Monday, October 08, 2007


Our friend Zac just NAILED a great question on the door of Semper Reformanda! He did so in the previous comment section. Let me present his comment/question…and then add my spin to further aggravate us…and then turn you all loose in the comment section! I know many pastors, deacons and teachers read this blog and only a few leave comments (to my great irritation lol). I am making a straightforward request to everyone reading this…PLEASE…leave your 2 cents worth…this is a very interesting question.

Here is Zac’s question/comment:

“…Here's a good question for another entry (of course, this is up to you). If faith in Jesus Christ is what saves us (and it is, of course), then does someone necessarily have to correctly believe in the mechanics of salvation to be saved?Here's what I mean. Let's say for example that some Roman Catholics believe that by their works they can somehow "merit" the Kingdom of God(this, btw, is heresy according to the Orthodox). Nevertheless, these people, striving to "earn" salvation, confess with their mouths the Lord Jesus and believe in their hearts that God has raised Him from the dead (Rom. 10:10). Is this enough, or must they also believe in the correct mechanics of salvation itself?For instance, in the Protestant version of the judgment, will they go to Hell because they didn't believe in "faith alone"? Is faith in "faith alone" the Gospel? Or perhaps is this also some kind of "addition to" the Gospel? Must they understand the "how" of their salvation (grace through faith) if they understand the "what" (that the Lord Jesus died for their sins and rose again from the dead)?I think this might be answered in different ways by different people, so I wanted to pose it to you to get your thoughts…”

Again…wow! To my Reformed family:

We do believe that it is by grace ALONE through faith ALONE in Jesus Christ ALONE that we are saved. That being it possible for one to misunderstand this formula…completely and utterly…yet be saved by the grace of God still…through their faith ALONE in Jesus Christ ALONE? Can some misguided person awake in heaven and suddenly have the truth dawn on them, “I guess it was all about grace through faith after all…now I understand…I had nothing to do with my salvation! How foolish was I to think I had to assist in my personal salvation!!! Glory to God!”

Are we saved by God’s grace alone through personal and real faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone…or are we also saved by our understanding and confession of this formula? What if someone hears this formula, has it clearly explained to them, has the Scriptures that teach this doctrine shown to them...and after proper explaination...they continue to deny and reject this clearly Biblical doctrine?

Hmmm…great question…and not an easy one to answer…tread softly…this stretch of land is chock full of mines! Because if the answer is “no”, one does not need to confess the process to be saved…well…then we should embrace both Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox as brothers and sisters in Christ. They indeed have faith in the Most Holy Triune Godhead! Never say otherwise, because that would be a lie!!! If the answer is “yes”, one must confess the process of salvation…well…then neither of those two groups are brothers or sisters in the Lord and are both outside of His Church…in that case both groups are apostates and need evangelized despite their confession, adoration and faith in the Most Holy Triune Godhead…because they both teach simple faith in the Triune Godhead is not enough for personal salvation (they deny the simple Reformed formula in other words).

Wow…Zac…wow…way to put us on the spot my friend! This is not comfortable...

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:3-7 niv


Anonymous said...

It seems to me that we need to find a starting point where we all can agree. There are so many issues being dealt with here, that it may be easier to take things step by step. (Especially for me).
Can we all agree that the Bible is the inspired, Holy Word, of God, and that there is nothing other than it (written or otherwise) that will teach us what God would have us to know about Him and His gift of salvation.
I will sop this here, and let others respond.

irreverend fox said...

hey Ron!

no...that is not the case. we can not all agree on that...I know I don't...and those from the Reformed tradition believe that the Bible is the final authority...but not the only Christian spirituality...there are many sources of truth that teach us about God (nature, the human experience, the Church)...but those from the Reformed tradition believe the Bible is the only inerrant and infallible source of truth. While both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy whole heartedly believe the Bible is inerrant and infallible neither group would say that it is the ONLY infallible and/or inerrant source of truth (zac, correct me if I am not technically right). say that the Bible is the only way to learn anything about God...well...that is just not true.

Romans 1:18-20 niv The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Psalm 19:1-6 niv The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.

Zac said...


Yes, you are right about the Orthodox view I think. The Scriptures are the highest part of the Tradition-- other parts also without error include the dogmatic formulations of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. The writings of the Church Fathers are usually without error with respect to dogma, even if they express some private opinions which are later rejected by the Catholic (coming from the Greek kat' holos, "according to the whole") Church.

Orthodox don't really talk about "infallibility" much because the source of Truth is the Church, and this is borne out by the apostolic Tradition. If anything is not in accord with this tradition, it is thrown out. I think the whole Western ideas of reform and institutional distrust are for the most part absent from Orthodoxy, because we view the Church itself as an organism first and foremost rather than an organization.

For us it is impossible to say the "Scriptures alone" because immediately the question would be, how do we understand the Scriptures? If the Scriptures alone are enough, then all Christians should only read the Bible, and no books of commentary, no preaching-- since Scripture alone is sufficient. In reality, there must be a tradition of interpretation, and the real choice is whether you accept the Scriptures with the Baptist tradition, the Catholic one, the Pentecostal one, the Mormon one, or the Orthodox one.

Or at least, that's how we see it.

irreverend fox said...

hey zac!

"If the Scriptures alone are enough, then all Christians should only read the Bible, and no books of commentary, no preaching-- since Scripture alone is sufficient."

indeed...if the Scriptures alone are enough then we should ONLY read the Bible.

but, again, that is not the Reformed belief.

irreverend fox said...

will any of my Reformed brothers or sisters step up to the plate and respond to this post?

I'd love to hear how we deal with this fair, valide and important question!!!

tim said...

Here's my quick take, take it or leave it. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believe in him will not perish but have eternal life." The kicker is that word "believe." I pulled out my handy dandy Greek and Hebrew dictionary and looked that word up. It means, not just credence or mental assent, but trust in and reliance on. I would say that if one is relying on faith AND works, or faith plus anything else, they are not trusting and relying on Christ for their salvation. They are trusting themselves or they are trusting something else to assist in their salvation. The ultimate question to me is do we trust Jesus Christ for our salvation, or do we trust the Church, ourselves, or something outside of Christ?

Zac said...

Dear Tim,

You wrote:
"I would say that if one is relying on faith AND works, or faith plus anything else, they are not trusting and relying on Christ for their salvation. They are trusting themselves or they are trusting something else to assist in their salvation."

But to me this is sort of just begging the question. If the word "pistis" is summed up by your Greek dictionary, why did the Greeks never adopt the Protestant understanding of salvation "through faith [alone]"? What if such "reliance" upon Christ necessarily manifests itself in good works, without which it is not real reliance?

I think many times Orthodox and Protestants are talking past each other on this point, since for the Orthodox faith is nourished and increased in and through the works that we do, since we know that only those who do the will of the Father will inherit the Kingdom (Matthew 7).

"Grace" on the other hand is different. For protestants, "grace" is the "unmerited favor" of God, despite the fact that this definition is found nowhere in the Scriptures themselves. For the Orthodox, Grace is much more-- it is the power, the energy of God.

For the Orthodox, we cannot trust in our works OR our faith, since we are too aware of the fact that both come up short in God's eyes. Nevertheless, we know that our cooperation through our faith and works, however imperfect, are required-- not that they could ever earn the unspeakable gift of salvation, but that nevertheless they are the two wings given to us to fly to heaven. One without the other is useless, and both together without God's grace and forgiveness poured out through Christ's saving death and resurrection are also useless.

Orthodox believe that the Church is the mystical Body of the Incarnate, Crucified, Risen and Ascended Lord God of Heaven and Earth, Jesus Christ. How can such a thing be "outside" of Christ? If you mean something like trusting the "institution" of the Church or worse yet, the "administration" of the Church then yes you are right. But the Church itself is given to man for his salvation. The universal cry of the earliest Christians was: "You cannot have God as your Father without the Church as your Mother."

irreverend fox said...


I also at times think we are talking past each other...and then it seems like EO comes right back around in what seems to me as contradiction.

"What if such "reliance" upon Christ necessarily manifests itself in good works, without which it is not real reliance?"

zac...we believe that our "reliance" upon Christ DOES manifest itself in good works! every single time with no exceptions! EVER! without such good works there is no real reliance. that is exactly what we believe and proclaim.

we believe that faith/reliance is the gateway through which the grace of God enters our hearts...which always always ALWAYS produces good works in the life of the "believer".

why are we wrong? are we saying the same thing? We do not consider someone with “faith” and “not works” a true Christian…no matter what they profess to “believe”.

it seems like throughout Church history the "west" and the "east" have repeatedly misunderstood each other because each would say the same thing...yet use different words...with both poles loading the same word with different meanings...

for example...the long struggle between understanding the difference between "person" and "nature" in regards to Christ. what the "west" meant by both those two words was loaded different than the way the "east" used those same words...which then caused confusion and at times turmoil within the Church...despite the fact that after the terminology was ironed out and made clear...the Church in the "east" and "west" understood Christ the person...two natures...and eventually everyone “got” what the other group meant and accepted “Chalcedon”…

sometimes I think that is our problem now. but maybe not. Maybe we are not saying the same thing just using different lingo…hmmm…when I read EO teachings on the subject…and when I read how the EO honestly (yet at times, frankly, wrongly) “paints” us in the Reformed tradition…I think misunderstanding abounds…

Zac said...


I think that you're right about miscommunication and misunderstanding. One of those problems stems from using the same words to describe different things. I'll give you a big example: "salvation."

For the Orthodox, this word's ultimate meaning is the healing of the human person-- his becoming united with God through His uncreated energies (not His Essence, like Christ is). For us, salvation is not primarily about juridical standing as it is in most of protestantism.

The "forgiveness" Christ offers us on the Cross is not simply legal pardon from our sins (nevertheless, an important factor) but "remission"-- a purification and healing from the disease of Sin. Salvation is not complete until Christ is "fully formed" in us-- that is, until we are really free from sin and the seed of Grace initially given to us has been nurtured into real holiness, "without which no man will see the Lord." Our whole lives are to be spent both preserving the Grace we received when we first believed and adding to it through obedience to the Lord and love for others.

With that understanding of salvation, can you see why there are not "altar calls" in Orthodoxy? We do not reduce salvation to a one-time decision where we "get saved."

And where's the proof? Look in any collection of the lives of the Orthodox saints. Those are the ones that the Church holds out as having become fully healed, fully united to Christ, in this life. They prove the truth of Christ's Gospel to every generation by their complete and total obedience.

As for misunderstandings-- let me first say that I'm happy that you're studying some Church history. Let me just point out a few things though.

Were there misunderstandings between East and West? Yes. These were due to the differences between Latin and Greek language and culture. There were basically two primary issues between East and West, both of which began to trouble the Orthodox Church (East and West) by the ninth century. One was that the Latins decided to unilaterally change the universal Nicene Creed, adding a word which was theologically ambiguous at best. (I can go more into filioquism for you if you ask) And the second main issue was that the bishop of Rome perverted his primacy of honor which the Ecumenical Councils had given to him into a primacy of authority over the whole Church. This alien teaching was condemned by the Eastern Church and by many in the West as well, including the Church of the British Isles, which was later conquered by William of Normandy (a papist) in 1066, shortly after the Latin schism of 1054.

Concerning the understanding of "person" and "nature"... this really wasn't an East-West misunderstanding, so much as an East-East misunderstanding.

It all goes back to the Third Ecumenical Council, in Ephesus. The heretic Nestorius, at the time a Patriarch of Constantinople, began to teach that Christ was something like "two persons." He said that the ancient custom of calling Mary the "Theotokos" was wrong because she didn't really give birth to God, only Christ in his human nature.

The Church convened in council over this innovation, headed by St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria. The formula of St. Cyril's which the council upheld was mia physis tou theou logou sesarkomeni or “one nature of God the Word incarnate.” Here, “physis” was being used to describe Christ’s total person—not one aspect of his person like his divinity or his humanity. This one person took on human nature by becoming incarnate. Fair enough. We know that St. Cyril was himself not insistent on using “physis” to mean simply “nature” instead of person because he received John of Antioch back into communion upon his confession of One Christ “in two natures” or “en dyo physeis.” John of Antioch was still avoiding the error of Nestorius because he believed Christ to be one person, and was simply using the “physis” vocabulary to describe the fact that in the one Christ, both divinity and humanity were united.

Actually this goes back further into the Trinitarian defenses of the Cappadocian fathers like St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and even St. John Chrysostom. They had used “ousia” to describe the unity of the Trinity—one in essence, or homoousios. The Trinity was one ousia with three persons or hypostases. But the term “physis” could either refer to nature-- ousia or to person hypostasis. The Church accepted both, so long as what was being said was that Christ was one person who was at the same time both fully divine and fully human… actually the vocabulary difference split along the two major theological schools, those in Alexandria and those in Antioch.

Now we come to Chalcedon, the Fourth Great and Holy Ecumenical Council. Here the Church convened to condemn the error of Eutyches. Eutyches took St. Cyril (now dead) to mean something entirely different: that in the person of Christ the divine and human natures had mixed into each other, the divine dissolving the human “like a drop of wine in the ocean.” The effect, for Eutyches was that basically Christ couldn’t be said to be “of one nature” with us humans, which was to deny the Incarnation itself.

The main theological exposition vindicated at the council was the Orthodox confession of St. Leo I, pope and patriarch of Rome. St. Leo used the Latin terms “personam” and “naturam” which were understood by the Greek fathers at the council as in full conformity with the Thirteen Chapters, the dogmatic writings of St. Cyril which had been accepted as the Orthodox understanding at the Third Ecumenical Council.

Some in the East did not like St. Leo’s exposition, however. They were afraid it sounded too Nestorian to continue to say that Christ had two natures after the incarnation. Also involved in this was the fact that these Churches were mostly not happy anymore with the Christian Roman Empire. The Bishops of Ethiopia and Armenia unilaterally rejected the council—the patriarch of Alexandria, Dioscorus, refused to attended the council and later sided with Eutyches (though he also later ex-communicated Eutyches). There were significant parts of the Antiochene Church which also rejected Chalcedon. However, the overwhelming majority (615 or so out of about 630 bishops at the council) DID accept it as fully Orthodox and a full expression of the same Faith that had been vindicated by the previous three Ecumenical Councils. Later in the sixth century, St. Gregory, pope and patriarch of Rome, was heard to say that he venerated the Four Ecumenical Councils as much as the Four Gospels. That is to say, they both contained the correct teaching of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

Sadly, the division in the East between the Orthodox and the so-called “Oriental Orthodox” or “monophysite” Churches still exists, now for 1500 years. Despite this separation, they have maintained the same liturgical structure, the same ascetic teachings, the same sacraments, icons, etc. for all of this time. In fact, they are so close to us Orthodox that at the Sixth Ecumenical Council, it was decreed that those Christians coming to the fullness of Orthodoxy from the monophysite churches don’t need to be baptized or even anointed with the sacred chrism—only received after confession of their sins and a renouncement of the errors of Eutyches (which all modern Oriental churches do now anyway).

There is much hope in modern times that they will be received back into the bosom of the canonical Church. Our bishops have reached an essential agreement in our understanding of Christ as one person with two natures united without confusion yet also without division. This was also later clarified by the Fifth Ecumenical Council (held in Constantinople in the 6th Century) where it was decreed that we can separate out the natures of the one Christ ti theoria moni, “by contemplation only.”

So anyway, I hope that helps to clear things up. Church history is FASCINATING because in it one can clearly see the workings of the Almighty in vindicating the truth of his Church, despite attacks both from without and from within. The “Christological Centuries” (4th-8th) were of utmost importance as the Church defended Christ’s flock from errors on both the right and the left.

Tim said...


Can you give me a good definition of the words "charis" and "aphesis?"