Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Christianity without Repercusions: Salvation Pt. 1

In my first post of this series I realized that I did not go in to much depth of each category that I touched on. This was on purpose, as I did not want an overly long blog post (despite my post on the rapture); instead I wanted to be able to go back and expand on those areas I touched upon in their own separate posts as they can be quite extensive subjects. This week I present a comprare and contrast on Salvation.



Growing up in a Protestant household, and of course attending Protestant churches for the majority of my life I had always been told that Salvation was a conscious choice one had to make to follow Jesus. All one had to do was believe (have faith) and be baptized (for even the demons believe and they tremble), but after that you were saved. Once you were saved there was no losing your salvation, because salvation is a gift and God forgot to give you a receipt, I guess.

This is known as Once Saved Always Saved (hereafter OSAS). Most of the denominations I attended when I was younger held to the OSAS belief, though I was vaguely aware that there were some that believed that you could lose your salvation if you committed some heinous sin and didn't repent before you died. Also, those evil Catholics taught something about working for salvation and praying loved ones into Heaven from Purgatory. Evil.

Now keep in mind that during this time I was being told how Catholics had no accountability. They would rarely go confess their sins to a priest (another non-biblical act, I was told) who would then tell them to say five Hail Mary's and all would be forgiven. Then these same Catholics would just go and commit the same sins over and over again with no real repentance. Evil.

I was being told all of this by people who insist that they only need to confess to God, and that only God can forgive sins. Oh and they would commit the same sins over and over again. Hypocritical? Quite.

It seems that OSAS is just lazy theology. Once you are saved - once you've said a magic prayer - you are set, there is no going back to not being saved. It doesn't sound so bad, but where is your motivation to actually better your spiritual life? Why pray, you're already saved? Why go to church, you're already saved? Why feed the homeless, or give money, or build shelters, or do missionary work? Why do anything the Bible actually tells us to, you're already saved?

I would like to say that this is a gross over generalization of OSAS, but I truthfully witnessed this attitude in my youthgroup peers as I grew up. I still see this attitude among many Protestant adults as well. And honestly it is the logical conclusion of OSAS and assured salvation.

So why do a large number of Evangelicals believe in OSAS and assured salvation? Where do they get this from?

It seems that this stems from the teaching of the perseverance of the saints, a decidedly Calvinist doctrine, which was gleaned from some errant (read heretical) writings of St. Agustine. Now even though some of St. Agustine's writings and teachings were deemed heretical he is still remembered as a saint in both the Eastern and Western churches today. Now, I think it is quite telling that the start of this teaching has its basis in heresy, but I'll leave that alone for the moment. Here are some quotes to back up what I have thusly put forth:



"John Jefferson Davis wrote an article titled: “The Perseverance of the Saints: A History of the Doctrine” [Journal of Evangelical Theological Society 34:2 (June 1991)]. Three things make this article of great value. First, it was written by a well-known and highly respected Calvinist theologian. Second, it covers the key people and church groups on the topic. Third, it demonstrates that “once saved, always saved” or unconditional eternal security was not a doctrine that was taught by the ancient church, nor for that manner, by any well-known theologian before John Calvin. This doctrine is, in fact, completely foreign in the history of Christianity." ( The Inadequate Historical Precedent for
“Once Saved, Always Saved”
)


And another:


"Church Father Augustine of Hippo taught that all whom God chooses to save are given, in addition to the gift of faith, a gift of perseverance (donum perseverantiae) which enables them to continue to believe, and precludes the possibility of falling away." (Wikipedia)


One last one for the moment:


"In the East, many of his [Saint Augustine's] teachings are not accepted. The most important doctrinal controversy surrounding his name is the filioque.[12] Other doctrines that are sometimes unacceptable are his view of original sin, the doctrine of grace, and predestination.[13] Nonetheless, though considered to be mistaken on some points, he is still considered a saint, and his feast day is celebrated on 15 June.[14] He carries the additional title of Blessed as opposed to Saint among the Orthodox Church, due to teachings seen as controversial with the doctrine.[15]" (Wikipedia)


Now another common theme among perseverance of the saints is predestination (which you should notice as a heresy from the above quote), which is usually attributed to Calvin (I think he just gleaned everything from Agustine and twisted it). Predestination pretty much says that God has a set elect that will be saved, only these elect will be saved and everyone else is headed towards damnation. This of course flies right in the face of free will because it leaves our choice out of the equation - it doesn't matter if I make a conscious decision to follow Christ or not, if I am one of God's elect then I am saved. In light of predestination, the perseverance of the saints kind of makes sense; these are God's elect of course they are going to be saved. However, predestination was declared heretical long before Calvin came along. I'll go ahead and set predestination aside.

So as we can see, OSAS started with the teachings of John Calvin. Of course taking out the predestination (as we rightly should) this now meant that the perseverance of the saints was open to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who decided to walk the aisle and say a little magic prayer (the Sinner's Prayer).

This really does open a world of problems as I stated previously. There is no motivation to better yourself spiritually. We have people so assured of their salvation that they think that it's ok to keep living the life they were before instead of becoming a changed person. Where are the repercussions that the Catholics were always lambasted for not having?

Now I want to stop right here just to say that I know plenty of Protestants who are trying to better themselves spiritually and are truly changed people. And lest anyone think I'm just going on a Protestant bash let me say this: they have the faith aspect down. I know so many who believe so strongly and truly have faith in Jesus. Many of them know their faith and are willing to defend it to the death. They know that without faith there is no salvation. That is beyond admirable.
And lest some think I'm being too harsh, please understand that I love my Protestant brothers and sisters. Really I do. However, whenever a brother or sister strays aren't we supposed to lead them back on the right path?

So what does the Orthodox Church believe and teach about salvation?

Remember in my previous post of this series where I stated, "In Orthodoxy salvation is something that you constantly work for." That is quite true, but please don't think that we are able to work out our salvation by ourselves on our own merit. To be saved one has to have faith, the works we do stem from our faith. To better explain this I will have to delve into the differences between how the East and the West view atonement, original sin, the Incarnation, and a few other things. There is no possible way to fit all of that in to one blog post (well there is, but I doubt anybody would read that lengthy post. So let us, in the interim, suffice it to say that the Orthodox view the Church as a spiritual hospital where spiritual healing takes place. Healing is a process that takes time.


"Salvation is the goal of Christianity, and the purpose of the Church. The theology of salvation is called soteriology. Orthodox Christianity strongly believes that God became man, so that man may become like God. This concept of theosis, rejects that salvation is a positive result to a legalistic dilemma, but is instead a healing process. Orthodoxy views our inclination to sin as a symptom of a malady that needs treatment, not just a transgression that requires retribution. One of the distinctive characteristics of Orthodox Christian thinking is that it sees the Gospel message not as law, but as relationship. It speaks of the mystery of the Holy Trinity in terms of the relationship of love that exists among them. To join in that love is the work that will lead to salvation." (OrthodoxWiki_Soteriology)


So as we see, salvation is a healing process. But taking this a step further, salvation is not setting right a wrong; salvation is not akin to a judge banging his gavel and declaring you innocent for a list of transgressions because someone else paid the price, salvation is a healing process that takes place in the loving relationship with the Holy Trinity.

But wait, there is more:


"SALVATION is the divine gift through which men and women are delivered from sin and death, united to Christ, and brought into His eternal King­dom. Those who heard Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost asked what they must do to be saved. He answered, "Repent, and let every one of you be bap­tized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Salvation begins with these three "steps": 1) repent, 2) be baptized, and 3) receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. To repent means to change our mind about how we have been, turning from our sin and committing ourselves to Christ. To be baptized means to be born again by being joined into union with Christ. And to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit means to receive the Spirit who empowers us to enter a new life in Christ, be nurtured in the Church, and be con­formed to God's image." (Antiochian.org)


But wait... That sounds an awful lot like what most Protestant churches preach.

Yep. That's because those are the core beliefs about salvation. That is how you get started on the road to salvation. Sadly, most Protestant churches just leave it there and never go much deeper.

Hey, remember in my previous post of this series where I said, "Some people use the saying that we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved to convey the process in Orthodoxy,"? Well take a look at this:


Salvation demands faith in Jesus Christ. People cannot save themselves by their own good works. Salvation is "faith working through love." It is an ongoing, lifelong process. Salvation is past tense in that, through the death and Resurrection of Christ, we have been saved. It is present tense, for we must also be being saved by our active participation through faith in our union with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is also future tense, for we must yet be saved at His glorious Second Coming." (Antiochian.org emphasis mine)


Did you notice in the above quote where it mentioned salvation is "faith working through love?" That is the second time we have seen that... Kind of makes you go hmmm...

Is there anything else that we can find that will help us to understand the Orthodox position on salvation? Oh, what's that? I have more quotes to mine from. So be it:


"We do not judge the sincere convictions of other Christians, lest we be judged, according to the words of the Lord (Mat 7:1). Justification by faith is an authentic teaching of the New Testament. It is also a part of Orthodox teaching because whatever the New Testament teaches as essential, the Orthodox Church teaches as well. The Bible belongs to the Church. Equally, the acts of penitent prayer, asking God for forgiveness, and inviting Christ and the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts--these acts, too, are indispensable to Orthodox Christian life. But we must ask: is salvation a one-time event in life? What is the role of faith and works in the mystery of our salvation? What does Jesus say? What does St. Paul say? What do we teach about these issues as Orthodox Christians?

Let’s take a few examples from the life of Christ. We know that Jesus emphasized faith. To the woman with the issue of blood whom He healed, He said: “Your faith has made you well” (Mark 5:34). To the blind beggar He met on a street in Jericho and also healed, He said: “Your faith has made you well” (Mark 10:52). Jesus tied personal faith in Him to the efficacy of healings. But was faith the most critical factor behind these cures? Jesus perceived “power had gone forth from him” to heal the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:30). Sometimes Christ out of compassion healed people without asking for faith (Mark 1:34; 3:5). And so with all the acts of healing, it was above all Christ’s divine power that cured the sick, the lame, and the blind. The role of faith was significant but secondary to divine grace. God provided the grace, faith received the gift." (GOArch.org)


We see again that faith is still at the core of the Orthodox soteriology, but notice the last sentence in the above quote, "God provided the grace, faith received the gift." God pours out His grace onto us, but we have to act on our faith to receive it.


"Jesus connected personal faith in Him to our eternal salvation. He declared: “Every one who acknowledges me before people, I also will acknowledge them before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before people, I also will deny them before my father in heaven” (Mat 10:32-33). The Gospel of John frequently connects faith in Christ to each person’s eternal destiny. We read: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And again: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Christ further declared to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29). Jesus himself is the supreme example of faith. In the garden of Gethsemane, as He confronted the prospect of death by crucifixion, Christ prayed to God: “Not my will, by Thy will be done” (Mat 26:39). Without doubt, faith had a primary place in the life and teaching of Jesus.

But Jesus also demanded good works to go along with faith. A man came up to Him with a question about eternal salvation. “Teacher,” he asked, “what good deed (ti agathon) must I do, to have eternal life?” Jesus did not send him away or correct him. He didn’t say: “You are asking the wrong question; you need only to believe in me and you will be saved.” Rather Jesus said to him: “Keep the commandments . . . You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mat 19:16-19). Rather than separate faith and works, Jesus closely united the two as being definitive to Christian life. That’s the undeniable implication of His great discourse we call “Sermon on the Mount.” The Sermon contains a vast amount of teachings and exhortations Christ expected His followers to learn and live by (Mat. chaps. 5-7). “Do not bear false witness . . . Love your enemies . . . Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness . . . Judge not, that you be not judged” (Mat 5:33, 44; 6:33; 7:1). Jesus set down these teachings as the necessary standards of moral righteousness. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount He denounced the kind of faith that is only lip service. He said those who relied only on faith risked the loss of eternal salvation. He warned: “On that day many will call out to me ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy and cast out demons in your name?’ And then I will declare to them: ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers’” (Mat 7:21-23)." (GOArch.org emphasis mine)


Again, faith is paramount to receiving God's grace. But Jesus Himself extols us to do works along with our salvation. And we see that even Jesus says that those who rely only on faith risk losing their salvation.

I can keep quoting from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese website but that might bend [break] fair use somewhat. I would really like to because that article sums up quite a lot of what I want to convey so let me just ask you to read the article in its entirety and I'll leave you with this final quote and then some closing thoughts.


"Let us sum up the main points. The work of salvation belongs entirely to God. It is God through Christ and the Holy Spirit, who has the divine power to rescue us from the forces of sickness, evil, sin, death, and the devil. It is God through Christ and the Holy Spirit who alone provides justification, forgiveness, and new life to sinners who come to Him with faith. And God provides salvation as a most amazing and unceasing gift to all sincere seekers.

From our side, the question is about receiving and using the gift of salvation. The gift is offered, but if we do not receive it, we don’t have it, and certainly cannot use it. God offers the gift. We can choose to accept it or reject it. As Orthodox Christians we do not believe in predestination. Jesus said: “Whoever wants to come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). The gift and the challenge to follow Jesus through a life of faith and works coincide.

The reception of the gift of salvation is not a one-time event but a life-time process. St. Paul employs the verb “to save” (sozesthai) in the past tense (“we have been saved,” Rom 8:24; Eph 2:5); in the present tense (“we are being saved,” 1 Cor 1:18; 15:2), and in the future tense (“we will be saved,” Rom 5:10). He can think even of justification as a future event and part of the final judgment (Rom 2:13, 16). For Paul, Christians are involved in a lifetime covenant with God in which we work, planting and watering, but it is “only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor 3:7). We are “co-workers with God” (synergoi Theou, 1 Cor 3:9; 1 Thess 3:2). (Not “co-workers under God” as some translations would have it). The mystery of salvation is a duet, not a solo. It is a life-time engagement with God. It has ups and downs, twists and turns, with opportunities to grow in the love of God, knowing that we can turn to Him again and again and receive forgiveness and a new birth. When we come to Christ as sinners, we have no works to offer to Him, but only faith and repentance. But once we come to Him and receive the gift of salvation, we enter into a sacred covenant to honor Him with good works. We read in Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God . . . [We are] created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph 2:8-10)." (GOArch.org)


I know I really didn't touch much on any other aspects of Orthodox soteriology other than the faith/works dynamic. This is such a huge topic that it really cannot be generalized for those not familiar with it, especially for those who - growing up as I did - see Catholics (which, for me, was a broad scope including Lutherans, Episcopalians, and even Orthodox) as only working for their salvation. I hope I have explained at least this portion in such a way that you will realize that faith plays such a hugely important role in our salvation, but more specifically how we live our faith.

Because of how large this topic is I will break this up into at least another part if not two. Why, because where are those repercussions I lambasted the Protestants for not having?
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