Join for our live streamed Sunday School (9:30am) and Worship Service (10:30am). You can view them HERE.

Handout #3: The Eastern Orthodox View of Salvation, Part 1

What's the Difference? The Eastern Orthodox View of Salvation, Part 1 9/21/14

1. Eastern Orthodoxy (EO)
a. Tensions arose very in the early church between the east and the west
b. Rome claimed supremacy and the east argued that all the branches of the church should be equal.
c. Eventually they were excluded from the RC because they refused to bow to Rome as having the power to speak infallibly for God.
d. Then, about 500 years later, there was the Protestant Reformation: when the reformers protested and got kicked out of the RC church, also for failing to accept Rome’s authority to speak infallibly for Christ.
2. Two peoples evolving separately
a. Because of these two very separate paths, and because they have generally flourished in different parts of the world, the EO church and the Protestant (Prot.) church are largely strangers to one another, especially in America.
b. If you divided a group of people and allowed them to evolve for 1000 years isolated from one another, they would no longer be able even to communicate. This is the kind of thing we find as we begin to converse with EO believers.
c. Also, both groups have been influenced by their very separate histories. The EO focuses on different things than we do because they are influenced by the heresies they fought in the early centuries of the church, whereas we are influenced by very different kinds of battles/struggles.
d. They emphasize some things a lot more than we do which we should probably emphasize more.
i. The elements they emphasize are actually elements which have begun to receive new attention and recognition in the last couple of generations of Reformed theology. And they’ve been thinking about these things for millennia.
3. Differences in lingo and in
a. EO lingo includes terms quite foreign to us: e.g. chrismation, deification, energies of God, recapitulation, theosis.
b. And they don’t use a lot of the lingo which is common to us: e.g. original sin, justification, sanctification, substitutionary atonement.
c. It’s as if Reformed Christians (Ref) and RC’s have different answers to the questions, but EO are answering different questions.
i. E.g. Ref and RC argue about the effect of Christ’s atonement. But the EO don’t talk much about the atonement. For them, the incarnation and resurrection are bigger events than the cross.
d. Sometimes conversation leads you to think that the two are much closer than you think, and then at other times we seem to be inhabiting separate universes.
e. Of course, our thinking is just as foreign to them as theirs is to us.
4. Difficulties
a. One of the things which makes all this hard is the question: Who speaks for EO or Prot.? The RC have an official record of their doctrines in the documents of the councils and pronouncements of the popes. But neither the EO nor Reformed have the same concrete official record. For instance, I was recently listening to a RC apologist who quoted the stated clerk of the PCUSA, saying that he was the highest-ranking officer in the presbyterian church. Well, this man obviously cannot speak for Reformed Christianity like the pope can speak for RC.
b. All three sound different depending on who you hear explaining it. It’s subject to different interpretations.
5. In the discussion what we want to insist on is grappling with the meaning of Bible passages.
a. Western thinking isn’t at all what we’re interested in pursuing. We want to be Bible Christians.
b. Don’t just tell us that our thinking is too western. Show us from the Bible.
c. If you want to convince us of something, prove it from the Bible. And then listen to our response and let’s start a dialogue.
d. And listen to what we believe and why we think it’s in the Bible, and try to prove to us that we’re wrong.
e. The first thing is to understand what each other believes and why. Then we can debate if we need to.
6. The EO view of salvation: we only have time for three brief points today. More details in part 2 on Oct.5.
a. Perhaps the first point is that they don’t talk much about salvation, not as western churches do.
i. EO: little talk about forgiveness, guilt, reconciliation, atonement, justification, at least compared to evangelical Christians.
ii. “In the history of Orthodox theology, on the other hand, it is startling to observe the near total absence of any mention of the idea of justification by faith.” (Daniel Clendenon, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, 123)
iii. The fact is that the silence on these matters is louder than the denials. In other words, we are more concerned with what is left out than with what is explicitly condemned.
b. You hear often by EO writers that the western churches are all focused on the legal, judicial aspects of the atonement, whereas they see salvation differently.
i. Orthodox theologians often dismiss the entire discussion of justification as a western debate, even though the NT is filled with it.
ii. When they do talk about the atonement, there is a lot of emphasis on the sacramental, sanctification, churchly and even cosmic aspects of Christ’s redemption.
iii. There is plenty of language in the NT which corresponds to the EO way of thinking about salvation. But there seems to be a systematic ignoring of the judicial language: the language of debt, substitution, satisfaction, payment, justification, forgiveness, and acquittal, even though Romans 1:18-8:32 and Galatians are full of it (and it is mentioned in many other places: e.g. Ps.32:1-2; Is.53:5-11; Acts 13:39).
iv. And so Reformed Christians often accuse EO of presenting part of the picture as if it was the whole.
c. There are at least three major areas of disagreement between EO and Ref. re: salvation. The EO deny three cornerstones of the Reformed and evangelical view of salvation:
i. Original sin (the concept that we all share in Adam’s guilt and inherit his sinfulness)
ii. Penal substitution (the concept that Christ was punished by God upon the cross in our place)
iii. The imputation of Christ’s righteousness (the concept that our salvation is based solely not on our righteousness but on “alien” righteousness, that is, righteousness from outside of ourselves, namely Christ’s righteousness counted for us)
iv. And let me add a fourth: unilateral regeneration or monergism (the concept that God acts alone in bringing the sinner to life since mankind has no ability to cooperate with God since he is dead in sin)