Monday, September 24, 2012

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

"You who are sinning, it is your responsibility to stop, become sorry, and return to God."

"You who have returned, God has led you away from your sins, brought you to repentance, and numbered you among His elect in Christ."

Wait, but didn't God decide before the foundation of the world which of us He was going to save?

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

"You who are sinning, God will hold you responsible for your sinful actions, unless you change your ways."

"You repentant in Christ, God alone has saved you apart from any work or merit on your part."

Wait, but didn't doesn't God alone ultimately decide who ends up turning away from sin, being repentant, and coming to Christ?

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

Wait! If God alone determines who will come to repentance, receive forgiveness, and be numbered among the elect - and man has no cooperation towards this end - then why is it my job to change myself? How can you tell me God will hold me accountable for my actions, if I have no way out of the condition that causes my actions except God chooses to release me from that cause? If I am bound, how can I be blamed for what binds me? If the only way to change depends solely on God, then why doesn't God change everyone?

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! Those teachings are not being used in the right place, even though they describe our beliefs correctly. We are not supposed to tell people that their coming to faith and remaining in it depends solely on God, and that it has nothing to do with them, but only God's choice, EXCEPT when we are talking to current believers who need more reason to hope that they will be saved. You're not supposed to tell people this up front!"

Why? If God alone chooses who gets to be saved, and He alone makes it happen, then being up front about this belief can harm nothing. God's will shall still be done, right? So long as His Word and Sacraments are administered according to His command those whom He chose to be saved will be, and the others will not.

"It's not faithful to tell people up front that God alone has already decided who will believe, and which believers will remain in the faith until the end. You have to tell people this truth at the right time. Only once they've believed everything else we've taught can you tell them this. Then it's comforting. That's what God wants."

Really? So God doesn't want people to know that the seating in heaven and hell has already been assigned by Him before the world began?

"Now that's not fair! God does not choose who goes to hell from before the world began. All people are going to hell because of Adam and sin. God just chooses which of us He'll save. He only assigns the seating in heaven from before the world began."

So what about people who believe but fall away from the faith?

"That's their own fault. We always have freedom to reject God."

So God alone can cause a person to become a believer; people have no freedom in that. But a person does have the freedom to reject God?


So that means regarding those that fall away that God gives saving faith to some people, but He didn't provide them with the ability to persevere in the faith until the end. They relapse due to their own fault, and God's okay with that. He just lets them go. But He knew they were going to relapse, because He didn't plan for them to make it to the end in the first place. So why did He give them faith in the first place?

"It's a mystery."

Indeed. You said a mouthful. Maybe just so He could use them to help other people come to the faith, or something like that?

"Who knows. God can do what He likes. He's wiser than us."

I see. So unless God forces a person to believe, they will never believe. And if a person believes by God's power, they can still reject that, right?

"Right, except God doesn't force anyone. He just makes the unwilling willing."

What's the difference?

"To be forced is to do something against your will. God doesn't do that. He just changes our will entirely."

Really. You have a dazzling intellect.

"Wait till I get going! Mankind, due to sin, is an enemy of God, unable to receive the things of the Spirit. His will is at enmity with God. Not only is his will inclined to not believe in God, but it is hostile to God in spiritual matters. No human being could possibly believe in God, because deep inside he doesn't even like God! So God, through the Word and Sacraments, has to come upon a person and renew his will! Then a person can believe - no, wait -- then a person DOES believe! Fantastic, isn't it!"

It's really something. But tell me, if man's only hope is for God to fix his will so that he doesn't shluff off from Christ and end up in hell, why doesn't God just do that for everyone? If that's the only way, then why wouldn't God do this for everyone? Doesn't He want everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth?

"Yes, He does, but you forget that we have freedom to reject God."

Actually, no I didn't forget. According to your theory everyone is born rejecting God. It is God alone who changes that rejection into belief. He does this, according to you, based on a predetermined cosmic plan of election, in which God determined before a single human being existed which would end up saved out of all those destined for hell. And this plan is not changed on the fly, but is fulfilled according to God's purpose precisely. Ultimately if I am saved, God gets the credit for putting me on His list before any human being ever existed. And if I am not saved it is because God refrained from changing my will toward faith and causing me to remain steadfast until the end. Sure there is initial blame for man's condemnation with man (though maybe I'll ask you about that another time, since it doesn't seem fair to write off everyone just because their father sinned...), but since only God can save us, don't you think it would be great if He would?

"You are going beyond Scripture here. God's will is a mystery. He wants to save everyone, but doesn't. He doesn't have to explain it further."

That's not very nice. It makes God look like He doesn't care, but that maybe He's just using us as some kind of plaything. You don't believe in Limited Atonement, do you?

"Oh goodness, no! Yuck! We believe Christ died for the salvation from sin for all people, both those going to heaven and those going to hell."

But the only way for a person to be saved through Christ is if God wills it from eternity.

"You're taking it out of order again. We don't talk about that, except to a believer who needs to be comforted with a greater sense of security that he or she is going to heaven. It's more pastoral that way."

Pastoral? What's pastoral about taking something you believe to be absolute truth and hiding it from your parishioners, and only sharing it when they are emotionally vulnerable and more succeptible to believe whatever makes them feel better. Is that really what you call being pasTORal?

"That's not nice. I think you're putting the worst construction on that."

Am I?

"Yes. You just don't believe the Bible. All of this is from the Bible."

Actually, it's not. It's from a bunch of Europeans who came along 1400+ years after the New Testament was written. They couldn't see past the problems of the previous 200 years, so they re-read their Bibles and found all sorts of interesting new teachings that had never been recieved in the Church of Christ. This is one of them.

"You're way out of line now. The Bible is clear that our teaching is the truth."

Then why did we have to wait 1500+ years from the time of Christ for these teachings to be formulated?

"That's be--"

This is going on too long. Let me suggest an older interpretation that has been around as far back as we have records of Christian interpretation of Scripture, and that has always been believed everywhere by all people in the Church: God predestined salvation for the human race from before the foundation of the world. The whole human race is on His planned seating list in heaven. But not everyone is willing to come to the wedding feast. God desires all to come. God makes everything ready. His guests need only accept the invitation. Though He knows ahead of time who will come, versus who will reject Him, He makes the same preparations for all, because He loves all and wants all to come to the same end - blessedenss in His kingdom forever. Everyone has the same chance - He reaches all with the same powerful, grace-giving and illuminating call. But He forces no one, because He does not want slaves or pre-programmed robots, but sons and daughters. And it turns out that it is our own marriage feast that we are invited to enjoy. If we accept God brings us to the blessedness He has prepared. If we reject we will burn with the malcontents. It's that simple.

"Wait - I have one question for you: if a person has freedom to accept or reject (even if God helps him have the greatest possible chance to accept), doesn't that detract from the honor of Christ as our only Savior? Don't I become my own Savior?"

No, because Christ's honor does not lie our cosmic manipulation (as if we were robots to be programmed), but in the restoration of the human race to the family of God. The honor of Christ is that He corrects all that is askew with humanity in His incarnation, that He carries our personal sins to its end in His death, that He defangs death by sanctifying it with His own Life, and grants unto us life in a new creation of which He is the New Adam, and that He sends us the Holy Spirit to incorporate us into this mystery, that we may become one Body with Him, and remain with Him always. His honor is preserved for all time in the salvation established and offered to each person. But since He does not decide for us whether we will be saved or not, He leaves that to you. That's why the Scriptures everywhere appeal to us to do, to act, to believe, to change, to return, to accept. Those words are not clever codes for something else, but mean what they say. To will something, though, is not a work. A slave can will to be free, can will to not obey his master's wicked commands, can will all sorts of things - but never does the will translate in ability or power to the one who is bound. It is entirely free in its choosing, yet impotent and powerless in its ability. It is this way for the unconverted man. The only reward he receives is from willing evil, and the reward is pleasure from sin. Such a spiritually bound person can freely will to do the good, but lacking the power and ontological freedom to accomplish it he remains under the power of sin (i.e. he gets nowhere). Christ comes to the man in this bondage and offers release. In this situation the sinner's will is illumined and enboldened by Christ's powerful and very real offer. In this situation, due to the power and salvation of Christ, if he wills it the slave is set free, and becomes a son of the Kingdom. If we speak this way we give far more honor to Christ than we ever had before. Amen.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Body is for the Lord

The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. [1Co 6:13b]

But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. [1Co 6:17]

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. [1Co 6:19-20]

Immorality? What does this mean? The word is actually porneia (por-ni'-ah) meaning illicit sexual intercourse, adultery, fornication (sex outside marriage), [the practice of] homosexuality, [the practice of] lesbianism, intercourse with animals, etc.

We must define the word, because much that is porneia in our society is accepted, promoted, and transmitted to us seamlessly through television, movies, music, and the Internet. Simply put we define the word because its meaning may not be so obvious to us nowadays. Our souls have become dull to porneia from overexposure.

St. Paul is dealing with a situation in the Corinthian congregation where terrible porneia is being tolerated. Not only does the congregation need to come to its senses and deal with the problem according to Christ, they need to be reminded just what the body's relationship to Christ really is.

The body is for the Lord. The Lord is for the body. Our very identity as Christians is bound up with the body of Jesus Christ - the very body that suffered, died, rose to life, is seated at the right hand of God, and that shall come again in glory to judge the world. The body of the Son of God Himself. We who believe have been baptized into His body - buried through baptism into His death, raised to His new life. Our very humanity has undergone a change - a healing - by being united with the humanity of Jesus Christ. We have died and risen with Him in Baptism. He has poured out His Spirit on us in the Pentecost of our Chrismation/Confirmation. He has fed us with His own flesh and blood in the Eucharist, that we may live in Him and He in us, that we may not die - even when we do die! - but live to God forever. This is the story of each and every Christian. We are changed. We are new. We are of one Body with the Lord. Ans thus we are Christians.

Therefore our bodies are for the Lord. Having passed over from the old to the new in this way, it is horrifying to think that we should take what is holy (our bodies) and hand it back over to spiritual harm and bondage again. But this is what happened in the Corinthian congregation. And this sort of thing is what we are tempted with. No one is tempted with anything unique, but all are tempted with what is common to mankind. We are tempted to take what Christ has redeemed - our bodies - and to return to Egypt, so to speak, to feed our flesh with acts of porneia or images of porneia or ideas of porneia, etc.

That this is so speaks to a critical issue: our power of desire and our self control. If we go back to the beginning, to Christ's preaching in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) we can see that He is constantly aiming at our hearts, our power of desire and choice, and our use of self control. It can be a demoralizing read! If we read it with an open heart the light of truth can really hurt the eyes, so to speak - or rather the reality of our situation can really hurt our pride. But after a while our spiritual eyes adjust, the pride melts a bit, and we can begin to accept ourselves for who we are. And we begin to accept that this is how God sees us - and this moved Him to come down from heaven, to teach us, to die for us, and to rise again for us and to save us in the Church - ultimately to grant to us grace that can change us if we wish to be changed.

Our bodies are for the Lord, and the Lord for our bodies. We who have become united with the Lord in the Church are one Body with Him [Eph 1]. And we are one spirit with Him. We are temples - bodily churches - of the Holy Spirit. Our calling is different than what you will find in the world. We have been given a kingdom of the heart - of sincerity, of love, of faith, of hope. It's not a faraway reality, but interwoven within us. The challenge of each Christian is to set the heart after Christ - not only to believe, but to meet the daily challenge of belief. That means self-control on the one hand, and perseverance in love on the other. And let prayer center us. Amen.

1 Corinthians 6 (RSV)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pharisee - yeah, that's me.

It is a frightening thing to realize that you yourself are a Pharisee. This realization comes when you finally see that the desires of your heart are not the desires of Christ's commandments, but rather fame, honor, and other personal desires. Seeing this truth about ourselves is a stinging yet saving gift from God, because then the false man who is built with the framework of pride and the bricks of delusion can crumble. Or to put it another way, we can begin to actually leave all behind and follow after Christ. After the rubble is torn away what remains is the man of flesh who depends solely on God for all his good and necessities - even his very breath. This vision of the self is crucifixion and burial. But God raises the dead and makes the dead alive in Christ, formed not with pride and delusion, but with the mystery of our salvation in Christ. That is to say, God accomplishes something in us our Pharisee-ism would never permit Him to do before.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

An Unpopular Message

"But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." [2 Peter 3:10-13, NKJV]

In the news today are two opposite stances on the legal recognition of homosexual marriage in our country. North Carolina has determined that such unions contradict their constitution. President Obama has expressed his support for the legal recognition of homosexual unions as marriage. There are a lot of celebrations and grumblings on both sides of the issue because of these announcements.

As a Christian, though, this matters very little to me, that is, it matters very little to me what my President thinks about this, and it matters little to me that North Carolina has taken the stance it has. It matters little to me, because I do not look to the government to create right and wrong. It matters little to me because my hope is not in this world. My hope is in Christ. My hope is in His Kingdom, which is established by His cross and resurrection. My hope lies in a reality that supersedes all other realities. My world revolves around He Who Is, Who Was, and Who Is Coming. He is the light in my sky, the food on my table, the origin of my species, the only true goodness, and the only future that exists.

Most people in our society have a different perspective than this. Most people see only the earth which is passing away. Did Christ not say, "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" [Luke 18:8, NKJV]. Their hearts have become animalistic through the love of wicked things and self aggrandizement. The love of wicked things prevents a man's heart from being able to find the Kingdom that Christ says is within you [Lk 17:21]. But this is considered normal in the world - among our friends and family and co-workers and such - and no one notices any problem. They seem to want it that way. And Christians face the same temptations, though it is through the mercy and power of God that we are being made into something different.

Christians in our society are characterized as a people with a message to be believed. While it is true we have a message of Good News for the world, it is also true that we have an unpopular message that comes with it. The Good News is good for those who accept it. It is not good for everyone else. Peace, renewal, salvation is our message, but so is judgment, revealing of secrets, and a definite End. This creation has its source in spirit - in the God who is spirit - and God will not endure wickedness forever, for it grieves His heart that men's hearts are evil [Gn 6:5-6]. He endures it now, says St. Peter [2Pt 3:9], so that all may have time to return and change and be changed by the grace of God. This is all God wants from us, that we turn our hearts back to Him and begin to do the good so that we may live [Ez 18:21-32].

But the End shall come. The End of this world, the End of wickedness, the End of devilry, unbelief, and perversion – and the End of not knowing God. All will know God, because He will appear and all that ever lived will appear before Him. But the hearts that were bitter against Him in this life, smoldering against Him in this world will ignite in agony from meeting Him face to face. The One they despised from afar will come near, and their hearts will overcome them in agony. The hearts that changed, though, and that came to their senses and were anointed with the love of God will radiate joyfully with the fire of His love when they meet Him face to face. The One they believed in and loved will draw near, and their hearts will overcome them in joy.

God will cause those who believe Him and love as He loves to endure in His Kingdom beyond the End of this world. His Kingdom shall endure, and because of His enduring Kingdom the world that is today shall be transformed, purified, and made new. The very work that Christ desires to work in every man's heart and life will in the End, after the heat and judgment, be accomplished for creation itself. There will be a new - a renewed - heaven and earth. Then creation shall no longer groan in expectation, but shall come into joy. In this End all that is contrary to God shall be shut out, and only the Good shall remain.

Most people in the world will not be part of this. That's a strong statement but it is sadly true. For most people their hope is in this world, and this world is the limit of that hope. So while in this world they build kingdoms after their desires. Today it is homosexual marriage. Before that it has been killing unborn children (and this continues). Before that the sexual revolution (and this continues). Tomorrow it will be something more. Eventually it will be absolute war against Christianity - and this has already begun, but I mean it will be more overt.

And while in this world they resist the Truth. God has implanted the Truth in each person, for He made us after His own image, but they will continue to heap up reasons not to believe: there are so many gods to choose from, "I only believe in science" (Nacho Libre comes to mind), religious people are often bad so religion must be bad (this is a logical fallacy), etc. All this serves to insulate their hearts from the real issue.

It all comes down to the heart: "This is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed" [John 3:19-20, NKJV].

The battleground is the human heart, between righteousness and perversion, faith and unbelief, divine love and self-love. From our hearts we must become different. We are all sick, spiritually ill, and even physically warped by our spiritual ailment. From our hearts we must come to our senses and become willing to change toward Christ. The few who are and (by God's grace) do are true Christians. Scripture shows, though, that in these Last Days most will not because they love their sickness. That only leaves them this world, this time, to fashion their tower of Babel, their illusion of reality.

So the President, after showing great intolerance to religious freedom (a Constitutional term) earlier this year, now voices his support for legally recognizing homosexual unions as "marriages." This is not of God; it's the world and Babel. On the other hand one state in the union is blocking homosexual marriage. This comes about because we live in a democratic society where the will of the majority in the society has a certain amount of say in what goes on. People of faith still have a say, though who can say if that's the motivation in this case (only God knows). But it will not last. These are the days of Sodom and Gomorrah. These are the days of Jeroboam's revolt and of Babylon. These are the days when man repeats the error of Babel. Scripture has foretold it. And in the end the Scriptures will be fulfilled.

For those of us who have been made Christians, I am of the opinion that we should say what we believe, vote as Christians, but not argue with unbelievers about homosexual unions. Our argument is not one of "reason," but of reasonable faith and faithful reason. Their argument is one of reason in a spiritual vacuum / of unbelieving reason - which is limited to this world that is passing away. It is reason without eyes. Society cannot be held accountable to Christ - yet - because society is not baptized into Christ, not sealed with the Holy Spirit, not communicants of Christ's Body and Blood, not a participant in the Eschatological Kingdom. Society will be made accountable to Christ when He comes on the Last Day, because on that Day there will be a baptism in fire, the permanence of the Kingdom, and the visible presence of Christ on His judgment seat.

If we are to engage our world we must first look to Christ to change our own hearts after His sacred heart that loves us enough for Him to be crucified and die for us. We must seek to enter into the mystery of God's heart and find God's burning, fiery love for mankind that seeks to inflame us with goodness, peace, and love. In the mystery of the fire of God's love we will see how no wicked thing can exist there, and how blessed it is to be made good by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. This is a deep mystery, but it is the mystery of the faith open to all who believe, who will walk in Christ's ways because they believe Him and love Him and are being made new by Him each and every day.

Being changed by Christ is a life-long process for us in this world. Only when we have begun to be changed by the gift of God can we actually open our mouths and speak to unbelievers with the hope that they will change and follow Christ on a given issue - or at all. The message is transformation through the gift of God. We are poor witnesses if we ourselves are not willing to be transformed. But this is the reality to which we must bear witness in this world. This is the only salvation for men, and the only hope in the skirmishes over morality in our society. But then again, considering how the Pharisees responded to St. Stephen, we ought to remain sober about what is likely to happen to Christians confessing Christ in the world.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Abusing the Thief

I've been reading up on the topic of Christian initiation. At the moment I am thoroughly enjoying Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West by J.D.C. Fisher (SPCK, 1965). What's great about this book is that he focuses on the liturgical evidence in order to determine what was really going on. He is mostly successful in letting the data speak for itself, without importing a predetermined viewpoint. Senn, in his compendium on Liturgy, tends to mix his Protestant bias (or is it a Kavanagh bias?) into the data. I have found little of that in Fisher's work (which Senn relies on in his own book).

It is amazing how the initiation rite that we identify today as Baptism-Confirmation-Eucharist continued in Rome unbroken well into the middle ages. I would also include the historic catechumenate before Baptism, too, since Rome maintained its basic form even after the majority of catechumens transitioned from adults to infants. I was taught in seminary that this disappeared much earlier - that what was medieval was bad, corrupt, and askew. The evidence shows a great deal of consistency in Rome for the first 1000 years regarding the basic structure of initiation.

In Milan, Gaul and Germany, though, something seemed to happen that is hard to account. There is a gap in the data between the patristic age and the medieval age in Milan. At the time of Ambrose there was in Milan a definite baptism-confirmation-eucharist form to the initiation rite (using our modern distinctions for these). This included an anointing after Baptism that was associated with Baptism itself, and a separate anointing associated with the seven-fold grace of the Holy Spirit. 300+ years later in Milan and the surrounding area, from when the next data set is available, the confirmation portion seemed either a) to disappear or b) now to be associated with the unction that immediately followed the actual Baptism or c) both. This practice is also found in various areas of Gaul and Germany about the same time. When Charlemagne tried to have the provinces adopt the practices of Rome, in some of those locations lacking what we might call the Confirmation rite by the bishop, some tacked it on the end - after the newly baptized were communed -- actually an entire week after. Those locales where the "Confirmation rite" was identified now with the anointing after the Baptism by the presbyter seemed not to think anything was missing from their rite. However, at least as regards the data surrounding Milan, it is clear to us something did disappear. This may have happened due to political upheaval, war, bishops becoming corrupt and/or inaccessible, etc. Whatever the reason, enough time elapsed where some locales did not practice a "Confirmation rite" with Baptism distinct from the post-Baptismal anointing.

So of course, when these places are asked to adopt the liturgical practices of Rome, and a greater awareness of the liturgical differences among provinces makes its way around, debate ensues. And of course someone has to play the Thief on the Cross card:

Amalarius admits that he has heard the question asked "whether without the laying on of the bishop's hand a baptized person can possess the kingdom of heaven. The thief who on the cross confessed the Lord, and heard him say, To-day thou shalt be with me in paradise, did not receive the imposition of the hand, although we believe him to have been baptized on the cross in his own blood" (Fisher, p.69)

Why is it that anytime someone wants to escape an established practice the Thief on the Cross is the great proof that fill in the blank is unnecessary for salvation? Good grief this has been going on a long time. Then it was, "Well, the thief didn't receive the imposition of hands (or even anointing with Chrism, for that matter) by a bishop. It must be dispensible." Today it's, "Well, the thief didn't do any good works, but Christ accepted him" (even though he defended Christ against the malefaction of the other thief). Or, "Well, the thief on the cross wasn't baptized" (but we forget today what it means to be baptized in blood). Or, "The thief didn't have to confess his sins, didn't have to receive communion, didn't this, didn't that, etc."

It's amazing how long this sort of faulty logic has been going on.

It is established that the Thief on the Cross had faith, because he showed his faith by his prayer and defense of Christ. It is established that Christ accepted him. These are wonderful, positive, incontrovertible facts. But that does not mean Christ did not give us a Baptism of water and the Spirit. That doesn't mean that Christ didn't give us the remembrance of His Pascha in the Eucharist. That doesn't mean that what the Apostles established on Christ's authority (which authority is that of the Father, for the Father sent the Son, and the Son sent the Apostles as the Father sent Him) isn't given to us to keep and treasure and receive for our salvation. All it means is that Christ alone is the judge in exceptional situations, and that He accepts repentance. But that does not mean He sanctions negligence. The thief's situation applies to us only when we become like the thief: crucified with Christ, confessing Him before the Church (symbolized by the Blessed Virgin and St. John the Apostle) and the world (symbolized by the other thief, the Pharisees, and the Romans).

If you notice - the thief was not interested in how little he could get by with from Christ. He did not hold back. Though before him hung a dying man seemingly without power or hope, the thief saw the Savior and the coming Kingdom of God and asked to be a part of it. And Christ gave it to him.

What does Christ give us when we ask this of Him? When we do not hold back but become fools in the world and believe and come to Christ, what does Christ give us? He catches us up to the thief, first. He says, take your cross and follow Me. He gives us the cross in Baptism. He gives us death so that we, too, can become citizens of Paradise through rebirth by water and the Holy Spirit. He makes us kings and priests unto our God in His Kingdom. This is what He gave to the thief: Baptism.

But unlike the thief, we are still in the world (though not of the world). The thief's body was buried, his soul passed to rest in Paradise. But you and I have not experienced this yet. We have not suddenly encountered Christ at the eleventh hour and been invited into the vineyard for our denarius. We are called at other times in our life: the ninth, sixth, maybe third or first. And in this, though, Christ does not withhold Paradise from us, but rather seeks to communicate it to us in the Church - the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Eph. 1). We who are in the world are given the Holy Spirit in the Church, that the Paradise in which the thief was granted to rest at the close of his eleventh hour may rest in our hearts and souls, and transform us into the likeness of our homeland and our King, so that whether we live or die, we are Christ's. Today is the day of salvation, as it was for the thief.

So let us not ask if this or that is really necessary for our salvation. Let's not minimize. Let's not enter this mentality into our discussions about what should or should not be done. Rather rejoice! For in every mystery of the Church we find Christ. Rejoice! Christ is all in all, the Church is His fullness, and we are made one flesh and one blood with Him. All things are new, including us. The thief points us to the fullness that only comes from Christ, and that means for us the thief points us to the Church, and the Church is fullness.

Obviously, in the context of liturgical rites, we wish to be careful not to lose anything that should not be lost. I would assume those in Milan, Gaul, and Germany in the eighth and ninth centuries didn't think they had lost anything. But the answer then and now should not be, "Is it really necessary?" Rather it should be, "Where does this come from? Why haven't we had this before? Does this change transmute the rite into something different? Is this really something different or not? Is Christ magnified? Is love impinged? Are the weak scandalized? And so forth. But let's not ask, "Is this necessary for salvation?" Because this question is Pandora's Box. You cannot just take a peek. Once asked it replicates like a virus. In asking we presume to make relative the active and present eschatological kingdom of Christ in our midst, manipulating and painting it whatever color we wish, whittling it down, deforming it into something else. But really it is not the active and present Kingdom of Christ that we are reducing, reforming, ruining, but it is ourselves.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sanctification is Salvation

Some thoughts from my reply in a private conversation on sanctification:

You are right to say that sanctification is a present reality, current process, and a future realization. Sanctification is definitely more than a theological category or a stage in the application of salvation to an individual (like conversion, justification, sanctification, etc.). Sanctification is really a descriptive word for *how* God saves. If we consider the fall of man into sin, man underwent a change to his nature that corrupted the good creation of God and resulted in man's perpetual bondage. For man's salvation in Orthodoxy sinful man needs to be transformed back, so to speak. He needs to change, both in his nature (what make someone a human) and in his person (what makes you "you"). Adam's personal sin had a negative-sanctification effect on his human nature, which rendered it and him corrupted and enslaved to sin, death, and the devil. The salvation of Christ through the cross and resurrection applies a positive-sanctification effect that heals and restores man in Christ (to say the least). So in some respects that sanctification - in terms of how Christ sanctified human nature through His Incarnation, and put our sin to death in His flesh through His own death, and triumphed over death with Life in the resurrection - happens objectively outside of us, literally in Christ, and is a pure gift that we cannot cooperate with. In this sense we see Christ as the Second Adam in whom the first Adam finds salvation.

But in the sense that this sanctification of human nature has been applied to the individual person, that's where our energy must unite with God's energy in us, because then the issue is always actualizing what we have in Christ as we make free choices. God gives us what Christ has done in total through Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist, but it depends on our faith as to whether and how we will continue from this. We have the communion of Christ's healed and sanctified human nature, so as Christians we have a saved (sanctified) human nature in common, but my person is not the same as Christ's person is not the same as your person, etc. That which makes me "me" must work out my salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that God is at work in me to actualize the sanctification that Christ has accomplished outside of me and has implanted into me through my communion with Him in the Church.

So sanctification is a word that describes the work of God to save mankind. It is carried out objectively by the work of Christ in the Incarnation, His life, passion, death and resurrection. It is given to me through faith and Baptism-Christmation-Eucharist (these go together). It is actualized throughout that which is uniquely "me" (i.e. my person) through my cooperation with God at work in me (e.g. faith working through love). This is sanctification in Orthodoxy. And this is "salvation."

Some additional thoughts...

In this light we can understand justification. "Sanctification" means literally "to make holy." Justification means literally "to make righteous." In patristic writings, translations of the Scriptures into other languages, and the general liturgical and sacramental context of historic Eastern and Western Christianity the only difference between those two actions is the word "holy" versus "righteous." The essential "how this happens" is the same. In English we tend to call this "how" itself sanctification, which can be a bit confusing.

In time tangential concepts arose in the West about merit, God, the law, and the cross which further obscured the simple teaching retained by the East. Certainly the retention of the Greek language (minimizing the "lost in translation" syndrome) helped to keep the matter focused, while in the West the loss of the nuances of Greek theological language to the less precise, more juridical Latin language helped deprive many devout men of necessary key insights. St. Augustine takes a lot of blame for this, as an early and huge player in Latin theology who himself did not know Greek; but the blame is perhaps better laid at the lack of Greek and not St. Augustine's person.

Yet still for this reason (and others) Western Christians often have a hard time understanding Orthodox thinking on these matters, because in the West the conversation is built on so many alien concepts that arose and ripened in the Western theological climate alone. In order to understand the practice of the Orthodox Church (for that is how we use our theology here) one has to strip down to what seems to be basic concepts and make adjustments to the placement of certain familiar concepts (God's love, judgment, juridicism, sanctification, merit, sacrifice, etc).

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Response to "A Lutheran Looks at ... Eastern Orthodoxy" -- part 5

This is the final portion of my evaluation of Robert Koester's book, "A Lutheran Looks at ... Eastern Orthodoxy." Here I focus on Part Three: Impressions. Since this section, composed of two chapters, is really the author's subjective opinions and not data about Orthodoxy, I will focus less on data and more on particulars that I feel are worthwhile.

May Christ our God lead the readers of this book into all truth through His mercy and love towards mankind.


On page 122 the author seems to have trouble accepting that in Orthodoxy activity - participation and the experience that comes from it - is what is most important, and the application of a systematic (formal) theology really only serves as commentary on what is done and experienced in the Church. He drifts back to suggesting that there is a disconnect between "the church's formal theology" and the practical piety of the laity. Of course he is entitled to his opinion, as am I. It's good to be informed about why we do what we do, but the rites, prayers, and sacraments of the Church are so richly full of Christ in word, deed, and power that the average lay person has full access to the theology of the Church. And if their participation leads them to want to know more, then that is possible too. But you don't have to be even remotely intelligent to apprehend the Orthodox faith. You just have to apply yourself to the sacramental and spiritual life of the Church. I.e. go to the Liturgy, receive the sacraments, pray, repent, forgive, endeavor to love. This is the activity of faith. In Orthodoxy faith is activity, not passivity.

The author approaches the following topics:

Homilies: He identifies Orthodox sermons as all law, lacking in Gospel. This means that the Lutheran belief in satisfying the wrath of God by paying Him in the currency of Christ's suffering and death on the cross is absent, as is the belief in the bondage of the will in spiritual matters. A Lutheran sermon is aimed at sanctifying the human will so that it, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, is changed from unbelieving into believing. There is personal freedom in this to tell God "no," but never to tell God "yes." The manner in which faith is "created" (or coerced in Orthodox language) is to preach the Lutheran message about the cross as noted above, and specifically that because Christ has satisfied the Father's wrath with an eternity's worth of hell and suffering on the cross, now God's heart is changed toward the sinner and he or she is forgiven. All depends on bombarding the heart with this message all the time so that through it the Holy Spirit can create and strengthen (or coerce in Orthodox language) a belief in God. This belief receives a new relationship and status of righteousness and is a person's entire salvation. Good works flow from this reality. So in order to lead people to produce good works you have to make sure their heart believes. Good works naturally follow from faith in this message. Thus the author does not want to hear about how we should keep Christ's commandments, but rather wants to hear a message that guarantees all things are taken care of for him so long as he believes the right things. Forgive me if this is an oversimplification, but as one who was trained to preach this way and has preached this way it seems the most direct description.

In Orthodoxy there is no belief that Christ is paying God in the currency of an eternity's worth of suffering and death in hell on the cross as Luther taught. God does not desire the death of a sinner but that he turn from his wickedness and live (i.e. God desires we change). This Lutheran belief is an extrapolation from Scriptural concepts (akin to the philosophizing that Koester accuses Orthodoxy of falling into), but is itself nowhere found in Scripture. There is a heavy misunderstanding of sacrifice, God, and atonement here.

In Orthodoxy it is believed that Christ offers Himself as an obedient and perfect Son and Lamb to take away the sins of the world. Sins are taken away through sanctification. Christ supplies His innocent and righteous blood, and this covers our sins, that is, obliterates them through the blessing of God's own Life (which is located in His Blood). Death is overcome through sanctification. We were held captive by the power of death, but when the One who is Life entered death, then death was sanctified, blessed, and thus overcome by Life. In this way we see the cross is about Christ being our Passover (literally our passing over) from sin and death to righteousness and life - and St. Paul links these terms in the first part of Romans.

So why doesn't the Orthodox preacher usually talk about these things every sermon? First, because he is not out to effect a change in a bound will. Free will never loses its freedom in Orthodoxy, but it does become impaired. But the principle of uncoerced personal choice is never obliterated, otherwise we would cease to be humans. We'd be beasts only. In Orthodoxy God enlightens free will without co-opting a person's freedom to assent to God or reject God. God's sanctifying work is in play upon conversion as is a person's freedom, and no one can tell where one begins and the other ends. It's a mystery. But God forces nothing upon a person, not in conversion, nor in the Christian's growth in the likeness of Christ.

All components of a person's objective salvation are completed by God and perfected by Him in a person's subjected life, but God forces none of it upon a person. A person must freely act upon his or her supposed faith. Faith must be proved by works. It is when a person acts that the one thing God does not do on behalf of the person - i.e. operate his or her personal freedom - happens. When a person gives himself to the commandments of God with all he has (even if that isn't hardly anything!), his will is saying "I believe and I want your salvation; Lord, have mercy!" And that person then experiences that they have no power in themselves to do anything, but that God is the effective power behind whatever is done. All struggling and striving is so that a person's will may more and more die to this world and rise again in Christ. God honors this faith more than we can imagine.

It is the misuse of free will that led to Adam's fall; it is the return of free will - which God strengthens without co-opting - that is asked of us so that we may be saved in every sense. God does all that needs to be done for salvation (which we could never do or earn), and this so happens to isolate what God desired from man in the beginning - that Adam freely love Him and want to live in communion with Him, not because God forced him but because Adam wants it on his end. God helps the will, but does not co-opt its freedom (I keep saying that, don't I. For good reason).

Orthodox preaching is aimed at directing the human will toward the activity that corresponds to the Life that we have been given in Christ so that we may grow in that Life, rather than be found fruitless, lawless, and dead in faith on the Last Day. So if Orthodox preaching sounds like the Law to Lutherans, it is because Lutherans expect something of God that the Orthodox do not, and the Orthodox believe God expects something of us that the Lutherans leave to God, namely the human will.

Children's Books: In this section the author complains that forgiveness of sins is not at the forefront or necessarily mentioned. Again, the issue for the Orthodox is not satisfying the wrath of God, but that God provides the means for our transformation - our Passover - from sin to righteousness, from death to life, and this through the cross and resurrection of Christ.

A Teen Prayer Book: The author notes a couple prayers found in the prayerbook that deal with forgiveness of sins, and includes an encouragement to the Sacrament of Repentance (i.e. Confession). He complains there are not enough prayers focusing on repentance. It is hard to evaluate this criticism not having the book in front of me.

Lay Book on Salvation: This book, called Are You Saved? by Barbara Pappas seems good! Koester doesn't seem to like it, though.

The Orthodox Study Bible: Koester zeros in on the interpretation given to Romans 3:26 in this Bible and rejects it. His conclusion about Orthodoxy cannot be said any better than with his own words, "Scripture's message of God's forgiving grace in Christ has been lost to the people in the Orthodox church" (Page 127).


This chapter focuses on how a Lutheran should talk to an Orthodox friend about their Lutheran faith with the hopes of pulling that person away from Orthodoxy into Lutheranism.

Your Goal
Help an Orthodox person believe that they will get into heaven only because Jesus lived and died in our place. Implicitly this means getting Orthodox Christians to fall away from the belief that salvation is both about communion and transformation, and instead adopt the Protestant instant salvation view.

The Main Challenge
Here Koester identifies the ultimate goal as getting Orthodox faithful to believe that Jesus is our substitute, which we know to mean the Lutheran belief in Substitutionary Atonement, which brings with it the need for Christ to effect a change in God's heart rather than a change in us - the healing of our nature and the transformation of each individual person. He assumes that the Orthodox do not believe that Christ bore our sins in His body as the Scriptures teach. He especially wants Lutherans to convince Orthodox believers that they have no ability to serve God by doing His commandments. He seems to make the mistake of thinking that the Orthodox believe they power their own good works, rather than God powering them by virtue of the communion we have with Him. Either way he encourages Lutherans to turn Orthodox believers away from believing they can serve God.

Koester wants Lutherans to help Orthodox believers to see the law as something that creates guilt and condemns before God, rather than something that guides us in living our lives as God wants. He may not want to negate these Third Use (i.e. guiding) aspects totally, but he wants to shy away from them in order to introduce Lutheran preoccupations into Orthodox believers' minds.

I do congratulate Koester for encouraging Lutherans to turn the matter over to God in prayer. That's the best hope a Lutheran has for helping anyone. The Lutheran may find, though, that God is working on them rather than the Orthodox believer! Still Koester is encouraging the Lutheran to try to make Orthodox believers feel (possibly excessive) guilt, so that they will become needy for the Lutheran message.

Koester does soberly leave room for the possibility that God has cultivated certain Lutheran-friendly outlooks (a feeling of personal guilt and faith in Christ, for instance). I applaud this. He doesn't teach Lutherans to try to do God's work for Him. He even encourages Lutherans to attend an Orthodox service or two as a good gesture. Of course this then puts pressure on the Orthodox friend to go to a Lutheran service.

No matter which way you look at it, Koester is trying to organize a spiritual attack on Christ's sheep in order to lead them away from the fold. This is dangerous for any Lutheran to undertake, because they may find themselves to receive the wolf's portion from the Shepherd on the Last Day (if not before)! That is the point of this chapter. It draws upon all the right and wrong conceptions of Orthodoxy and Christianity that Koester has formed throughout the book to direct Lutherans to lead Orthodox believers away from the Faith of the Apostles and the Fullness of Christ to embrace a different gospel.

I will close my review with a quote from Robert Koester that sums up this whole organized attack against Christ and His Church, followed by the words of the Holy Spirit through St. James:
My other thought is how effectively the forces of evil have used the Orthodox service. It is so ancient, so filled with tradition. Its priests and officiants are garbed in such beautiful vestments. It is filled with so much symbolism. It contains so many sights, sounds, and pleasing smells. The people speak so much about God's mercy; they express themselves in humble ways and are so intent on worshiping God in truth. The cross is displayed so prominently. But the more you understand their teachings, the more you realize that all these elements are only gliding on the rotten wood of a completely work-righteous system of religion. Orthodoxy is an example of how Satan has used religiosity to blind people to true religion. (Koester, p.132)

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (St. James 1:26-27, NKJV)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Response to "A Lutheran Looks at ... Eastern Orthodoxy" -- part 4

This portion of my review focuses on Chapter 7 in the book, "A Lutheran Looks at ... Eastern Orthodoxy" by Robert Koester.

Generally the author does a fair job describing what Holy Tradition is in Holy Orthodoxy. I can only take issue with two points. In the first the author offers the following summary definition of Holy Tradition in the Orthodox Church:
Rather, to the Orthodox, tradition is the source of truth. To put it a little differently, the Orthodox believe that if the church has always done something or believed something, God is the one who has led the church to do or believe this or that, and so it is true. To the Orthodox, what the church has always done has the same authority we attach to the Bible.
The author fails to distinguish for the outsider reading about Orthodoxy that there is a difference between Holy Tradition and the traditions of men. Consider the Nikonian reforms cited by the author in a previous chapter. Certain traditions which had been in place seemingly always were changed in Russia in order to match current Greek practices. This resulted in a group of people splitting off from the Church because they could not distinguish between the traditions of men that were changable and Holy Tradition. It is helpful to keep in mind that this distinction does exist in Orthodoxy, even though at times it may be hard to actually make that distinction in practice.

Second the author does not seem to grasp the difference between the terms traditions and Holy Tradition, which may be why he makes the previous overstatement. The data he provides, though, is good and makes the case that needs to be made, whether or not the author himself actually gets it. I especially like that he makes the following quote on page 110 from Norman Russel, "The Orthodox believe that by God's grace they are the true church and that it is only the 'internal witness of the promised Holy Spirit that keeps the church in truth.'" This is so true! Eventually in my personal wrangling and struggling over joining the Orthodox Church I realized that there was this unseen, immovable, definite force and presence that held everything together in Holy Orthodoxy. This quote from Normal Russel explains very well what I came to see by God's Grace in Holy Orthodoxy. Despite man's best efforts to mess it all up, the Holy Spirit has continued to hold together Christ's Church as the presence of Christ's end-time kingdom on earth for the salvation of all people.

The Scriptural Basis for Theosis

I'm glad that the author is finally dealing with where in Scripture the Orthodox find Theosis. I really believe this topic should have been first. He could have gradually introduced Theosis; it would have been more accurate to do so, and he might have made a better presentation of Orthodoxy if he had done so.

On page 111 the author identifies Psalm 82 as the basis for Theosis. The author loses credibility points for quoting from the NIV, but gets some back for pointing out that the NIV's quotation marks around "gods" is not in the original. He also loses credibility points for telling the reader that his interpretation of Psalm 82 is obvious, but that the early Church Fathers ignored this plain meaning in favor of applying to a goal that comes from Philosophy and not Scripture. He also mistakenly tells the reader that the conclusions about Theosis drawn from this passage were not challenged because it was believed that these men were being led by the Holy Spirit, i.e. they could not be wrong.

Actually it has been established throughout Church history that Fathers can be wrong. Notable fathers were wrong about particular things, but being wrong about one or two things did not invalidate what they were right about. Fathers who taught incorrectly were themselves corrected later by the Church. For instance, it is well known that St. Irenaeus taught chiliasm, the belief in a literal 1000 year reign of Christ that would come to pass. Eventually this was deemed a heretical view. St. Irenaeus had already fallen asleep in Christ by the time this conclusion was reached, so he never had a chance to be confronted with the issue. Today it is understood that on this one issue St. Irenaeus does not speak for the Church. There are other examples. The fathers were not considered de facto inspired and inerrant in their day.

Regarding Theosis among the Fathers, this basic understanding of salvation has never been overturned in Orthodoxy. The Ecumenical Councils of the Church have safe-guarded the faithful dogma of the Trinity and the Incarnation of Christ in order to safeguard the salvation of mankind through Theosis. Nearly everything in Orthodoxy supports Theosis, and those that have introduced teachings that would interfere with man's possibility for salvation through union with the God have been rejected time and time again. The issue of Theosis itself, though, has never been challenged but always supported through every other teaching in Orthodoxy from the beginning. So it is incorrect to say that the Church Fathers' interpretation of Theosis and Psalm 82 was accepted because it was assumed they could not err. This is very untrue.

Somehow the author leaves out Christ's own commentary on this passage when talking about it's basis for Theosis. Christ says in John 10:33-36,
The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’? If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
Christ Himself interprets this passage. He does not render the Hebrew word for "gods" as judges or mighty ones, which are the suggested interpretations of the psalm's use of "gods" by Protestants. St. John has Christ use the word theoi, which means gods. The Septuagint uses the same word, theoi in the psalm (numbered 81 in the LXX). What Koester calls a figure of speech, our Lord Christ identifies as an intentional emphasis. They were called gods, and the Scripture cannot be broken. So if they were called gods, why should the Jews object to Christ calling Himself the Son of God. Is Christ referring to a figurative God or a figurative sonship here? No, and even Koester should agree with that.

Christ continues by saying,
"If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him." Therefore they sought again to seize Him, but He escaped out of their hand.
Here is the connection with Theosis. Christ does the works of the Father, which testify that the Father is in Him and He in the Father. Likewise the Christian who has come to have Christ dwelling in him or her through communion, and likewise dwells in Christ sets him- or herself to doing the commandments of Christ, which works are the soul of faith (James 2), and the evidence of friendship with Christ (John 15:14). Worth consideration in this context is what our Lord says in John 17:20ff. The author does not fail for omitting this interpretation of Theosis, but for failing to report that the Orthodox valuation of Psalm 81/82 has much to do with Christ's words in the Gospel.

The author also points at 2 Peter 1:4 as a modern passage used to support Theosis. The language is plain, but the author here wishes to insist on an alternative interpretation. Instead of referring to God's nature - what makes God God - he suggests the word phusis refers to God's characteristics (which is a secondary possibility). Yet St. Peter speaks of koinwnos - which the Fathers and the Orthodox Church understand to mean communion. So what is meant is either communion with what makes God God (Orthodox: God's energies) or God's characteristics (Orthodox: God's likeness). Either way it speaks to Theosis, because this sort of communion results in man becoming divine - not in nature but through participation in God. Phusis seems like the operative word here, but we should understand that koinwnos is also.

The Orthodox do not believe in sola scriptura. We believe that the Apostles delivered some things verbally and some things in writing. Both the words of Scripture have been given in the Church, and so has the meaning of Scripture been given. We can trace the interpretation of Scripture through approved teachers. It's important to know both the words of Scripture and the background context - and that in terms of history, spirituality, and interpretative perspective. The author admits this in a basic way, but he has a hard time just throwing that out there. He's clearly squeamish.

God Living in Us

The author goes into detail about what Lutherans believe about having union with God. He speaks against philosophical "speculation" in favor of limiting oneself to what can be found in Scripture. I wonder if the author is aware of how much philosophical "speculation" (read: elaboration) went into the makeup of the Book of Concord, the Nicene Creed, or the doctrine of the Trinity that he holds so dear.

At this point I seriously wonder if the author actually grasps what the Orthodox mean by becoming god (what he terms becoming God). He keeps returning again and again to the words "becoming God" (sic), and complaining that it's different from God living in us and us in Him, from partaking of the divine nature, from putting on the image of God. The point that he is not appreciating is that God's presence in us produces certain results. Some of these results Scripture teaches us to cultivate and/or expect. Some of these results we see as spiritual gifts, given according to God's good pleasure. All of these results coincide with eternal life and the resurrection of Christ, and are tied in with being as Christ is. The complete transformation that awaits us on the Last Day into the likeness of Christ (1 John 3:2) is something that belongs to us now through our communion with Christ. That which determines the nature of our future resurrection is currently at work in us now. The belief in Theosis is as much a teaching from Scripture as it is a description of the entire Life of the Church as observed in Scripture and on from there to this very day. It is a belief in the reality of the Eschaton inaugurated and put into effect through Christ's cross and resurrection, communicated to us in time in the sacramental life in the Church, appropriated by individuals through a living faith.

The author makes the claim that the Orthodox do not believe they receive the whole Christ through faith, but only receive Him incrementally. This is patently false. The whole basis of Theosis is that we enter into communion with the whole Christ, not incrementally but completely. He points out that Scripture teaches that we grow in the image of God as a life-long process. In Orthodoxy that's what Theosis is! For some reason he sees these as two different things. I think this is because he rejects so strongly the Orthodox position that he feels he must show the Lutheran position to be what Scripture says, but the Orthodox position as something that doesn't relate to the words of Scripture. It really isn't a fair assessment. Growing in the image and likeness of God throughout our life is Theosis. Endlessly growing and maturing into the likeness of God - which is Christ, the visible image of the invisible God (Heb 1) - is the same as becoming gods by Grace (i.e. the working of the Holy Spirit). How sad the author will not admit this or cannot see it. He comes so close to accurately representing Orthodoxy but still falls so, so short.

Other Teachings

The Theotokos: Koester says Mary gave Christ His human body. It's better to say human nature, since more is at stake than just having a human body. That's usually a pretty serious thing for Lutherans, so I'm surprised he represents the issue that way. Otherwise he accurately represents Orthodoxy's belief about the Theotokos.

Belief about the saints is also fairly represented.

Icons: He says that he saw a person trying to recharge their copy of a Rublev icon by pressing up against the glass case holding the original. I'm not sure what that person was doing, but it isn't customary for people to run around trying to bless their own icons or "charge them up." He exaggerates the length of time that the Church struggled against opposition to icons, citing at least 400 years (basically since the beginning of the Patristic period). The iconoclastic controversy lasted maybe 150 years before the Seventh Council and 50-60 years after. His distaste for icons is apparent.

Heaven and Hell: The author confuses Hades and Gehenna, or at least doesn't try to explain the difference to the reader. Hades is definitely a downward association, just as Heaven is an upward association. He accurately describes how the Orthodox find the punishments of Gehenna (which he just calls hell) to result from being in God's presence and hating it. But he does not express the reality that Hades is the place where souls that reject Christ go to await the Final Judgment on the Last Day. He also says some Orthodox believe in a sort of purgatory. Still it should be affirmed that the existence of the Roman Catholic purgatory is not an Orthodox belief at all, despite his claim that some hint at it. Who knows what he read that led him to make such a statement.

The Filioque: The author's brief discussion of this topic is okay.

This brings us to the end of Part Two: Teachings. The remainder of the book, Part Three, is about the author's impressions of Orthodoxy. In this section he will give advice to Lutherans for sharing their Lutheran beliefs with Orthodox Christians with the hope of bringing them out of Orthodoxy into Lutheranism. I will discuss the final two chapters of the book in my last segment.

Response to "A Lutheran Looks at ... Eastern Orthodoxy" -- part 3

In chapter six the author visits the topics of Creation, Fall, the work of Christ, and the Sacraments that were missing from his presentation on Theosis. This disjointed approach puts the layperson at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding what an Orthodox person believes.

When describing creation the author draws comparisons between Lutheran beliefs and Orthodox beliefs. He seems to go out of his way to make Orthodoxy sound different from Lutheranism, when in fact the two have much in common. He writes:
Scripture teaches, and Lutherans believe, that God created a wonderful world. He planted a garden in Eden and gave this place to Adam and Eve as their home. They were to rule over the earth and live in perfect harmony with God as they fulfilled His will for them.

The Orthodox do not see it this way. ...

This is a scandalously inaccurate thing to say. The Orthodox say exactly this! However, the Orthodox say more too, because the Orthodox rely on the interpretation of Scripture that comes from those who were disciples of the Apostles and those who were their disciples. The WELS rely on the interpretation that comes from their teachers, people who read the Scriptures 1500+ years after they were written. The author focuses on technical explanations of rather simple concepts, which only makes Orthodox belief sound more complex than it is.

It is necessary to explain in a simple way what the author is trying to relate. First, everything the author stated above as the Lutheran position is also the Orthodox position. Second, the Orthodox believe creation was made to grow and mature. This is just part of being alive! The WELS author believes otherwise. Third, it is unnecessary to talk about God's energies in the creation process when speaking to laypeople, because this is technical. God's energies here means that God was active outside Himself, and that creation was fashioned by God Himself so that creation naturally belongs and relates to God. God is life, and apart from God no one and no thing lives! Scripture teaches this. The ultimate point that is to be made is that God made creation as a spiritual-material reality, and Adam and Eve were placed in Paradise as King and Queen with the goal of subduing creation, which means they participated in the process of cultivating creation for growth in union with God.

The author accurately notes that Adam and Eve were created perfect but not complete. This means they should grow and mature in their life, which is a life of union with God. He notes that the Orthodox explain that on one hand we are made after God's image, but on the other hand we are meant to grow into that image, what is often called God's likeness. He correctly identifies this with Theosis. He points out the high priestly role of Adam in Orthodoxy, which is something that is also found in Lutheranism, though I get the impression not among the WELS, if this author is a fair representation of the WELS.

Original Sin and the Fall

The author is clearly reading a lot of information, but he seems unable to discern the elementary from the abstract. He is citing abstract ideas and failing to distill them into elementary and basic truths about Orthodoxy. For instance he cites Alexander Schmemann as defining sin not as disobedience but as losing the hunger for God. This reference depends on a long and richly developed context that is missing in the author's presentation. It's too misleading. Orthodoxy defines sin exactly as disobedience, but the author chose to omit this fact in favor of material that makes less sense out of its original context.

The author incorrectly describes the Fall in Orthodox terms. First he takes up the effects of sin on the universe. This should be a secondary issue. However his quote from James Payton is fair about how creation groans for release from bondage, groans for restoration to God. Again he focuses so much on the technical and abstract that he has missed the simplicity of Orthodox belief on the subject - simplicity that is available in the sources he relies on (like Ware's "The Orthodox Church"). A lay person would find this confusing, and it's needless.

He addresses the image of God in man. Lutherans are actually split on whether or not the image of God remains in man, or if it is destroyed by the Fall. The author takes the position that it is lost (and this as if it were so obvious from Scripture). He accurately identifies that the Orthodox believe the image of God in man is retained. He fails to identify the ramifications of sin on human nature, though, claiming that there is no effect in Orthodox theology. This is untrue. Adam's sin harmed Adam's human nature. Before the Fall we might liken it to a sort of container that held the Grace of God (i.e. the personal presence and working of God in a man). After the Fall it's like the container was cracked and filled with holes; man was unable to retain union with God. Human nature needed to be healed, which is what Christ accomplishes. Healing means reforming the damaged nature into wholeness, and it means being reunited in communion with God.

The author writes:
And so, the meaning of sin, the fact of God's judgment over sin, and the meaning of death are all changed; the idea that the image of God in us remains essentially unimpaired is taught. (Page 90)

This is inaccurate. The image of God is impaired, but not destroyed. If the image of God was destroyed in man, man's soul would cease to exist, his freedom would be like that of animals, his intellect would be no better than that of an elephant or raven, and he would be incapable of knowing God and seeking Him. I noticed the author did not read Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky's "Orthodox Dogmatic Theology." Many of his difficulties could have been avoided if he had read this work in his research. It is a common reference for Orthodox pastors.


The author accurately points out that it is Orthodox belief that Christ came to establish Theosis in Himself, through the Personal Union of the Divine and Human natures. This means that the Second Person of the Trinity, having His own Divine Nature in common with the Father and the Spirit, joined to His Person our human nature. This is the basis for Theosis. The author accurately represents Orthodox thought in the section Why Was Jesus Born?.

At this point the author interrupts the presentation on Orthodox belief to inform the reader how bad this all is. He insists that the real issue at hand should be Jesus putting forgiveness in the bank for everyone to draw from just by believing.

However on page 91 the author accurately describes the framework of Theosis according to the foundation laid in the Incarnation. This is good. He inaccurately describes grace as God's plan, when in fact the Orthodox more often describe Grace as God's energies, that is, the presence of the Holy Spirit at work.

The author claims that the Orthodox deny God's just punishment over sin (page 92). He does not elaborate, so I will. The Orthodox believe that God will justly punish all sin on the Last Day. Until then forgiveness of sins is available through repentance and faith in Christ in the Church. On the Last Day God alone will determine who are His friends and faithful and who are his enemies. Dead faith will save no one on that day, only a living faith. Now is the time to believe, and to believe means to do the commandments of Christ as friends of Christ. Now is also the time to crucify in our flesh the love of sin and through the power of God uproot their holdings in our souls. The Orthodox find sin to be a much more serious problem than just personal guilt. There is guilt, which we pray constantly that God forgives (and He constantly does!), but there is also decay. It is not enough to treat sin as a category that Christ saves from; sin is a power that kills spiritually. On the Last Day we will see the result of sin in people's lives as well as God's Grace in people's lives. Orthodox Christians pray that Grace will heal them and God will forgive them, but we leave the final determination to God. Today we are only given to judge ourselves for today. Our eternal place is left for God alone to judge. It is good to have confidence in God, but not in myself as far as spiritual matters go.

I like how the author describes the relationship of Christ's transfiguration to the transfiguration of believers in eternity (page 92). The quote from St. Gregory Palamas is simply beautiful in the way it connects the Eucharist with Theosis.

In the section about Christ's suffering and death, the author rightly points out that the Orthodox do not believe that Christ suffered God's punishment for our sins. He wrongly states, though, that the Orthodox "simply do not believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world" (page 93). A quote from the esteemed Fr. Pomazansky should suffice to dispel this myth:
Christ took upon Himself the sins of the entire world; He received in Himself the guilt of all men. He is the Lamb slaughtered for the world. (Orthodox Dogmatics, p.197)

"To whom was that Blood offered that was shed for us, and why was it shed? I mean the precious and glorious Blood of our God and High Priest and Sacrifice. We were detained in bondage by the evil one, sold under sin, and received pleasure in exchange for wickedness. Now, since a ransom belongs only to him who holds in bondage, I ask to whom was this offered and for what cause? If to the evil one, fie upon the outrage! The robber receives ransom, not only from God, but a ransom which consists of God Himself, and has such an illustrious payment for his tyranny, a payment for whose sake it would have been right for him to have left us alone altogether. But if to the Father, I ask, first, how? For it was not by Him that we were being oppressed: and next, on what principle did the Blood of His only begotten Son delight the Father, Who would not receive even Isaac when he was being offered by his father, but changed the sacrifice, putting a ram in the place of the human victim? Is it not evident that the Father accepts the sacrifice not because He demanded it or because He felt any need for it, but on account of the economy: because humanity must be sanctified by the Humanity of God, that He might deliver us Himself, and overcome the tyrant, and draw us to Himself by the mediation of His Son, Who also arranged this to the honor of the Father, Whom it is manifest that He obeys in all things?" (Ibid, pages 209-210, quoting St. Gregory the Theologian, Second Oration on Pascha, chap. 22).
The Orthodox do believe Christ died for the sins of the world, but usually we put the emphasis on Him dying for the LIFE of the world. Christ did not die to pay God anything (the Scriptures say no such thing, but it is commonly inferred upon them by Protestants that Christ is paying God with suffering and death). Christ, in dying supplies to us what we lack. Our lives are corrupted with sin, and we are guilty; Christ is the Life who is pure and innocent. He pours out His Blood to supply it to us, that we may be cleansed/sanctified by His Life (and as the Scripture teaches, life is in the blood!). He gives His Body into death because we were held by death's power and destined for Sheol/Hades (the state or place of being dead). He who is Life enters into death, and this is like a poison to death. The result is not only that Christ rises, but that Hades is despoiled and emptied, and now through Christ death no longer is the dominating power in the universe. Christ risen from the dead has been enthroned victorious and crowned ruler, and His Kingdom is established and holds sway in this world in the Church under the cross borne by all Christians, but on the Last Day will appear for all to see in power and glory and might. How sad that the author missed all this beauty and truth in Orthodoxy!

Because the author completely bungles the cross of Christ, he provides an inadequate depiction of the resurrection. He simply says that the resurrection means that Christ's work is done. How awful! The author clearly doesn't know what he is talking about. The resurrection is the crown of our faith! By the resurrection eternal life is given to us! Our transformation, our personal passing over (Passover) from death to life, and our eternal growth in communion with God by the power of God depends on what Christ has achieved in His resurrection. The resurrection of Christ establishes the following results: victory over death and Hades, the entrance and blessedness of the saints into heaven and the existence of the Heavenly Church (which is united as one reality with the Earthly Church), and Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is sent down and the Earthly Church is created. How sad the author thinks that the resurrection means only that Christ's work is done!!!

On page 94 the author cites a book that cites Bishop Kallistos (Ware) saying "I am being saved" as if that summed it up. How sad that the author does such poor research. As I said in the previous post, an Orthodox person believes he has been saved, is currently saved, and is being saved. The author's credibility has become almost non-existent with me by this point. The author describes the Orthodox faith as a system of works-righteousness, of people who believe that Easter means only that now we can start to earn our salvation. He does not see that in Orthodoxy we rejoice that Christ is risen because it means we have salvation today and right now, and on this basis we strive to battle our own sins and do those things that Christ commands as His friends so that when Christ comes again in glory we will not find ourselves disqualified through lack of faith. He is so against Christians actively doing what Christ says in John 15:14 and Matthew 7:24-27 that it is outright dangerous and delusional.

This is a bad, bad treatment of Orthodox belief. The author has just enough knowledge to be dangerous, but he ultimately mischaracterizes the main focus of Orthodoxy and misses some very important facts. This is not a fair and accurate depiction of Orthodox Christianity.

Appropriating the Gospel

I do congratulate the author for describing the role of human freedom in the life of an Orthodox Christian. He describes our belief in synergy through quotes, and these suffice. Since Lutherans do not believe in human freedom, though, this must be a nasty pill to swallow.

The Church

The brief paragraph on the Church is sufficient. The author does well here.

The Sacraments

This should really be a subset under the Church, but no matter. First comes Baptism. The author falsely indicates that the Orthodox don't believe that Baptism grants the forgiveness of sins. He does not seem to realize that when Grace is given through Baptism, that Grace brings with it the forgiveness of sins. How can we be sanctified, justified, cleansed, and die to sin through Baptism if there is no forgiveness of sins tied with it? It is a primary belief that Baptism grants forgiveness of sins. Good grief, how deep is the darkness?! It is commonly said in Orthodoxy that the sacrament of Repentance (i.e. Private Confession) exists for those sins committed after Baptism.

Next comes Chrismation. Lutherans don't believe in this sacrament. The author correctly identifies this as one's personal Pentecost (reception of the Holy Spirit).

Next is the Lord's Supper. The author wrongly asserts that Christ's Body and Blood are offered to God as a sacrifice. Patriarch Jeremias II clarified this issue with the Lutherans writing to him in the 16th century. The bread and wine are offered as a sacrifice to God. God accepts them and changes them into the Body and Blood of Christ. Because this is the Body and Blood of Christ, viz. the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ offered on the Christ but now made present on the altar, the priest prays for the entire Church. The priest, though, is carrying out Christ's own office in the Church. The offerer is Christ, as is the offering, as is the priestly ministry at work in the congregation. Christ is all in all.

He lumps in the other sacraments together. He mentions the mystery (i.e. sacrament) of Repentance. I don't know how the author thought the Orthodox don't believe in the forgiveness of sins through Baptism, because here he indicates this sacrament is sometimes called a second Baptism, because through it one receives the forgiveness of sins. There are grave consistency problems in this book. Otherwise he gives short satisfactory descriptions of the sacraments of ordination, marriage, and anointing the sick.


I must disagree when the author says "learning" plays a minor role on page 101. It's just that in the author's WELS situation learning is aimed at the head, while in Orthodoxy learning is aimed at the body, mind, and heart. Orthodoxy is a full experience of the fullness of Jesus Christ.

I must strongly disagree with the author when he says on page 101 that there is a difference between how laypeople are divinized from how monks are divinized. He incorrectly states that monks rely on practices of prayer, meditation, silence, etc., while the laity go to church and receiving the Lord's Supper. The Church's Liturgy is the bedrock for ALL Orthodox Christians. And all Orthodox Christians take what goes on in the Liturgy with them in their hearts and live from it at home (or in their cells if monastics). The author is misunderstanding monasticism a great deal.

The author says that the iconostasis symbolizes the division of heaven and earth, and that the entrance and return of the Eucharist symbolizes how Christ unites heaven and earth. While I don't doubt someone somewhere made this illustration, this is not the purpose of the iconostasis. The purpose is to demonstrate the unity, not division, of heaven and earth in Christ's Church. The icons depict those who in heaven who are also currently with us, because heaven and earth unite in the Church, especially in the Liturgy (as the author noted, to my applause).


The author covers this briefly, and to satisfaction.


Here the author picks at the idea held by some that understanding what is said in the Liturgy is not such a big deal. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, this one is rather arbitrary to me.

Next up will be Chapter 7: Orthodox Sources of Truth (it seems the author is working backwards in covering what the Orthodox Church teaches).

Monday, March 5, 2012

Response to "A Lutheran Looks at ... Eastern Orthodoxy" -- part 2

This second part of my review of "A Lutheran Looks at ... Eastern Orthodoxy" will focus exclusively on Chapter 5, which is the first chapter in Part Two: Teachings.

As with previous chapters the author opens up with his visit to an actual Orthodox parish. This time he visits an Antiochian Orthodox parish. There should not be too much to say about his visits, since these are personal reflections on personal experiences. However the author makes a terrible mistake in his account this time. On page 62 the author mistakes the antidoron with the Body of Christ. He writes:
Congregations members received the wine from a spoon a spoon from the priest, and as they were leaving, they took a piece of bread from a tray held by one of the deacons. Two people offered me a piece of the bread. I thought it was odd that they would have a notice in their bulletin saying that the Lord's Supper was only for people who shared their faith, but yet casually offer a visitor some of the Communion bread.
In previous chapters the author correctly identified the antidoron (the blessed bread used by Orthodox to cleanse the particles of Christ's Body and Blood from their mouth, which is also offered to non-Orthodox visitors as a sign of friendship because they cannot receive the Eucharist). Here, though, he tells the reader that it is the "Communion bread." I think this is a sad editorial mistake. I find it hard to believe that the author can identify the antidoron in his previous visits to Orthodox churches but somehow fail to make that determination here. Perhaps this was the first congregation he had been to (not in the sequence of the chapters, but in the sequence of his research) that offered him the antidoron, and his reflection in the book is what he thought at the time (though no indication is given that here; he only indicates the Antiochians are receiving the Body of Christ from a basket and offering it to non-Orthodox, which is untrue). This is pretty shoddy; this casts a shadow of doubt over the author's credibility.

This Book is Propaganda

In the previous four chapters I noted that the author does not restrict himself to presenting data about Orthodoxy, but mixes in his own opinions with the data. That trend is magnified 100 fold in this chapter. The presentation of the data on Orthodoxy in this chapter is constantly prefaced with extreme judgments against it, so before the reader encounters new information he or she is already told that it is bad, unacceptable, against the Gospel, etc. The belief is constantly driven home that the "true" Gospel of St. Paul fell away right after the Apostles' deaths, and that the early Church formulated its beliefs on un-Scriptural grounds to the point that I began to wonder if the WELS is some sort of cult (or is this just the author). So again, this is not entirely a scholarly book but a personal reflection on the part of the author. The author's opinions are so extreme that this chapter is as much propaganda as it is a presentation on what Orthodox Christians believe.

Summary Evaluation

The author was able to identify data relevant to the topic of Theosis, but in his persistent attempts to convey to the reader that each point was wrong he managed to fall short of presenting the data in context. He focused in right away on the idea of union with God and man's transformation into God's likeness, but he failed to grasp the place of the cross and resurrection in this scheme. In fact he has outright denied that the cross, resurrection, and forgiveness of sins has any meaningful place in Theosis. He also fails to connect God's creation of man to Theosis, which is absolutely critical. Therefore he has utterly failed to represent Orthodoxy's belief about Theosis. He has only presented the data in a fragmented mixture of WELS propaganda.

I will give him credit, though, for identifying key theological ideas such as Theosis/divinization, the exchange formula (God became man so that man might become god), essence vs. energies, and experiencing God in the Church vs. only knowing information about God. However it seems that the things he describes he doesn't understand, but rather has only found the data in various books. Let the reader beware.

It's useful to point out that whenever the author notes the Orthodox belief that our salvation lies in becoming god, the author capitalizes "God." I am used to the word "god" not being capitalized when applied to the deification of men and women in the Church, as a way of showing the difference between the only true God and the creatures who live and grow in communion with Him and through Him.

What Theosis Really Is

The author mixes in so much of his own propaganda that it becomes hard to get an accurate picture of what the Orthodox Church means by Theosis. Really this term is not entirely necessary when we talk about salvation, but it has been useful in the past. Theosis is a simple way to refer to the destiny of mankind. This destiny finds its source in God's creation in Genesis, and it finds its culmination in Jesus Christ. Objectively speaking, God created man in His own image and likeness. God placed man in Eden with the provision that he not eat from one tree, even though that tree was deemed good with the rest of creation. The consensus of early Christian interpretation is that mankind started out new and was meant to mature. Through the intervention of the Serpent man abused his freedom to take what God had not given him, did himself mortal harm in the process, and fell under dominion of the devil, death, and sin.

Christ recapitulates Adam. He enters creation, takes on man's nature without sin and our existence under fallen conditions. He became as we are. He succeeds where Adam failed. In Him we find the fullness of what a human being is supposed to be. His is righteous and without blame. But He is also God, the One Who Is, the One who is Life and Light. He bore our sins in His own flesh on the cross (1Pt 2:24), trampled down death and its power, and in this way disarmed the devil and freed us from his tyranny (compare the Devil to Pharaoh in Exodus here). Death took a Man and was confronted with God. Christ is risen from the dead unto Life, and establishes the reign of Life, righteousness, and peace in the universe. He is our Passover, that is, He is the One who goes before us to bring the entire universe and each of us from death to Life, from sin to righteousness, from slavery to freedom.

The power of Theosis lies in this Passover being applied to each person. This Passover is all about our transformation from a lost and exiled sinner, from a person who takes pleasure in sin, who is dominated by the Enemy to a person who is healed in his or her soul and from there becomes free, becomes a child of God, becomes a co-heir with Christ, a person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, a person who is energized with the working of God Himself in his or her soul, body, and life. Theosis is entirely about passing over from death to life, from sin to righteousness, from the likeness of demons to the likeness of Christ.

In this context we can better understand the importance of communion with Christ. A person's own salvation depends on unity with Christ. Christ united Himself with our nature in order to heal it and free it and propel it forward in the destiny God designed for it. God poured Himself into our nature. Christ saves a person by sharing His healed, deified human nature with that person - think of it like a transfusion but better. This is a communion with the whole Christ - human and divine. Our human nature is healed through communion - that means a change is effected in us, not in God. Our human nature passes over in Christ - a change in us, not in God. We become acceptable to God literally in Christ - a change in us, not in God. We partake of Christ's resurrection through this communion, which transforms us according to the pattern of Christ Himself who is seated in glory and will return on the Last Day. For the believer united to Christ all things are yours, for all things are fulfilled in Christ.

The sacraments are all about this union. Faith is all about this union. Good works are all about this union. Through faith in Christ we have a union with Him that makes Christ both present in each Christian and makes Christ the effective power behind all good that a Christian does. What the author calls "keeping the law" in Orthodoxy takes on the character of performing a sacramental rite, except it is not a rite but it is feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, abiding with sick and needy, putting to death the uncleanness that comes from our hearts, etc. And the result of these sacramental acts is similar to those things we normally call sacraments: God works His power to heal from sins, to build up in love, and to further transform the doer and the recipient into the likeness of the God who is Love.

Theosis describes man's destiny to pass over from death to life in Christ. Life is characterized by growth, and Life in Christ is characterized by the nature of the Kingdom that will be revealed when He comes again in glory, but which is here and now revealed in the Church and in each faithful Christian. There is no Theosis without the cross and resurrection, because this defines the Christian's entire existence.

In terms of the word "salvation" we would say the following: in Christ I have been saved, I am now saved, and I hope to be saved. I have been saved because Christ died on the cross and rose again for me. I am now saved because now I believe in Christ and am in communion with Him. I hope to be saved in that He will come again on the Last Day, where some will be surprised to find they are rejected from the Kingdom (Christ will say "I never knew you."). That is a Day of judgment according to our works. We might say that our faith will be established or proven vain in that day by our works.

The Good and the Bad

Since there is so much propaganda involved in this chapter, it seemed best to make a running list of what seemed good and what seemed otherwise.

  • Page 67 - Correct: the author says Theosis lies at the heart of almost everything an Orthodox Christian does. We could go a bit further than that and say that Theosis lies at the heart of everything an Orthodox Christian believes about salvation, too.
  • Page 69 - Correct: the author says that no Orthodox Christian believes he will actually be God in the fullest sense.
  • Page 69 - Incorrect: the author simply says there is no description of clear boundaries as to what a human cannot cross in Theosis. The boundary is God's nature, which is unapproachable to created beings. No human being can come anywhere near turning into God Himself or into a God equal to the only true God. This is actually what the Serpent tempted Eve with in the Garden, in a sense: that she and Adam could become God on their own in their natures.

    On this page the author mentions a second point, namely that the Orthodox hold to a distinction between God's essence (nature) and energies (God's activity outside Himself). Our transformation more and more into the *likeness* of the infinite God occurs on the spectrum of God's activity in us (His energies), and in this respect there is no limit to our growth, because the limit depends on God Himself, and God has established no limits nor is Himself limited. Thus it is better for the author to say there is no further limit than God's nature, which itself is not a limit like a barrier but a limit of category. God enables me to become like what He is, without becoming what He is. Divinity is never mine outright but mine by way of gift and participation in the Grace of the only true God.
  • Pages 69-70 - The conclusion is correct that God makes us divine, but he fails to mention that this is in a relative sense. Man does not become divine in his nature, but only by way of participation through what we call communion and faith. Man always remains man, but through communion with God attains to participation in divinity.
  • Page 71 - He accurately outlines the connection between the Incarnation of Christ and Theosis.
  • Page 72 - He is correct in saying that Theosis determines our whole understanding of salvation and the conduct which flows from it.
  • Page 72 - Incorrect: the author assumes Theosis is hard to relate to the laity. He has already established that the term is not itself used all that much, and that it is more an idea at work behind everything going on in Orthodox Christianity. One only has to examine the sermons of St. John Chrysostom to see how Theosis relates to the laity.
  • Page 72 - Incorrect: the author assumes that the focus shifted from Christ's death and forgiveness to keeping "the law" and on external phenomena that "would display the divine nature within a person."
  • Page 74 - Incorrect: the author says monasticism (monks, monasteries, etc) is a picture of what all Christians will in enjoy in heaven. This is a gross mischaracterization! Monasticism is comparable to the grave, not heaven. The entire purpose of monasticism is to die to the flesh, the world, and the devil in a focused and determined manner. The monk leaves the world behind as one who had died to it, and he or she spends life in prayer for the world and struggle against his or her own sins. The author is overly focusing on those particular instances where some monks have either experienced spiritual phenomena or been given the spiritual gifts of miracles or prophecy. This is not the norm, though, and is by God's choice and gift. It is not the purpose of monasticism.
  • Page 78 - Incorrect: the author says Orthodox theologians are not schooled to present their material logically. Aside from being mean and ill-informed, he is giving the reader the impression that logic is incongruous with experience and illumination. In Orthodoxy we believe God has revealed Himself in the person of His Son, and that each Christian is called to both believe in Christ and enter into a relationship with Him based on faith. As Christ Himself says to the disciples, "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. Orthodoxy has many logical presentations of the Christian Faith. But Orthodoxy also believes that definition is given only where necessity drives it, and that definition should define boundaries. It is not possible to exhaust the mysteries of the Kingdom. Really the author dislikes the Orthodox belief that one can know God and live in a direct relationship with Him in His Church, a relationship based on Scriptural teaching, sacramental illumination, and personal activity along the lines of what Christ has said in John 15. Unlike the WELS the Orthodox Church has never had to derive Christianity anew from source material (the Scriptures), but has received the Faith from Christ in the Holy Spirit from the beginning (as the history section of the book indicated) and continually lived in it to the present day.
  • Page 78 - Correct: the author points out that Theosis is for all Christians.
  • Page 78 - Correct: the author says the Church is the way to achieve Theosis. I would add that the Church is Christ's institution of the reality of His Kingdom. The very reality that is established by Christ's sacrifice for sin and victory over death, that is the source of the Apostles' preaching and miracle working and evangelizing, has continued down through history to this very day. This is the Orthodox Church. In the Church each person can achieve Theosis, that is, each person dies to this world and rises new in his or her soul in Christ, and through the Grace of God (the energies of God; the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit) grows more and more into the image and likeness of God that man was meant for from Creation. In the Church the power of Christ's death and resurrection is imparted through the Sacraments to the believer, and their effect transforms the participant who lives out their faith in love as Christ's friends.
  • Page 78 - Incorrect: the impression is given that the Church is the way of Theosis for those who are not monks. The Church is the way of Theosis for all, monks and non-monks alike.
  • Page 79 - The author quotes Kharlamov saying, "Kharlamov says that deification 'is really a cluster of related concepts present in Christian theology from the beginning.'" This quote is important and should be stressed. The author has not adequately portrayed this reality in his presentation of Orthodox Theosis.
  • Page 81 - He correctly says that all (read: most) Western Christian denominations are asking the same question: "What must sinners do to satisfy a holy God and bridge the gulf that sin has caused?" He correctly identifies that Orthodox Christians are asking a different question. He oversimplifies the Orthodox question as "What must a person do to achieve union with God?" The question may better be posed as "How does God restore our union with Him that was lost?" The emphasis is on what was lost being found, and on God being the one to reconcile us to Him, not us trying to calm down God toward us.
  • Page 82 - Incorrect: The East is not bothered that the West wants to know how to be saved (so do we in the East), but that the West is fixiated on a God that must be appeased, rather than that God wants to change and transform us for our salvation. The West, especially the WELS and other traditional Lutherans, believes that God's heart must be changed toward sinners for us to be allowed into God's good graces. The Orthodox believe that God's heart toward sinners does not need to be changed, but WE need to be changed. The Lutherans believe the cross is about changing God's heart; the Orthodox believe the cross is about changing us (hence the need for the Sacraments). The problem is bigger than we are, so God provides all that is necessary for our salvation (our change and transformation.
  • Page 84 - Incorrect: the author says guilt and punishment play negligible roles in Orthodoxy. I think the author is looking these emphases in sermons, when Orthodoxy saturates these issues in its prayers and hymnography and Liturgy. Guilt is often expressed in personal terms (viz. I am guilty), as is punishment (viz. I am deserving punishment on the Last Day), which then leads into the Orthodox Christian asking for mercy for Christ's sake. The sin, guilt, punishment, the cross, mercy, resurrection, and the working of God are applied in personal ways instead of general terms (God will punish, God finds us all guilty, God has mercy on us all, etc.) The author is, according to his own expectations, looking for these things in the sermon, when they are instead put into the ear and mouth of the Orthodox believer everywhere else. In Orthodoxy the emphasis is on the individual appropriating these themes to him- or herself through faith's activity in prayer (personal and corporate).
  • Page 84 - Incorrect: the author says Orthodoxy does not give place to the human conscience regarding our sin and God's judgment. Any Orthodox person would be stunned to hear such an accusation. Refer to the previous point for an answer to this ludicrous charge.