A Meeting Place for Evangelicals, Reformed, and Orthodox Christians

Category: Baptism (Page 1 of 2)

Protestant Reformation in the Old Testament?


A response to Anastasiya Gutnik’s comment 24 June 2016:

From Anastasiya:

What do you think of Josiah?  In his time the worship of God was corrupt.  So much so that the law was literally a musty, dusty old book found hidden away in the temple.  Upon rediscovering the law Josiah launched a reformation destroying the idols and the altars upon which idolatry was practiced. Does this mean there were none of God’s people left?  But as Paul writes about the time of Elijah “I have reserved 7000 who have not bowed to Baal. So there is a remnant according to election of grace.” How is his any different than the Protestant Reformation?  What are your thoughts on the Apostle Paul warning that wolves would come and tear up the flock and that apostasy would happen after his departure? And what are you thoughts on his statement regarding the times of Elijah?

The church is composed of individuals “one of a city, two of a family” as Jeremiah writes. So what do you have against individual believers receiving the Holy Spirit? In the Acts we see individuals corporately receiving the Spirit (such as Cornelius and his house).  And what Protestant ever said this is done apart from the Church?  Article 28 of the Belgic Confession explicitly says of the Church that “out of it is no salvation.” Even today in the apostate and corrupt churches like Hillsong they still recognize the importance of corporate worship and belonging to a community of believers.

See also Anastasiya Gutnik’s comment 26 June 2016



Whoa!  All these questions!  I feel like I’m being interrogated by a prosecuting attorney.  What say you that we have a friendly dialogue between the two of us?

I appreciate your vigorous interaction with the OrthodoxBridge.  We may not see eye-to-eye on some issues, but we share common ground in our respect for Scripture.  I will explain my positions using the Bible.


Protestantism in the Old Testament?

Your listing of Old Testament passages seems to rest on the premise that the Protestant Reformation has parallels in the Old Testament, thereby providing biblical justification for the Reformation.  This entails the hermeneutical strategy of reading the history of Christianity, especially the Protestant Reformation, onto the Old Testament text.  Getting the types and parallels of Christ and Israel right is what the Jews of Jesus’ time were so poor and weak at.  They were often dead wrong. This means that using the hermeneutics of history approach calls for caution.  Orthodoxy approaches church history through the lens of the unique promise of Pentecost — Christ’s Upper Room promise that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church (John 14-16), and Christ’s promise that powers of hell would never prevail over the Church (Matthew 16:17-18).  Orthodoxy sees church history as one continuous, unbroken narrative from the book of Acts to the present day.  We view world history as the history of the one Church through which God’s power and wisdom unfold bringing about the salvation of the cosmos (Ephesians 1:18-22).

The Apostle Paul’s prediction of the coming of “savage wolves” attacking the flock (Acts 20:29-30) parallels Apostle John’s counsel about heretics who denied that Jesus had come in the flesh (1 John 2:18-23).  The early Church had to deal with early heresies like Gnosticism, Arianism, and Manichaeism.  It survived these heresies, and in time Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.  It is difficult to see there being a universal apostasy as you seem to have implied.

If one wants to find a possible parallel for Protestantism, I suggest it would be the northern tribes’ revolt against Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:12-17).  What made that schism so tragic was not so much the rejection of the Jerusalem monarchy but Jeroboam’s creation of rival worship centers in Bethel and Dan, and the installation of a new rival priesthood (1 Kings 12:26-33).  These innovations made the schismatic Israelites susceptible to syncretistic borrowing of religious practices from their neighbors.

In your first paragraph you cited the example of King Josiah (2 Kings 23) reading the Book of the Covenant and cleansing the Temple of pagan idols suggesting it has parallels with the Reformation. What he did was to follow the covenant obligations imposed on the king in Deuteronomy 17:14-20.  In no way did King Josiah introduce new doctrines or worship practices.  This has been one of my primary critiques of the Protestant Reformers.  They rightly reacted against many of the abuses and innovations of Medieval Catholicism.  They sought to return to the original Church, not through the Pentecost paradigm — the Holy Spirit working without break through the Church for the past 1500 years, but rather through the novel method of sola scriptura.  This gave rise to novel doctrines not taught by the early Church Fathers or were condemned by early Councils.  Furthermore, it gave rise to a plethora of Protestant denominations with conflicting interpretations of the Bible.  The Protestant rejection of the episcopacy (priestly leadership) and their rejection of the Real Presence in the Eucharist (right worship) as understood by the early Church bears an uncanny parallel with Jehoboam’s innovations.  This is something that should give thoughtful Protestants pause.

You mentioned the Apostle Paul’s quoting 1 Kings 18 about the faithful remnant of 7000 who refused to bow down to Baal (Romans 11:4).  The important point to keep in mind is that Romans 11 is not about the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s, but about the perplexing situation in Paul’s time.  The Messiah had come and instead of welcoming Jesus as the promised Messiah, Israel chose to reject and murder God’s Chosen One.  This created a conundrum: Either Jesus was not the promised Messiah or the Jews were no longer God’s people.  These questions were likely on the minds of Paul and his fellow Jewish Christians.  This question quite possibly contributed to the tensions between Jews and Gentiles which seem to lurk in the background of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Did Paul’s conversion to Christ require the renunciation of his ethnic heritage and religious roots?  Was Israel no longer Israel?  Romans 11 is Paul’s solution to the conundrum.  In it he explains the relationship between the Israel of the Old Testament and the New Israel, the Church.   In this context it becomes clear that when Paul alludes to the faithful remnant of the 7,000, he has in mind himself, his fellow Apostles, and Jewish Christians.

To claim the Protestant Reformers comprise the faithful remnant of 7,000 mentioned by Paul involves reading Protestant church history into the Bible, a very dubious proposition.  This reading of Scripture cannot be asserted; it must be proven.  For several decades now, Anglican Bishop and bible scholar, NT Wright, has been pointing out this common Protestant flaw of reading the Reformation back into Scripture.  Lowell Handy’s “The Good, Bad, Insignificant, Indispensable King Josiah” (2005) traces the place of King Josiah in church history.  Among the early Church Fathers and into the Middle Ages, Josiah occupied a minor role in biblical studies (Handy 2005:41).  He acquired prominence in the 1500s among the Protestant Reformers who saw in Josiah a model of a reforming king and in the 1800s among Protestant bible scholars who saw the “Book of the Covenant” read by Josiah as evidence for a revised understanding of Old Testament formation.  In other words, the prominence given to Josiah is peculiar to Protestantism and does not reflect the broader Christian exegetical tradition. This retroactive approach of reading Protestant history into the Bible is highly speculative and self-serving.


Coptic Icon of Pentecost

Coptic Icon of Pentecost


The Church — Individuals versus Corporate Body

In your second paragraph you cited Jeremiah 3:14 — one from a city and two from a family — to justify the idea of the church as an aggregate of individuals.  This is a bit of a stretch.  Where is this interpretation found in church history?  Some of the more extreme Protestant groups believe that all one needs to comprise a church is a group of like-minded believers who gather to hear sermons about the Bible. But that is like saying gathering a group of kids and giving them a ball makes them a team! They need to agree that they are a team, playing the same sport by the same rule, and under a team leader.  A more pertinent passage for explaining the individual Christian’s relation to the corporate body, the Church, would be 1 Corinthians 12:12-13:

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

And then, there’s 1 Corinthians 12:17:

Now you are the body of Christ and each of you is a part of it.

The Amplified Bible translates 1 Corinthians 12:27 it this way:

Now you [collectively] are Christ’s body, and individually [you are] members of it [each with his own special purpose and function].

The key point here is that we become part of the Church through the sacrament of baptism.  One does not join the Church as one is received by the Church.  Furthermore, Paul understood the Church to possess an internal structure, an ordering of ranks.  In 1 Corinthians 12:27-28, Paul lists the orders of church ministries: apostles, prophets, teachers, and workers of miracles.  In Ephesians 4:11, he gives a slightly different ordering: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  From these passages we learn that the Church is not an aggregate of independent individuals, but rather a corporate body of interrelated members.  There is no need to grasp at obscure or dubious Old Testament passages for our doctrine of the Church when there are New Testament passages that give us greater clarity on the question before us.  As a matter of fact, the Reformed tradition’s teaching about the Church as a covenant community speaks against the individualistic approach that you seem to favor.

In no way am I opposed to the idea of individuals receiving the Holy Spirit.  The real issue is whether one can receive the Holy Spirit independently of the visible Church.  The main difference is that Protestants deny that we receive the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of the Church (chrismation).  However, they need to take into account the fact that the sacrament of chrismation was very much a part of early Christian initiation.  Cyril, the patriarch of Jerusalem in the 300s, described the sacrament of chrismation in which the newly baptized is anointed on the forehead, the ears, the nostrils, and the breast. (Catechetical Lecture 21.4)  This remains the practice of the Orthodox Church to the present.  The point here is that just as baptism is a sacrament administered by the Church through its ordained clergy, so the reception of the Holy Spirit takes place via the sacrament of chrismation which immediately follows baptism.

The issue of the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” has been an especially divisive one for Protestants. Baptists and many Evangelicals equate the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the “born again” experience. Pentecostals and many charismatics identify the baptism in the Holy Spirit as an experience distinct from the born again experience and signified by the gift of tongues.  It’s not clear to me what the Reformed tradition’s position of the reception of the Holy Spirit is.  I searched through the Belgic Confession, which you cited, and while there were numerous references to the Holy Spirit, there seem to be no specific teaching about the point in time when the Christian receives the Holy Spirit.  I then searched through the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Larger Catechism, and the Westminster Confession and was not able to find anything with respect to the reception of the Holy Spirit. Please help me on this.  Where does the Reformed tradition stand on the baptism in the Holy Spirit?  When does this take place for the Christian?  Does it takes place at the time of baptism, the born again experience, or is it an individual experience distinct from baptism?

You cited article 28 of the Belgic Confession.  The Belgic Confession‘s affirmation that there is no salvation outside the Church is a reflection of the historic understanding of the Church. The novelty of Protestantism is that it denies that claim to Roman Catholicism.  It justifies this denial on the grounds that Roman Catholicism under the papacy has become corrupt, unbiblical, and even apostate. Furthermore, Protestantism lays claim to belonging to the true Church on the grounds that it has the true interpretation of Scripture. This despite the numerous conflicting interpretations of Scripture held by the myriad of denominations!  My point is that you can cite Article 28 of the Belgic Confession all you want, but how do you know your church is part of the true Church?  Which makes me wonder: “What is your church affiliation?  And what leads you to think that your local congregation is part of the true Church?”

In closing, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy are two quite different religious traditions.  They once shared in a common Faith, however, tragically the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) following the Schism of 1054 has moved more and more from the patristic consensus.  What Martin Luther and John Calvin were protesting against was a medieval Catholicism quite different from the Church of the first millennium.  In that light, I view Protestants as unwitting victims of Rome’s deviation from the early Church Fathers.

I have done my best to respond to your questions.  I trust that I have answered them satisfactorily.  I look forward to hearing your responses to my questions and to the interesting conversation you and I will have in the near future.

Robert Arakaki

Baptism = Normative Occasion of Justification?



Water Baptism


From Vance:

“In my church tradition, baptism is considered the normative occasion of justification, but not the cause of justification.  Does this view differ substantially from baptismal generation as understood by the Orthodox?”

My Reply:

Thank you for your interesting question about baptism as a “normative occasion” versus it being a cause of justification.

The first thing that struck me about your question is that it is narrowly focused on justification rather being more broadly focused on salvation.  A lot depends on how we understand salvation and how justification relates to salvation in Christ.  Where Roman Catholicism and Protestantism tend to understand salvation as consisting of the forgiveness of sins (legal justification), Orthodoxy has a much broader understanding of salvation.  For us salvation goes beyond the forgiveness of sins to include enlightenment, release from Satan’s rule, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, becoming part of the people of God, joining in the heavenly worship, the resurrection of the body, and being joined to Christ the Son of God.  Furthermore, baptism in Orthodoxy does not stand alone but is normally part of a sequence of services and sacraments.  Baptism in Orthodoxy is preceded by the rite of exorcism in which one renounces Satan; baptism is followed by the sacrament of Chrismation in which one is sealed with the Holy Spirit, followed by sacrament of the Eucharist.  I understand that in Roman Catholicism and in much of Protestantism baptism is a standalone ritual but for Orthodoxy baptism is part of a rich tapestry of the Church’s liturgical life.

Red Light Flashing

Red Light Flashing

So when you asked if baptism was the normative occasion of justification or the cause of justification a little red light started flashing in my head.  The question seems to frame baptism in terms of the forgiveness of sins and nothing else.  It seems to frame the problem in terms of our having broken God’s law and our standing before God the Judge who will sentence us to hell unless satisfaction is paid.  Behind this is a concern for the minimal requirements for the forgiveness of sins.  You wrote to me privately that according to Roman Catholicism baptism is valid even for children whose parents are of another faith and unaware of the baptism.  I’m not an expert on Roman Catholic theology or canon law, but I can tell you that this cannot happen in Orthodoxy.

Orthodox Baptism

Orthodox Baptism

In Orthodoxy a child is brought into the Orthodox Church through his/her parents and their godparents. Baptism is a social act; it is not a mechanistic ritual.  In Judaism a boy is circumcised on the eighth day and is then made part of the Jewish faith.  The assumption is that he will be brought up in the Jewish faith and when he is of age he will make his own choice to keep the Jewish Torah.  Similarly, in Orthodoxy the assumption is that the child will be brought up in the Orthodox Faith and when he or she is of age they will make their own choice.  Some will continue on in the Orthodox Faith while others sadly will cease to be active in the Faith or even abandon it.  In Orthodoxy there is no “once saved, always saved.”  Orthodoxy believes that it is possible to lose one’s salvation.  Orthodoxy does not reduce justification by faith to one particular moment but sees it as a process whereby one puts one’s faith in Christ day by day, moment by moment until the end of life.  In Orthodoxy just as important as faith in Christ is faithfulness to Christ even to the point of martyrdom.


Baptism + Chrismation of Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa (2015)

Baptism + Chrismation of Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa (November 2015)  Source

If you want to understand how Orthodoxy understands the connection between baptism and justification (remission of sins), the best thing to do is read the text for the sacrament of baptism.  One thing you will note as you read the text below is the language of spiritual warfare.  This reflects a theology older than the legalism of Medieval Catholicism.

Let all adverse powers be crushed beneath the sign of the image of thy cross.  (Thrice.)

We pray thee, O God, that every aerial and obscure phantom may withdraw itself from us; and that no demon of darkness may conceal himself in this water; and that no evil spirit which instilleth darkening of intentions and rebelliousness of thought may descend into it with him (her) who is about to be baptized.

But do thou, O Master of all, show this water to be the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, the purification of flesh and spirit, the loosing of bonds, the remission of sin, the illumination of the soul, the laver of regeneration, the renewal of the Spirit, the gift of adoption to sonship, the garment of incorruption, the fountain of life.  For thou hast said, O Lord: Wash ye, be ye clean; put away evil things from your souls.  Thou hast bestowed upon from on a high a new birth through water and the Spirit.  Wherefore, O Lord, manifest thyself in this water, and grant that he (she) who is baptized therein may be transformed; that he (she) may put away from him (her) the old man, which is corrupt through the lusts of the flesh, and that he (she) may be clothed upon with the new man, and renewed after the image of him who created him (her): that being buried, after the pattern of thy death, in baptism, he (she) may, in like manner be a partaker of thy Resurrection; and having preserved the gift of thy Holy Spirit, and increased the measure of grace committed unto him (her), he (she) may receive the prize of his (her) high calling, and be numbered with the first-born whose names are written in heaven, in thee, our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.  (Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church translated by Isabel Florence Hapgood; emphasis added)

I’ve quoted just one passage in the service of Baptism.  There are other lengthy prayers as well.  The point here is that the Orthodox understanding of the purpose of baptism much richer than the Protestant understanding.

Your question whether baptism is the cause of justification makes me uneasy.  Bottom line, Jesus Christ is the ultimate cause of our justification and our reconciliation with God the Father.  This speculative approach or concern with the causal mechanism of salvation is alien to the New Testament and the patristic consensus; it reflects the thinking of Medieval Western Christianity.  In Orthodoxy the sacraments are often referred to as “Mysteries.” Faith in Christ entails a personal relationship with Christ, that is, one accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, one commits oneself to living according to the teachings of Christ.   The Orthodox approach to salvation is relational and organic.  Fundamentally, salvation consists of being united to Jesus Christ and following Christ in the context of life in the Church, the Body of Christ.

Baptism can be understood as a covenant ritual in which one enters into a covenant relationship with the Suzerain (Lord).  This is the significance of the questions asked:

Dost thou unite thyself to Christ? (3 times)

Hast thou united thyself unto Christ? (3 times)

Dost thou believe in him?

I believe in him as King and as God.

In other words justification from the Orthodox point of view does not result from certain ritual action or by mentally assenting to a certain doctrine about Christ’s death on the Cross, but from a personal commitment to Christ.  When we are baptized we are joined to Christ much like an unemployed man when hired is no longer an independent agent but now part of a huge corporation and accountable to the Owner.

So the answer to your question is really both.  When we are baptized we cease to be autonomous individuals or renegades, but are now newly enlisted soldiers in Christ’s army.  So in that sense the enlistment becomes the causal mechanism by which he is brought into the army.  So when the soldier takes an oath to serve in the King’s army that oath taking becomes a “normative occasion.”

To use a different analogy, is the wedding the cause of marriage or the normative occasion of marriage?  The answer is both/and.  But if one wishes to be legally and technically precise the answer in the State of Hawaii is the moment both parties sign the marriage certificate.

To sum up, baptism is both the “normative occasion” and “cause” of our salvation in Christ (which includes justification—the remission of sins).  This is because in baptism we are joined to Jesus Christ the Savior of the World.  Ultimately, it is Jesus who is the cause of our salvation.  Jesus saves us by his Incarnation, his death on the Cross, his descent into Hades, his third day Resurrection, his Ascension into heaven, and his sending the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  Justification (forgiveness of sins) is just one aspect of our salvation in Christ.  The forensic focus of your question is quite understandable in light of your church tradition (Church of God, Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement) which has roots in the Protestant tradition.  This goes a long way to explaining why your church’s understanding of baptism diverges significantly from the Orthodox Church’s understanding of baptism even though both have much in common.

Robert Arakaki

See also:

Is Infant Baptism Biblical?


Ascension Day and the Great Commission


Great CommissionThe feast of the Ascension is one of the major feast days of the Orthodox Church.  On this day our Lord Jesus Christ is taken up into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.  This prepares the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

The feast of the Ascension is also significant because it is the day Christ gave the Great Commission to his apostles.

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.  (Matthew 28:18-20)

The Great Commission can be viewed as an enthronement speech given by the suzerain (king) at his coronation.  In more modern terms the Great Commission is like the newly elected American president giving his inaugural address to the nation and the world.  In it he lays out the agenda and priorities for his administration.

The Great Commission passage is more than a collection of last words or parting instructions by Jesus before he goes away.  Matthew frames it using covenant language.  In the ancient Near Eastern treaties the suzerain (ruler) recounts his might deeds or his conquests to his prospective vassals (followers).  The accounts of healing, exorcisms, and signs and wonders in Matthew’s Gospel announces the mighty acts by the suzerain.  The passion narratives also recounts the mighty acts by the suzerain.  Jesus by his death and resurrection having defeated Death the last enemy now proceeds to reclaim what belongs to him (1 Corinthians 15:24-27).  He sends out his Apostles into the world as heralds of the kingdom of God who invite the nations to submit to the rule of Christ.  To become Christ’s disciple is to submit to his kingly authority.  Covenant initiation is done through baptism into the name of the Suzerain. This calls for fealty (personal relationship) between the vassal and the lord.  If a Reformed Christian attends an Orthodox baptism he will hear strong covenant language. The baptized joins himself to Christ and accepts Christ as king.  After baptism one is no longer one’s own person but Christ’s.

The baptismal formula has an interesting grammatical structure; “name” is singular but is followed by three subsequent names: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This point to the doctrine of the Trinity: we are baptized into one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Another important grammatical aspect of the command to baptize is the collective pronoun “them,” a reference to the nations (ethne, εθνη).    While Christian baptism is profoundly personal, it also has a corporate dimension.  It is an affirmation of our unique ethnic identities.  The early Christians baptized families and social groups.  Paul baptized entire households (Acts 16:31-34, 18:8); later entire nations like the Russian people in the tenth century.  God’s redemptive work in Christ aims at the restoration of fallen humanity through union with Christ (Ephesians 1:10, 3:14-15).

People often misquote the Great Commission when they say: “teaching them everything I have commanded you,” when the actual words are “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (NIV).  Christian discipleship is not about learning a set of doctrines as it is adopting a lifestyle based on Christ’s teachings.  The phrase “everything I have commanded you” is the basis for Holy Tradition which comprises both written and oral Tradition (2 Thessalonians 2:15).  That is why Orthodox catechesis emphasizes not just learning a system of doctrines but also learning a way of worship and a set of spiritual disciplines.

Jesus closes the Great Commission using eschatological language.  The phrase “I am with you,” echoes Haggai 1:13: “I am with you, says the LORD” and strongly implies Jesus’ divinity.  It also echoes Isaiah 7:14 which promised that through the promised Messiah God would be with his people.  Furthermore, when Jesus promised “I am with you always” he was asserting his divinity.  In Matthew 28:18 Jesus asserted the universality of his lordship across space, heaven and earth; here Jesus is asserting the eternality of his rule in time.  Many Christians today take for granted Jesus’ divinity but for early Christians, especially for Jews, this was astounding in its audacity.  Jesus’ divinity would become a major issue that would result in the convening of the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea in 325 and the Nicene Creed.


The Orthodox Church and Missions

The history of Orthodox Christianity can be viewed as a history of Christian missions.  In the first three centuries the Church evangelized the Roman Empire which gave rise to the emergence of a Christian civilization.  Following that the Gospel was brought to the Western frontiers of the Roman Empire.  Saint Boniface evangelized Gaul (France) and Saints Patrick and Columba evangelized Ireland and Scotland.  Saints Cyril and Methodius brought the Gospel to the Slavs in the tenth century.

More recently, Orthodox missionaries like Saint Herman and Saint Innocent brought the Gospel to the natives of Alaska in the eighteenth century.  Orthodox missions in the twenty first century has resulted in conversions among the Mayans in Central America and the Turkana peoples in East Africa.  There is a growing interest in Orthodoxy in the Philippines and in Indonesia.



There is a mistaken perception among Orthodox and non-Orthodox that the Orthodox Church does not do missionarywork.  This is obviously not the case!

This Ascension Day celebration should be a reminder for Orthodox Christians to commit their lives to help bring the Gospel to all nations.  Fr. Luke Veronis wrote:

Missions does not simply represent a “nice” task of the Church, but it summarizes the essence of who we are as Orthodox Christians, and it embodies the very nature of the Church. Archbishop Anastasios emphasizes this in another way, “Missions is a part of the DNA of the Church’s genetic makeup.”

Robert Arakaki


See also

Fr. Luke Veronis.  “Our Orthodox Faith and the Centrality of Missions.”

OCMC  (Orthodox  Christians Missions Center)

Fr. Martin Ritsi.  “The What, Where, When, and Why of Orthodox Missions.”

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