A Meeting Place for Evangelicals, Reformed, and Orthodox Christians

Category: Discipleship (Page 2 of 9)

Eschatological Discipleship


Every year in preparation for Lent the Orthodox Church celebrates the Sunday of the Last Judgment.  On this Sunday we hear the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-46).  It is sobering to be reminded that we will all one day appear before the Great Judgment Seat of Christ.

When the thrones are set up and the books are opened, and God sits in judgment, O what fear there will be then!  When the angels stand trembling in Thy presence and the river of fire flows before Thee, what shall we do then, guilty of many sins?  When we hear Him call the blessed of His Father into the Kingdom, but send the sinners to their punishment, who shall endure His fearful condemnation?  But, Saviour who alone lovest mankind, King of the ages, before the end comes turn me back through repentance have mercy on me. (Saturday Vespers for the Sunday of the Last Judgment, p. 151)

The Orthodox approach to eschatology is radically different from that of popular Evangelicalism.  In my early days as an Evangelical I devoured books on the end times.  I learned about the Rapture, the Great Tribulation, the Anti-Christ, the return of Israel and the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple.  But for all the reading I had done, I did not learn much about the Great Judgment Seat of Christ.  This neglect makes sense in light of the Evangelical understanding that when one accepts Jesus into your life all sins are forgiven and you are guaranteed a place in heaven. But this neglect has consequences for the Evangelical understanding of Christian discipleship.

As I look back on my time as a Protestant Evangelical I am struck by the parts of the Bible that were quite often passed over.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians:

So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it   For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:9-10; NIV, emphasis added)

The “we all” in verse 10 refers to Paul’s Christian readers.  Applied to today’s Christians this passage means that even Evangelicals must appear before the judgment seat of Christ.  Born again Evangelicals are not exempt from the Judgment Seat of Christ.  Pastors do their parishioners harm if they do not remind them of the final judgment that comes to all mankind including Christians.

The theme of the final judgment can be found in Evangelicals’ favorite book, Romans.

. . . the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.  God “will give to each person what he has done.”  To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.  But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (Romans 2:6-8; NIV, emphases added)

The phrase “to each person” is all inclusive encompassing both believers and non-believers.  The crux here is on the kind of life one lives – to those who persist in doing good and who seek glory, honor, and immortality God “will give eternal life.”  There is no mention of eternal life depending on making a onetime decision for Christ.  Therefore, any pastor who teaches a one-time decision and neglects to teach the Christian life as one of ongoing faith in Christ, good works, and perseverance is selling his congregation a bill of goods.

There are Reformed and Evangelical Pastors who do preach and teach on the perseverance in the faith, a life of good works, and holy living. The problem is that there is seldom if ever a sense of urgency and necessity for this for eternal salvation. It is most often trumped by teaching on “assurance of salvation” given a one time acceptance of Christ. So millions feel eternally secure, having punched their ticket to heaven, regardless how little holy and righteous living they might pursue in this life.

539427Many pastors preach: once saved, always saved.  It makes one think of the Monopoly board game “Get out of jail free” card.  But is salvation in Christ all that easy?  Or is salvation more profound, more costly, and therefore priceless?  What is badly needed today is a pastor who tell the whole truth like it is.


john_chrysostomos_4x6We find this straightforward bluntness in John Golden Mouth (Chrysostom), the famous fourth century church father.  He took as his text 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 to warn his listeners against failing to meet the test on the Day of Judgment.  The Scripture text reads:

If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; NIV, emphasis added)

John Chrysostom opens up telling his listeners the need for straight talk about whether or not hell is eternal.  He tells his listeners: “ordained as we have been to the ministry of the word, we must give pain to our hearers, not willingly but on compulsion.”  In his exposition of 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 he equates the “foundation” with Christ and the “building” with our actions.  The Christian life is more than just believing, it is also about living out faith in Christ through good works.  If one does not live the faith, the consequences are dire.  John Golden Mouth warns:

Now his meaning is this: If any man have an ill life with a right faith, his faith shall not shelter him from punishment, his work being burnt up.  (NPNF Series 1, vol. XII p. 53; emphasis added)

Being Orthodox is no guarantee of “going to heaven.”  One can be Orthodox – have  “right faith” — but if one lives in unrepentant disobedience divine judgment can be expected.  Among the Orthodox a different superstition seems to prevail; the thinking that a life of careless neglect of holy living, confession, fasting, and deeds of charity can easily be trumped by simply showing up occasionally just before the Holy Eucharist, receiving the Holy Mysteries, then leaving! This is dangerous to the soul and must be called out!

Orthodoxy understands Christian discipleship, not as a onetime conversion experience, but as a continual, ongoing conversion.  Being a Christian begins with an initial act of trusting in Christ that is continually reaffirmed on a daily basis until the day we die.  The Christian life is also one of spiritual warfare in which we do battle against the passions of the flesh and draw near to God in prayer.  Orthodox discipleship is an invitation to a transformed life, that is, to sainthood.  The name for this transformation is theosis.


The intersecting of Discipleship with Eschatology

Orthodox spirituality is about preparing for the Final Judgment.  Every Sunday in the Liturgy the Orthodox pray:

For a Christian end to our lives free of shame and suffering, and a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ, let us ask.

How does one prepare for the coming encounter with Christ?  The answer is found in the preceding petition:

That we may live out our lives in peace and repentance, let us ask of the Lord.

Orthodoxy views the Christian life as an ongoing returning back to God.

Orthodox Christians see ourselves as living in exile away from God because of our sins and making our way back home by journeying on the road of repentance.  There is a song “Open for me the Gates of Repentance” that captures well the sense of penitence and trust that underlies the Orthodox approach to Great Lent.  [Click here to listen to the chant.]

  •         Open to me the gates of repentance, O Giver of Life,
  • For my spirit rises early to pray towards thy holy temple.
  • Bearing the temple of my body all defiled;
  • But in Thy compassion, purify me by the loving kindness of Thy mercy.
  • Lead me on the paths of salvation, O Mother of God,
  • For I have profaned my soul with shameful sins,
  • and have wasted my life in laziness.
  • But by your intercessions, deliver me from all impurity.
  • When I think of the many evil things I have done, wretch that I am,
  • I tremble at the fearful day of judgement.
  • But trusting in Thy living kindness, like David I cry to Thee:
  • Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy.


8398603725_4476668a0c_bLent – Going Home

Lent is not about being threatened with divine wrath but an invitation to return home from exile.  In Orthodoxy discipleship is an invitation to sainthood.  Being a Christian is about being united with Christ and being transformed into his likeness.  Through repentance, confession, and the spiritual disciplines of the Church the Holy Spirit works in us, restoring the image of God.  Through fasting and prayers of repentance we undergo inner cleansing and renewal.  For this reason, Lent is often referred to as the season of “joyful sorrow.”

Lord, Lord, at the Last Day shut not Thy door against me; but open it to me, for I repent before Thee.
Give ear to the groaning of my soul, and accept the tears that fall from mine eyes; O Lord, save me.
O Lover of mankind, who desirest that all men shall be saved, in Thy goodness call me back and accept me in repentance.
(Canticle Two, Wednesday in the first week of Lent, p. 238)


Can Icons Become Idols?


Icon Corner — Source


Question: The point that you made, Robert, about the use of icons in liturgy was understood. However, what might it look like for icons in an individual’s home? Where are the warning against idolatry in that context? How would one know if an icon was being used as an idol away from the context of a Church service?


Answer: Interesting question!  What are some possible deviant/idolatrous practices?  One possibility is someone buying a New Age icon of Christ, e.g., a Navajo Christ.  I’ve seen that in a Roman Catholic bookstore!  Another possibility is for someone to have only an icon of Mary in an icon corner and direct most of his/her prayers to the Virgin Mary.  Or the Archangel Michael as one’s guardian angel and no icon of Christ.  An icon corner without the Pantocrator icon of Christ is unbalanced and not Orthodox.  Fundamentally, Orthodox prayer is Trinitarian and Christ centered.  We pray with the saints to God.  The saints are our prayer partners, Christ is our Mediator with the Father.  Jesus Christ is the Way to God the Father.

Icons are aids to the worship of the one true God and for that reason are not idols.  The purpose of icons are to draw us closer to God.  They are “windows to heaven.” They make visible the invisible reality of heaven.  Icons manifest Jesus Christ the eternal Word who took on human flesh for our salvation (1 John 1:1-3).  Icons also manifest the great cloud of witnesses (saints) that surround us (Hebrews 12:1).  Icons help lift our minds from earthly things to the things above (Colossians 3:2).

There is a sobriety in Orthodox prayer that contrasts with the emotionalism of Pentecostalism.  The icon of Christ serves as an aid for the focusing of our attention while praying but one cannot manipulate God by praying loudly and fervently to the icon of Christ.  Another possible abuse is placing food before an icon.  I haven’t heard of this happening but it is a possibility in non-Western cultures.  If this happens it is the responsibility of the local clergy to restore proper order.

Christ the Pantocrator

Icon — Christ the Pantocrator

Anyone who wishes to construct an Orthodox icon corner should consult with their local priest.  Most likely the priest will instruct the new believer to buy a Pantocrator (Christ the all ruling One) then an icon of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary).  After that it’s good to get an icon of one’s patron saint.  My advice is that from here on out you add icons of saints that you feel an affinity for.  But the icons should not be viewed as decorations but aids to one’s personal devotion.

Besides the various icons, many Orthodox icon corners have a wall cross, a vigil lamp, an incense burner, and a prayer book.  Some people like to have a prayer rope nearby.


Railway trackes

Like Railway Tracks

So just as important as icon for an Orthodox personal devotion is an Orthodox prayer book.  The Morning and Evening Prayers and the other prayers found in an Orthodox prayer book provide as it were the rails for one’s personal prayers.  Prayer in Orthodoxy is like a railroad track, it is not like a trail one can wander off and on as one chooses.  It’s okay to make up one’s personal prayer requests but it is important to let one’s personal prayer life be shaped by the Church.  Just as the Liturgy frames our corporate worship so the prayer book frames our personal devotional life.  If one participates regularly in the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church and submits to the local priest your concern about turning icons into idols will be taken care of.  There’s a little helpful acronym in Orthodox circles: AYP – Ask Your Priest!  The icon along with the Liturgy, the prayer book and the pastoral care of the priest all form part of the matrix known as Holy Tradition.  The purpose of capital “T” Tradition is Orthodoxy: that is, right belief about God and right worship of God.

If you are an inquirer, I would advise you to take all this slowly.  Think of it like learning classical music.  Sometimes it’s better to first listen to the music, get the sense of the music before picking up an instrument and attempt to play the score.  I have advised other inquirers to read and analyze the prayers in Orthodox prayer books before saying the prayers.  There are some prayers that non-Orthodox Christians are not ready to pray, e.g., prayers to the Theotokos (Mary).  The Orthodox rule of prayer is one that one grows into.  And it helps to have the help of others!  So icons may look dangerous to a Protestant inquirer but there are a multitude of safeguards in place in the Orthodox Church.  Come and see!

Robert Arakaki

A child venerating icons. Soruce

A child venerating icons. Source



Bright corner aka icon corner.  Source


A spiritual center for the family. Source

A spiritual center for the family. Source



“Orthodox Mama”



Wishing you all a happy and blessed Mother’s Day!

Profile-Picture-FinalI recently discovered “TheOrthodoxMama.com — Faith, Family, and Frugal Living” administered by Sarah Wright. She’s been happily married 7 years and mother of three. She grew up in the Reformed tradition then later converted to Orthodoxy.

Her website is about more than theology.  It touches on practical life issues like: Marriage, Family Fun, Children’s Activities, Frugal Living.  Articles Archive include:


Below is an excerpt from her article: “How I Became Orthodox: My Story of Faith.”


How-I-Became-Orthodox-FinalI have not always been Eastern Orthodox. In fact, I grew up about as evangelical  as they come.  My father was a pastor in the Reformed Church in America.  I was our church pianist from the time I was thirteen.  Sunday School teacher. Vacation Bible school teacher. Bible camp counselor. Then,  I went to college at an evangelical school. While there, I served with missionaries in Equatorial Guinea (in West Africa) for ten weeks one summer. I was basically the poster child for evangelicalism.

And, I am grateful for my background.  I gained a very solid understanding of the Bible.  I also was given firm moral principles that helped me through the temptations that beset high school and college students.  I found a community of friends who supported, loved, and prayed for one another through good and bad times.

But, God led me down another path.  He whispered to me along the way.

Looking back, I can see . . . .   To Read More > Click Here

Then, I decided to go to a large, prominent evangelical seminary to study missiology in the hopes of entering the mission field.  In one of my classes I sat near two Orthodox seminarians–one from the United States and one from Africa.

. . . .

While at seminary, I also met the man who would become my husband. He was studying theology and was taking a class on the Trinity. Many of his readings came from the early Church Fathers and introduced him to Orthodoxy.

It is significant that Sarah and her husband were deeply committed Christians.  They were not mad or disgruntled with the Reformed tradition prior to becoming Orthodox. She closes noting: 

My story is a fairly simple one, I know. There was no dramatic conversion. No blinding light on the road to Damascus. No huge disillusionment with my life and faith that brought me to my knees.

Just small whispers from a faithful God who was drawing me closer and closer to Himself.

To Read More > Click Here



« Older posts Newer posts »