Monday, October 11, 2010


When I was a Lutheran, we did not pursue holiness; we received it passively. On the dogmatic level we believed we grew in holiness, but on the practical level - especially in seminary - pursuing it with activity was seriously frowned upon. Sermons about love were complained about, unless they were about how Christ loves us. If a professor spoke about growing in holiness, most of us squirmed in our chairs fearing the breath of Progressive Sanctification (which separates the holiness Christ accomplishes in a person from the good works a person does), or Pietism.
A wonderful Orthodox analysis of Pietism:

When I look back on my time as a Lutheran minister, I think this was the one element that was truly missing from my preaching and teaching - holiness - and I am sorry for its absence. I think I subconsciously was trying to get to it, since it is so plain in the Scriptures (and Dr. Martin Luther - the "model" for Lutheran preaching - had no fear of it). Yet I did not reach it in my preaching. This is mostly because I did not know it personally.

Now that I am Orthodox, do I know it personally. Yes for sure, and no not yet. No not yet, because I am a sinner. Yes for sure, because coming to grips with my conversion has allowed me to see where holiness lies: "One is holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. Amen." The Liturgy teaches me, not just at this point, but in its multitude of prayers, songs, rites, and gifts. The liturgical life of the Church - which is not made up by committees, but something each Bishop, Priest, ... down to layman must submit to as to his or her spiritual father and guide - this liturgical life constantly lifts up mankind in his sinfulness to be brought near to God that he may become something more. That something more is the whole measure of the fullness of Christ through the unity of the faith (Eph 4:13).

For some time I did not know what was different. Then I realized it, something I did not realize before my conversion. No one was trying to get me to take refuge in the fact that God accepts me. In Orthodoxy of course God accepts you. But isn't that why Christ died, to save me from God's wrath - which means to get God to accept me again, if I just believe? In Orthodoxy Christ doesn't have to get God to accept me, but rather me to accept God. What does God want that I should accept?
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me [St. John 17:20-23].
God wants me to want everything He is and is about, because we are made to be His image and likeness, to live in Him and He in us. So faith's first job is to bring you into union with God, and this removes all cause for wrath. In Orthodoxy we are made partaker's of Christ's holiness, if we are willing to change (repentance) and live in Him (faith) in the unity of the Holy Spirit (the Church).

At first I didn't know how to exist in the Church. I didn't know how to exist without that Doctrine that told me to measure my relationship with God based on a faith-makes-me-okay-with-God-so-it's-all-okay-now-phew crutch. I had been taught that once God's anger toward me is resolved in Christ, the "work" was done, and salvation was in the bag (more specifically in the ear or in the mouth) - just don't stop believing the message (and to make sure we'll tell it to you again and again). Communion was a tangible proof of God's lack of wrath (forgiveness in this sense) and from that the reward of union with Christ.

What is different in Orthodoxy is that no one is trying to give you an indulgence against God's wrath (Protestant forensic justification), because the Incarnation and Pascha were for you and I - not God. They were to change you and I, not God. Nothing has changed with God: He loves all, judges fairly, rewards the righteous, punishes the wicked (for correction and/or limitation of sin), shows mercy to the merciful, and desires that all be saved and come to knowledge of the truth.

Everything in Orthodoxy gets to the heart of the matter. Sin caused an ontological and existential corruption in man without changing him into something other than man - a reduced man. Salvation is an ontological and existential renewal of man that makes man fully man again in the fullness that God intended for him. If sin is an ontological and existential problem, then the cross addresses that problem by purifying sins by the blood of Christ, and this purification (i.e. expiation) causes the propitiation that Lutheran theology is so hung up about.

After not knowing how to live in the Orthodox Church, I moved on to being absolutely frightened. For the first time in my life I began to grasp personally, existentially the Prophet Isaiah's fear at seeing the Lord (Isaiah 6) and the fearful mercy of the burning coal touching his lips, or Hebrews 12:29 where God is described as a consuming fire. I was drawing near to God without that indulgence that made my relationship with God a passive and neutralized one. I was drawing near to God with the knowledge that He wants to change me, if I am willing. I know by now it's self-condemnation to run from God, so there is left but the trial by fire: to become the burning bush or one of Ahaziah's 50 soldiers.

God calls us to be partakers of His holiness (Hebrews 12:10), and through His promises partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). He calls us to approach and prepare like a man (Job 40:7), though not from a whirlwind but from the mercy of His Church, through the Incarnation of His Son. Deep down, in Holy Orthodoxy, a person comes to a small measure of what each of the prophets faced when they were called by God. We come to know why Isaiah cried out and received a burning coal, why righteous Job called himself vile but was restored, why Ezekiel fell on his face but was set on his feet by the Spirit, why St. Peter fell to his knees and begged Christ to go away from him but Christ made him a fisher of men. God comes to each person, and there is no indulgence to neutralize or diffuse His coming. Rather, each of us must come to appear unshielded before God, and from there to learn to cry out for His mercy like the thief on the cross and the Canaanite woman.

The call to partake of God's holiness requires a fundamentally deeper belief in God's mercy and faithfulness than anything I ever found outside of Orthodoxy. Perhaps this is because in Orthodoxy you do not rest on the indulgence of a forensic justification, but in nakedness of soul you can only rest on God as He is before you from His Church - in His Gospel, His Prophetic and Apostolic preaching, His Liturgy, His Sacraments (all 7), His entire way of life that you get to live in and that takes up residence in you (for the Kingdom of God is within you - St. Luke 17:21). God does the saving by Christ on the cross and by Christ in you now. It is salvation in actuality, not simply legality.

I have moved on from being frightened to being thankful. God has treated me better than I have deserved. I am a train-wreck that He is carefully and beautifully healing. And He does this for all who will draw near in faith.
Perhaps all this is why I love reading the writings of ascetics so much. If you haven't read any yourself, ask me for a recommendation.

I could never preach this as a Lutheran minister. I had never known it. I had never seen it. I had never conceived of it. But, by God's Grace, today is different. May it be so now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.


Jason said...

In a four (or five) view book on sanctification, the Lutheran writer, Gerhard Forde, defines sanctification as simply getting used to our justification in Christ. The positive side of such a statement reminds us that our sanctification and growth in holiness must always be anchored in the gospel: who Jesus is and what he did (does) for us. In short, we are saved by graced, and we live by grace (i.e. God’s power working through us). The negative side of Forde’s statement is it gives the impression that the Christian doesn’t have to do anything regarding the Christian life. Such passivity seems at odds with the Scriptures and holy tradition, and in the end Lutherans really wouldn’t deny that we grow into the image of Christ which has to have some evidence in our earthly lives. On the contrary, their own confession of faith speaks of healing and renewal of our human nature: "Furthermore, human nature, which is perverted and corrupted by original sin, must and can be healed only by the regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. However this healing is only begun in this life. It will not be perfect until the life to come” FC SD I:14. For a thoughtful Lutheran exposition on sanctification, see Fr. Will Weedon’s piece, “Progression in Sanctification” found here:

Jason said...
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Jason said...

Also, because the Lutheran theological grid can’t handle ‘synergy’ without all sorts of qualifications (and condemnations, at times) it sometimes ends up just ignoring the implications of what justification means—and looks like in our lives. To struggle against sin, to say no to temptations with all our effort and might would get no objections from serious Lutherans (either dead of living). All one has to do is read Johan Gerhad’s “A Meditation on Divine Mercy” to see that a Lutheran vision of holiness is in full view and never something to be shunned or left as a peripheral issue. The Lutheran concern—and it’s a good one that I can emphasize with as an Orthodox Christian—is to safeguard the glorious work of Gospel as the sole foundation of our salvation and Christian life. In so far that it accomplishes this, it’s a good thing in my opinion. When the Gospel is used as an excuse for laziness or lack of struggle against sin, then Luther’s gospel has been misunderstood and applied in a way that the Reformer would never have intended.

Sbd. Benjamin Harju said...


I don't claim that Lutherans don't believe in holiness. I am simply pointing out how the Lutheran reform is constructed to solve the wrong problem, and thus causes a great impediment in man's proper relationship with God. I regret not seeing this before my conversion, and feel sorry for the harm my preaching may have caused as a result.

However, Lutherans get close to the reality of salvation, and for this reason they tend to make great Orthodox Christians.

oruaseht said...

Awesome post. I feel exactly the same way now that you felt when in Lutheranism. This topic just crossed my radar not long ago with a deal on Issues, etc. by John Kleinig about holiness. I listened to the podcast, but came away much the same as I am now - "neutralized" (in your words).

I had never thought of Lutheranism's forensic justification as Christ's Divine indulgence. hehehhe... very interesting point!

Thanks again for the post. It's very enlightening and nudges me further towards Orthodoxy.

melxiopp said...


That was a great phrase of Ben's. I've often noted that 'forgiveness' in the Lutheran schema is really not forgiveness at all, it's someone else picking up your tab. In Ben's words, "an indulgence against God's wrath". True forgiveness would be if no one had to pay, if the debt was merely... forgiven.

Sbd. Benjamin Harju said...

I think it is worth pointing out some of the good things about Forensic Justification. You can't earn it. It's based on faith. Properly held it works through love and good works. It puts all its emphasis on Christ, so that the penitent must see him/herself as a sinner totally dependent on God's mercy.

I simply think that Justification has an effect in the forensic realm because Christ primarily purifies/expiates sin on the cross, and this causes the forensic declaration. Living with this sort of Justification has really intensified my experience of being a Christian. I can see better why a person cannot be Orthodox apart from living and worshiping in the Orthodox Church.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

I'm not sure if you're praising or damning Lutheranism here, Benjamin. Perhaps it is both?

If I could offer a rather pointed comment, it seems to me you should have listened and received when your seminary instructors were teaching and preaching on holiness.

Btw, one of the links on your site is to the visit of Metropolitan Jonah to a LC-MS church where he spoke on Orthodox spirituality under the heading "Do not react. Do not resent. Keep inner stillness." Is that the same Metropolitan Jonah who was recently put on leave of absence by his brother bishops for anger management issues and bullying staff?

I'm not just picking on Jonah for the sake of it, anyone can have a brain snap. My point is summed up by something Montaigne once observed: "supercelestial thoughts and subterranean conduct are more often than not found together." Self-sought holiness is illusory and just buries the basic problem of sin under a load of pious externalities.

With all the scandals in Orthodoxy, including this latest one, you'll perhaps understand if I stick with the 'simul iustus et peccator' teaching of Luther. It explains so much.


melxiopp said...

Pr. Mark, I'm pretty sure you would agree that a mudslinging fest of whose coreligionists have done what worse is really beside the point and has little to do with the differences between Orthodoxy and LCMS Lutheranism and which (if either) are true.

It is also not wholly accurate to claim Met. Jonah's issues are anger management and bullying of staff and somehow undermine the truth of Orthodoxy - especially when who's in the wrong in matters like that are always in the eye of the beholder.

The real issue in the OCA (note: not The Church, just a part of Her, even by the Orthodox definition) has to do with bad management, consensus building and communications skills; impetuousness; and not following administrative guidelines re allegations of sexual misconduct (by someone else, not him). A history of both Christianity, in general, Lutheranism and Orthodoxy can multiply examples of the same - and worse. We aren't talking about heresy (as defined by Orthodoxy), we aren't talking about dramatic misconduct. Most of it has to do with Met. Jonah simply being bullheaded and seeking to get his way too aggressively thinking it's better to ask forgiveness than permission.

No one ever said the struggle for holiness was easy, straightforward or always successful. Orthodoxy does not teach that our personal holiness somehow earns salvation.

Sbdn. Benjamin Harju said...

Pr. Henderson, I think you have proven the point of my post for me. Thank you.

As for the ugliness going on in Orthodoxy, I like what Fr. Thomas Hopko shared in a recent podcast on Ancient Faith Radio, that the Orthodox Church is like Noah's Ark. It may be crowded with noisy, stinking animals, but it saves. It saves.

Sbdn. Benjamin Harju said...

Pr. Henderson, perhaps you could share with us what they taught you in seminary about holiness over there in Australia. I wonder if it's what I was taught?

In terms of systematic theology I was taught what you find in Francis Pieper's "Christian Dogmatics." In terms of homiletics I was taught from Walther's "Law and Gospel" and by numerous pastors that believed you don't preach the Third Use of the Law, but rather just preach about forgiveness, and good works will "just happen" in people's lives.

Regarding your Montaigne reference, I can only agree. Idealistic people often have trouble seeing their own shortcomings (I speak from experience here!). But the idealism is a good thing nonetheless.

Regarding simul iustus et peccator, I think you will find that sentiment in my post. However, it's an abuse of the slogan to suggest that there is no practice of holiness that has been given to us (otherwise, by what standard could Luther have decided to withhold Gospel preaching from the people when he deemed them recalcitrant?). I mean, Christ did give commandments. Have you read David Scaer's book, "Sermon on the Mount" yet? If not, you might find it helpful.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Hi melxiopp,

As far as recalcitrant adherents of religions go, yes, I think your rejoinder applies. But at some point the rubber of our theology hits the road, yes? That's the point I was trying to make. Otherwise, it is not worth its salt.

Hi Benjamin,
I don't understand - you said that your lecturers tried to teach about holiness but you reacted against it, presumably because somehow/somewhere you had picked up what I call "hyper-Lutheranism".

Pieper has a lot to say about sanctification which doesn't fall under that category, as does Walther elsewhere (we did not actually study them, but I have read them). Scaer's book is excellent and I have no problem with it. My teacher on sanctification was John Kleinig.

Also, the simul iustus is not meant to function as an excuse for not pursuing holiness, but as a healthy dose of realism as we do, something I think Orthodoxy could benefit from. I presume the LC-MS liturgy has the same question/exhortation as our liturgy has: "Do you intend, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to live as in God's presence, and to strive daily to lead a holy life, even as Christ has made you holy".
That is the proper order, yes? Our pursuit of holiness is predicated upon the imputation of Christ's holiness to us in justification/baptism.

Sorry if I came across as a bit polemical!

Btw, I have a section on Orthodoxy on my main blog, if you're interested.

Blessings for Lent.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Speaking of realism, the most realistic things I have read from within Orthodoxy are most things by Schmemann and 'Diary of a Russian Priest' by Elchaninov. They don't quite rise to the theologicval insights of Luther, but there are the beginnings in them of a program of Reform for Orthodoxy.

Sbdn. Benjamin Harju said...

Pr. Henderson,

You wrote,
I don't understand - you said that your lecturers tried to teach about holiness but you reacted against it, presumably because somehow/somewhere you had picked up what I call "hyper-Lutheranism".

I suppose it's fair to say I reacted against "hyper-Lutheranism." I think my reaction was more of a subtle but growing feeling that something wasn't being represented fairly. I didn't look to Orthodoxy to fix this for me, but upon coming into Orthodoxy I found that it spoke to the issue in a positive way. Rather I looked to Orthodoxy to hear what Orthodoxy is on its own terms.

May I ask why you think Orthodoxy could use a dose of realism, as you put it? I have heard some in Orthodoxy use simul iustus et peccator language, but I think I know why it's not a proper catch-phrase among us.

I read a lot of Schmemman before my conversion, and Ware, and the Desert Fathers. Reform is tricky in a Church that believes in Holy Tradition; there's always the fear that the baby will be thrown out with the bath water. The way reform movements have disintegrated Western Christendom also serves as a dire warning about programs of reform for the East.

Pr Mark Henderson said...
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Pr Mark Henderson said...


I apologise for my pointed comment and tone in my original comment. Your post was copied and sent to me and it played into discussions I have been having here. I shouldn't have transferred that on to you. Forgive me!

I wrote a longer comment in reply to your questions but I am having trouble posting it, so I'll just leave it at this for now and see if it gets through to the combox.

Sbdn. Benjamin Harju said...

Pr. Henderson, you are welcome to divide up your comments over the course of two or more com-boxes if need be. Thank you for your replies.