What are orthodox Christians?

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To be "an orthodox Christian" means to have the right or correct opinion about Christian doctrine.

However, who is entitled to judge that? One approach is for an individual person to decide who he or she will trust to give them the right opinion. Another approach is for an individual to independently assess what is the right opinion about any particular issue.

For Catholics, orthodoxy lies in the Catholic Church itself, and in the end result, in the Pope. Catholics believe that both the Bible and tradition are authoritative.

For Protestants, the Bible stands above all other authorities, and every doctrine has to be measured solely against what the Bible says. Since the Bible was not written as a doctrinal manifesto, it is necessary to read the Bible and then to form a judgement on each issue to determine what is the right opinion. This means that there is some diversity in Protestant opinions on a number of issues of Christian doctrine, while retaining a large measure of agreement around the central doctrines of the faith.

There is also a very old part of the Church that describes itself as "Orthodox." So we have a Greek Orthodox Church and its daughter churches, such as the Russian Orthodox Church. In these churches there is great confidence placed in the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, particularly the councils held at Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon, held in the fourth and fifth centuries. Catholics and most Protestants also have confidence in the decisions of these councils.

There are two other main branches of this self-described "Orthodox" part of the Church. Each branch differs in its respective attitude to the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. On one hand, there is the Syrian Orthodox Church, and the other independent churches who are associated with it, such as the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church. They formally reject the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon. On the other hand, there is the Church of the East. It formally rejects the decisions of the Council of Ephesus. Yet these differences go back a long way, and relate to questions that were hotly contested at the time, even though these churches believe that the underlying issues are capable of being expressed in different (but less controversial) terms on which almost all Christians would agree.
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