Friday, September 28, 2007

How big is your tent?

This has become a real buzz phrase and question lately. In the SBC people like Wade Burleson are calling for a larger tent within our Convention. There has been a great deal of hub-bub about them weird tongue talkers serving in the SBC as church planters…both home and foreign. Burleson serves as an IMB trustee and believes that under certain parameters Baptists who claim to have a super-natural private prayer language should be funded as foreign missionaries…so long as this “private” prayer language stays…well…private. It is no secret that other Southern Baptists such as Paige Patterson do not believe that tongue talking falls within our Baptist understanding of the gifts of the Spirit and those who believe they practice such a thing, private or not, should therefore not be funded as foreign missionaries. If you are keeping score: I agree with Burleson on that point and respectfully disagree with Dr. P. As long as the private prayer language stays private…then it doesn’t bother me one way or the other.

So in that context, “how big is your tent”, is a very narrow question about what a “Baptist” Christian is, does and tolerates. But men such as Dr. Patterson would never dare say one who believes they have a private prayer language is not a born again believer. He’d never suggest they were not saved…he’d simply assume they were saved…and part of the greater family of God…but not really a “Baptist” and should therefore not be funded by Baptists who entrust the CP dollars to SBC institutions and agencies to send out men and women who do represent our character and doctrine well. I’m sure a man like Dr. Patterson would break out that winsome smile of his, wish the tongue talker well…and suggest they find a denomination or agency that they better represent. The debate within the SBC about what a Baptist “is” and “is not” rages on…to my amusement and at times great frustration (when good men are denied funding over a lesser doctrinal issue.)

But that is not what I’m asking you. This is not about how big the Baptist tent should be. I’d like you to think about how big the tent of God is. Is everybody who is “into Jesus” or everybody who “just loves Jesus” in the tent? What about people not so into Jesus? What about people who do not love Jesus? What about people who do not love the Jesus of the Bible? What are the chances they get in the tent?

There has crept into our churches a false humility which is nothing more than subtle attack upon the trustworthiness of the Bible and an attack upon the Biblical doctrine of justification. “God is so much bigger than me…I can’s say for sure…I’ll just leave that to him…” this rhetoric sounds spiritual and humble. Another popular attack is “I’m not going to put God in a box…I’ll let him surprise me…”.

The first problem with this thinking is that it implies that God has not already made His judgment regarding the pagans AND that He has not shared this judgment with us. There is a great principle of Christian spirituality that I believe and teach…that is “where the Bible is silent, I should be silent…where the Bible speaks, I should speak.” Does God, in His Word, ever tell us the fate of the pagan?

"He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. Mark 16:16 niv"

"“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14 niv"

"“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” John 3:16-21 niv"

"He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10 niv"

…the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Revelation 21:8 niv

Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Revelation 21:27 niv

To say that I could go “on and on” is honestly, an understatement. I referenced passages from the New Testament on purpose…since in the New Testament the fullness of God is revealed…we therefore see the language used much more precise and specific…but these sentiments are surely confirmed in the Old Testament as well.

Now I ask you…in the face of these Scriptures…what would motivate a man to answer the question about the pagan’s destiny with an “I don’t know” response? What does this say about such a man? What does it say about his view of Scripture? What does it say about his understanding of the gospel? You see…under all the humble language lies an unsubmissive distrust of God’s Word, isn’t there? It is not as if we need to make a judgment as to “who is in” and “who is out”…God clearly has already done so…and has clearly defined it for us. If we say “I don’t know” are we not calling God a liar? Because we do know what He said…we just read several of His passages… was His Word confusing? Was He unclear? Do we not believe Him?

So the first and foremost reason why anyone would not or can not make a decisive statement regarding the destiny of pagans is due to a distrust of the Bible. This is why both Evangelical liberals AND Roman Catholics AND Eastern Orthodox folks ALL hesitate (at best) at declaring ALL pagans go to hell…all three groups have a real hard time taking the Bible at face value.

The second reason we’ll deal with next time…but I will give you a hint…all three of these groups I mention share it in common as well…

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

TOLERANCE is the word I think of when I read this.

Zac said...

I think I see in this some sort of reference to our dinner conversation at Bonnie's. I think there's a lot to respond to here, but let me perhaps just by way of our growing friendship, offer a little rhetorical advice: if the purpose of your writings is to win others over to the truth, it helps to not make categorically dismissive statements of various Christian groups. Maybe you're right, of course, that RCers and EOers and Liberals DON'T take the Bible at face value (I don't agree on at least one of those counts, of course), but nevertheless it is difficult to really win an argument you've rigged by calling into question the other side's sincerity.

I mean, I might go into the fact that the Orthodox have been reading, singing, preaching, interpreting and copying the Bible for 15 centuries before anyone ever heard of a Protestant... but this really does nothing except to dismiss the errors of Protestantism categorically without addressing their real merits.

That having been said, I'm wondering if you've looked at any of the books I've loaned you concerning the Orthodox understanding of Hades and Gehenna (which, btw, are treated differently in Orthodoxy because we take the Bible seriously ;^). You really should look at them-- we believe in "Hell" (a pagan word, btw) and we certainly believe that God's judgment will send people there, including me if I do not continue in repentance unto life.

I don't know what else to say without abandoning a sincere seeking out of the Truth with my words, and degenerating into simply wishing to win an argument or debating for the sake of debate, which Scripture clearly condemns. (2 Tim. 2:23, Titus 3:9)


IC XC NIKA,
zac

irreverend fox said...

anonymous,

COWARD is the word I think of when I read anonymous comments.

zac,

I can not win anybody to the truth...who am I?

I mention groups because I'm speaking of groups...not any one individuals sincerity. As we will see next time...I do not believe sincerity will the sole criteria by which one enters glory on judgment day.

For the record...I do not question your sincerity in the least...no one bit and I mean that from my heart Zac. I admire you and I mean it.

There is are reasons I have hesitated converting to Eastern Orthodoxy...and I'm expressing them here (as I have other non-Reformed groups). I do not believe the Eastern Orthodoxy takes the Bible at face value. So how shall I say that more politely? Or should I simply not hit that hard?

My desire is to honor God by proclaiming the truth...if anybody is won over is His business...not mine. Pulling punches helps no one and does not honor God. Zac, please…pull none with me and my theology. I promise to not take it personally.

As my hero Mark Driscoll says, "I love ya...that's why I yell at ya"

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. Proverbs 27:6 niv

Zac said...

Gary,

I certainly wasn't offended... I just interpreted the "face value" comment to be a little, eh, dismissive rather than substantive. So it wasn't that you were hitting "hard"... I just thought you could take a little better aim, but this might require a little more study than you have apparently done into what exactly the Orthodox believe about those Scriptures. I would be more than happy to assist you in that endeavor.

irreverend fox said...

hey zac!

"I certainly wasn't offended... I just interpreted the "face value" comment to be a little, eh, dismissive rather than substantive. So it wasn't that you were hitting "hard"..."

ok...shew! good...cause I wasn't trying to be hard or harsh. I hope that I can always maintain the benefit of the doubt…I hope you’ll always assume, even if I come off wrong, that “Gary didn’t mean to be personally offensive…he just comes off like a jerk at times…but he likes and loves me and is my friend”…and I’ll work on my tact (you should have known me 10 years ago!!! I’m serious! I read my old rants against Rome and want to laugh and cry at the same time!)

"I just thought you could take a little better aim,"

I'm sure you are right...it was made with a broad brush for sure

"but this might require a little more study than you have apparently done into what exactly the Orthodox believe about those Scriptures."

that is certainly the case...or my assessment is basically true. that also is on the table I guess.

"I would be more than happy to assist you in that endeavor."

I appreciate that so much about you! the last thing I want to do is misrepresent a person or group. there is no good accomplished in that...the only way to truly assess the truth claims of anybody or anyone is to first properly understand what they are saying and then (and not till then) make a judgment in fear of God.

zac,

please help me understand how my statement that Eastern Orthodoxy does not simply take the Scriptures at "face value". It is my understanding that Eastern Orthodoxy believes that they must first interpret the Scripture before it is of any use to the likes of us.

To me...that is not taking the Scriptures at "face value". Show me my inconsistency so I won't do it again...and so I can better appreciate your tradition and faith.

Tim said...

This sounds like the Joel Osteen syndrome. This kind of liberalism does NOTHING for the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is generally done to be "tolerant" and "inviting" so people will think Christianity a nice syrupy faith and come flocking into our churches and come to Christ. However, that's not what happens.

My favorite conservative political talk show host has two sayings that are sooooooo true.

1. Liberalism always generates the exact opposite of its stated intent.

2. Liberalism is the art of standing on your head and telling the world that its upside down.

Liberalism in the church has actually turned people off to Christianity and instead of drawing people heavenward, has resulted in people being condemned to hell because the Gospel is not clearly proclaimed. After all we wouldn't want to be judgmental now would we.

irreverend fox said...

tim,

"has resulted in people being condemned to hell because the Gospel is not clearly proclaimed."

wow. tim...that is a mouth full. I wish I disagreed...I wish I could write you off...but I can not.

Tony Myles said...

Great questions, Gary.

irreverend fox said...
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irreverend fox said...

thanks Tony!

but which questions are you referring to?

the ones related to the:
"How big is your tent?"

or the choices of:

"TBN's 2007 Best Dressed?"

lol

Tony Myles said...

All of them... there's never anything wrong with questions. Conclusions, though, are another thing.

irreverend fox said...

Tony,

sounds like your pretty set in your opinion there...

Tony Myles said...

What do you mean?

irreverend fox said...
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irreverend fox said...

I mean that "there's never anything wrong with questions. Conclusions, though, are another thing." is a real strong...um...conclusion to make.

Tony Myles said...

Do you disagree?

irreverend fox said...

no, I don't disagree...not completely (I’m not sure how far you’ll take your discomfort with conclusions…) BUT…I do think that appropriate conclusions are a beautiful thing…I’m personally seeking to come to more than I already have!

I just thought your conclusiveness regarding conclusions was kinda funny.

Tony Myles said...

Gotcha... and I didn't miss the irony either when I posted it. That's actually part of the point - we can ask questions about things that we don't have answers to as you did in this post... about why a person would claim things, for instance, about what we can and can't have certain knowledge of regarding God, salvation, etc.

The catch is when we make a conclusion in such situations... that needs to be questioned, too.

And when that "conclusion about conclusions" is question, we ironically propogate the cycle of inquiry instead of shut it down... which is awesome.

Which is why there is never anything wrong with questions.

Conclusions, though, are just that - a leap of faith in a direction that should always be reexamined, because often we may have filled in a blank for our own security when it might be healthier to live in theological tension.

On a purely secular level, I like the Johari Window in this instance:

"There are things about myself that I know and others don't"

and

"There are things about myself that I know and others do, too."

and

"There are things about myself that I don't know and others do."

and

"There are things about myself that I don't know and others don't know either."

We can live in frustration that there are things about ourselves we don't know, even so much so that we deny it's even possible. In this case, we live in denial of our blind spots.

Likewise, we can want to create such a systematic understanding of everything theological - salvation, God, and otherwise - that we overemphasize what we do know in order to deny/ignore/diminish what we don't.

People usually swing one of two ways on this, as it's very hard to hang out in the perfect middle.

In the case of why people say or think as they do, questioning the person or the "why" is totally cool in the right context, which as we know from the "love God/love others" piece of Scripture is loving and never attacking or belittling.

So back to your example in this post - what would motivate such a man to make appropriate space for God? Using that example, is it right to say? I mean, could we know with complete certainty even within our own congregations who is saved and who isn't? Could we make a list of who is in and out with the same accuracy as God, or might we be surprised one day that someone we thought was in was out, and someone we thought was out was in?

I know we've covered this topically, and I am not bringing it up as such but as affirmation of the questioning of your post. However, in this case you've made a conclusion about why kind of a man would ask those questions... and concluded it would be someone who doesn't trust the Bible.

Are you sure of that? A man who distrusts Scripture wouldn't teach from the Bible as a pastor. Nor would he impart it to his kids. Nor would he read it for personal edifcation. Nor would he orient his life around it as declarative truth and nourishing life. Nor would he consciously and unconsciously weigh all input and output through it as a lens.

Is this true of the man you suggest? Or might your conclusion be wrong?

So again - great questions, but be careful of the conclusion. Question it, because I have the sense (if you'll allow me to say so) that you like to sum people and things up rather quickly.

That is helpful in some situations... in others, it might create a mask you could put on people that prevents you from getting to know who they really are.

That would be sad.

Then again, I'm happy to question that conclusion, too. You could cite the ecumenical conversation happening here as proof that this isn't true of you all the time.

Maybe... maybe not.

Maybe today.. maybe not tomorrow.

I affirm the journey you're on, Gary. I won't be keeping up with your blog, though, so go ahead and email or call me if you want to talk more about this.

Anonymous said...

I do not consider myself to be a protestant by definition. (A person who protested the Catholic Church). Contrary to poopular belief, the Bible is totally capable of speaking for itself and stands alone on it's own merit as the pure and true Word of God. It is not a matter of sincerity that is being called into question but a matter of relationship with God. There is no middle of the road with God. We either hate Him or love Him; and if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. It is not about religion, it is not about doing, it is about living a life of faith and trust in the One who Created us, died for us, and rose the third day for us. We must recognize our inability to do for ourselves what only God can and has done. The bible says simply to believe, and should we do that, and trust in Him, He will change us and make us new creations His way and in His time. It is no wonder that Christianity today is so misunderstood as most believers are too busy fighting one another or shining their own armor. We are to love each other as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us. Let us go onto perfection in this one commandment and watch God do His work His way, and in His time.
Love and peace through our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.
ron

irreverend fox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
irreverend fox said...

ron,

thanks for sharing your heart.

irreverend fox said...

tony...I'll not waste time debating someone who'll not read this...lol...oh, come on! we all know you'll be back! who are you kidding?

it's clear you are certain about your philosophy. I'm sure you think you have it all figured out...


To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, �If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.� John 8:31-32 niv

irreverend fox said...

to all:

do you notice that our friend tony did not ONCE deal with any of the scriptures I provided in the post?

I hope you all understand there is a reason for that...it's because he can't deal witht them AND maintain his "open" position at the same time. They don't fit the "box" tony has God in...

Anonymous said...

tim,
I certainly agree with your analysis. We are so afraid of offending someone with the fact of accepting the Gospel of Jesus or pershing in hell, that we have lost sight of the second part of that statement. I would rather someone be offended now, and at least hear the Gospel and plant a seed for God to work with than to pass up the opportunity and have them suffer the consequences. By the way, it is very interesing that according to Rev 21, God does not wipe away our tears until after the Great White Throne Judgement. Could it be that when we soo all the people we had an opportunity to witness to and did not ....
ron

Zac said...

Wow! So many comments since I last was able to visit my favorite blog (and I really mean that, Gary)!

There is much I could say at this point, but let me just run through the basics that I think are a good place to start with Orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy, Scriptures, and Face Value
The Orthodox believe that the Scriptures have objective, definite meaning-- they are God's message to us. The Scriptures do not change their meanings based upon what I feel, or what I believe. We believe that the correct understanding of the Scriptures is preserved by the Orthodox Church, as it has been attested to through the antiquity, universality, and consent of the Christian people. Modern movements like Roman Catholicism and Protestantism retain similarities to the Orthodox understanding of Scripture, but in other ways they diverge (some of which are more significant than others).

Do we think that the Scriptures all speak in the same way? No, we don't. Some is poetry, some is prophecy, some is philosophy, some is biography. All of it is God-breathed and inerrant, but how can this do us any good if we don't really understand what it is saying?

The Orthodox don't believe that every Scripture is *easy* to understand. In fact, some are "hard to understand" and other things are IMPOSSIBLE to understand by the "natural man" who, St. Paul says, "does not receive the things of the Spirit of God." St. Athanasius, the first Christian to list the complete canon of the New Testament in history, has this to say concerning the interpretation of Scriptures:

But for the searching and right understanding of the Scriptures there is need of a good life and a pure soul, and for Christian virtue to guide the mind to grasp, so far as human nature can, the truth concerning God the Word. One cannot possibly understand the teaching of the Saints unless one has a pure mind and is trying to imitate their life. Anyone who wants to look at sunlight naturally wipes his eye clear first, in order to make, at any rate, some approximation to the purity of that on which he looks; and a person wishing to see a city or country goes to the place in order to do so. Similarly, anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse his own life, and approach the Saints by copying their deeds. Thus united to them in the fellowship of life, he will both understand the things revealed to them by God and, thenceforth escaping the peril that threatens sinners in the judgment, will receive that which is laid up for the Saints in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Christian Way of purifying the soul preserved by the Church leads one to the correct understanding of the Scriptures. This is why the Orthodox intuitively trust the understandings of the "fathers"-- that is, the Orthodox Christians down through the ages who attained to the purity of heart and mind such that the Grace of God enlightened their understanding of the Scriptures and they were able to correctly interpret it for their own and succeeding generations.

More on Hell later.

irreverend fox said...

hey zac!

thanks for your kind words...and I need to post again...I've been finding it hard to sit and write this week!

with all respect...and you know me...I mean that...let me modify slightly my point...I would now say that the Eastern Orthodox PERSON can not or does not take the Scriptures at face value.

agree or not...perhaps that is at least a "more" accurate way of putting it.

I'd love to learn more about EO's understanding of hell. I think I get it...but for the benefit of the LEGIONS of loyal, devoted and passionate disciples reading this thread...perhaps you can sum it up for us?

Zac said...

Gary,

I think I understand your position. Naturally it is hard to believe a group takes the Scriptures at face value when you disagree with their understanding of them!

Orthodoxy and Hell

First I should begin by saying that the Orthodox look at "Hades" and "Gehenna" differently, because they are treated as different places in the Scriptures.

Hades was the place for all the dead prior to the coming of Christ. "No one has ascended into Heaven except He which came down from Heaven, the Son of Man..."

Now that the Way to Heaven has been opened to us by the precious Blood of Christ, Christians who repose in the Lord are accompanied by the angels into Heaven. Nevertheless, the Scriptures speak of the devil as "prince of the powers of the air." It is Orthodox experience that shortly after the time of death, when a Christian is being taken by the angels through the aerial realms into the Heavenly Kingdom, the devils also come and attempt to assert their jurisdiction over the soul. You must understand that this is far clearer in Greek-- even the word "devil" ("diabolos") means "accuser." If a person did not really repent, despite having been baptized and going to Church, etc., then the angels cannot do anything but hand the soul over to the devils who take it to Hades and deprive it of the opportunity of seeing Christ in Heaven. If a person has really lived a Christian life, these devils are nothing. In fact they are put to shame by the angelic guardians, who speak for the soul and show the devils that this was in fact a true servant of Christ. Then the soul is brought to Heaven to await the Resurrection, and rejoices in the place where the sound of them that keep festival is unceasing, and there is the unspeakable delight of those that behold the ineffable beauty of the Lord.

And yet, neither the damned nor the saved have their full reward-- how could they when their bodies have not yet risen from the grave as the Lord has promised? The full reward of the righteous and the full punishment of the wicked is kept for that last great day.

Meanwhile before the last judgment, the Church believes that the souls in Hades can benefit from prayers for them, if in any small way they were receptive to the grace of God during their earthly life. This is especially true for our fellow Christians who believed but nevertheless were lured back into wickedness through the wiles of the deceiver and weakness of the flesh. Prayer and offerings for the dead is quite ancient, even attested to in OT writings like 2 Macabees. The earliest Christians adopted this practice-- in fact it was the universal practice of Christians until the 16th Century. This is the original reason that people would donate things "in memory" of a departed loved one. It was so that God would "remember" them-- i.e., have mercy on them and overlook their offenses.

Perhaps also worthy of mentioning is that we do not believe the experience of Hades is the same for all. Some servants are punished with a few stripes, others with many, according to the words of the Lord Jesus. For some, the punishment is simply being deprived of God's glory-- a place of darkness and sorrow. For others it is experienced as torment, as with the gluttonous and greedy "Rich Man" in the Lord's parable. Those who knew the Lord's will and actively disobeyed are punished far worse than those who lived lives of wickedness yet did not have any revelation of God other than His Creation.

At the end of the age, the Lord will return and re-unite all the souls of humanity with their earthly remains, giving them living earthly bodies once again. Some will be raised to the resurrection of life, others to the resurrection of condemnation. This is the final judgement of the Lord and after this the fate of the wicked and the righteous is sealed. Those who are saved enter into the love and goodness of God-- the inheritance of the Father prepared for them from the foundation of the world, which "eye has not seen, nor ear heard..."

Surprisingly, the wicked also enter into the love and goodness of God. Gehenna, the lake of fire, is also the experience of God's love and goodness-- but what the saints experience as light and joy and peace and unending growth in Grace, the damned experience as unquenchable fire. This is not because God is sadistic-- they have chosen it. The new Heaven and new Earth would be far worse than Gehenna for the damned, because what punishes them is the Love of God. God will be "all in all" on that last day, and this will be torture for all who set their hearts against Him, who chose to be their own gods.

I think it is also important to mention that Heaven and Hell are not just spiritual places but are also a part of who we are. The saint who entered into Hell would find paradise there because of his love for God. Conversely, a wicked person in Heaven would find it to be unbearable agony. This is the wisdom of God, who makes the Sun to shine on the just and the unjust. The Sun hardens the clay, but melts the wax... nevertheless it is the same reality of the Sun.

May God make us all worthy to enter into the inheritance of the righteous-- may He overlook our numerous fallings into sin, may He come and abide in us, may He cleanse us from all impurity and save our souls, as He is the only Good One, and the Lover of Mankind. Amen.

Anonymous said...

Zac,
Please give me your explaination of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Especially concerning the gulf between heaven and hell.
thanks
ron

Anonymous said...

Zac,
If you could also give me your opinion of what Jesus meant in Mt 7 when He said "depart from me you workers of iniquity, I never knew you".
thanks
ron

Zac said...

Ron,

I will assume that you are genuinely interested in the Orthodox understanding of those Scriptures, so I will make an effort to give you some Orthodox scriptural commentary from Saint Theophylact, the Archbishop of Bulgaria in the 11th Century whom the Orthodox Church has endorsed as one who teaches the Truth.

Concerning the Rich Man and Lazarus

And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame." But Abraham said, "Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and you are tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that they which would pass from here to you cannot, neither can they pass to us that would come from there."

Before I get into St. Theophylact's commentary, let me first mention that the Lord's story is set in Hades, where all the dead-- righteous and wicked-- went before Christ's saving death and glorious resurrection on behalf of all those who had hoped in him and all who would later come to believe in Him. But nevertheless that gulf between Hades and Heaven was crossed-- Christ led all the righteous before His advent up to Paradise by His unutterable power, which is why the Scriptures say, "He led captivity captive" and other such texts which I can quote for you if you need more info on this point. But nevertheless, this teaching of the Lord remains entirely relevant. Let me now share St. Theophylact's exposition of the Orthodox teaching:

"When the Lord cast Adam out of paradise, He settled him in a place just opposite, so that the continuous sight of paradise before His eyes would keep fresh in his mind the calamity that had befallen him and would arouse in him a sharper sense of his fall from good things. In like manner the Lord condemned the rish man to a place just opposite Lazarus, so that the sight of him in such a blessed state might awaken in the rich man the realization of the good things he lost because of his cruelty."

"Why was it that he say Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham, and not of any other of the righteous? Because Abraham showed hospitality to strangers. The rich man sees Lazarus with Abraham as a reproof of his own inhospitality. For Abraham used to draw into his own house even those who were just passing by, while the rich man overlooked a man who was lying within his very courtyard."

"And why does the rich man address his words to Abraham and not to Lazarus? Perhaps he was ashamed. It may be that he judged Lazarus to be no different than himself and therefore assumed that Lazarus would bear a grudge for past wrongs... How then does Abraham respond? Does he say, 'O cruel and heartless man! Are you not ashamed? Only now do you remember compassion?' Not this, but rather, Son. Behold a compassionate and holy soul! For a certain wise man has said, 'Trouble not the soul which has been brought low.'"

"This is why Abraham says, Son. By this he also intimates that it is within his power only to speak to him gently, but more than this he is not permitted to do. 'That which I have to give, I give you-- a voice of compassion. But to go from here to there I cannot, for all things have been shut. And you have received your good things, and in like manner Lazarus evil things.'"

"Why does he use the word apelabes [Greek, 'thou receivedst'] and not the word elabes [simpler Greek form]? We say that a recipient receives [apolambanei] those things which are his due. What then do we learn? That even if a man is utterly defiled and has reached the last degree of wickedness, perhaps he has done at least one or two good things. So that even such a man may have some good things, as when he obtains prosperity in this life as his reward, and thus it may be said that he has received these things as his due. Likewise Lazarus received evil things as his due. For perhaps he also did one or two evil things, and he received as his merited reward for these evil things the suffering which he endured in this life. Therefore now he is comforted, while you are in torment."

"The chasm indicates the separation and the difference that exists between the righteous and sinners. Just as their choices were far different in this life, so too their dwelling places in the next life are separated by a great distance, each one receiving as his due the reward appropriate to his choices in this life."

Back to me. The chasm teaches us that once in hell, we have no way to travel to Paradise. Neither can the saints come down from heaven to pull us out. Nevertheless, what is impossible to men is possible to God. We ask the Lord to have mercy on them because we wish to be like the compassionate Abraham in this story who lovingly addressed the miserable rich man, who faired sumptuously in life and now cannot even get a drop of water to cool his tongue.

One thing you will also notice here and in the "Judgment" narrative in the Gospel of Matthew is that the Lord nowhere mentions the word "faith." Abraham did not tell the rich man that he didn't have faith and that was why he was miserable-- in fact, it is likely that the rich man was well-liked by the priests and perhaps was very outwardly pious, making offerings in the Temple and the like. And yet he was heartless and wicked inside... showing no mercy to poor old Lazarus just outside his gates.

Similarly, for what behavior does the Savior of the World say that he "never knew" those who assumed that they were "in"? Their heartlessness toward the poor!

Now all this is not to say that faith is not *really mentioned in these stories. Surely it is, but we must read it in the words of action-- if the Rich Man had real faith he would not have ignored the beggar so close to him, if the "goats" had real faith they would have fed the hungry [especially those hungry for the Gospel], clothed the naked [especially those naked in their sins], visited those in prison [especially those imprisoned by their own idolatrous spiritual delusions that they confuse for "right faith"], etc.

But now for your edification as well as mine I will also quote a relevant selection from St. Theophylact's commentary on the Lord's teaching of His judgment:

"Not everyone that saith unto Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father Who is in Heaven. Here Jesus shows that He is Lord by saying, 'Not everyone that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord.' Jesus in fact is saying that He is God. He teaches us that we derive no benefit from our faith if it is without works. 'He that doeth the will of My Father.' He did not mean, 'that did the will of my Father on one occasion' but 'that doeth the will of My Father continually until his death.' And He did not say 'that doeth My will,' lest He scandalize His listeners, but instead, 'that doeth the will of My Father.' For the will of a father and his son are one and the same, unless the son rebels."

"And then I will profess that I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity. At the beginning of the preaching many who were unworthy cast out demons that fled at the name of Jesus. For the grace was at work even in the unworthy, just as we may be sanctified by unworthy priests. Judas also worked signs, as did the sons of Sceva. Jesus says, 'I never knew you,' meaning, 'at that time when you were working miracles I did not know you,' that is, 'I did not love you.' Here 'know' means 'love.'"

St. John Chrysostom (5th Century) says that same: "But then will I profess unto them, I knew you not. For 'now indeed they suppose they are my friends; but then shall they know, that not as to friends did I give to them.'"

Let us therefore strive to become Christ's true friends, and not presume to be so simply because "Lord" comes out of our mouths every other word. It may be that this is a testimony against us on the last day. Instead, Orthodoxy teaches that we must labor while it is yet day-- not to "earn" Christ's love or friendship (how could we possibly do that???) but instead to be conformed to His Image and Likeness.

One thing you will not find in these teachings is the idea that, "Oops, sorry you just weren't elect." Instead we find that the Lord assumes our free will-- we must DO the will of the Father, we must give of our own substance to others... and yet we know that even this choice to obey must be aided and guided every step of the way by the Lord's all-powerful grace, or else even it is worthless.

I hope I haven't said too much.