an awareness; for, by not knowing of God’s sense of fairness, and in seeking to compose their own idea of fairness, they did not submit themselves to the fairness of God.” (Romans 10:2-3). This refers to all those who - albeit having a zeal for God -do not have a proper awareness of God and at the same time their pride does not allow them to submit to God’s notion of fairness, but instead, it incites them to compose their own religious laws.

But the Apostle also says something else, this time cauterizing their audacity for philosophizing on the already formulated dogmas of the Apostles and rejecting some of those dogmas and altering others, even though they have no personal, empirical, revelatory knowledge of them:  “…instruct some of them to not teach other things, or to pay attention to myths and interminable genealogies, which will give rise to disputes rather than edify the faith in God; the conclusion of this instruction is: love from a pure heart, a clear conscience and unfeigned faith, from which things some people - who were seduced – deviated towards futile words, in their desire to be teachers of the law when they do not understand what they are saying, nor do they know what they are insisting on…” (1 Tim.1:3-7)  What the Apostle is saying here is absolutely clear and it applies fully to today’s “teachers of other things” – that is, to all those who with the pretext and the opportunity of new dogmas create divisions upon divisions within the Christian-named flock, their aim being the lead position of teacher in a new group.

But let us take a look at the Apostle’s opinion of these “teachers of other things” – the teachers of new or altered dogmas. We can read this, in the same Epistle to Timothy:  3 If one happens to teach false doctrines and does not follow the sound instructions of our Lord Jesus Christ and of pious teaching, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing and is ailing in conversations and arguments from which come envy, strife, blasphemous words, evil suspicions, 5 and futile conversations with men of corrupt mind and lacking the truth, who think that piety is a way of becoming wealthy. Stay away from such people. (1 Tim. 6:3-5).

These are truly very severe characterizations that the Apostle Paul is addressing to those who alter the theoretical or practical teaching of the Church; that is, to those who alter the already delivered dogmas. Furthermore, the fact is that the term used to denote those who teach the dogmas of the Church with alterations is testified by the etymology of the (Greek) word, “hetero-didaskaloi” (=teachers of other things) and also, there is the Apostle’s specific statement that these peopledo not follow the sound instructions of our Lord Jesus Christ and of pious teaching”. Thesound instructionsof the Lord and thepious teachingare the sum of the dogmas – that is, the teachings of the Apostolic Church, whose foundation is Christ.  So, how does the Apostle Paul characterize those “teachers of other things”? As ones who are “blinded with arrogance”, or in other words “full of themselves”. Full of what? Of ego and pride, believing that they know everything. And is that actually the case? Listen to what he says: Į teacher of other things is blinded with arrogance and he knows nothing.” But how can he “know nothing”, when he is involved in discussions and arguments and conversations (futile ones of course)? Well, the reason is quite simple. It is quite possible, that every teacher of other things and heresy leader may possess a wealth of secular education and might even be a distinguished and fully informed university theologian, and yet, in matters of God, “know nothing”. Because God has befuddled the wisdom of this world. Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this aeon? (1 Cor. 1:20).  Worldly knowledge, if not accompanied by humility and piety, is a destructive weapon and will topple a man and all those who follow him, into bottomless depths. The Apostle Paul writes that knowledge puffs up a person (1 Cor. 8:2); in other words, it inflates a man with egotism and arrogance, just as air inflates a balloon and if one is not careful, it will burst with a loud noise. James, the brother of the Lord, writes the following about worldly wisdom: as for this wisdom, it does not descend from above, but is terrestrial, animal-like and demonic.” (James 3:15).  The “teachers of other things” therefore “know nothing and they do not understand what they are saying, nor do they know what they are insisting on.”

6. The Apostolic Church has the Holy Spirit as Her infallible guide

As we know, correct knowledge is one that is accompanied by analogous experience – experience that is verified by experiments. Therefore, when someone speaks of God and His gifts, without possessing a personal experience of any of these things (and especially when he is directly and clearly confronted by others, who have acquired such personal experiences; i.e., the Church and Her Saints) then it is more than obvious that he does not understand what he is saying; he knows nothing, nor does he know what he is insisting on. But the same does not occur in the genuine Apostolic Church. Because the Church does not speculate or theorize about the dogmas. She does have the Holy Bible as a genuine guide and a historic reference to divine revelation, however, the objective of each and every faithful is to personally experience and confirm a divine revelation. In other words, to be led from the theoretical and verbally taught knowledge, to the empirical knowledge of God – which is realized in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, and with the Church of the Saints as conductor.

Let us recall what the Lord told His disciples: for when He comes – the Spirit of the Truth – He shall lead you to every truth” and “…as for the Paraclete - the Holy Spirit that the Father shall send forth in My name - He shall teach you everything and will remind you of everything that I had said to you(John 16:13 and 14:26).  Let us be aware that the genuine and complete teaching and reminder of the dogmas of the Truth are not possible through human means or practices (such as books, historical memory etc.) but only through the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit. We are reassured of this, by the Apostle and Evangelist John in his first Epistle, as follows:  “…and you have the anointing from the Holy One, and you know everything (1 John 2:20). The anointing (chrismation) therefore, which they received from God through the Sacraments of Grace, is what teaches them and makes them “know everything”. They are certified in the knowledge of the faith, but not through human means and processes.  Further down, we read again that: “…and the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need  anyone to teach you; but as that same anointing teaches you about all things, thus it is also true and is not a lie, and as it has taught you, you will abide in Him. (1 John 2:27)

We can see here that there is not even the slightest margin for philosophical and literary analyses, suppositions and theories. The Holy Spirit teaches the faithful directly, perfectly and correctly, and does not leave them with any blanks and doubts. Thus, whoever did not receive the Holy Spirit, have necessarily strived to examine the knowledge of God through other means, which is why they have been led to thousands of different formulations, theories and suppositions.  Instead of humbly admitting their immense deficiency and proceeding to re-attach themselves to the Church in order to attain the empirical and experiential knowledge of God - via the path that Christ Himself had designated and was followed by all the Saints with successful results - they have instead raised themselves above this, and, by imagining that their own secular knowledge is an adequate and sure provision, they have ventured to dogmatize on God and thereafter drag others downhill with them.

Unfortunately, we need to interrupt this analysis here, in the hope that we will be given another opportunity to expand on the subject even more, and to also touch on the antipodes of this fallacy of hyper-dogmatism - which is none other than “adogmatism” - which we believe is nowadays evolving into an equally dangerous enemy of the Church, if not a bigger one.

In the meantime, let us pray for the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to protect us from “hetero-teachings” as well as unfruitful “hyper-dogmatism”, which blinds and fanaticizes mankind and does not allow him to see the straight path towards Salvation.


Radio transcript: Th. Anastasiou

Translation:  K. N.

Article published in English on: 22-8-2008.

Last update: 22-8-2008.