Glory to God for All Things

“Are You Saved?”

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My life in the South has been marked by the question, “Are you saved?” As a child, street preachers from the local fundamentalist protestant college would hold forth in front of the Dollar Store (which was also the bus stop), guaranteeing something of a captive audience. The question in that context had a simple meaning:

a. you are born with the sin and guilt of Adam

b. you are thus deserving of hell.

c. only by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can you be saved from those punishing flames.

d. Jesus is a God’s substitution who suffered the penalty which I deserved.

I know this sounds caricatured or may fail to do justice to the complete teaching of the Substitutionary Atonement, but it is as complete a version as was preached on the streets, or in the pulpits of my native South Carolina hometown.

By age 13 certain contradictions within this account of salvation became obvious to me. For one, the problem of extrinsic righteousness. I didn’t know that was the term for a righteousness that is understood solely in terms of my legal standing before God – but it was certainly what I had been taught. The problem with it is that it seemed to me to lack something.

One thing it lacked, was an actual change in me. Everyone I knew did not want to go to hell (who would), but I can’t honestly say that I knew many people who wanted to go to heaven for heaven’s sake. Heaven only seemed desireable as an alternative lifestyle. Indeed, the idea of praising God forever and ever sounded boring beyond belief.

Thus it was that at around age 13 I came to not believe in God, or, at least, not in the God I had been told about. It seemed too boring, too beside the point and even childish. I was interested in God (if there was one) but not in that one.

I could expand on this – and probably will at some time in the future. But I had arrived at a fairly precocious age where many people in our culture have reached: atheism as the rejection of a false gospel.

Today I have learned to say to atheists: “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in; I may not believe in that God either.”

I’ll pick up the autobiography another time – but I will leap ahead today to a question I sometimes hear from local Protestants when they are asking me about Orthodoxy (I am not infrequently the only Orthodox Christian some people have met around here). That question is: “Do you believe in salvation by grace?”

Now this is a better question than, “Are you saved.” And it is able to be answered more easily from an Orthodox perspective. The answer is simply, “We not only believe in salvation by grace, we think that grace is what salvation itself actually is.”

This is to say: We believe that grace is nothing other than the very Life of God. What is wrong with us as human beings (sinners) is that we have cut ourselves off from this Life of God. We have rejected Him, and rather than walking in the Light of His Life, we walk in darkness and do deeds of darkness, hurting one another and distorting yet further the image of God within us. Thus salvation is turning to God and “uniting ourselves to Him.” We believe this happens in our acceptance of Him as Lord and Savior, and is sealed within us in Holy Baptism, nourished by Holy Communion, and every action of our life together as the Body of Christ. Grace is not simply how we are saved, it is the very content of our salvation.

I could draw fine points and say that this salvation by, in, with and through the Grace of God also requires our cooperation, but still this means only that we must live in relationship with God as persons, that is in relationships of love and freedom. Any other kind of relationship would be a distortion of what God has for us in union with Him.

We are saved by grace, by the very Life of God, but most obviously, this salvation is a process, or must be seen as something of a process. “Do you believe that you can lose your salvation?” Some Baptists in the area ask.

We believe that, despite the love of God, despite the steadfastness and complete commitment of God to us, we can in fact still exercise freedom to turn away from God. We not only believe this is so, the Church has seen this any number of times. “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world,” (2 Timothy 4:10), Paul writes with haunting implications. The word “Apostasy” would mean nothing if there were no possibility of “falling away.” Indeed, Scripture speaks of a “falling away” that will occur (2 Thessalonians 3:3) before the end of all things.

And yet we hope in God. But to the question, “Are you saved?” Orthodoxy is always hesitant. We would not ask the question that way, because it is not a Scriptural question. “Have you united yourself to Christ?” is the question placed at Holy Baptism.

But away from all theory – the simple reality is the grace of God, the very Life of God Himself. Do I live in union with His Life? Do I yield myself to Him at every moment? Do I understand that His Life is my life, and that my true self can only be found in Him? These are the questions of salvation questions worth asking, not only of myself, but with my closet friend, with my priest, with someone. What else in life could have such importance?

Perhaps as important as any of those questions is the fact that the Orthodox understanding of salvation presumes a change in me. Salvation is not extrinsic, but works in the inner person, transforming us and conforming us to the image of Christ.

I am aware that the West placed much of this thought into a category of “sanctification,” but this can also be to make it secondary instead of primary.

It is primary because without an inner change we remain what we are and the possibility of honest, true fellowship with God remains impaired, not to speak of honest, true fellowship with one another.

I have found it to be important that those who are living the Orthodox faith together in Church always remember that they themselves need to be changed and are not yet what they are going to become, and that those around them need to be changed and are not yet what they are going to become. With that understanding, we can practice mercy and patience towards one another, pray for one another, and labor together for our common salvation as Christ (and only Christ) transforms us from the broken persons that we are into the persons we are to become.

I will continue to post, from time to time, more thoughts on Orthodox salvation. Indeed, everything may be about Orthodox salvation if we look at it hard enough.

63 Responses to ““Are You Saved?””

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  1. The photo is a sunrise at the Grand Canyon I took last February. I thought an Eastern view would be preferable to a Western view (given the directions for prayer, etc.) when thinking of salvation. “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”

  2. Father, bless!

    I like your treatment here of Orthodox soteriology. It’s concise, but it hits all the major points. On one point, I wonder if you could clarify. You write:

    “Everyone I knew did not want to go to hell (who would), but I can’t honestly say that I knew many people who wanted to go to heaven for heaven’s sake. Heaven only seemed desireable as an alternative lifestyle.”

    In his series on the Apocalypse (final lecture), Fr. Thomas Hopko allows that a person could do as you did–reject the wrong Christ, the only Christ ever presented to them–spend their life as a non-Christian, get to the final judgment, meet the real Christ face-to-face, fall down before him in love and worship, and enter heaven. When I’ve talked to Evangelicals about this, they see it as the ultimate death-bed conversion, and a bridge too far. Surely, if it’s possible to repent at the final judgment, everyone would, because no one, faced with an eternity of torment in hell, would pass up the opportunity for a better fate.

    In my efforts to respond, I’ve pointed out that the issue is someone who truly loved Christ in life without knowing it–that it’s not a final opportunity to repent, and that those who truly do not love him would be unwilling to repent (and unable to fake their way into heaven), even faced with the reality of eternal torment apart from him. (And I usually find some opportunity to point out that C. S. Lewis believed essentially the same thing, as is seen in the young Calormen soldier in The Last Battle, who finds himself in heaven, where Aslan explains that he was really worshiping him all along, and in The Great Divorce, where most of the passengers choose to return to hell, because they find heaven unbearable.) I can’t say it’s ever worked, but it’s my best attempt.

    I’m curious about your take on this issue, particularly since it seems like there can be similar objections on both sides–your criticism of the Evangelical message, because no one wants to go to hell, and theirs of the notion that a person could still get in at the final judgment, for the same reason.

  3. Mark says:

    Father Stephen, I’m sure you’ve heard this story that Stanley Hauerwas tells at the beginning of his essay, “A Testament of Friends:”

    “A team of evangelical Christians invaded Shipshewana, Indiana, to bring the lost of Shipshewana to Christ. In front of Yoder’s drygoods store one of these earnest souls confronted a Mennonite farmer with the challenge, ‘Brother, are you saved?’ The farmer was stunned by the question. All his years of attending the Peach Bloom Mennonite congregation had not prepared him for such a question, particularly in front of Yoder’s.

    “Wanting not to offend, as well as believing that the person posing the question was of good will, he seriously considered how he might answer. After a long pause, the farmer asked his questioner for a pencil and paper and proceeded to list the names of ten people he believed knew him well. Most, he explained, were his friends but some were less than that and might even be enemies. He suggested that the evangelist ask these people whether they thought him saved since he certainly would not presume to answer such a question on his own behalf.”

    It seems in many ways a very Orthodox story, inasmuch as we are saved together and such is never merely extrinsic — the transfiguration of our character in relationship with God and neighbor is a salvific process that should never be reduced to a subsidiary category like “sanctification.”

    I look forward to more variations on this theme! Thank you!

  4. Trevor,

    One suggestion is to read my post on Fire and Light, in that it presents the notion of facing Christ and perhaps not wanting to be there. I do not think the question is ever really put to us “Do you want eternal torment or eternal bliss?” Of course people would say, “Bliss.” But here they are only speaking in terms of pleasure, and, even, only in extrinsic terms.

    The question is much more: Do you want to know God? Do you want to know the Truth and dwell in the Truth. Would you endure suffering in order to know the Truth? Would you endure suffering in order to be free from suffering?

    I use questions like that, because I think, finally, this is how much of True salvation comes to us. It is possible to be quite religious and know nothing of Christ. As it is possible to be not outwardly religious at all and yet deeply hungry for Him.

    I think it is these latter cases that Fr. Hopko has in mind when he speaks of some who have not “accepted” Christ in this lifetime finding themselves falling at His feet and worshipping Him in the next. Perhaps it is the ultimate “death bed” conversion, but it wasn’t really. There were a thousand decisions of the heart made before that day, decisions to deal with truth, not to substitute a lie, to confront the pain of our existence honestly, etc. In this life those kinds of decisions may not have yielded the fruit of what any of us would call a visible religious decision – i.e. led them to the sacraments of the Church. For this there can be many reasons, sometimes because those in charge of the sacraments themselves do not know God. This can happen, and is a great scandal. Christ’s words of warning are to those who cause little ones to stumble, not to the little ones who stumble.

    I think at issue here (and I plan to write more on this very shortly), is just plain reality rather than religious rhetoric. The issue is the reality of what is going on within our heart with regard to God, not what the rest of us can see with regard to someone’s religious behavior.

    Everything the Church gives us, strives to direct our attention to the correct place – to Christ – and to the reality of our heart. Look at the prayers before communion. They are so far from extrinsic – they go to the depth of the heart. It compares us to the harlot, to a prostitute, to woman with an issue of blood, etc., to every sinner and person in need of healing in Scripture – not just so we can make pious noises of humility, but so that we can see the truth of ourselves as we come to the burning fire of the Truth that awaits us in the Holy Cup of Communion.

    My take on these things is that God is quite Real, and is only interested in reality – and not interested in the least in the various religious fictions presented to Him in many Christian activities. God is everywhere present, filling all things, and working for the salvation of everyone at all times (whether there is a Christian around to use or not). He loves His children. I rejoice at however He saves us, because this can only be done in reality – not as a legal loophole – but because it is a genuine acceptance of the healing work of God.

    I find, as I said, that not many people wanted heaven for heaven’s sake but only because they feared hell – and meant by that – that most people are still dealing with religious fiction instead of the existential reality of heaven and hell – that is a true and living relationship with the true and living God. If they knew God, they would want to be with Him. If they do not know God, they are already in hell whether they know it or not. Our task as Christians is to draw as many out out hell as we can. And this can only be done by descending into the depths of the heart, where both heaven and hell reside.

  5. Dean Arnold says:

    Mark,

    You make a great point. In many ways, we are not a very credible witness for our own trial.

  6. The farmer in front of Yonder’s is both more Orthodox than I am and has more courage than I do.

    But, he is also right.

    Father, I wonder if the religious culture, so shaped as it is by Evangelical Protestantism, can hear this theology of salvation?

    What, if anything, can we do to better “translate” this perspective for those around us?

    B

  7. bigjolly says:

    Fr. Stephen, you state:

    We believe that grace is nothing other than the very Life of God.

    Elsewhere I read (I forget where, I’ve read quite a bit about Orthodoxy lately) that grace IS the Holy Spirit. Is that what you are saying as well?

  8. Fatherstephen says:

    Strictly speaking it is not correct to identify grace as one of the Persons of the Holy Trinity. In doctrinal terms, grace is the Divine Energies, which belong to all the Persons of the Holy Trinity, but are not separate from God. It is the action of God, the work of God, the Life of God, at work in us. But making an identification with a single Person of the Holy Trinity would not be correct or precise in the use of Orthodox language.

    I recommend Vladimir Lossky’s Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church if you want to read a mature treatment of the subject, versus the internet. There is also a good site with lectures (taken from notes) by Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) that are extremely good on such dogmatic questions. They may be more easily accessible than Lossky.

    Zizioulas lectures can be found at:

    http://www.oodegr.com/english/dogmatiki1/perieh.htm

  9. Fatherstephen says:

    I think this culture is hungry to hear an account of Christian salvation that does not caricature God or paint Him as a God just waiting to roast us – but still treating the Christian tradition with complete seriousness and non-revisionism. We have to take the time to have good conversations, looking at what the Scriptures and the Fathers say. I think we should be patient. Changing a culture is ultimately God’s job and not ours. Being faithful is our task.

  10. A further thought for BigJolly (interesting name). There are varying ways of speaking of the Trinity. There is what is known as the “economic Trinity” referring to the persons of the Trinity as we experience God in the world. In this use of language we sometimes will say “Holy Spirit” but not mean this is a way to exclude the other persons of the Trinity. The work of one is the work of all.

    So, if you’ve read someone make an identification between the Life of God and the Holy Spirit, this is not entirely incorrect. Again, I’d look to Zizioulas for more careful use of language.

  11. Reid says:

    Fr. Stephen, thank you for a beautiful post. As an Evangelical, I have felt increasing discomfort with the concept of salvation as Evangelicals stereotypically present it. Having been taught that the Gospel was “The Four Spiritual Laws,” I eventually set out to search the Gospels for the place where our Lord Jesus presented them. After several such attempts failed, I was stumped. If the Gospel is really so simple, I reasoned, and God wants to save as many people as possible by the preaching of this message, then why did the Son of God never say it so simply? Why did He not crisscross the countryside telling people the Four Spiritual Laws? Why, indeed, did God give us the whole New Testament or the whole Bible instead of just a tract? After many years, in God’s grace, the obvious answer dawned on me: The Four Spiritual Laws are not the Gospel. That set me free to read the Gospels afresh to see what our Lord really did say and to start learning what the Gospel really is, which you say so nicely in your post. I am greatful to various Orthodox (yes, and Catholic and Evangelical) writers along the way who have helped helped me to a better understanding.

    The way I put in in an essay I wrote for my (Evangelical) church this past summer is “Jesus saves us not only from God’s wrath but also from slavery to sin. If we do not want to do good, to imitate God, and to reject sinful behavior, then we do not want salvation. Sin is a painful, loathsome, disfiguring disease that ends in death. When our Lord saves us, He does not simply prevent death, leaving us pained, loathsome, disfigured immortals. He puts us on the path to being whole, righteous, beautiful, displaying His likeness as He displays His Father’s. Right now in everyday experience we imitate His goodness and holiness by avoiding sin and doing good. We look after widows and orphans in their distress and keep ourselves unpolluted by the world (James 1:17). We do it imperfectly, but we strive after it with diligence.”

    Barnabas, in my own experience there are many devout Evangelicals who understand this intuitively and who order their lives accordingly. We tend, however, not to think much about doctrine, and so we can go a long time without realizing the gap between what we think we believe and what we actually do. It may be easier than you imagine to get the idea across.

  12. bigjolly says:

    I found the reference about the Holy Spirit, it is here: Orthodixie Grace.

    I haven’t solely relied on the web but as I mentioned earlier, the web is a great place to see how people are actually practicing Orthodoxy, not just the theory of it. I must admit that I see the same hostility and exclusivity that I find in other branches of Christianity that I wouldn’t find solely reading theory.

    I do not understand mysticism as related to Christ.

    As for salvation, I’m certain you’ve addressed it a thousand times in your career, but was the thief on the cross an exception? Aberration?

  13. Fr. Stephen said “Changing a culture is ultimately God’s job and not ours.”

    Now how come I have to keep hearing this? :-) Maybe until I finally “hear” it.

    Reid, you are correct. And I should have seen this because it was so in my own life. As I learned more about the timeless theology of Orthodoxy, I caught myself saying over and over again “But this is what I’ve always believed.”

    I guess my geography finally caught up to my theology.

    B

  14. Reid,

    God bless your preaching of the gospel. At some point I may post a paper I delivered a couple of years ago on preaching the gospel “in the burnt-over district”, referring to the nickname given to parts of up-state New York that were so “burnt-over” by the various revivals, that they became the source of many of America’s worst false religions and cults. I believe that truncated or caricatured versions of the gospel have done the Christian faith much harm, and am deeply glad to hear of anyone who struggles to come to grips with its fullness and proclaim it in the joy and power that is inherently there.

  15. Reid says:

    Fr. Stephen, thank you for the blessing and the encouragement and for the way your posts help me and other think more truly and fruitfully about our pilgrimage here.

  16. Jack says:

    Big Jolly,

    I found this essay by Father John Behr, the current dean at St. Vlad’s, helpful. He is slightly critical of some of Lossky and Bp. Zizoulas’s distinctions:

    http://www.svots.edu/files/SVTQ-Trinitarian.pdf

    I think Behr would explain grace as the presence of God (the Father) working through his divine Word by his divine Spirit to heal mankind of its separation from Him. So, yes, as Fr. Honeycutt maintains, grace is the [saving presence of the] Holy Spirit who abides on the Word and through the Word penetrates and rejuvenates his sacramental Body, the Church, of which we are members.

    For a philosophically sophisticated defense of the divine “energies” of God, look for Eric Perl’s essay on Palamas from the journal Dionysius (1990?).

  17. Fatherstephen says:

    Bigjolly,

    It’s true that there’s plenty of hostility and the like out there, and it’s the same everywhere – which is to say that people like to sin as much when they’re Orthodox as when they’re something else and it’s tragic for all Christians. On behalf of the Orthodox, I apologize, if I may be so bold. Many times people are reacting against a former state in their life which they would do well to just let go and not waste time nor passions battling.

    I appreciated the reference you gave. I read it. In the “economic” sense he is correct, but it doesn’t do full justice to the uses of grace, or the Person of the Holy Spirit. The article he cited from the Orthodox Bible was a bit more accurate in speaking of the Divine Energies, at least in Orthodox dogmatic terms. But the way you or I either one would probably speak of the “Holy Spirit at work in someone,” we could just as easily substitute the word “Grace,” and still mean the same thing in Orthodox terms.

    “Mystical” is a very positive word in Greek usage. Typically when Orthodox use the word “mystical” we mean “in communion with” or “in union with”. Thus the “Mystical Theology of the Church” could be stated, “The Theology of the Church as Union with Christ.” Union with Christ is a huge theme within Orthodox theology and worship (as it is in the New Testament). Some therefore speak about the Orthodox Church as more “mystical” than others. The problem, of course, is the modern association of the word with lots of weird stuff. All I can say is that some new age types stole a perfectly good Christian word. It’s sort of like the word “spirituality” today. I see it used for lots of stuff that’s not spiritual at all.

    As to the Good Thief. We don’t see him as exception, but an exemplary. He is with Christ in paradise “this day” because he offers Christ an open heart. Regardless of his sins, he recognizes Christ as asks to be “remembered” this day. All who call on Christ with an open heart will find Him just as welcoming. Did the thief need more work (could he have undergone a longer process of salvation?) sure, we could suppose so. But we can’t ever underestimate the work God can do in any amount of time. One of the desert fathers once said that if a man so willed it, he could be saved in a day, meaning that the Grace of God available to us was sufficient for everything – the problem being in our reluctance to yield to God.

    I would to God my own heart were even now like the heart of the good thief on the cross.

  18. Fatherstephen says:

    Jack,

    Dean Behr is slightly critical of both Zizioulas and Lossky, and is worth the read. But his primary criticisms of Z and L are that they are too philosophical rather than Biblical (if I understand some of the debate). But I think reading all three is even better. Dean Behr is probably doing some of the best work today among Orthodox scholars, but the previous generation has much to recommend it as well. I’ll take them all.

  19. Regarding the article “What is Grace?” on my site — in fairness to Fr Daniel Griffith: Fr Daniel said, “Grace is the Holy Spirit. Period.” He then went on to say that for the average layman that answer sufficed rather than going into Energies and Essence.

    One of my seminary profs always cautioned us, the blogosphere seems an exception here, “Don’t think you’re gonna make seminarians out of your parishioners.”

    Ask a group of Orthodox people (Cradle or Convert) “What is Grace?” and you’ll likely be amused or disappointed at the replies. In this sense, I believe Fr Daniel is correct (though, as Fr Stephen asserts, it is not the fullness of THE answer).

    I’m no authority here; correction welcomed.

  20. Fatherstephen says:

    Fr. Joseph,

    Don’t know that I meant so much correction other than to “fill in some fullness.” I sensed that a question from an Evangelical, “So you all believe that Grace is nothing other than the Holy Spirit,” might need a little nuancing. Nothing more. Thanks for your kind note.

  21. Fatherstephen says:

    Perhaps I should add to this entire thread:

    The day has put me back to reading both Behr, and Zizioulas, and others. Reminding me of the possibility of saying any of this incorrectly or incompletely. I have tended to use less technical terms such as “the Life of God,” to avoid the more cumbersome and yet more precise language that would require me to be far more obscure. When we say grace, we mean, “God.” That’s the brunt of Orthodox theology. We believe that God saves us by uniting us to Himself, and yet in doing so does not abolish us as persons (He does not absorb us or anything like that). But we believe He was always meant to be our life and that apart from His Divine life we die, and we fall into the death of sin. Grace is God.

    This, at least, seems an improvement over thinking of grace as somehow just God’s good favor, or the many “weak” ways it is described in some versions of modern theology. Nothing less than God could save us – thus, if we are saved by grace, grace must be God.

  22. bigjolly says:

    Jack, thank you for the link. I have read it but it will take time to digest it.

    Fr. Stephen, thank you for your patience, no apologies necessary. If I were to stumble upon a group that exhibited pure love as we strive for, I would most likely run from it!

    I have learned much from my reading of late and have no desire to stop at this time.

  23. Jack says:

    Bigjolly and Fr. Stephen,

    I recommend Fr. Behr because, as Father Stephen observed, he is much more doggedly scriptural than Bp. Zizoulas and V. Lossky. I also think he has a better ear for the tradition. You may also want to check out Behr’s “Mystery of Christ.”

    As to “mysticism,” scholars are rediscovering that the mystical theologian par excellence, St. Dionysius, sets his mystical theology firmly within the context of the Body of Christ’s eucharistic liturgy. If we hold to this root, our “mysticism” is more likely to be sound, rather than the product of our fallen religious imagination.

  24. Jonathan says:

    A beautiful post, indeed.

    As is the story with many of your posts, the timing of this one is perfect. Just last night, I was talking with a good friend of mine from my former church about the Orthodox view of salvation. And, so, with this discussion fresh on my mind, I read yours and see where I can fill in the gaps so that next time I have the same discussion with a person, I can better present it. And, as people have pointed out, this one is a hard one to get across.

    Barnabas, the question you raised is often my question when I think of my Evangelical friends and the bigger picture as a whole. Because, even the agnostics and disenchanted may have heard the common interpretation so much that to hear it any other way would lead to a kind of unbearable spiritual or philosophical dissonance. (To draw a parallel with music, I would liken it to the compositions of Arnold Schoenberg or John Cage.) So, it’s not just a challenge of presenting the Gospel. But there also lies a challenge in the fact that it’s a different Gospel than what has been taught for so long.

    However, there are some who get it. In one of his comments, Fr. Stephen said, “My take on these things is that God is quite Real, and is only interested in reality[...] [Salvation] can only be done in reality – not as a legal loophole – but because it is a genuine acceptance of the healing work of God.”

    Well, I recently watched a talk by Louie Giglio, who is a major influence to millions of college-aged Christians worldwide through the university movement called Passion. In the course of the talk, I was very pleasantly surprised to hear him talk of salvation as a process. He said, “A lot of people think that God’s whole deal is about Heaven and Hell. You know, that’s God…He’s sort of interested in the hereafter, and so His whole thing is ‘Are you going to Heaven…Are you going to Hell…’ Hello! God is so interested in the here and now! And salvation is way more about what God does in our lives today than it is about where we go when we die!!” He went on to say, “Salvation is progressive: it’s not about where you go when you die, but about how God changes you into the person He wants you to be.” He even later mentioned how we “are in the process of being saved.”

    So, yes, Barnabas, there are people out there who can hear it. As Fr. Stephen pointed out, our task is to be faithful, so that those who can hear it, will hear it. Lord, have mercy.

  25. Shelley says:

    I am a dyed-in-the wool Evangelical and your post was fresh air to me. I have been wondering about this ‘salvation’ I have always been taught about (and told to ‘witness’ about to everyone I could to save them from their eternal firey deaths…) and your words have validated some of my thoughts and questions of late. I hunger for a deeper life in God, and I appreciate what you have written here. Like someone said above, it feels like what I’ve always believed–when I really stop and wrestle it out.

    Kathleen Norris came and spoke at the Evangelical university in my town a few years ago, and riled up quite a few when she said she was being ‘saved’ daily. God has been pointing me in this direction for a while now :)

  26. Rob Hilton says:

    I’m still not sure what you and the others posting here think Evangelicals are missing. It’s not really clear. Although there seems to be a general “we get it and they don’t” vibe here, I can’t quite figure out what the “it” is. Is it that Orthodox believe you can lose your salvation and Evangelicals believe you can’t? Is there more than that?

    The answer to the question “Can you lose your salvation?” was “We believe that…we can in fact …exercise freedom to turn away from God.” I assume this is a “Yes”?? Again, it’s not really clear. If “yes”…well, obviously this is denominational debate that hinges on a few key verses and their interpretation (Hebrews 6:6, 1 John 2:19). And, if “yes”, it sounds like the way we lose salvation is through our actions…therefore, the way we keep salvation is through our actions??? i.e. works???

    If I am assuming incorrectly and the answer to the question is actually “no”…then I don’t see any difference in Orthodox and Evangelical beliefs on salvation.

    Also, to say that “Are you saved?” is “not a scriptural question” has absolutely no merit. The question “Have you united yourself to Christ?” is no more scriptural than “Are you saved?”

    Frankly, the more I read this article, the more I feel frustrated by it. Either there is a BIG difference between Orthodox and Evangelical beliefs on salvation OR there is NO DIFFERENCE.

  27. Rob,

    I think there are similarities between some Evangelicals and the Orthodox on matters of salvation but, yes, there are huge differences. For one, the place of the Church in salvation is not usually a part of the gospel in Evangelical preaching. And although the Substitutionary Atonement isn’t always a part of Evangelical teaching, it is in some places required, like belief in the Creed, and the Orthodox would find it as a problematic statement at best.

    Yes, the Orthodox believe it is possible for us to rebell against our salvation. I am reluctant to just say that it’s lost because I cannot presume that the mercy of God may yet do what I do not know. But we do not believe that salvation is forensic or extrinsic, or imputed. So, I think those are differences, at least for some. Sorry if I’ve confused anything for you.

    I will say that in years of Evangelical preaching, I’ve not heard the gospel presented in the way it is in Orthodox preaching – there is a difference.

    Also, though I faulted one bit of language as non-scriptural, I did not say the other was more scriptural. Read what I said. I did say that it was the language of ORthodox service of Baptism. I think it is a better summary of Biblical teaching – as, apparently, did the Fathers.

    I don’t care to make this an argument, but if underlining such differences is helpful then I hope they were in fact helpful.

    We can learn from differences. I don’t think we need to use them to score points on each other.

  28. Shelly,

    Thank you for your kind words. I understand what you’re saying.

  29. Steve Hayes says:

    When people ask me “Are you saved?” my response is to ask “Saved from what?”

    Since Anselm, Western theology has tended to see salvation as being saved from an angry God.

    This actually goes back before Anselm, to Augustine, and even to Tertullian, to a legalistic understanding of sin.

    So my response tends to be rather simplistic to start with: for Western Christians, sin and evil tend to be seen as things God punishes us for, whereas for Orthodox Christians they are something that God rescues us from. We sing this in the Resurrectional Troparia from the Octoechos every Sunday. In baptism we are saved from the clutches of the devil, we are transferred from the authority of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. And this cannot be anything but grace, because there is nothing in it that could be done by us.

    But having been plucked from the grasp of Satan, having been made children of God, we need to become by nature what we are by grace, to put off the old man and put on the new, to become more godly as we are partakers of the divine nature. Call it sanctification or call it theosis, though I think theosis is far deeper.

    But the crucial difference, the crucial question, is what are we saved from? An angry God, or bondage to the devil and his kingdom of sin and death?

  30. Karen B. says:

    Fr. Stephen. A beautiful post indeed. Thanks so much for this and the follow up. Excellent comment thread too. I am an evangelical Anglican and identify with what my fellow evangelicals have written above about the too often narrow doctrine of salvation among evangelicals and how such a perspective can lead to a real complancy about dealing with sin in our lives and continually “working out our salvation with fear & trembling” — learning what it will mean to be more perfected in Christ’s image and holiness each day.

    John Piper’s writing and especially his book “Future Grace” were real helps to me several years ago. His focus on learning to find our deepest satisfaction in Christ and all that He is was revolutionary for me and helped me learn how to overcome certain areas of sin. I stopped focusing on trying to (mostly) fight sin in my own strength because I was “supposed to” and instead began to focus more on cultivating a love of being in God’s presence and knowing the joy and delight of fellowship with Him. Fighting against sin was transformed into fighting FOR intimacy with Christ, and it became easier to hate anything that was keeping me from His presence.

    I hope you won’t mind if I excerpt a portion of this post for my blog, Lent & Beyond, tomorrow. I believe it will fit in very well as part of our Advent meditations series.

  31. Steve,

    I would agree that in many places being saved from an angry God (following Anselm, etc.) is common. Though, in my experience, I find modern Protestant preaching is fairly broad across the map and hard to describe as one thing or another. That’s both good and bad. It’s also true that I’ve met Orthodox priests, who, despite the language of the Liturgy, etc., pretty much think and teach an Anselmian approach. I think this is a shame and should be corrected, but there has never been a conciliar decision on the atonement so such imagery continues. I would argue that it has its primary source in Western influences, but I’m not interested in bashing the West. After all, most Westerners have never read Anselm or even no who he was.

    But I like the way you put the questions, “Saved from what?” It has a way of helping people go to the heart of the issue – for what is finally wrong with the Substitutionary Punishment Theory of the Atonement, is that it locates the problem in God – and an angry God to boot, which simply cannot be reconciled with Scripture who tells us that God so loved the world…

    Thanks!

  32. Benjamin says:

    “a. you are born with the sin and guilt of Adam”

    For an interesting and beneficially disconcerting look at what Western confessions actually teach, one might want to take a look at the following article which I just happened upon today:

    http://www.bensusan.net/razilazenje/2006/12/11/hughes-ancestral-vs-original-sin/

  33. mrh says:

    I’d like to offer two cents in defense of Anslem… I haven’t really seen where he pushed the idea of salvation as a rescue from punishment. Rather he insists that the Father’s honor requires satsifaction. What he wrote about the atonement was more along this line of thinking:

    “The commission of sin involves injury to God Himself… there is need of virtue great than is found in man to be able to cancel the indictment. For the lowest it is particularly easy to commit an injury against Him who is greatest. Yet it is impossible for him to compensate for this insolence by any honour… He, then, who seeks to cancel the indictment against himself must restore the honour to Him who has been insulted and pay more than he owes, partly by way of restitution, partly by adding compensation…. [Jesus] alone, then, was able to render all the honour that is due to that Father and make satisfaction for that which had been taken away. The former he achieved by His life, the latter by His death. The death which He died upon the cross to the Father’s glory He brought to outweigh the injury which we had committed; in addition He most abundantly made amends for the debt of honour which we owed for our sins.”

    This particular quote, though, isn’t from Anselm. It’s from the Byzantine theologian St. Nichoals Cabasilas, in The Life in Christ. (Book 4, Section 4). And it doesn’t exactly say Jesus was punished in our place, as many evangelicals do today.

    So while it may be historically accurate to say with Steve Hayes “Since Anselm, Western theology has tended to see salvation as being saved from an angry God,” I don’t find an “angry God” in Anselm, or anything else in Anslem that’s incompatible with Orthodoxy – unless Cabasilas is un-Orthodox here. What I do understand as happening with Anslem is a shift in emphasis. Orthodox soteriology has the cross including both rescue of man from the devil and a making of recompense to the Father; Anselm started a shift toward near-exclusive emphasis on the latter.

    Now I grant I haven’t read much Anselm beyond Cur Deus Homo, and that over a year ago, so I’m open to being corrected.

  34. Fatherstephen says:

    mrh,

    Thanks for the quote and an excellent example of some conversations I’ve had with a few friends in the last year. Anselm gets blamed (it’s handy) for more than he should, and Byzantium gets let off too easily. Though, I would argue, that the liturgical prayers of Orthodoxy are not very much dominated with substitutionary punishment imagery.
    Right now I’m reading an excellent text that I’d recommend: Stephen Finlan’s Problems with Atonement. He does an excellent job with Scriptural material and comes down finally with the imagery of union, but not after demonstrating that Scripture has a pretty mixed bag of atonement imagery.

    My major argument, is that atonement imagery is, at best, imagery, and does not enjoy the dogmatic status of many other Christian teachings. In our modern world, imagery which paints God as angry, vengeful and demanding payment, is simply not helpful and, finally, inaccurate, and even counter-productive to the proclamation of the gospel.

    Of course, Orthodoxy doesn’t hold any of the Fathers to be infallible. So I don’t mind taking a different position than Cabasilas. It wouldn’t be the first time. I’ll ask his forgiveness and his prayers!

  35. Benjamin,

    I read the piece which dismantled Fr. Anthony’s take on Ancestral vs. Original Sin. As the article noted, the same has been done by Romanides, and Kalomiris, and many others. I think, however, that though the academic exercise in defense of the West (as having been set up as a straw man) and in revealing of the East (where the modern critique of the wrathful God is called “Marcionism”) is wrong on a couple of counts – neither of which will sound very academnic.

    1. The Marcionite charge is false. Even though the language of wrath, etc., can be found, there are plenty of Orthodox texts which teach that these sayings, just as those of the Old Testament, must be read in the light of the revelation of Christ – and that metaphorical language must not be turned into literal language. I agree with this and do not think it to be Marcionite. It is simply Christ (Luke 9:55).

    I do not think Kalomiris misses the point.

    2. Though the West can be clearly shown to have been set up as a straw man – typically – it is fairly academic passages that are cited – rather than the pop theology that so many of us grew up with and are rejecting. I doubt that the battle is with theologians (there’s sort of a “Schaeffer” habit of looking for the problem back there some where) – the battle is with a garbled gospel that has become the thing of the streets and of plenty of pulpits. Most of which have never read anybody’s catechism. If they are getting it wrong, then the formal Protestants ought to be as much on the warpath about all this as are many of the Orthodox.

    If someone (East or West) really wants to defend an angry God whose righteousness must be appeased, he is free to do so. I simply to do not believe that this is the Father of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ nor is it the gospel. And I don’t care whether it gets twisted in East or West – when it’s twisted it’s twisted, and I’ll gladly stand together with those who are proclaiming (for I think it’s time to hit the rooftops) the gospel of the “good God who loves mankind.” I’m in the services many times a week. I think that’s who I hear. I’ll stand with St. Silouan and Fr. Sophrony – yes even with Romanides and Hopko if it comes to it – if the issue is the resistance against an angry gospel and a God who would destroy us all except for the intervention of His Son.

    This is indeed a very popularly preached version of things – and it it’s not the official Protestant stuff – then they need to take care of their own.

    We Orthodox have some of our own to take care of as well.

    But – Hier stehe ich.

  36. Benjamin says:

    Father,

    I completely agree that the notion that we are guilty of Adam’s sin is the popular notion and is preached in contempary Evangelicalism. So often popular teachings are strange mutations of the original message. And I think this is true of Orthodoxy as well.

    I also appreciate your focus on the fact that so many terms used in the New Testament are metaphorical in nature, and I appreciated the good work that Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon has done in explaining them as such (see his four or five articles on the atonement somewhere on the orthodoxytoday.com website). One example that he gives is that when we say that a soldier “paid the price” to serve his country, we don’t ask who received the money. It is a way of speaking that expresses something very much beyond the lawcourt and the corporation.

    At any rate, this has been a rather informative discussion you’ve started and you are very kind to deal so thoroughly with the theological geekdom that is the Christian internet.

    -Ben

  37. Steve Hayes says:

    I would agree with those who have pointed out that Anselm (following the private law of the society he lived in) interpreted sin primarily as an offence to God’s honour, and wasn’t concerned to portray an angry God, but as that doctrine developed in the West, especially by Calvin, it has come to mean that to many people. It never caught on in the East, perhaps because Anselm wrote after the Great Schism, so it is one of the things that widens the communication gap — when we talk about salvation we are thinking different things and making different assumptions, and that is why what Father Stephen has written here is so important, and I think his summary is right on: it’s not about making bad men good, it’s about making dead men live.

    I believe that the term “ancestral sin” is far worse than the term “original sin”. But it’s the way original sin is understood that differs. It’s one of the reasons that the Orthodox don’t make a big deal about the Immaculate Conception of the Theotokos — because we don’t really accept the maculate conception of the rest of us. The fact is that the world lies in the power of the evil one (I Jn 5:19), and we are born into a world that is possessed by Satan. We are citizens of the kingdom of Satan by birth, and are born possessed (not necessarily demonised, but possessed) by the devil. This was recognised in both East and West in the exorcisms that precede baptism. Whatever else baptism means (and it means a lot of other things), it is like a naturalisation ceremony, where, having been freed from the kingdom of Satan by not one, but four exorcisms, we renounce our citizenship in the kingdom of Satan and pledge out alliegiance to Christ (one American translation of the baptism service even says so explicitly, though I don’t think its a good translation).

    And of course not all evangelical Protestants are dominated by the “sinners in the hands of an angry God” soteriology. The Arminian Methodists, for example, rebelled against TULIP Calvinism, and one of Charles Wesley’s hymns has echoes of Orthodox theology:

    Long my imprisoned spirit lay
    Fast bound in sin and nature’s night
    Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
    I woke, the dungeon filled with light
    My chains fell off, my heart was free
    I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

  38. Mick says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    I second your recommendation of Finlan’s “Problems With Atonement,” which I finished not 2 weeks ago. Texts like Finlan’s have led me to concur with Reardon in the articles Ben mentioned that “I am not convinced we really need a THEORY of atonement.”

    That being said, I have been considering what my
    (Orthodox) priest had mentioned to me a little while back that “Christ on the Cross was not offering payment to the devil or to God, but, if anything, may have been offering Himself to us.” Richard Swinburne calls this a “sacrificial model,” and I am wondering if you have any thoughts. I’ll try to explain it a bit further. In Swinburne’s “Responsibility and Atonment” he writes that since Christ is God Himself, He cannot offer a sacrifice to Himself. God makes available the sacrifice of Himself –like a ram caught in a
    thicket– but it is we who have to offer it. We who repent say to God that we are serious enough about our sins to repent and apologize and “offer back to You, O God, an offering of this value as our reparation and penance, we offer this life instead of the life we should have led.” It is the sinners who wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb which makes them white (Rev 7:14), it is in pleading Christ’s blood in atonement that we are forgiven.

    I think the good points about this are that we are not dealing with the angry God who requires a certain type of payment that will satisfy a legal requirement. It also requires us to be involved in the process, offering it up (as Schmemann describes as the very energy of life), and ultimately associating ourselves with that death (being baptized and taking up our cross daily).

    There is certainly much more to be said to really fill all of this out, but I was wondering if you may have found some red flags with it or if you think it is on the right track.

    God bless,
    Mick

  39. Alyssa says:

    Well, I have nothing new to offer, but am grateful for Fr. Stephen’s entry and the thoughtful discussion to follow.
    Thank you.
    Alyssa

  40. Mick,

    I’m not sure. I know that I offer Christ to the Father on my behalf (Thine Own of Thine Own). Christ the one who offers and is offered. I do not believe there is an Angry God who must be appeased. I noted in reading Finlan that the punishment stuff is really not what OT sacrifice is about anyway.

    but I stand and offer and receive mercy and life. This I know. The mechanics I frequently don’t know – I’m not sure we’ll ever have a satisfactory atonement theory. If the Fathers didn’t, why should we? Do we have more information now?

    But I do know the Father – He has been revealed to me, in the Son. Last time I checked the Son did not come and die on the cross because he was angry.

  41. Benjamin says:

    I think of Fr. Hopko’s words, that the debt owed is not one of punishment but of love, obedience, good will, and trust. The debt, of course, is what Adam failed to give in the Garden. Adam did not fail in his receiving of punishment, he failed, instead, to give his life and love to God.

    Thus the debt is one of love and obedience. Christ is given to us, “for the life of the world” to “pay” that debt. His life is one of total love, total trust, total obedience, total good will. And on the cross, all these things are most splendidly manifest for us. Christ gives what Adam failed to give and when we are united with Christ – when we are IN Christ – then his “payment” becomes our “payment”as well.

    I think that if one is going to use the metaphor of debt and payment (which the New Testament author’s did not shy from using), then this is the context that it has to be received in.

    Or I could be completely wrong.

  42. Mick says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    Just to clarify, what I meant was that with Swinburne’s model there was not an angry God who needed appeasement and that this is a good thing. I, too, believe that is wrong and not the God revealed to us in Christ. And I appreciate your reaction against such a teaching.

  43. Jack says:

    Here is my “tight little package” on the atonement:

    (1) We are born into a world of division. This is a fact obvious to all, although the explanation for this fact is not obvious to any, even after much sophisticated theological pondering of both Genesis and Paul. It will remain a mystery.

    (2) As a wholly contingent creature, man cannot heal this divisiveness. Healing must come “from above.” Metaphysics remains relevant.

    (3) Christians believe that this healing is Christ (alone) who, as both fully God and fully man, has the power to restore man to union with God. Faith is essential.

    (4) Jesus accomplishes this gracious reunification of God and man in his very person through his passover, not merely his incarnation or his crucifixion, which is necessary to heal the result of human separation from God which is death. The problem of death and its solution is the focus.

    (5) Mankind shares in this restoration by becoming the one and only Body of he who trampled down death by death through actively participating in the sacramental-liturgy. Salvation is through the Church.

    (6) This empowers man to be dead to death and thus alive in Christ. Salvation is not merely forensic.

  44. Joseph Schmitt says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    I do not have specific references in front of me, but part two of Being as Communion is as helpful as anything I’ve ever read on the dynamic of our post-lapsarian condition and how this is remedied in Christ.

    Also, although it is out of print, Deification in Christ by Panayiotis Nellas is a showstopper. I have not found anyone else who has read it or commented on it, which is a shame indeed.

    Joseph

  45. Joseph Schmitt says:

    …or it may be part three of Being as Communion. I’m not sure. I’ll look it up later…

  46. steven paul says:

    WOW! I linked to this from Barnabas’ blog. Great post, great discussion. Nellas “Deification in Christ” FIND IT! Another Evangelical reassessment of atonement theories is “The Shape of Soteriology” by McIntyre, a very good read, but has only two sentences that give a nod to the Orthodox view but doesn’t realize how much of his material feeds into it. He basically concludes also that there is no “biblical/Pauline” theory of atonement, just metaphors for salvation that work pastorally for various people. I might have to do a radio program on it some day…
    steven paul (host of Our Life in Christ radio program)

  47. David Brent says:

    This is a great post. This summary of Orthodox belief reflects what is taught and treasured in my neck of the woods as well. We believe that grace and working out one’s own salvation (“cooperation”) go hand in hand. We believe you can fall from God’s grace by choice. In fact, it would seem that I must be Orthodox. But I’m not. I’m just Christian. I find that there are many similarities between Orthodoxy and Christianity.

    Just kidding. But it does illustrate my point of concern with Orthodoxy. When did the Church start describing itself as The Orthodox Church? If there is only one church . . . and I believe that there is only one church, then why not just call the Church . . . the Church? Or refer to it as Jesus’ Church, or the Church of Jesus Christ, or the Church of Christ, or The Christian Church, or something that directly refers to our Savoir? Why call it The ________ Orthodox Church? Why call it Orthodoxy? Why not call it Christianity? By labeling it as Orthodoxy, it implies that there is more than one church. If God is referred to as God, Jesus is Jesus, the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit, and the Bible is the Bible, why can’t the Church be referred to as “The Church”?

    I’m sure this has been addressed, but I don’t know where to look for the argument. Does one of the Fathers address this? When was the decision made to call it Orthodoxy? What is the rationale for continuing to use this name in light of the Gospel?

  48. David,
    “Catholic and Apostolic” were important words as descriptions of the Church over the first few centuries. Apostolic in refutation of the gnostics and other pretenders. Catholic, in that this is the voice of the whole Church. Of course “One,” is Biblical and continues to be used. As for “Orthodox,” it came to be used surrounding the iconoclastic controversy as the description of those who continued to honor and venerate the holy icons. We continue with the word because we honor the whole of the Church’s life through history – not being concerned to establish some sort of a least common denominator notion of the Church. We use this in “light of the gospel,” because we are the Church of the gospel, established by Christ, and are free to describe ourselves in ways that honors our life as it has been lived across time. The “Orthodox” were the “Orthodox” before there was ever a Protestant. We were “Orthodox” even when Rome was in union with us. The term did not come to have any associations in the West because the iconoclastic controversy and the 7th Council, largely happened without the West being involved. It was having its own crisis with the rise of Charlemagne, etc. Orthodoxy is the Church founded by Christ. It is not a Bible Church.

  49. Philip Jude says:

    There have always been heretics, David. The terms “orthodox” and “catholic” go back to the earliest days of the faith. The two modifiers were used to distinguish ecumenical trinitarian Christianity, embodied in the so-called great and universal (catholic) Church, from the plethora of pretender sects, especially the Arians. Even so, it wasn’t really until the advent of Protestantism that “Catholic” and “Orthodox” became proper nouns rather than adjectives.

  50. Philip Jude says:

    Great minds think alike, eh, Father? ;-)

  51. Philip Jude says:

    “It is not a Bible Church.”

    That’s an interesting remark, Father.

    Since Scripture is the Word of God, and the Word is Christ, aren’t you basically saying, “Orthodoxy is the Church founded by the Word. It is not a Church of the Word”?

    I’ve always pondered to what extent the Bible is the Word, particularly in relationship to the Church and the Eucharist.

    That is, which holds the Son in His fullness: the Church, which is His Body; the Bible, which is His Word; the Eucharist, which is His Flesh and Blood? Why is He physically present in the Eucharist but not the Bible? Or is He? If He is the Church, is my flesh His flesh? Or is it only the collective church that is His Body? Are we talking Body in the fleshly sense? Etc. etc.

    Do you see my clumsily-constructed point?

  52. The Bible (which is a late-coined word) is the collection of the Scriptures (the Grammata – the “writings”). They are inspired of God and are authoritative when read rightly. They are only read rightly by the Tradition of the Church (particularly as discussed in the passage from Lossky in the article on silence). But it is the Church that is Christ’s Body. It is the Church that is described as “the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” But the Scriptures are not to be seen as something to be discussed apart from the Church, any more than they can be discussed apart from Tradition, or that either are discussed apart from the Church. The Scriptures are a manifestation of the Life of the Church, which is one reason they can only be rightly read within the Church.

    The Eucharist is not apart from the Church so that a sentence “the Church or the Eucharist” makes no sense. The Body of Christ is the Body of Christ – whether you eat it – or whether you are a part of it.

    The Scriptures are not the “Word” of God, in the sense that Christ is the Word. Nor are the Scriptures to be viewed like a Christian Koran. They do not and cannot stand alone. They are Scripture because of their place within the Church. The Church does not exist without them (though it has existed before the New Testament – and in even before the Old Testament – but for that you’d have to read Khomiakov’s The Church Is One). “Bible Church” is a Protestant appellation with no place within Orthodox self-understanding. It is a misuse of the Scriptures by groups to whom the Scriptures were not addressed in an effort to claim an authority which they do not have. The authority of the Scriptures and of the Church is one. There are not two-sources of authority.

    Mystical Theology 101.

  53. Philip Jude says:

    Thank you, Father, this is helpful.

    But in what way is the Body of Christ (the Church) different from the Body of Christ (the Eucharist)?

    Do you think the Scripture is a sort of “sacrament” of its own?

  54. The Church we encounter in one another, the Eucharist from a cup on a spoon. :) And I don’t mean this flippantly. The Body of Christ is not two things both “called” the Body of Christ, for neither of them are merely “called” (that would be nominalism). They are the Body of Christ. That leaves us with the puzzle on our side of the experience and reality – If both are the Body of Christ, what does that mean. And here comes the silence. I have to give that common experience some space in order to discern how it is one and the same.

    My own sense of it is that the answer is found in the word koinonia. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not the koinonia in Christ’s blood?” (1 Cor. 10:16). The Church is also a koinonia “If we walk in the light as He is in the light then the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin and we have koinonia with one another.” I John 1:7

    BTW, I think that koinonia does not have a particularly good Hebrew concept behind it. It’s pretty much Greek (culturally Platonic). :)

  55. David Brent says:

    Although I believe that there is one Church, I also believe that God is not bound. You touched on this . . . in a way . . . in your October 22, 2006 post when you said:

    “The sacrament of Baptism, in which we are united with the death and resurrection of Christ, is in no way weakened by the mercies of a God who saves beyond the bounds of the sacraments. The sacraments are not limits – mere “instruments” of grace in the toolbox of the Church. The sacraments are concrete manifestations of the Life of God in the Church. As such, they cannot be limited to those acts that have been given to us for our salvation. The Life of God is the Life of God. He saves whom He wills, how He wills.”

    My Tradition is searching for God’s voice. It yearns to hear it clearly. The search continues . . . the journey is not complete. Its roots come from the Apostolic beginning, then routed through the West, through the Protestants, through Presbyterian churches, Baptist churches and influenced by other streams to find an expression in the American Restoration Movement. From this movement, today we find three major descendants, the Disciples of Christ, the independent Christian Churches, and churches of Christ. My background is with the churches of Christ.

    Churches of Christ – because of their autonomous nature, lack of appreciation of the historical life of the Church, and their reliance on Sola Scriptura
    (which was basically inherited through its Protestant roots) – are varied and do not speak with a unified voice. There is a spectrum of belief. However, much of what you say is held as truth in the churches of Christ I have been a part of. I find this to be very interesting, and encouraging.

    As I said, the movement hasn’t completed its journey. It is still learning and discovering and digging itself out of the heap of garbage that plagues so much of the Kingdom. In a way, we have been cursed by the choices of those who have gone before us in centuries past. Just the same, the forefathers who cursed us . . . also blessed us. Without their witness, as weak as it may be, we would have no hope. But hope remains. And in our weakness, God’s strength and mercy prevails. We know that God is calling us to commune with Him. We are listening as closely as we can. As we do our best to work out our own salvation, we are hanging our hats on God not being “limited,” but rather on God being merciful. We trust that God “saves beyond the bounds of the sacraments.”

    God have mercy on us. And God have mercy on us all. I hope your week – Father Stephen and Philip Jude – is a week of fullness. Please pray for our people, and please pray for me.

  56. Karen says:

    David Brent, you may find some more answers to your specific questions dealing with the relationship between Orthodox Christianity and the Restoration Movement here:

    http://www.craton.net/journey/

    Blessings!

  57. David Brent,
    I could follow something of Khomiakov’s thought and say that the whole creation is Church – though not all of creation has clearly come within the bounds of the sacraments. “Church” as an understanding has been poisoned by the multiplication of institutions using the name, such that we think very narrowly about the Church. I believe the Church is One, that it is visible (not invisible). Though we use the word “Church” to describe many organizations, I respectfully use the same word for them, though I do not think they are the Church. There are some paradoxes in this – so that I always hate to say things in this manner because it simply sounds triumphalist.

    The whole creation is Church, inasmuch as it was created for this purpose (“that all things might be gathered together into one in Christ Jesus”). All bread, all wine, every tree, every blade of grass, etc., all have the one purpose, the one End, which is Christ. The Ecclesia is one of the names given to this gathering, but all of creation longs for this one thing.

    I understand your thought viz. “my tradition.” I thought along those lines for a fair number of years when I was an Anglican. I saw the trajectory of Anglicanism – England having once been Orthodox. My first approach to the Orthodox Church (in the 70′s) was rebuffed and I was told, “Stay where you are.” It was not uncommon then in some Orthodox circles to say such things. The late Michael Ramsey, 101st Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote that it was the vocation of Anglicanism to be reunited with Orthodoxy. I believe he was correct – but I came to see that it would not take place on an institutional level, but only on the personal level. We do not enter the Church as institutions (or as “traditions”), we enter as persons. Even groups of persons must still each come to the sacrament by which they are received.

    It is the vocation of all things to be united in the One Church under our Head, Jesus Christ. It will not be a union of error, or of compromise, but of truth, free from delusion. All things, all people, will find their fulfillment in that union. Every good dream will be seen to have been true. Every delusion will be unmasked in its emptiness.

    When I came to Orthodoxy I underwent training and was “re-ordained” to the priesthood (having been an Anglican priest for almost 20 years). I never chafed at the thought that I was saying that what I had done and been for 20 years was nothing, but it was not fulfilled and completed until March of 1999. The bishop who ordained me noted that in the prayer of ordination it is said that the “Holy Spirit completes that which is lacking.” The same bishop (the late Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas), who knew me as an Anglican priest for 4 years before I converted, never called me anything other than “Fr. Stephen.” After my reception into the Church, my ordination as priest was still over a year away. I was appointed as the “lay pastor” of the mission we founded in Knoxville, immediately upon reception into the Church. The bishop instructed me that I was to wear a cassock in all services and to be addressed as “Fr. Stephen.” I obeyed. I longed for the day of fulfillment and rejoiced when it came.

    C.S. Lewis notes that for those who are in heaven, everything will have been seen to have led to heaven. For those who are lost, this is not so. It is to wholeness and completion that God calls us. May He guide your journey.

  58. Burckhardtfan says:

    Reid,

    I really appreciate your post. I think we as Evangelicals have overlooked crucial aspects of the Gospel. Modern evangelicalism has reduced salvation to a cheap ‘punch-ticket into heaven’ – a thoroughly mercenary concept. This is NOT the Gospel our Lord and Saviour preached. Our Lord taught that the Gospel is a message of complete salvation from sin – and an escape from the eternal Death (Hell) which sin ultimately leads to. All sin leads to death, you are a sinner, and you will die in your sins if you are not saved. Whether one accepts vicarious substitution or not, the end result is still the same: you are a sinner, sin and death will be judged, and you along with it unless the Lord delivers you from them. I love your comment on salvation from sin: “Jesus saves us not only from God’s wrath but also from slavery to sin. If we do not want to do good, to imitate God, and to reject sinful behavior, then we do not want salvation.” I think this ABSOLUTELY captures the very essence of the Gospel. It also solves the thorny question of the relationship between works and faith, something which has bedeviled evangelicals for a long time. Personally, I don’t think one can make a conceptual difference between faith and works. If we believe a proposition, we will act upon. If we do not believe, we will not act. YOU WILL NOT ACT UPON A CONVICTION YOU DO NOT HOLD. Faith cannot even be conceptually separated from works, any more than two sides of a coin can be separated. (Even the man who performs good works out of a false moral system still acts upon his convictions.)

    Illustration: suppose someone told you your house will be burgled tomorrow, you told them you believe what you say, and the next day you do not lock your doors and windows. Did you really believe that person? Of course not! You might have an inkling or a vague inclination, but you didn’t really believe what they said.(This is the so-called ‘faith’ that James 2 criticizes. It is the ‘vague inclination’ that comes from mechanical recitation – ‘you believe there is one God’ is an allusion to the Shema, the Jewish creed of faith). If we truly believe the Gospel – that it is God’s rescue from sin and death – then we will naturally try to do good, love God and reject sin. If we truly believe that God loved us so much that He sent His only Son to resurrect us to eternal life, then we, out of love and gratitude to our Lord, will serve Him, imitate Him, and reject sin. If we do none of these things, we do not believe in God’s love. And if we do not believe in this, we do not believe the true Gospel. Luther once said that we are saved by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone, and that the Christian does good works not to gain heaven but out of loving gratitude to his Saviour. Whatever Luther got wrong, he at least understood the Love of God in the Cross. In his preface to the Romans he (perhaps unwittingly) understood this perfectly: “O it is a living, busy active mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good things incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done this, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are.”

  59. Annie says:

    Fr. Stephen,
    A most excellent and helpful post and discussion. Coming from a Reformed, Evangelical and Presbyterian background and as an avid theolog, i find your discussion immensely helpful as a guiding hand through knotty subjects with which i have long wrestled. Your writing is a treasure!
    Many thanks

  60. Lina says:

    I heard an interesting theory on the radio one day not too long ago. The theory was that the moment we accept Jesus, our soul is saved but not our mind. We must spend the rest of our lives bringing our mind into sync with Jesus and our salvation.

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