Monday, August 21, 2006

Graduate-Level Problems?

Yes, those of you who check timestamps, I'm home again, home again. Hope is better--thanks for the prayers--but we had another doc appt. and she's been cleared for daycare tomorrow. Meanwhile, I miss more school. Glory to God in all things, in spite of the inconvenience, I suppose.

My friend Alan referred me to this article, whose main premise (if you're adverse to reading the whole thing yourself) is that an ecclesiastically or organizationally unified Church such as Rome or the Orthodox is no better off re: doctrinal unity than a conglomeration of doctrinally divided institutionalized churches (i.e, the various Protestant confessions) because of internal conflicts and differences of opinion within the confession re: certain theological issues.

My thoughts (which can also be read under the article in the comments section if you want to click there) would be that the difference between the more ancient confessions and the more recent Protestant groups lies in Hebrews 6:1-2:
"Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment."
In our view, the conflicts that Protestant groups have with each other stem from those things we would define as "elementary principles"--the nature of faith and works, the nature of baptism, the nature of the laying on of hands, of the end times, as the passage indicates--while those that the Catholics and the Orthodox have each within their respective communions are much more recent. Having settled these elementary principles through Holy Tradition, we now struggle within our respective families to ascertain what the proper way to engage today's culture is...in our case as the Orthodox, which calendar do we use? How do we receive converts in THIS day and age, since many of the converts are coming from backgrounds the authors of Scripture and the later fathers never DREAMED of? We Orthodox all absolutely agree on what the nature of baptism is--it is the moment of regeneration from being buried in Christ and raised with Him and is available to all people--but the application of said sacrament under these unique circumstances eludes us; we are praying for a unified response to come, as we believe it (eventually) will.

So are we perfectly united in all respects today? No, and in that fact--that we are not in total unity of belief--we have something in common with the Protestants. Yet I would rather have merely the problems of today and know that the problems of the apostolic age are settled, so we don't have to go back and re-search the Scriptures in every generation to see if we've got something as basic as baptism right.

Similar symptoms; two different diseases.

16 comments:

FreeCyprus said...

I noticed something...

There are people who post on my site coming from Muslim, Jewish and other Christian sites...but no one from an Orthodox site...

Haris said...

I think that's why Orthodox Christianity is the best kept secret. And we're to blame.

Rhology said...

You might be interested in checking this article. It's relevant to what you commented on here.
Of course, any response you make is just icing on the cake; I just wanted to alert you to it.
www.centuri0n.blogspot.com , entry on 8.25.2006 entitled "Unity"
I'm lame and don't know how to link to it. Sorry.

FreeCyprus said...

Rhology, thanks for the link and it's an interesting article...but I don't think it really answers my question about why I don't see many Orthodox Christians posting on non-Orthodox sites....

David Bryan said...

FreeCyprus,

Actually, Rhology was commenting on what I wrote, not your comment.

As to your comment, I think a lot of folks who put up Orthodox blogs are themselves quite convinced of the truth of Orthodoxy--consequently, non-Orthodox theological blogs are usually of lesser interest to us.

As to your site and others like it, which seem more oriented towards politics and world events, most Orthodox bloggers that I know of tend to be more apolitical than other groups. Perhaps my experience is too limited, but that could be a reason for the absence on your blog of Orthodox voices.

I do, however, appreciate all the effort you've obviously put into your blog.

FreeCyprus said...

hi David, thanks for the reply

I guess what I was getting at wasn't really about being 'interested' in posting on non-Orthodox or even non-Christian blogs...I think you and others SHOULD post, whether the interest is there or not. Even if one person clicks on your name and checks out your Orthodox blog, well that's good news in my book.

I think that's the agenda of many non-Christians who post on my site and other blogs where they clearly don't agree with, nor or interested in, the comments posted...

Just food for thought...

Bryan Pitts said...

Bryan, I totally agree. People are people and will always find something to argue about. Human nature has been renewed and redeemed by the birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, yet until the end of the age, our perfection has not been completed. Thus, we still do some of those things that imperfect people do, like argue over anything and everything. People like to argue. We do not agree. That is how it is. I think it is much better to argue about pews, organs, calendars, and who should be subject to which bishop instead of arguing about baptism, the Eucharist, and whether or not the miracles and resurrection actually happened. We argue about these little things because for the Church, the big things are quite simply not open for debate. We spent nearly 1,000 years trying to hammer those issues out, and now that we have figured out what we believe on those topics, there is really no room for continued discussion.

Rhology said...

Bryan P, just a quick argument. ;-)

"Human nature has been renewed and redeemed by the birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ..."

Do you think human nature as such has been redeemed? Is it not those who have faith in Jesus Christ who are redeemed, the others being lost and unredeemed?

--ALAN

Bryan Pitts said...

Alan,

The Orthodox faith does believe that human nature has been renewed and redeemed and such through the Incarnation and, in particular, the death and resurrection of Christ. While we do believe that the Incarnation has cosmic effects on the whole world in ways that we do not entirely understand - how could such a monumental event as God becoming human fail to have a profound effect on the entire creation? - it is up to each of us individually to appropriate that renewal and redemption for ourselves through faith in Christ and the reception of the sacraments, especially baptism and the Eucharist.

At the same time, since we do believe that the effects of the Incarnation spill over to all people, indeed, to all creation, it is certainly not outside the realm of possibility that God may choose to redeem everyone and everything, or nearly everyone and everything. Several Orthodox saints have speculated about this, and while we admit that it is a very attractive idea, the Church maintains that such speculation is just that, and we are careful to keep that in mind.

David Bryan, please comment if my understanding of what the Church believes on this topic is different from yours. You are the resident Orthodox guru.

David Bryan said...

Woah...guru, huh? Well, thanks for the cumplido, compa'...

You expressed that brilliantly. Just to finish what you began to say, since it is up to each of us individually to appropriate that renewal and redemption for ourselves, and even though apokatastasis (universal reconciliation) is a very attractive idea, the Church also has stated that, for some, that choice to appropriate said salvation is one that they will never make, not even given "endless eternities" (even though time is moot when discussing the eternal).

We should show our (in some cases, futile) resistence to this by praying...we know not whether our prayers will be answered in the affirmative (much like those for people still in this life), but we are not commanded to make our prayers be answered with a 'yes'...we're just commanded to make intercessions for all men (both those in this life and those departed from it) as a connection of love for them and for our God who judges righteously, for we don't know who will accept Him or reject Him, when (if ever) that is going to happen, or even if our perception of who has accepted or rejected Him is accurate.

God knows. We pray that all men (most of all, that we ourselves) will see Him as He is and shall be like Him. All of this is a response to the grace of God and one that we are responsible for, yet in which we can glory not a whit.

Rhology said...

Young Master Pitts,

Pleasure to interact witchoo again.

--The Orthodox faith does believe that human nature has been renewed and redeemed and such through the Incarnation and, in particular, the death and resurrection of Christ.
>>Such is not biblical teaching, though. The *possibility* of individuals to be redeemed and justified exists b/c of Christ's atoning death and resurrection. The human nature of all those *within the Body of Christ, the Church* is redeemed and renewed, absolutely. 2 Cor 5:17 and all that. Yet there is no cure w/o a disease, no? The disease is the dead man of sin, described in Eph. 1-2 and dozens of other places as a man who cares nothing for the things of God. Take, also, Romans 8:6-8 -

"6For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God."

--how could such a monumental event as God becoming human fail to have a profound effect on the entire creation?
>>It did! It is so monumental that it saves those who fall on Christ's mercy and it increases the judgment on those who reject Christ "b/c their deeds are evil" (John 3).
Yet how is it that there is still this gross and drastic disjunction between the mind set on the Spirit and the mind set on the flesh, even after the Incarnation? B/c Christ didn't will His own Incarnation to have such a universal effect *this time around*. He's waiting for later.

--it is certainly not outside the realm of possibility that God may choose to redeem everyone and everything, or nearly everyone and everything.
>>Yes, it is absolutely outside the realm of possibility.

Matthew 7:13-14 - 13"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it."

Any system of belief that leads to universalism or close-to-universalism stands condemned by Jesus' words.

--the Church maintains that such speculation is just that, and we are careful to keep that in mind.
>>Good idea, that. Don't you think a better idea would be to reject such speculation, though, rather than keeping it around to flirt w/?

Young Master Reader David:
--we're just commanded to make intercessions for all men (both those in this life and those departed from it)
>>OK, I'll resist the temptation... ;-)

As always, I welcome more interaction.

True Peace,
ALAN

David Bryan said...

A short comment on this discussion: I think perhaps you two are talking past each other.

What is redemption?

For the Orthodox, it is a way out of the reality of death and corruption, the possibility of uniting to and being infused with the divine light of God, in spite of our fallenness. All will rise, so all have, in this sense, been redeemed. The difference is that we must work out our salvation, both individually in in the communal life of the Church, so that we can enjoy this redemption.

For the Evangelicals, it is a payment made to the Father by the Son on behalf of a sinful humanity. This merits of this payment are available to all, but actual redemption--iow, the placing of Christ's merits on our "account" and thus being declared righteous instead of damned by the Father--is only made when we individually repent and ask Christ to make it so.

Redemption means different things to us; we would do well to see each others' comments through these respective definitions.

That is, assuming I have them right to begin with. ;-)

Rhology said...

--All will rise, so all have, in this sense, been redeemed.
>>Yes, we definitely do have different definitions of "redemption," friend. Doesn't it typically come packaged w/ a, for lack of a better word, positive connotation? Being "redeemed" in the sense of being reunited w/ one's physical body after spending some time in torment in Hades' flames, only to be judged and cast into the lake of fire, doesn't sound like "redemption" to me. Certainly not in the sense that those who trust Christ are redeemed.
OTOH, as for what you said before that, I certainly agree as far as *believers* go, but that's not what I thought you and Master Pitts are arguing.

As for your outline of the Ev doctrine of redemption, you were right as far as you went, but don't forget that the Ev doctrine of salvation includes justification (which is as far as you went), sanctification, AND glorification. I'm redeemed but not fully redeemed at this point. I'm saved but not fully saved. A good way to think of it is this:
Justification - I *have been* rescued from the Penalty of sin.
Sanctification - I *am being* rescued from the Power of sin.
Glorification - I *will be* rescued from the Presence of sin.

See, even comes packaged w/ a cute little Evangelical alliteration! Gotta love it, man.

But you were right when you said that this redemption is appropriated only by individual repentance and faith. You may react against the word "individual," but what are we left w/ if a person refuses to accept Jesus? All the hanging-out at the church and taking of sacraments in the world won't get you anywhere, not even in the EO view, I would think, right?
For these reasons, I cock my head to one side and think, "Come on! That is so off!" when you start talking about universal or almost-universal redemption. If you mean "redemption" in the sense that you just described it, it would have to be everyone and not almost-universal redemption, wouldn't it? And if you mean it in the sense that I do and have just outlined, it won't be even close to universal, given the "narrow vs broad path" psg I cited from Christ.

ALAN

David Bryan said...

Alan said:

"A good way to think of it is this:
Justification - I *have been* rescued from the Penalty of sin.
Sanctification - I *am being* rescued from the Power of sin.
Glorification - I *will be* rescued from the Presence of sin."

You have a view of salvation that is much more thorough than many Evangelicals out there. On some points, it actually matches up with the three ideas of Orthodoxy that are used to answer the question, "Are you saved?"

Nevertheless, God's still in the details; I think our differences lie in the fact that Evangelicals (for the most part) feel as though they can at least "rest easy" from the "Lake of Fire Penalty" of sin, whereas Orthodox believe that this is not outside the realm of possibility, even for those who are the most fervent believers at this current moment of their lives. One never knows who'll turn their back on Christ who seems to be going strong now.

I know most Evangelicals would say, "If such a person were to turn their back on God, they were never saved from the penalty of sin in the first place." Perhaps, but this distinction between those saved from the penalty and those not seems to be merely theoretical: no one can truly know with 100% certainty if they are or are not saved from the penalty of sin at this very moment, because they cannot say for sure that they will never become disillusioned with and leave the faith later on. Therefore I would say that the constant need to "make ones calling and election sure" that Evangelicals refer to often is really just the realization within those communities of the constant need for God's continual blessing in salvation, which must needs be inextricably bound to the second process of sanctification. Hence the Orthodox pray, "Lord, have mercy" all the time, for we don't presume to declare as "done" what can only truly be known in the mind of God.

"You may react against the word 'individual,' but what are we left w/ if a person refuses to accept Jesus?"

Nah; no problem with individuality. But when the communal aspect is ignored, we get antsy...we as individuals are meant to respond in community, but it is those responses within the community as individuals that will determine our relationship with God. Without the communal aspect, we as individuals cannot respond as we need to.

"All the hanging-out at the church and taking of sacraments in the world won't get you anywhere, not even in the EO view, I would think, right?"

Absolutely correct. They'll actually damn you if you approach them without individual faith and trust in Him (and a life that reflects it...again, those two are inseparable, as you'd agree, I'm sure).

"For these reasons, I cock my head to one side and think, "Come on! That is so off!" when you start talking about universal or almost-universal redemption."

Well, think of it this way: the wages of sin is death. Death is conquered objectively by the death of Christ. So the fact that all will rise from the dead and come into the presence of God means all have been saved from the eternal separation of soul and body that the last enemy (Death) would inflict on us. But we also see the tormenting fire of Hell as the same Consuming Fire that is the presence of our God. So the metaphors (ioo) of being "cast" into the "lake of fire" are actually ultimately seen as descriptions of the presence of God that all will experience. Whether its torment or rapture is another thing...

"And if you mean it in the sense that I do and have just outlined, it won't be even close to universal, given the 'narrow vs broad path' psg I cited from Christ."

Well, I'm no universalist, seeing as how I follow the declarations of the Church regarding Holy Scripture's testimony, not the least of which passages is the one you quoted. We should remember, though, that not only is the destiny of the few who will inherit life not known for sure to anyone, but that there are those who think they're going to inherit life who will actually hear, "Depart from me, ye cursed..." (and yes, I know the "depart" could be used to question the "all will spend eternity in the presence of God" idea...again, eschatological description, not necessarily woodenly literal...)

Rhology said...

--You have a view of salvation that is much more thorough than many Evangelicals out there.
>>Thank you. It's b/c I actually listen to people a little more substantive than TBN and "God just loves EVERYone!!!!" sermons.

--"Are you saved?"
>>Yes, that question has been corrupted. The proper biblical understanding of salvation as a whole is the 3 elements I mentioned.
But when people ask you that, a better (though no less colloquial) substitute is much more called-for: "Are you born again?"
Curious, too - you believe, as I understand it, that you could possibly be born again and un-born again and re-born again and un-born again, etc, for dozens of times during your life. How would you answer the "Are you born again?" question?

--Evangelicals (for the most part) feel as though they can at least "rest easy"
>>Maybe they feel that way, but they have no biblical call to do so.

--Perhaps, but this distinction between those saved from the penalty and those not seems to be merely theoretical: no one can truly know with 100% certainty if they are or are not saved from the penalty of sin
>>Point taken, yet it is fair to point out that Ev doctrine is the only system to hold all the biblical elements in balance: the fear of falling away, the knowledge of the importance of continuing in sanctification, the realisation (and gratitude) for the fact that we HAVE BEEN justified *in the past* and now have peace w/ God rather than being His enemies (Rom. 5:1). EO thought is missing that last, essential, part.

--we don't presume to declare as "done" what can only truly be known in the mind of God.
>>Another diff between us is that we recognise that an objective action has taken place in heaven (and in my spirit and mind as well); I have been declared righteous b/c of the alien righteousness w/ which I am now clothed, and I have been transformed and baptised w/ the Holy Spirit. This element being missing from your system, I have honest pity for all who hold to that system.

--Without the communal aspect, we as individuals cannot respond as we need to.
>>Agreed, and this is an idea all too often missing from modern Ev thought.

--the wages of sin is death. Death is conquered objectively by the death of Christ.
>>Well, yes, but only for the elect - the non-elect go to "the second death" (Rev 20:14). Death is thrown in the lake of fire w/ the unbelieving resurrected humans.
And BTW, I was wondering how the following biblical psgs fit in w/ the EO idea of the unrighteous dead also being w/ God for eternity, only hating it, rather than being separated from God eternally in Hell:

Rev 20:14-15 - 14Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
**Will Death and Hades also be in the presence of God forever, just like the unrighteous dead?

Matt 7:23 - 23Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'
Matt 25:41 - 41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
**I don't get how "eschatological description" makes any diff in the situation. The unrighteous dead will go away from Jesus. Will the devil and his angels (and Death and Hades as well) be present eternally w/ God?

2 Thess 1:9 - 9These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power 10when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed--for our testimony to you was believed.
**Paul plainly tells us that the unrighteous dead will be even "away from the *presence* of the Lord."

Thanks for your reflections!

Peace,
ALAN

David Bryan said...

"How would you answer the "Are you born again?" question?"

I was born of water and the Spirit at baptism and sealed with the Holy Spirit at chrismation. That act cannot be repeated, but it can be made of no effect.

"yet it is fair to point out that Ev doctrine is the only system to hold all the biblical elements in balance: the fear of falling away..."

What of those who are "once saved, always saved" and have no such fear? The "Perseverance of the Believer" would seem to go against any possibility of falling away, and a great many Evangelicals ascribe to that...

"the realisation (and gratitude) for the fact that we HAVE BEEN justified *in the past* and now have peace w/ God rather than being His enemies (Rom. 5:1). EO thought is missing that last, essential, part."

Not at all. Christ has made peace for all humanity through His Incarnation, His broken Body, His spilled Blood, and His Resurrection. We are called to have faith in Him and be justified, but as you said, we can fall away. The gratitude is there for His great mercy, but its tempered with the realism that we could turn away. I would say Evangelicals, as much as they’d like to think they can rejoice in a “have been justified in the past” kind of salvation, still don’t know what to do with a salvation that can be forfeited through disobedience.

"I have been declared righteous b/c of the alien righteousness w/ which I am now clothed, and I have been transformed and baptised w/ the Holy Spirit."

You don't know whether or not your faith will endure, though, so you don't really know, according to your system, whether all that has happened.

“This element being missing from your system, I have honest pity for all who hold to that system.”

We, again, would say that, since this declaration and clothing is in no way able to be discerned in individual believers, said “element” is of little to no use.

“--the wages of sin is death. Death is conquered objectively by the death of Christ.
>>Well, yes, but only for the elect”

No: One died for all, and therefore all died, and though not all shall live, all will rise and all will stand to be judged by the Father (2 Cor. 5:10,14-15), and will be put under the authority of the Father, including the Son (1 Cor. 15:28).

Regarding the verses about hell: we would say that Christ used imagery to convey ideas. We should be wary of taking things too far. For example, the psalmist makes it clear that even if one makes his bed in Sheol (which is not hell, but you get me), God’s presence is there. Is there any way that God can truly say, “Depart from me”? If God were to send someone to a place where He is not present, would not that place cease to exist, being separated from the Source and Ground of all being?

A last note, though, about 2 Thess 1:9: The phrase “the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” is actually phrased in the Greek as “the penalty of eternal destruction, from the presence of the Lord. The preposition απο indicates a procession from, not a distance from. That’s an inaccurate English translation.