On 22 December 2011, Theodore wrote:
#1 — Granting that the Eastern Orthodox Church (“EOC”) has an ancient tradition, and, further, that its pretty rituals contain much sacred meaning, the fact remains that it is — by its own admission — semi-Pelagian, and, as such, teaches a false religion. Debates about the nature, duration, and content of the service are totally irrelevant when what is presented to the congregation is antithetical to Scripture.
#2 — There are almost too many verses to count in support of Sola Fide, but a good place to start is Luke 18:26-27: “Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ He replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.'” What part of “impossible” is so hard to grasp? There’s no room for synergism here, and, by holding that ANY part of our salvation is the result of our own efforts fundamentally distorts the Gospel, invites the compounding of error, and injects lethal doses of doubt into what should be — in the elect — unshakable, persevering faith.
#3 — In this regard, Mr. Arakaki states: “Salvation in the early Church was both sacramental and evangelical; faith in Christ was necessary in order for God’s grace to be received through the sacraments.” Here please note: 1. Faith comes first, before grace, and, 2. Sacraments — being performed by human beings — are unquestionably “works.”
#4 — Thus, the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis is a sad and ancient error invented by men to satisfy their fallen pride, mistaking the post-justification process of the working out of our sanctification through good works for grace plus works leading to faith and justification, getting it precisely backwards:
#5 — “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Ephesians 2:8-10. Contrary to the EOC (as stated by Mr. Arakaki, above), here please note: Grace comes first, then faith, followed by GOOD works AFTER we are created in Jesus Christ.
#6 — Whatever else the EOC may get right, such a profound doctrinal error cannot be embraced by a truly Christian church. “But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!” Galatians 1:8.
#6 — Those of you roaming about from denomination to denomination searching for something to make you feel better about yourselves need to grapple with the fact that all the golden robes, gaudy temples, jewel-encrusted icons, clouds of incense and humanly invented theater in the universe are not going to get you any nearer (let alone into!) heaven…
#7 — “Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.” John 8:47.
1. Semi-Pelagianism, Theological Benchmarks; Historical Context of Sola Fide
In paragraph #1 Theodore wrote: …the fact remains that it is — by its own admission — semi-Pelagian, and, as such, teaches a false religion.
Historically, the benchmark for theological orthodoxy has been Christology as defined by the Ecumenical Councils. In the early church there were a variety of approaches with respect to soteriology. Prominent in the early church was the understanding of Christ as victorious conqueror over the Devil and Death. There was no one single theory of salvation that became the universal norm required of all Christians. The controversy between Augustine and Pelagius resulted in the condemnation of Pelagianism. At no time did the early church condemn the semi-Pelagian position.
What Theodore has done is to make the Protestant model of soteriology the benchmark for theological orthodoxy. In his broad sweeping condemnation of Semi-Pelaganism Theodore has in effect condemned many of the early church fathers, e.g., Irenaeus of Lyons, Justin Martyr, Athanasius the Great, and many of the Greek Fathers. He has in effect cut himself off from fellowship with the early church.
It is important to note that the term “semi-Pelagian” was not used in the early church. According to the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Walter Elwell, ed.) the term was first used in the Lutheran Formula of Concord (1527) and apparently only once.
Theodore’s criticism of the Orthodox Church becomes more problematic when we look closely at the Formula of Concord’s rejection of Semi-Pelagianism. In Article II “Free Will” Negative Thesis 3, we read:
3. We reject also the error of the Semi-Pelagians, who teach that man by his own powers can make a beginning of his conversion, but without the grace of the Holy Ghost cannot complete it (emphasis added).
What we have here is a soteriological paradigm that involves certain assumptions about the Fall, Original Sin, human nature after the Fall, and how we are saved by Christ that are alien to Orthodoxy. For example, Orthodoxy does not teach that man by his “own powers” can “make a beginning” of his conversion. I challenge Theodore to present a church father, a council, or a liturgical text that teaches the Semi-Pelagian position as defined by the Formula of Concord.
The fundamental assumption here that drives the Protestant paradigm is the extreme Augustinian view of the Fall, i.e., that as a result of the Fall man’s capacity to respond to God’s grace was destroyed (see Formula of Concord Article I “Original Sin”, Negative Thesis 6; see also the Second Helvetic Confession chapters VIII and IX). This is the Augustinian interpretation of the Fall. It is the opinion of one church father but it was not part of the universal patristic consensus.
Western Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism after 1054 and later Protestantism, have been heavily influenced by Augustine. When Luther formulated the doctrine of justification by faith alone he introduced a new twist to the Augustinian paradigm. He then went on to make sola fide the core of his theological system and the benchmark for theological orthodoxy. For Luther sola fide was the doctrine on which the church stands or falls (articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae). What he did was to turn sola fide not just into a doctrine but a core dogma without which one could not be considered a Christian. Orthodoxy abhors theological innovation and Luther did two things at the same time; he committed heresy by introducing a theological innovation and he committed schism by rejecting those who did not hold to sola fide, e.g., the early church fathers and the Orthodox Church.
Protestants believe that Luther discovered sola fide and in doing so recovered the Gospel, but to the Orthodox Luther invented a doctrine that none of the early church fathers taught. Orthodoxy accepts that we are saved by divine grace and that we are justified by faith in Christ, but it never heard of our being justified by faith alone. The difference is not just in sola fide but in the set of assumptions behind it. Luther came up with sola fide in response to the problems he encountered in attempting to find salvation through medieval Catholicism. This intellectual breakthrough came to be known as Luther’s Tower Experience. Especially problematic for Luther was the Roman Catholic interpretation of Semi-Pelagianism, i.e., facere quod in se est (to do what is in you) (see Alister McGrath’s Iustitia Dei Vol. 2 p. 5). Unlike medieval Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy was not confined to Augustinian theology nor was it influenced by Scholasticism’s drive for certainty, precision, and logical consistency. In short, sola fide was one man’s response to a spiritual crisis rooted in the Roman Catholic understanding of salvation. It soon became the basis for a new religious movement known as Protestantism. The longstanding division between the churches of the East and the Church of Rome became further complicated by the emergence of Protestantism and its novel doctrines.
The issue here is not Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism. The real issue between classical Protestantism and Orthodoxy is monergism versus synergism. The Orthodox Church unabashedly affirms the synergistic understanding of salvation in Christ: God in his grace reaches out to us and we respond to God’s initiative.
Monergism (mono = one, erg = energy) is based upon a radical understanding of the Fall. According to the monergistic position, because of the radical effect of the Fall, humanity lost any capacity to respond to God’s grace. Augustine of Hippo taught that humans are born under a harsh necessity of committing sin. John Calvin taught that fallen humanity became utterly depraved. This radical understanding of the Fall leads to the position that there is only one key actor in our salvation: God. God alone determines who will or will not be saved. A logical consequence of monergism is the doctrine of double predestination.
Synergism (syn = together, erg = energy) is based upon a less radical understanding of the Fall. According to the synergistic position, Adam and Eve’s sin resulted in our inheriting a corrupted nature. Fallen humanity still possesses free will. While we lack the ability to initiate salvation, we retain the ability to respond to God’s initiative. There are ample citations from the church fathers that show they affirmed our free will in our response to God’s grace. Gregory of Nyssa in The Great Catechism wrote: “For He who holds sovereignty over the universe permitted something to be subject to our own control, over which each of us alone is master. Now this is the will: a thing that cannot be enslaved, being the power of self-determination.” John Chrysostom wrote: “God never draws anyone to Himself by force and violence. He wishes all to be saved, but forces no one.”
Just so there is no confusion: synergism is not the same as Semi-Pelagianism. If Theodore has a bone to pick with Orthodoxy, it is over synergism. There is no evidence of Orthodoxy affirming the Semi-Pelagian position, but there is evidence of it affirming the synergistic understanding of salvation. Theodore will need to show how the Orthodox synergistic understanding of salvation deviates from the historic Christian faith and that its understanding of salvation has been formally condemned by a church council.
I’ve traced the historical context for sola fide in order to lay the ground work for my response to Theodore. My criticisms of sola fide are several. One, it is not part of the catholic (universal) faith of the early church. It is based upon certain individuals, namely Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther. Two, Semi-Pelagianism was never condemned by the early church. Three, the doctrinal standard for the early church was Christology, not soteriology. Four, Luther had no authority to make sola fide into a dogma, only an ecumenical council has the final say on dogma.
Theodore, you cannot just use a label like “Semi-Pelagianism” to condemn Orthodoxy. You need to use an appropriate benchmark for showing on what basis Orthodoxy is wrong. I will readily agree with you that the Orthodox Church is not in agreement with Luther; that is because Orthodoxy is based on the theology of the early church. We cannot accept a sixteenth century theological innovation. You need to show that sola fide was taught in the early church and that it was used as a standard for theological orthodoxy. Unless you can do so, I remain of the opinion that you are using as a theological benchmark a standard alien to the early church. Either Luther’s sola fide is a theological novelty or it is part of the ancient Christian faith. I have presented evidence for the former; I invite you to present evidence for the latter position.
One last note, by condemning Orthodoxy as a “false religion,” you are at the same time condemning the early church as a “false religion.” Are you sure you want to take that extreme stance?
2. Biblical Teachings on Justification by Faith
In paragraph #2 Theodore cites Luke 18:26-27 to defend sola fide. I’m surprised by his choice of passages. In this encounter between Jesus and the rich young ruler neither the issue of justification nor faith are brought up. One would need to do quite a bit of eisegesis (reading into the text) to arrive at the conclusion that the doctrine of sola fide is being taught here. Furthermore, if one wishes to use this passage to rebut the doctrine of synergism then one must also take into account the following chapter in which the encounter between Zaccheus and Jesus results in Zaccheus giving up his wealth (Luke 19:8-10).
If Theodore wishes to present the biblical basis for the Protestant sola fide he would be better off discussing Paul’s letter to the Romans where faith and justification by faith are clearly discussed. All he needs to do is point to at least one verse where the phrase “faith alone” is used explicitly, not inferred. A doctrine can be inferred from Scripture but it is dangerous to base a fundamental dogma on an inferred understanding of Scripture. Likewise, Theodore needs to take into account the one place where phrase “faith alone” (pistis monon) is used in Scripture, that is, James 2:24. “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only (pisteos monon) (NKJV).”
I was amused when in paragraph #3 Theodore infers that I was asserting that faith came first before grace. This obsession with chronological order is characteristic of theological scholasticism in the West. Theodore’s dismissive claim of baptism as “works” strikes me as a simplistic and extreme understanding of sola fide that is alien to Lutheran theology. According to Luther’s Small Catechism Article IV baptism is not just a symbol but a sacrament that “effects forgiveness of sins, deliver from death and the devil, and grants eternal salvation to all who believes….” This understanding of baptism is very much like that of the Orthodox Church.
In paragraph #5, Theodore writes: …here please note: Grace comes first, then faith, followed by GOOD works AFTER we are created in Jesus Christ. The Orthodox position is not that one precedes the other but that faith and works go together, work together (synergy). This synergistic interaction between faith and works is taught in James 2:22. The Greek word synergei is used in this verse. “Do you see that faith was working together (sunergei: syn = with, together; ergei = to work, to do) with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? (NKJV).”
3. Theosis – Becoming Like Christ
In paragraph #4 Theodore criticizes the doctrine of theosis. He writes: Thus, the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis is a sad and ancient error invented by men to satisfy their fallen pride, mistaking the post-justification process of the working out of our sanctification through good works for grace plus works leading to faith and justification, getting it precisely backwards….
First, he must address the fact that theosis has a biblical basis. It is taught in II Peter 1:3-4 which talks about our becoming “partakers of the divine nature.” This is not an isolated passage but one that complements other similar teachings about our ultimate glorified state. In Romans 8:29 Paul writes about our being conformed to image of Christ. In I John 3:2 John writes that at the Second Coming of Christ, “we shall be like Him.”
Second, the doctrine of theosis was taught by early church fathers like Athanasius the Great. In the theological classic On The Incarnation, Athanasius wrote: “He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God (§54).”
Third, the doctrine of theosis has been given a more friendly reception by Reformed scholars recently. I refer you to W. Bradford Littlejohn’s Mercersburg Theology and the Quest for Reformed Catholicity. You can read my review of his book here. I would caution Theodore against uncritically repeating the party line. Reformed theology is complex and nuanced than many have thought it to be. The same can be said for Orthodox theology. I would urge Theodore to examine the evidence and arguments before passing judgment on another religious tradition.
Fourth, one must be careful about resorting to ad hominem attacks or imputing impure motives to those who hold to a certain belief. His accusation that theosis was “invented by men to satisfy their fallen pride” is an ad hominem attack. Furthermore, it claims to know the inner motives of those who hold to it. Theodore would be better off presenting biblical and historical evidence showing that Scripture repudiates theosis and that the early church likewise rejected this teaching. One cannot uncritically repeat what one has learned from secondary sources.
4. Hurling Anathemas
I recognize that there are significant differences between Eastern Orthodox and the Reformed traditions. I constructed this site as a place where the two sides can learn from each other. It is not constructive to come out announcing anathemas without having first engaged the other side. If both sides hurled anathemas preemptively then we won’t be building bridges but rather walls of silence and hostility. Theodore, what is your intent in citing Galatians 1:8? Wouldn’t it be better to build bridges?
As a former Evangelical and one who studied at a conservative Reformed seminary I am quite familiar with Galatians 1:8. I would like to note that one cannot just cite Galatians 1:8 and be done with that. The controversy that the Apostle Paul had with the first century Judaizers was very different from the controversy between the sixteenth century Roman Catholics and Protestants. Theodore needs to show how the situation in Galatians applies to the actual (not alleged) teachings of Eastern Orthodoxy. The absence of citations from authoritative Orthodox sources makes me wonder how familiar he is with the Orthodox Church. Without this informed understanding Theodore risks sounding like a Bible thumper. I am confident that he can present a more balanced and nuanced argument.
5. Reasons for Converting to Orthodoxy
It is disturbing to find a personal attack in paragraph #6. Theodore writes: Those of you roaming about from denomination to denomination searching for something to make you feel better about yourselves need to grapple with the fact that all the golden robes, gaudy temples, jewel-encrusted icons, clouds of incense and humanly invented theater in the universe are not going to get you any nearer (let alone into!) heaven…
It may be that some people are drawn to Orthodox worship because of its rich aesthetics but a stronger case can be made from Scripture. We find in Exodus chapters 25 to 40 God giving Moses instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle. The instructions called for an ornate place of worship that included heavily decorated vestments, images of angels worked into the curtains, and incense. If Orthodox liturgical worship is patterned after the Old Testament worship how can one claim that it is not biblical? Rather one must raise the question whether or not it is the Reformed churches who have abandoned true biblical worship with their bare four walls and ministers who wear robes patterned after that of university professors.
Reformed Worship vs. Biblical Worship
I have two questions for Theodore in closing. In Malachi 1:11 we read: “For from the rising of the sun even to it going down, My name has been glorified among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering, for my name shall be great among the Gentiles (NKJV).” Here we have a prediction that when the Christ comes incense would be a sign of worship in the Messianic age. The incense offered in Jewish worship would be offered by the Gentiles in the age to come. Does your local church offer incense during its worship? If your church does not offer incense, why has it abandoned the biblical pattern of worship?
In Hebrews 13:10 we read: “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat (NKJV).” The early Christians believed that Christ’s death on the cross was the fulfillment of the Jewish sacrificial system. The Jewish priests were not allowed access to the Eucharist because they did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Historically, Christian churches had an altar where the Eucharist was celebrated in the Sunday liturgy. Does your church have an altar? Does it celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday as in the case of historic Christian worship? If your church does not follow the historic pattern, why has it abandoned the historic pattern of worship?
As to monergism, one should also point out that the mono-energist scheme was the exact scheme used by the monothelite heretics, even those who said that the human will of Christ (and by extension, our human nature) is not denied but simply overridden by the divine will. Demetrios Bathrellos points this out in _The Byzantine Christ._
So, monergism is not only a soteriological scheme, but a Christological heresy.
What is ironic is that Sola Fide is actually Pelagian and not Augustinian:
Phillip Schaff: If any one expects to find in this period, or in any of the church fathers, Augustin himself not excepted, the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone as the “articulus stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae,” he will be greatly disappointed. (History of the Christian Church, Vol. II.§154. Other Doctrines)
The sufficiency of the natural reason and will of man would seem to make supernatural revelation and grace superfluous. But this Pelagius does not admit. Besides the natural grace, as we may call his concreated ability, he assumes also a supernatural grace, which through revelation enlightens the understanding, and assists man to will and to do what is good. This grace confers the negative benefit of the forgiveness of past sins, or justification, which Pelagius understands in the Protestant sense of declaring righteous, and not (like Augustine) in the Catholic sense of making righteous…(History of the Christian Church, Vol. III Chap IX § 151. The Pelagian System Continued: Doctrine, of Human Ability and Divine Grace)
Jaroslav Pelikan: The relation between grace and perfection was fundamental to the Pelagian doctrine of man, and nothing less than perfection was commanded in such biblical precepts as Matthew 5:48, “an injunction which [Christ] would not have issued if he had known that he enjoined was beyond achievement.” The issuance of a commandment implied ability on the part of the hearer to obey the commandment. Not only the Sermon on the Mount, but the moral preachments of the Old Testament made it explicit that “every man shall be put to death for his own sin” and that a man was able to respond to the commandments of God and could be held personally responsible if he failed to do so. In this emphasis upon responsibility, faith assumed a prominent role. God “proposed to save by faith alone those about whom he foreknew that they would believe.” (Pelag. Rom.8.29 [Souter 2:68]) Faith was accounted for righteousness because it granted forgiveness of past sins, justified in the present, and prepared one for good works in the future. God justified the wicked man whom he intended to convert “sola fide,” (Pelag. Rom. 4.6 [Souter 2:37])by faith alone, and forgave his sins “sola fide.” (Pelag. Rom. 4.5 [Souter 2:36])
Alister Mcgrath: Despite the astonishing theological diversity of the late medieval period, a consensus relating to the nature of justification was maintained throughout. The Protestant understanding of the nature of justification represents a theological novum… It will be clear that the medieval period was astonishingly faithful to the teaching of Augustine on the question of the nature of justification, where the Reformers departed from it.
The essential feature of the Reformation doctrines of justification is that a deliberate and systematic distinction is made between justification and regeneration. Although it must be emphasized that this distinction is purely notional, in that it is impossible to separate the two within the context of the ordo salutis, the essential point is that a notional distinction is made where none had been acknowledged before in the history of Christian doctrine. A fundamental discontinuity was introduced into western theological tradition where none had ever existed, or ever been contemplated, before. The Reformation understanding of the nature of justification—as opposed to its mode—must therefore be regarded as a genuine theological novum. (Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, the Beginnings to the Reformation, two volumes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, 1:184-5)
You’re far too gracious.
None of these attacks are worthy of response considering this person is citing “the Bible.” That’s begging the question that he can know what the Bible is without using a tradition of men (the Canon) and therefore undermining as nonsensical everything else he has to say.
Just my two cents. None of these discussions can be had until you agree on basic epistemology. Otherwise, you’re just arguing in circles or against a brick wall of question begging.
I agree wholeheartedly. Why do they accept the Canon but no other traditions or teachings (except, I guess, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity) from the same people? Were they apostates? if so, then why trust anything they said or wrote or taught? It could be seen, I suppose, as an act of desperation: “We’ve rejected the Apostolic Church and Holy Tradition so we’ve got to have something authoritative for our churches and traditions.”
I believe Theodore is sincere in his criticism of Orthodoxy. Admittedly there is an epistemological gap between us but I’m trying to reach out to people like him and find common ground for discussion. Some common ground include: “What does the Bible teach?” or “What are the historical facts?” If we can establish what the facts are then we can possibly come to a common understanding of the facts. It’s hard to revise one’s theological paradigm which is why we need to be patient with those from other faith traditions and charitable in our comments.
Should not patience with sincere protestants be tempered by their problem with logic or common sense? If that sounds uncharitable, I don’t mean it that way. I may be oversimplifying it, but how else could one describe the problem? Why do protestants trust the Holy Fathers on which writings Scripture comprises but disagree with them when it comes to the Church or Tradition. Or maybe a better question is, “How can they reasonably do so?” That problem leads to others (for example, their rejection of the Septuagint) so that if there is any common ground, finding will be very difficult.
“Why do protestants trust the Holy Fathers on which writings Scripture comprises but disagree with them when it comes to the Church or Tradition. Or maybe a better question is, “How can they reasonably do so?”
I asked my Calvinist mother this question and she responded very matter-of-factly, “Well, the Holy Spirit guided the council’s decision.” When pressed on the question as to why she thinks the Holy Spirit didn’t guide the *rest* of the Church councils, she basically responded that after the canon of Scripture was decided, that was it. Poor Mother Church died shortly after giving birth to Baby Bible. And that, apparently, is okay, because the whole purpose of the Church was to get the Truth onto paper and into the canon.
Her view seems conveniently pick-and-choosy to me. It seems like you have to assume Sola Scriptura for it to make sense.
Protestantism’s low view of the institutional church in many ways stem from its revolt against the papacy. That is why so many Protestants believe in an invisible church and assume that the Holy Spirit speaks to individuals but not to the church. So much of our understanding of the Christian faith is influenced by our understanding of church history. My advice to you and others like your mother is to become familiar with church history, especially the early church. Familiarity with church history is very helpful for weighing the various positions before us. You might be interested in my posting: “Where Does Sola Scriptura Come From? The Humanist Origins of the Protestant Reformation.”
(Forgive me if this comment goes somewhere it shouldn’t; I have to reply to my own comment to address yours)
“My advice to you and others like your mother is to become familiar with church history, especially the early church.”
Thanks! My journey into studying church history began after I, raised a Protestant Christian, began to worry about the seemingly shaky foundations of our faith and became an unwilling agnostic. Having all but given up on the Bible, I decided I would read the Acts of the Apostles as a work of history, without trying to bring it under any theological system. After I was finished, I was upset, because I wanted more. I wanted to know the rest of the story, so I bought a copy of Eusebius’ Church History. It being brought to my mind for the first time that the Apostles had disciples of their own, I warmed up very quickly to the concept of Apostolic Tradition and the importance of such for correct doctrine amidst heresy. (Today, nearly all the heresies have returned, and I find Apostolic Tradition as relevant as ever…)
As for others, I am sad to say that many Protestants I know are very stubborn and refuse to ask themselves question, “How do I know I was raised in the most correct faith?” If only they would test their faith instead of put the doubts out of their mind, they might come to want to study the history of the Church too. Until then, it’s like pulling teeth to get anybody to sit down and read anything, or take doctrine seriously. I am only speaking from limited experience in a small-town church, but I know my experience is common. I only hope that if I become Orthodox, and if it is the true Church as it seems to be, that they will help me live a better life to be a witness to my family and the others. I’ve already been surprised and humbled by the wisdom and holiness of some of the more recent Orthodox saints. Heck, I only had to read Dostoevsky to realize there was something vastly lacking in Western Christianity. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but something about the culture the Orthodox Church tends to create makes me more confident about the truth of its doctrine. And so, I hope very much that for the people who aren’t able to study all the history, this much is at least evident…
I appreciate your sharing your journey to Orthodoxy. May God bless your journey in 2013!
I remember reading Eusebius’ Church History and finding a lot missing pieces falling into place. Discovering Orthodoxy has made me more relaxed and more confident in what I believe. But I also have to confess to having to guard against being impatient and judgmental of those not Orthodox. We are all sinners in need of God’s mercy.
One lesson I learned a long time ago is that you cannot change people, but you can help those who are open to changing their views. I try to help people move towards Orthodoxy one step at a time. This means attentive waiting. In the meantime we continue to love our friends and relatives as best we can. I try to focus on being transformed by the Holy Spirit. Let me share with you this quote from Seraphim of Sarov:
“…common ground for discussion.”
I am a member of a reformed church (PCA) and have a keen interest in ancient Christianity. I sincerely believe the doctrine we embrace today must lie along the trajectory established by the apostles and church fathers. In that light, this is how I am coming to understand synergy (it is not, as I’m sure you know, a popular word in the reformed tradition). I’m certain I would find your feedback (positive, negative or otherwise) most helpful. I may add that my own pastor does not agree…
“I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew—He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me. It was not I that found, O Savior true; no, I was found of thee.” The first verse of this 19th century hymn (author unknown), expresses a biblical synergism at work in our salvation.
Synergism is a word that needs some unpacking. The World English Dictionary defines synergism as the working together of two or more agents to produce an effect that is greater than the sum of their individual effects. Thus, in a theological context, it has to do with the way in which, or the extent to which, one’s eternal salvation is the result of both divine and human activity.
From the beginning, the church catholic has held that man cannot save himself by simply doing good deeds. The kerygma has always been, “Repent of your sins; believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” Furthermore, she (the church catholic) has always maintained that it is even beyond man’s ability (in some autonomous way) to decide to place his faith in Christ for salvation. Rather, God must take the initiative. He must act first, or all is futile.
The essence of the gospel is that God has acted first, in sending his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to be our Savior. And God has acted first, in sending his Holy Spirit, to stir the hearts of men to believe and embrace the gospel.
God’s actions call for a response, one that it is incumbent upon us to make. Choose you this day whom you will serve (Joshua 24:15). Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:8). Come unto me, all you who labor (Matthew 11:28). Seek the Lord while He may be found (Isaiah 55:6). When I choose, when I cleanse, when I come, when I seek, I am actually, self-consciously, doing something. I am not in a trance.
God acts first. He takes the initiative. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8) Then I act. I respond in faith unto salvation. This is a synergy that is surely biblical, is it not?
Yes, it is, but there’s a bit more unpacking to do. God and I may be the two agents in this synergy, but it’s not the kind of synergy where two agents bring their independent work together to achieve a greater result. We are never independent of God. How could we be? “For in Him we live, and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Or, to paraphrase, “in Him we live, and move, and choose to follow Him, and cleanse our hands, and purify our hearts, and come unto Him sinful though we are, and seek Him as He commands.”
This is synergism of a kind, but not of a kind that detracts from God’s sovereignty. The domain of our hearts is the very kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21). This is also monergism (God acting alone) of a kind. “He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me.” And yet it is not of a kind that detracts from man’s responsibility. Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:3).
The salvation of God, wrought through the atoning sacrifice of Christ and by the working of the Holy Spirit in hearts that are wide open, is ultimately a mystery—a wonderful mystery which cannot be fully explained by any fine-grained theological system.
Perhaps synergism and monergism thus understood are just two ways of expressing the same ineffable reality.
Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! It’s good to see someone giving serious thought to God’s initiative in saving us and our response to God’s grace. Overall, I like what you wrote about God taking the initiative. I noticed you used the phrase “God acted first” several times. This emphasis is consistent with the Orthodox perspective.
If I were disagree with anything in your fine comment it would be your understanding of monergism. I’m not sure that your understanding of monergism is compatible with the Reformed understanding. According to John Calvin our perseverance in living a devout Christian life stems from God’s gift to the elect (Institutes 2.5.3). See my article “The Power of God’s Mercy: A Response to Spencer Boersma’s ‘The Impotence of Calvinism?‘” The Calvinist understanding of monergism is not so much that God acts first but that God is the sole cause of our salvation including our seeking after God, our believing in Christ, and our devotional life as well. You might also want to read “Plucking the TULIP (1).”
Also, you mentioned in light of Acts 17:28 that we are never independent of God. That’s true on the ontological level but on the personal level one can be alienated from God. This is why faith and a free response is critical to our salvation. Our soul is capable of existence apart from God but it is a shadowy existence of alienation and disintegration. Only when our soul returns to God who is Life and Love and Light are we able to truly exist. The spiritual disciplines of the Orthodox Church are designed to help respond to God’s initiative and for our lives to be rooted in the worship of God.
I haven’t been able to find the full text of the council and its canons, but doesn’t the Second Council of Orange (admitted a local council) condemn what we know as “Semi-Pelagianism”?
This brings up, to me, a question: what is the role of councils in Eastern Orthodoxy? I’ve read Bshp. Kallistos Ware in “The Orthodox Church” where he discusses (and I apologize for not having page numbers) the debate as to what constitutes an “ecumenical” council — there seems to be no clear consensus. Why did the Great Seven get called “Ecumenical,” instead of, say, the “Robber Council” of Ephesus? A related question, maybe more to the point of your original post, is: what is the role of local councils? How authoritative are they?
Thanks for the site. I do appreciate the dialogue, even though it is too easy for tempers to flair.
You asked some important questions that require rather long answers.
You can access the Second Council of Orange (529) at the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics site. I believe what you have in mind is Canon 5 which condemns the teaching of saving faith having its source in natural human ability. For your convenience I’ve excerpted Canon 5 with a few emphases added.
CANON 5. If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism — if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, “And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). And again, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). For those who state that the faith by which we believe in God is natural make all who are separated from the Church of Christ by definition in some measure believers.
The Orthodox Church agrees with this position. The closing paragraph of the Second Council of Orange also affirms the Orthodox teaching on synergy (synergy = cooperation).
According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul. We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema. ….
You might also want to take a look at the Confession of Dositheus (1672), especially Decree XIV.
A man, therefore, before he is regenerated, is able by nature to incline to what is good, and to choose and work moral good. But for the regenerated to do spiritual good — for the works of the believer being contributory to salvation and wrought by supernatural grace are properly called spiritual — it is necessary that he be guided and prevented [preceded] by grace, as has been said in treating of predestination. Consequently, he is not able of himself to do any work worthy of a Christian life, although he has it in his own power to will, or not to will, to co-operate with grace.
One thing that a Reformed Christian would notice quickly is the lack of teaching of total depravity. As Kallistos (Timothy) Ware and others have pointed out the Orthodox Church’s view of the fall is not as severe as Augustine.
This leads to your question about councils and the scope of a council’s authority. Councils do not make doctrine, nor can they revise doctrine. What they do is clarify and articulate the Tradition received from the Apostles. A local council’s decision is binding on a particular locality represented at that council. Other churches may use the decisions of that council to guide them on a particular matter. An Ecumenical Council’s decisions are binding on the whole Church. As to what makes for an Ecumenical Council I would recommend you reread Kallistos Ware’s “The Orthodox Church” pp. 20-35, and pp. 251-254. I would caution you against looking for a clear cut set of criteria you can check off to identify a true council. Orthodoxy’s understanding of the church is not so much legal/bureaucratic as organic/mystical. One important element of a council is its reception by the Church as a whole. The Council of Florence where Orthodox hierarchs from Constantinople made key concessions to Rome was rejected by the laity. So while this council met many formal criteria it ultimately failed not just because it was rejected by the Church through the laity but fundamentally because it deviated from Holy Tradition. The Confession of Dositheus that I referenced above was made in response to Reformed theology. Both the Council of Orange (529) and the Confession of Dositheus (1672) are local articulations of Holy Tradition. The Confession of Dositheus because it is a conciliar document carries considerable weight in Orthodoxy, more so than a learned rebuttal by an Orthodox seminary professor with multiple Ph.D’s. Please bear in mind that for Orthodoxy what gives a council authority is not institutional authority as the Holy Spirit’s guiding the the Church, the Body of Christ.
Thank you, this is very helpful. Rereading the excerpts calls to mind the famous Erasmus-Luther interchanges at the beginning of the Reformation — if read side by side, point by point, a very interesting picture comes to light. Luther is attacking what the Council of Orange attacked, Erasmus is affirming what that same Council (seems to) have affirmed. Unfortunately, due to the various egos and tempers of the two, they were not able to see eye to eye.
The Council of Orange was never ratified by an Ecumenical Council unlike other local councils. Thus the Council of Orange has no authority in the East. St. John Cassian’s 13 Conference is a very good response to Augustine. Augustine based his theology on an incorrect translation of the New Testament into Latin. He could not read Greek. Despite his importance in the West, Augustine had no influence in the East. His works were not translated until the 13 century long after the Western Schism. Augustine over reacted to Pelagianism and as a result went too extremes.
Fr. John W. Morris
If I remember correctly it rejected a strict view of predestination while at the same time declaring that Adams fall truly impacted all of humanity and not just Adam. It also takes to task the idea of “double predestination” and considers it detestable. It also has if I recall a very Orthodox view of baptism that grace is actually received in baptism and that through adam not just sin entered the world but death. I must admit that I struggled with this council and it canons when I was part of the reformed faith because it was often refed by authors that I thought highly of but when I read them for myself some of the conclusions were certainly not in line with Reformed Theology.
Here is a link to the various councils with the text of each.
Thanks Eric. I’ve seen Protestants refer to *some* of the stuff said at Orange, but for the life of me I never could figure out why. Orange condemns almost all of their worldview.
Thanks Baroque…before I came to The Church…Orthodox that is…I read many of R.C. Sproul’s books and he referred several times to this council. However, when I read the actual text of the council it didn’t support the Presbyterian position in the slightest! Eventually…after some years of continuing to go to the original sources I was brought through God’s mercy to the Orthodox Church.
I really appreciate your website. I have been following your work for some time and this is my first time jumping in.
I want to return to the answer that you gave Russ on Ecumenical Councils. This is a tough one for me. You mentioned that a characteristic of an Ecumenical Council is its reception by the entire church. If this is true, how can the Council of Chalcedon be categorized as Ecumenical? It was rejected by a significant portion of the church. To me, Eastern Orthodox Christians seem to be saying: we can’t define what makes a council ecumenical, but we know we’ve had seven.
While I am beginning to develop a greater appreciation for mystery, I find that pulling out that card (even if it merits it) makes it difficult to move forward. For example, what if Protestants, when asked about the canon of the bible simply said: “I would caution you against looking for a clear cut set of criteria you can check off to identify the canon. Protestant simply accept the 66 book canon in an organic/mystical way.” I have a feeling that Eastern Orthodox Christians wouldn’t be satisfied with that answer.
Anyways, just some thoughts. Thanks again for your work.
Glad to hear from you! You raised some very good questions about the Ecumenical Councils. The Monophysite controversy and the divisions that arose from it is certainly tragic. What I meant by “the Church as a whole” in my response to Russ was the four orders in the Orthodox Church: the three ordained offices: bishop, priest, and deacons, and the fourth: the laity. The entire Church, clergy and laity, have the responsibility to guard Holy Tradition.
I would respond that the catholicity of the Council of Chalcedon can be seen in its reception by the five patriarchates of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. So while it is tragic that the Oriental Orthodox (Copts, Ethiopians, Armenians) rejected the Council, there is some question as to whether their rejection stemmed from linguistic misunderstandings. The fact is the monophysite heresy condemned by the Council of Chalcedon is likewise condemned by the Oriental Orthodox as well. I’ve interacted with Coptic Christians near my house and have been struck by the similarities in our worship and doctrine. The good news is that this longstanding division is in the process of being healed. Under certain circumstances a Coptic Christian can be allowed to receive Communion in an Orthodox Church. But to return to the initial issue of what makes a council ecumenical, one marker is the consensus of the ancient Pentarchy.
Another marker of an Ecumenical Council is the test of time. Even after the defeat of Arianism at the Council of Nicea in 325 many Christians continued to hold to the heresy but in time the Arian heresy died out. Likewise, no one holds to the monophysite heresy today among the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox.
As for your skepticism about the Orthodox organic/mystical approach to defining the biblical canon, I would challenge you to put forward a clear cut formula for determining which books belong to the canon and which ones should be excluded. I would also challenge you to present historical evidence that show that this formula was used in the determination of the biblical canon. Far from being dissatisfied with the mystical/organic approach, this is how Orthodoxy does understand the formation of the canon. Early Christian worship had two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Word consisted of the Old Testament (Septuagint) and the Apostles Writings. It was up to the bishop what would be allowed to be read as Scripture in the Sunday Liturgy. A quick consensus emerged around the four gospels and Paul’s letters. It took longer for a consensus to emerge around Hebrews and Revelation which were accepted as canonical, and the Shepherd of Hermas which was excluded from the canon. The early churches would exchange copies of Scripture among themselves and it was up to the local bishop to decide what would be allowed to be read as Scripture. There was no centralized steering committee using a well defined formula to sift through a pile of written materials. It should be noted that this organic/mystical approach assumed the office of the bishop, apostolic succession, Tradition, and liturgical worship. Because these elements are missing in Protestantism I cannot imagine how the organic/mystical approach would work there.
If you believe that the New Testament consists of 27 books then you are relying on the results of an organic/mystical approach that was formally ratified by the Sixth Ecumenical Council. In other words you are reliant upon the Tradition of Orthodoxy whether you know it or not. What Protestantism has done is accept certain aspects of Tradition to their liking, while ignoring or rejecting other aspects they find not to their liking. There is no way you can have the biblical canon apart from the Orthodox Tradition. This puts Protestants in a quandary. Either they can accept the canon as an integral part of Tradition or they can view it as a fallible collection of infallible books.
It is illogical for Protestants to assume that Scripture can exist independently of the Church. The two are integrally related to each other. I would urge you to give serious consideration to the Orthodox Church’s claim to be the recipient and the guardian of Holy Scripture.
Since we do agree that no one can, at the beginning, save themselves, but instead must (in some way) be acted upon by God’s good Spirit, why does God choose some to be “prevented by grace” but seemingly bypass others? I ask this because it seems to me that the classic Calvinist dilemma is represented here (maybe I’m misunderstanding as well). That is, why do some come to faith (which requires the Spirit), but others not?
Thanks, as always, for your consideration.
I’m not sure which translation you are using but the link I provided takes us to a translation that has [preceded] inserted after the word “prevented.” I think you are reading the word “prevent” from the standpoint of contemporary English in the sense of “to keep from happening.” The translation in question here seems to rely on a more archaic sense of either “to meet or satisfy in advance” or “to go or arrive before.” Think of the phrase “prevenient grace” that is, the grace that goes before. Hope this helps.
The archaic is the definition I was working from. Looking at the statements from the Council and the Confession, it seems that if salvation is to happen, God’s Spirit must work first (in whatever ways that happens!), so the question: why does God’s Spirit seem to work on some, but seem to bypass others? Is it all part of human freedom? If so, what is necessary for us, who are training children (for example) to do to create a space for the Spirit to work?
In the Calvinist circles I run in, this is an ongoing matter of debate (since, contrary to much popular opinion, Calvinists are not fatalists or determinists — some are, but not all): how do we raise our children to see their need of Christ and how do we best expose them (for lack of a better term) to the Spirit’s grace?
I hope this clarifies my question. I’m sorry that it is a bit jumbled — I’m working through the complexities in my head, but it isn’t coming out well on paper.
Russ, I can’t give you the academic reasons, but my understanding is that God’s grace *is* given to all, but so is free will. His grace, by Orthodox definition, is not irresistible (God doesn’t force Himself on anyone), so some may choose to resist His grace. Those who don’t, but rather receive it, are those who are being saved.
Your question seems to be focused on the cause of the different responses to the Gospel. You asked: “Why does God’s Spirit seem to work on some, but seem to bypass others?” This question seems to identify the Holy Spirit’s acting or not acting on certain individuals as the cause for the different responses. The Orthodox position is that while we are all affected by Adam’s fall and our human nature corrupted by sin, we still retain free will. If our wills are free they can go either way. Going back to the Confession of Dositheus Decree XIV we find two statements:
(1) So [he still has] the same nature in which he was created, and the same power of his nature, that is free-will, living and operating, so that he is by nature able to choose and do what is good, and to avoid and hate what is evil.
(2) Consequently, he is not able of himself to do any work worthy of a Christian life, although he has it in his own power to will, or not to will, to co-operate with grace.
God doesn’t send anyone to hell; people end up in hell when they reject the love of God. Karen made a good point about God’s grace being resistible (a position contrary to the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace).
Salvation for the Orthodox is not a one time event but a continuous, day by day process of trusting in Christ and repenting of our sins. We need to repent continuously because every time we sin we turn away from God who is the source of our love and who is Life itself. We sin and therefore we come back to God asking him for his mercy through his Son Jesus Christ. We ask God for his mercy and his aid; and we seek to cooperate with God’s grace in our lives. We believe that salvation consists not just in the forgiveness of sins but also the restoration of the divine image in us.
You asked about what we can do to create a space for the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of our children. The Orthodox answer is that we bring them into the life of the Church through the sacrament of baptism. We bring them to the Sunday Liturgy every Sunday. At the Liturgy they experience the beauty and reality of the kingdom of God. At the Liturgy they learn how to pray and worship. One beautiful thing about Orthodoxy is that the body and blood of Christ is given to babies as well as grown ups. In addition parents should strive to create a family life centered around prayer. Check out this video of an Orthodox family doing the Morning Prayers together. The reading and study of Scripture is also important for the spiritual training of children. If we commit ourselves totally to God and his kingdom, the grace of God will flow into our lives and the lives of those around us will be changed as well. We give our children our best and trust God to do the rest. There are no guarantees in raising children. Remember the loving father in the story of the Prodigal Son.
Robert and Karen,
Thank you for your help. I think I was reading the Orthodox statements through the ‘total inability’ (more accurate than ‘total depravity’) lenses I’m accustomed to.
I’m glad we could be of help. This what I intended the OrthodoxBridge to do — help people from both sides understand each other. And that is why I’ve been urging people to tone down the polemic, focus on the facts, and be charitable to one another. Thank you for taking part in the dialogue.
Even as staunch Calvinists, we would argue that the light of the gospel IS presented to evey man (grace)…enough light to ensure his real guilt by the free rejection of the light given. (“That was the true Light which gives ligtht to evey man who come into the world” Jn. 1:9 & Rm. 1:18-19 “who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be know of God is manifest in them, for God has show it to them.”) Then, of course we might speculate on all humans recieving “the grace of life” equally from God.
In either case, the Calvinist and Orthodox do NOT think ignorance is man’s basic problem. At this point there seems to be little difference…all men recieve sufficient grace to ensure their knowledge and guilt.
It is here that the Calvinist who goes on to argue that kind of “common grace” is yet insufficient to “regenerate” the “totally-dead/depraved” sinner to saving grace — and that the “selectivty of special-grace” is granted by God only to the Elect…due to man’s inability in his totally-dead/depraved state…to respond without special grace.
If I understand them rightly, the Orthodox would simply argue that fallen man, though inclined to sin and in need of God’s initiating-grace (1st kind above) is yet not so fallen that he cannot (not totally unable/depraved) respond to this common-grace of God given to all men…and thus does not need a special-electing grace which is selective given only to the elect, and not given to all men.
Thanks for your thoughts. I didn’t mean to imply that ‘ignorance’ was the main problem either for Orthodox or Calvinists — I agree that neither think this (for which I am glad, as that would make them Gnostics).
The question seems to be, from your viewpoint, one of the Calvinist concept of “common grace.” I’m curious to see how the Orthodox folks respond to this — is “common grace” a category in their thought? I’m beginning to see that the strong Pneumatology of the Orthodox fills that role, but in a much more personal way.
Russ and David,
I’ll be interested to see what those with more academic expertise say, but from what I have read, grace, from an Orthodox perspective, is not some commodity apportioned apart from God’s presence Himself, and there are not different “presences” of God or different kinds of grace. It is, rather, another word for God’s presence acting upon or within the human person for empowering their virtue and salvation (theosis). But there is also a teaching within Orthodoxy (see, for instance, the hymn of the Feast of Transfiguration) that we receive or perceive God’s glory (and His grace) “as we can bear it.” In other words, God gives Himself to us in whatever way or inasmuch as we have developed the will and capacity to receive Him. Again, this is a reference to synergy. God inititiates with all, but doesn’t foist Himself on anyone. When we dispose our will to Him (which is always a response to His prior love, but it is a free will response), He empowers us and fills us as much as we will allow or have developed the capacity (through the prior action of our will and His grace at work within us) to support.
Thanks. I’ve heard the Orthodox make this point & I have no problem with it. Some Orthodox go further to say Protestants think grace a “created thing/substance” apportioned out. I’ve never heard this before from a Protestant teacher and don’t believe most Protestants believe it or have a significantly different view of the common grace of God than do the Orthodox.
Where they differ is, it seems the Orthodox believe this common graced of Life given to all men equally by God’s goodness in and to all Creation….enough to lead men to Christ by their free choice/synergy. This is in contrast to selective, irresistable “special-grace” of the Calvinist that is given to the Elect only. The root need for this special-grace is anthropological — man’s total-inability due to the FAll, and his subsequent need for special regenerating grace…which he cannot resist. But in either case, it is all still the Grace of God per his nature and goodwill to men…not some special created substance. I’m sure with more time, this could be better and more precisely said…but I’ll stop here.
Thanks, David. I think that the notion of grace as something given to man apart from God’s presence itself comes from a more technical line of logic tracing from Augustine’s speculations. I read about that at the “Energetic Procession” web site, but don’t remember details. I didn’t necessarily think this way (consciously) as a Protestant either, yet I also didn’t equate grace with God’s empowering presence either. The definition I was given was “divine favor,” i.e., God’s favorable attitude toward me or an “attribute” of God in His disposition to be gracious. Now I see that though I didn’t consciously see grace as a substance apart from God Himself, viewing grace somewhat abstractly as an object (e.g., an attribute, “divine favor”), I was indeed on a certain level relating to it in this way. It can be very subtle, but I think it was there. I think this is an effect of characterizing God as being defined by certain attributes as well reflecting our philosophical inheritance here in the west in Scholasticism.
So to sharpen my point above a bit Russ, it does seem to me that the Orthodox, given their view of fallen-man, are in no need to offer and explanation to the free choice of men before the grace of God. The Holy Spirit has enlighted all men and stands ready to assist in any free response of man (synergy).
It is, however, for us Calvinists to offer an explanation for why God offers His irresistable saving grace only to the elect…and that it pleases God to completely save many despite their total depravity — allthewhile leaving others predestined to hell? That God, as God is free to save and damn whomsoever He wills, and has no obligation to save any is one response….
David and Russ,
If you notice, the first comment on this thread by Baroque correctly points you to our reason for rejecting Calvinism (I used to be one).
It is Christology.
If humanity is totally depraved, then Christ’s humanity was totally depraved, but he received fallen humanity from his mother and was without sin.
Christ’s human will freely and without force follows his divine will–Christ had free human will, where did he get it?? From his mother, of course, which means he received it from us as it was in fallen humanity—free! This freedom cannot save us, though. We have human energy that is in operation when we believe the gospel, repent, and come to baptism, but salvation is of the Lord. If you take away human energy in us, you take it away in Christ which would be heresy.
Is Christ consubstantial with the elect only or with all men? Does Christ taste death for every man or for the elect only? Why are the damned raised if not because of the resurrection of Christ and their consubstantiality with his humanity? See the sixth Ecumenical Council for more 🙂
Romans 9 is covenantal and about nations not the election of idividuals to salvation and damnation (Malachi 1).
Just a few quick thoughts.
Thanks for developing Baroque’s point–very helpful!
Of course, I was a bit surprised over 18 mths ago when I started to read Orthodoxy, to learn how their distinctively anti-calvinistic anthropology of man (before & after the fall) is rooted in their Incarnation theology…just what sort of flesh & nature Christ acquired/took? “…in the womb of the virgin Mary…like or different from Adam’s?” This is especially so when I remember being taught early Christians really didn’t “do theology with any real precision” because they were more concerned with staying alive…at least some were! 🙂
I’ve enjoyed and learn much (which Theodora obviously has not) but I still have questions I’ll formulate for you men in a day or so. (And Robert you are NOT too kind…pretty good balance. Wouldn’t be nearly as effective if you got snotty too!)
Actually there is an Orthodox explanation on why some receive the gift of Faith that enables them to accept the Gospel. In Romans 8: 29 we read, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren” St. John of Damascus wrote, “We must recognize that while God foreknows all things, He does not predestine all things. He foreknows the things that depend on us, but He does not predestine those things. He does not will the doing of evil, nor does He compel virtue. Thus predestination is the work of the divine command based on foreknowledge. And He predestines in accord with His foreknowledge those things that are not dependent upon us. For God in His foreknowledge has already prejudged all things in accord with His goodness and justice. We must recognize also that virtue is implanted by God in our nature, and that God Himself is the source and cause of all good, and without His cooperation and assistance we are powerless either to will or do anything good.”
Therefore God knows who will accept the gift of salvation and gives them the gift of Faith needed to receive that grace. Thus predestination is simply a way to refer to God’s foreknowledge of who will be receptive to His gift of Faith. He also knows who will reject the Gospel. This in no way conflicts with free will, because God’s does not force us to accept His grace. He simply gives grace to those he knows will accept it.
Fr. John W. Morris
Thank you for your response.
I am familiar with the points you raise regarding the canon, and in all honesty, I need to go back an revisit the topic of the canon in my personal studies. There are plenty of resources available on the issue of the canon; however, I haven’t come across one significant resource that deals with the issue of what makes a council ecumenical from the Eastern Orthodox perspective.
Could you direct me to any significant resources that address the issue of what makes a council ecumenical from an Eastern Orthodox perspective? (I have looked and came up with nothing).
P.S. Tone if sometimes hard to capture in a post. I hope I am not coming across as blunt. I really am interested in any resources that could help me understand this topic . Thanks again.
Here is a PDF dealing w/ the various aspects of Ecumenical Councils, when they are legitimate and when they are not: http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/Introduction-The-Oecumenical-Synods-of-the-Orthodox-Church-Fr-James-Thornton.pdf
Thanks for that link David L. Much appreciated.
Wow, Robert. I just went back and read the whole exchange with Theodore, and I must say you were exceedingly patient dealing with his “both barrels blasting” attitude and approach to discussion, plus his half-baked and just plain wrong notions of what it is Orthodox really believe and teach. I hope he will be back with at least one ear really open to listen and learn from the discussion here. I also hope he takes you up on your practical suggestion to contact an Orthodox priest to get his info. “from the horse’s mouth.”
Thank you for your encouraging remarks! People who come out with both barrels blasting are often very concerned about protecting their faith. For many Reformed and Evangelicals Eastern Orthodoxy seems so strange at first sight. I’m sure you know that as well. One reason for my patience is that I want people to come to see the Pearl of Great Price that is Orthodoxy. This is a time of openness among Protestant, Evangelical and Charismatic Christians which is all the more reason why we need to be patient and charitable in dialoguing with them. There is such a great spiritual hunger out there. Let us do what we can to help the seekers and inquirers.
You are so right, Robert, about the strangeness of Orthodoxy to those raised in Western Christian traditions. It does require patience and compassion when people appear to attack what we hold dear out of our genuine love for Christ (and His Church). Further, I confess that as a Protestant I was probably even more poorly informed and more stubbornly defensive of my own position than Theodore (and with less reason–he is very worried, understandably from his position, about his daughter’s spiritual wellbeing). As a mother, whose most earnest prayer is the salvation of her children, I can relate to his father’s heart, and should be inclined to forgive the intensity of his challenge and his prejudgment just on that basis alone.
Keep up the good work!
It is always a disappointment to see a hyper-calvinistic theological novice like Theodore embarrassing the Reformed Theological Tradition. The Reformed Tradition is a branch of the Western Church that arose as a catholic reform movement within Western Catholicism as a response to the egregious moral and doctrinal condition of it at the time. It is worth reminding that the original of intentions of the Reformers was never to “leave” as has tended to be the pattern of Protestantism ever since. One can immediately see that Calvin’s own writings abound with the Fathers. Thus when we say “Reformed” it is shorthand for Reformed Catholic Church. Admittedly, thanks to folks like Theodore and pugnacious Presbyterians and so forth, this sense of catholicity has all but been lost.
Any student of dogma knows that the history of dogma is the history of heresy. Athanasius is a legend to us today because he faced down the threat of Arianism. That was the big error being faced in his day. Thus at all times, it is possible to find a churchman who holds the line for orthodoxy on this or that point which was critical in his day, but then be a lot less precise on things that were not as pressing. (Thus semi-pelagian sounding statements by Athanasius or Chrysostom does not make it right) Note how Nestorious was important to orthodoxy, and then Nestorianism condemned! So of course with Augustine and Pelagian heresy, Augustine is extremely nuanced on it, unlike other fathers because he had to be. So with his struggle with the Donatists. This principle holds true for Luther. Luther’s own writings abound with the Fathers and was in every way committed to the catholicity of the Church (in a way most Evangelicals would not want to admit). The pressing issues of Luther’s day was a Pelagian problem again and so it is completely understandable how he leans on Augustine and the Canon of Scripture together. Luther did not invent any doctrine, as much as some of you Orthodox would like to think. And the fact that it is not rampant among some of the other church fathers does not negate it. It only proves, in the history of dogma, that is was not the pressing issue at previous times. And this is the advantage of having a central tradition in the canon of Scripture. The church, as long as it persists on earth, will occasionally and often face new doctrinal threats that have not been dealt with before by the fathers. The canon of Scripture as the most authoritative tradition of the early church stands as a resource to go back to to deal with everything that the Church faces. It of course must be interpreted, and those who went before must be consulted. But we still should not expect to have the all Church fathers speaking to an exact situation like what Luther faced and so on.
Because of all this, Theodore is way off the mark by calling Orthodoxy a heresy. You cannot make a theological issue that arises in the 16th century to be the watershed for orthodoxy. For the Continental Reformed Tradition, The Christian faith is summed up in the Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. Notice that Justification by faith alone, Predestination, Election, which are important nuances of the Augustinian/Reformed understanding are still not in the mix of what defines orthodoxy in our three creeds. Theodore is a keen example of the kind of theological naivete that makes the Pelagian error of making believing in “Justification by faith alone” into a work of salvation itself. In other words, if you do not believe it or understand it, then you are a heretic, performing works salvation, and probably on your way to Hell. If that is true, then all the many covenant children we baptize within our Reformed tradition are going straight to hell, because they do not “understand” the doctrine. This is not a Reformed understanding of the church Church, but is a gross amalgam of Calvinistic and the Donatistic rigorism of Evangelical/Baptist soteriology. The Reformed Tradition leans heavily on Augustine’s view of the Church as being permixtum and that while all Christians are being nurtured to salvation within the bosom of the Church, salvation is still a mysterious gift that is not based upon what we understand.
Finally Theodore’ comments show a shallow understanding of Reformed Theology which fails to see the practical complexity between the decretive and preceptive will of God. It is common today for novice Calvinists to fuss about the decrees of God (predestination & election) which Paul does mysteriously teach, when in fact Calvin himself warned to stay away from the “terrible decree.” True Reformed theology does not relish in the decrees, but always preaches the necessity of human response to the preceptive will of God. It always says when repentance and faith takes root, it is the gift of God (Not unlike the Orthodox). The the actually Reformed doctrine of Perseverance of the saints actually has far more emphasis on preachig ot the church to repent and persevere in faith (the imperative) than it does in the teaching that the elect will persevere (indicative). This command to persevere in repentance and faith is the process of salvation and sanctification, which is a pilgrimage in becoming more like God in how we live. Thus deification/theosis is not all that different from the doctrine of perseverance in the Reformed tradition. That is my read.
Thanks again for this blog and the attempt to build bridges. I hope the likes of folks like Theodore will not discourage your efforts. This is a great dialogue.
Thank you for your contribution to the OrthodoxBridge dialogue! We need people with your background and maturity to provide balance and perspective. Your voice will help balance out the more enthusiastic voices like Theodore.
I am constantly attracted to the Orthodox Church for many of the same reasons that you all have mentioned regarding authority in the church. The problem comes about when what is Orthodox Traditions seems to contradict scriptures. For instance, though I prefer the apostle James to Paul, it is Paul that makes it difficult for me to finish the journey to Orthodoxy. When there is an emphasis on baptismal generation, I read “you must be baptized to be saved.” If so, I wonder how different that is from what Paul is fighting in Galatians when he is fighting against the “mutilators.” They say it is faith plus doing the rituals that make you a Jew. How is requiring the baptismal rite, the eucharist, and other types of outward performances far different from being required to be circumcised and keep the traditions of the Jews? Of course, I realize that even in my own tradition, my Jesus gives many commands to be kept . . . but they all seem moral rather than ritual. [I realize that Lutherans and Anglo-Catholics also hold to similar sacramental theology to the Orthodox Church]. I would love to hear how you would differentiate and why you think Paul would not treat orthodox traditions the way that he treated Jewish traditions.
Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!
I think your questions will be addressed in a future blog posting on baptismal generation. Don’t hold your breath though! There are a lot fundamental issues that will need to be addressed and I will need to do some background research for this topic.
Paul’s disagreement with the Judaizers wasn’t about doing good works per se but about the Torah, whether one needed to become a Jew in order to be a follower of Christ. Think about the similarities between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The entry ritual for Judaism is circumcision, for Christianity it is baptism. To undergo circumcision meant a change in identity, one ceased to be a pagan and became part of the nation of Israel. Baptism meant coming under the lordship of Jesus Christ and membership in the Church. Along with that came the obligation to keep the festivals like Passover. Similarly, to be a Christian meant that one became part of the Church and that one was obligated to be at the Eucharistic celebration (the New Passover). Similarly, should a follower of Jesus keep kosher? This is the issue that Peter compromised on and Paul had to rebuke Peter for compromising. Again, the issue was not earning merit but allegiance to the particular faith of the Old Covenant for the Jews versus allegiance to the universal faith of the New Covenant for Jews and Gentiles.
You might find Paul Barnett’s Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity helpful, especially chapters 11 to 16. Using modern scholarship Barnett attempts to describe what the early Church was like and what the early Christians believed. On page 346 Barnett briefly touches on the difficulty of reading the Reformation debates into Paul’s letters. This is a book I wish I read years ago. He does a fine job situating Jesus and the early Christians in their social, historical, and economic context.
Thank you, Robert.
No, I agree that mostly Paul is dealing with issues of Torah. Particularly, I belive that the book of Romans is mainly discussing the Jew-Gentile issue, not the reformation issues. However, I do wonder what is to be done with how Paul seems insistent not to force others to keep days holy. Each man considers one day holy or not . . . In addition in Acts the Holy Spirit comes upon Cornelius and all those with him before baptism. It seems that their faith is enough for them to be accepted by God. Baptism seems in that passage to be the Church affirming the work of the Holy Spirit.
“You closed with: I have just faith in Him, and that faith alone carries me. Isn’t it all about Him, and what He did for us, in the end? Isn’t it all about faith?”
This is where the confessional Lutheran parts ways with the Calvinist, “fideism”, this comment seems to indicate that Theodore has Faith in his own Faith rather than in Jesus Christ. Now with that said I’m sure Luther and his emphasis on “Faith Alone” doesn’t help folks like Theodore with this understanding.
Thanks for the insight!
first–christianity was never meant to be easy ,second–people believing they are saved by accepting jesus are fooling themselves,third–if you accept jesus do like jesus,fourth–feeling good about yourself(by accepting jesus only)does not save you.this is why theosis is very important….its a process,not one and done
Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! Glad you could be part of the discussion.