Monday, October 15, 2007

The silence in our comment section was almost deafening. Even our usually assertive commentators like Ron and Tim waded into those murky waters cautiously. Rightly so! The question we left with last time almost sounded like a trick question…

If we say, “no”, one does not need to believe the Reformed doctrine of justification to be saved then we must embrace Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy as brothers, period. All efforts to evangelize them are offensive and should immediately stop. Both are Trinitarian and will be saved only by grace through their faith in the Trinity as are we …even if they don’t believe it. They will wake up in heaven and with amazement confess something like, “huh…I guess Luther and Calvin were right all along…”

Wouldn’t that be nice and make us all feel better about ourselves and our loved ones?

Keep in mind padawan, this kind of logic can easily extend to Muslims, Buddhists and even Atheists. They deserve grace, mercy and forgiveness as much as we do, right? They could wake up in heaven and say something like, “huh…I guess the Christians were right all along…”

I’ve said it before and will say it again…anyone who is struggling with these issues MUST study the book of Galatians…period. Paul warns us by saying, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:6-9 niv

If you preach another gospel you are going to hell. I do not know how much clearer Paul could have said it. “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” Remember, “words mean things.”

What do we then do with 1,500 years of confusion regarding the process of salvation? For 1,500 years people believed that along with mental assent and trust in Christ one must also do works of faith such as baptism, confession, the receiving of Holy Communion and living a life of general faithfulness to Christ in order to “be saved”. This historical truth is the gorilla sitting in our Reformed living room…you know…the gorilla we never talk about? Do we really believe the Church did not make it out of the first century? That’s what Mormons believe…that they are the RESTORED Church (we believe we are the REFORMED Church…there is a big difference) Do we really believe that millions of pre-reformation Christians are all in hell today? Do we believe there were no Christians between the end of the first century all the way up to Luther? Did the gates of hell prevail against His Church all those years?

I don’t think so and let me to explain how I square all this up. I do not believe that you must understand all the details of the process of justification in order to be justified. I also do not believe you can reject and deny the doctrine of justification, once explained, and be saved. Do you see the difference?

Let me be careful…read what I just wrote closely…I wrote that one does not have to understand “all” the details of the process of justification…to be justified. I do not believe the heathen will be saved and I don’t want to be misread. I believe there are certain issues of justification…like JESUS IS THE SAVIOR AND JUSTIFIER for starters…that one must know and believe in order to be saved. That’s why I give so much of my income personally…and why I’ve lead our church to give by stretching her budget so much corporately…to world missions. If one does not know and believe that much they are “out”. Not for rejecting Jesus…how can one reject someone they’ve never heard of? No…they are out for rejecting the Father. (I’m off topic…)

So while both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox generally teach the issue as people did before the Reformation, I do not believe they rest under the same umbrella as people did before the Reformation. Doctrine has been and still is a process. There can be no doubt that believers in the 12th century had a much clearer understanding of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity than did the believers at the end of the 1st. There is no doubt at all. We know in Acts 19 there were “some disciples” in Ephesus who had not even heard of the Holy Spirit until Paul straightened them out.

What happened when Paul taught them? Did they continue to not recognize the Holy Spirit? No! Once taught these “believers” continued in their theological education…as do all born again Christians.

I would suggest that the issues surrounding the technicalities where simply not at the top of the agenda for centuries. Other issues where being wrestled with and drew the most attention…the Trinity…Christology...these were the issues in the first five centuries of the Church. By the time all of that was ironed out…the Church, in an over reaction to the heresies that was fought from within…developed an “infallible” and "inerrant" doctrine of the Church…ending doctrinal development for a millennium.

Basically…our fathers lived with a tremendous inconsistency when it came to the details of this particular issue (other issues they had tremendous clarity, praise God). None of them would have said “we earn our salvation”, “God needs our help to save us” or “Jesus plus my good works equals my salvation”. Of course not…they would say “Jesus alone is the Savior and Justifier”…and then talk out of the other side of their mouth. They did not take (or have) the time to really think this issue through logically or Biblically. Once the ball of the infallible Church doctrine started to roll the emphasis upon doctrinal development all but evaporated…especially in the East. And so since they did, at the end of the day, believe that Jesus is their Savior, their Justifier and only hope for heaven…I do believe they were saved…despite their inconsistency. They did not reject the gospel…they simply did not understand it. Again, one must not understand all the details...heck...I was saved at the age of 5 or 6...I remember it clearly. Did I understand Christology as I do today? Heck no! I just knew I was a sinner and Jesus was my Savior...and I trusted Him. As I grew and learned more I accepted it because it was the truth of my Master. Not understanding the details of the gospel is not the same as rejecting it.

But I would not make the same assumption with modern Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox…because once explained they continue to resist the full gospel and are therefore, frankly, unveiling the condition of their heart...they hate the true gospel (as does every natural man). The fact that they do not love the truth of the gospel says it all…and with humility I go to them, telling them the way of salvation. I tell them that salvation is utterly apart from their merit or cooperation…it is in the born again experience…which is only by grace…only through faith…only in Christ Jesus. God grants the grace. God grants the faith (it is not a work or a decision…one can not choose to believe anything). God granted the means…Christ.

I ask God to give me grace to live the Christian life before them…to love them…to befriend them no matter what they believe…

I pray for their salvation…their quickening…

And I leave the converting to Him.

“Oh, my Savior, Grant that this difficult labor of my salvation May come to a blessed end! May the rain that lashes down, and the fierce torrents rushing from the mountains, and the violent storm not be able to shake the house I am building.

Please help me, Oh Lord, with Your triumphant hand! Come to my aid, preserve my soul, so that I may praise You: You, the Giver of all precious gifts, the Lord of mankind’s salvation.

Without You, Almighty Master, no good work, plan, idea, suggestion, or safety could even exist, nor anything that could help us to arrive at our final destination.

But You are the One Who created me; You are the one Who game me both my body and my soul. You are the One Who lifted me up when I had fallen; You are the One Who showed me the way back to heaven. Yes, and without any worthiness of my own, You are the One Who will bring me into Your house to dwell with You forever, where I will sing hymns to Your glory in the company of Your blessed ones!”


A hymn by Maximus the Confessor, who was martyred by the soldiers of emperor Constans for his constant criticism of the heresy known as Monotheletism . When asked during his trial if he was only right and he alone was saved he responded by saying, “May God grant that I do not condemn anyone, nor say that I alone am saved. But I prefer to die rather than violate my conscience by defecting from what I believe about God.” It has been said that Europe would not see such heroism again till the man named John Huss. Constans made his “preference” a reality. Soldiers ripped out Maximus’s tongue and chopped off his right hand so he could not longer speak or write against Monotheletism. He was then banished to Lazica where he died a few months later. That is how he earned the name Maxiumus “The Confessor”.

9 comments:

Zac said...

Gary,

Be careful... I think you're starting to like Orthodoxy. =^) You remind me of myself when I first read about the history of the Church, at times flirting with it and then tossing it away as a lie... but God in His mercy would not let me forget it, nor forget the words and deeds of His servants, like St. Maximos the Confessor.

It's only a matter of time before you start to realize that these same teachers of Orthodox faith in the Holy Trinity and in the Incarnate Christ also had much to say regarding the process of salvation. Whenever you want I can show you some of St. Maximos' own writings on the true Gospel.

As Saul of Tarsus shows us, sometimes those who are most vocal in opposing the Truth are those who are closest to it.

Through thee the Spirit poured forth streams of teaching for the Church;
thou didst expound God the Word's self emptying,
and shine forth in thy struggles as a true Confessor of the Faith;
holy Father Maximos, pray to Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.
-- Troparion to St. Maximos, 8th Tone

O faithful, let us acclaim the lover of the Trinity,
great Maximos who taught the God-inspired Faith,
that Christ is to be glorified in two natures, wills and energies:
and let us cry to him: Rejoice, O herald of the Faith.
-- Kontakion to St. Maximos, 8th Tone

irreverend fox said...

zac,

thank you for your graciousness...you know my passion is for the Lord and I'm not trying to hurt anyone...unnecessarily at least.

I do admire Eastern Orthodoxy...any group that can maintain the same tradition without any significant changes for that long is impressive!

Who knows...if I can be shown Apostolic succession as a true and not made up doctrine...I'll gladly convert! Because as you know...the issue of authority is THE issue.

Zac said...

Absolutely. This Saturday should be fun... you really should come with us to the farm!

irreverend fox said...

TO ALL OUR LOCAL READERS:

anybody interested in attending a "real live" Eastern Orthodox service for yourself, let me know. Naomi and I will be joining our friends Zac and Arlie this Saturday in the Akron area (I'm not sure exactly...but somewhere around here) for their Saturday evening Vespers. It is in English I do believe.

Call it a cross cultural experience...what do you have to fear? They don't bite normally and from what I hear they are more friendly than our fundamentalist friends! lol

Let me know if you want to take a step back in time...because although zac would suggest they date back the full 2,000 years of Church history...I will at least admit they go back 1,700-1,800 years with the "way" they "do" "church" and even many of the prayers offered date WAY back there...there is NO DOUBT that the very early Christians did worship in a very similar manner as the Eastern Orthodox do now. The more I study ancient Church history the more this has been confirmed…facts are facts. It will be interesting...do something wild can crazy and join us!

irreverend fox said...

just for the sake of clarity...we will not be "joining" them in worship or the Eucharist...we will respectfully observe and of course maintain an open heart.

Zac said...

Here is a link to the directions, for those interested:

http://www.stnickoca.org/pages/churchdirections.html

Zac said...

And yes, it's all in English... and believe me there won't be any "pressure" or any sort of "altar call." The only thing that you are invited to do at the end (and which you can of course refuse to do) is to come up and kiss the Cross. We do it because we love Jesus-- it's not an idol or anything, just something that symbolizes the fact that we believe He saved us on the Cross.

Zac said...

Oh yeah, and it's at 5pm. It only lasts about an hour, and you can come late if you need to... no big deal.

Zac said...

And in case anyone does want to come, there will be a meal and a bonfire afterwards. It's simple evening prayers, which we chant to God thanking him for the end of a week and the beginning of a new one-- no Eucharist (that's on Sunday mornings).