the Orthodox view of salvation v. protestantism

This is a great video. For (real) Wesleyans watching this, you’ll note the eery similarities in defining salvation:

But in reality the Church entrusts to everyone the enormous honour to be responsible for the salvation of the whole world, of this world whose flesh is our flesh and whose life is our life. And salvation for the Church is the liberation of life from corruption and death, the transformation of survival into existential fullness, the sharing of the created in the mode of life of the uncreated.

Chora Church/Museum, Istanbul,fresco,Anastasis, Harrowing of Hell and Resurrection (Salvation) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe salvation is not from hell but to good works (Eph. 2.8-10). Salvation is not a momentary conversion, but a process of ontological importance. It is found in the Creed, but never defined. However, Protestantism usually sees it in terms of avoidance of hell. You’ll here mentioned “we deserved hell” and “we aren’t worthy.” Yet, Scripture never declares these things as well as the Reformers did. For Scripture, and Orthodoxy (and Wesleyanism), Salvation begins with the love of God, ending in the positive, rather than the negative.

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can United Methodists believe in purgatory?

This actually comes from a conversation this morning via wherein I “jokingly” suggested it would be easier for Osteen and Marcion to get out of the netherworld than it would be for Calvin, et al. But, it started a good conversation.

Article XIV reads,

The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardon, worshiping, and adoration, as well of images as of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but repugnant to the Word of God.

That is pretty cut and dry, I guess, except it is not that cut and dry. Indeed, this “Romish” adjective is both a descriptor of the doctrine and an insult, held over by Wesley from the Anglican Church. I believe a clear reading of the Reformers will show that when “Romish” was used, more often than not the writer meant to set aside the corrupted doctrine and instead attempt to see the pure doctrine behind it. In other words, using “Romish” would not automatically disqualify purgatory as a doctrine worthy to be explored, only the Romish version.

Early Christian Fresco depicting Christ in Pur...
Early Christian Fresco depicting Christ in Purgatory, Lower Basilica, San Clemente, Rome, Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And yes, there are other doctrines of the intermediate state available to us. The East, while not calling it purgatory and in many ways differing from Rome in some regards, has a hope for a final liberation.

Thus the Latins receive both the temporal and the eternal fire, and call the first the purgatorial fire. On the other hand, the Greeks teach of one eternal fire alone, understanding that the temporal punishment of sinful souls consists in that they for a time depart into a place of darkness and sorrow, are punished by being deprived of the Divine light, and are purified—that is, liberated from this place of darkness and woe—by means of prayers, the Holy Eucharist, and deeds of charity, and not by fire. The Greeks also believe, that until the union of the souls to the bodies, as the souls of sinners do not suffer full punishment, so also those of the saints do not enjoy entire bliss. But the Latins, agreeing with the Greeks in the first point, do not allow the last one, affirming that the souls of saints have already received their full heavenly reward.

John Wesley, ever reaching to a more sound theology, was looking to this intermediate state even in his own growth.

John Wesley believed in the intermediate state between death and the final judgment “where believers would share in the ‘bosom of Abraham’ or ‘paradise,’ even continuing to grow in holiness there,” writes Ted Campbell, a professor at Perkins School of Theology, in his 1999 book Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials(Abingdon).

Yes, Wesley did not seem to believe sanctification was finished in this life.

]], a current Wesleyan theologian (yes, we have a few in existence today), writes,

Indeed, I am convinced that when Christians take sanctification seriously, they will find the doctrine of purgatory to be a very reasonable implication. The doctrine of purgatory rightly understood underscores the point that sanctification is essential, not merely an optional matter for the super spiritual, and that we must cooperate in our sanctification. We cannot ignore the call to holiness our whole life and expect that God will zap us and perfect us the instant we die. But again, the demand for holiness is the demand of a loving God who wills our true happiness and flourishing, and he insists on cleaning us up not as act of punishment, but as an act of gracious love.

The question, then, is not “if” or “should” but “can” a United Methodist believe in an intermediate state where, as one FB commentator said, the dross is melted away from all?

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Things we saved our children from

Official seal of Dyersburg, Tennessee
Official seal of Dyersburg, Tennessee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As you can imagine, when you rip away the “holler doors” and expose fundamentalism, especially the more pentecostally kind, people get upset.

One of the statements I made was in response to the event called “receiving the Holy Ghost.” I said it involved people beating it into you. This is not the same thing as “laying hands” on someone and having them “slain in the spirit” (perhaps common in charismatic churches) but actually shaking, touching, and other physical contact between the crowd (mass hysteria?) and the individual “under the power.”

If you aren’t familiar, or if you are and you don’t understand the systematic operation at play here, let me break it down to you. The person is standing in the middle of the crowd. Music is blaring. It is not merely theological music, but “praise” choruses sung over and over again. For some, people separate along sex lines. Women for women and so on. Sometimes, men are allowed to help their wives and vice versa but this is discouraged since you have to comingle in very intimate ways with the opposite sex.

You have the crowd, the loud music, the chanting, and the examples of others doing it right next to you. You will raise your hands and pray until you begin to cry. People will be yelling at you, suggesting you say this or that, or yelling the “Holy Ghost” into you (I guess). They will scream encouragement at you and so forth. Someone will hold up your arms (because you ain’t giving up that easily). The crowd is now thick around you. You are not moving except by the power of others.

The music gets louder. If you start to murmur, someone may start to tap your lips/chin to “loosen them up.” By now, many in the crowd are “speaking in tongues.” Some may whisper into your ear about hell and “where you be tonight if you died.” You feel the immediate necessity to be saved — because this, the “infilling/indwelling” is the moment of salvation. If you are lucky, you only have to do this once or twice a Sunday for a few months until a revival comes around and you have a larger crowd.

This is the church (if you’ve read the book…) in Dyersburg, TN. The person in the center is the pastor’s son (not sure if he is still the pastor or not). He was up at the altar for years “seeking.” I guess one night he got lucky. But, you will notice through the crowd the movement by others geared to “helping” him.

Please don’t think I am in anyway making fun of the children and others who have experienced this. I believe with every fiber of my being that these experiences are real because with mass hysteria, you can pretty much do anything and people will feel it and internalize it. However, I digress.

These videos are not the fullest extent of what I have seen but it does help introduce you to the world. Oddly enough, one of the leaders of the old organization (not sure it exists and I sure as heck ain’t calling him a bishop) declared that no one should physically rough house anyone “seeking the Holy Ghost.” The older folks got mad. His stance on that changed slightly. Regardless, the process of “getting the Holy Ghost” in this type of Church is a physical (and psychological) one. Indeed, it is the moment of salvation.

Keep in mind — my experience applies to the types of churches I attended and indeed, to many oneness pentecostal ones as well. Perhaps your oneness pentecostal church does not do this, or rather, perhaps you do not recognize it and cannot externalize what you believe actually occurred. However, it happens and happens with greater frequency than you would care to admit.

I really have no need to continue this conversation beyond a rudimentary exploration of why I will continue to serve God without enthusiasm.

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Redemption of Life – The Price of Admission in Exodus, Job, and 2 Maccabees

JUDAEA, First Jewish War. 66-70 CE. AR Shekel ...
Your life ain’t worth 2 shekels (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I found this interesting. I am currently researching substitution (hint, I don’t think Jesus was classically substituted in Galatians) for my dissertation. These passages all connect for me.

The translations are from the REB.

The Lord said to Moses: When you take a census of the Israelites, each man is to give a ransom for his life to the Lord,* to avert plague among them during the registration. As each man crosses over to those already counted he must give half a shekel by the sacred standard at the rate of twenty gerahs to the shekel, as a contribution levied for the Lord. Everyone aged twenty or more who has crossed over to those already counted will give a contribution for the Lord. The rich man will give no more than the half-shekel, and the poor man no less, when you give the contribution for the Lord to make expiation for your lives. The money received from the Israelites for expiation you are to apply to the service of the Tent of Meeting. The expiation for your lives is to be a reminder of the Israelites before the Lord. – Exodus 30.11-16.

Yet if an angel, one of a thousand, stands by him,
a mediator between him and God,
to expound God’s righteousness to man
and to secure mortal man his due;*
if he speaks on behalf of him and says,
‘Reprieve* him from going down to the pit;
I have the price of his release’:
then his body will grow sturdier* than it was in his youth;
he will return to the days of his prime. – Job 33.23-25

He levied a contribution from each man, and sent to Jerusalem the total of two thousand silver drachmas to provide a sin-offering*—a fit and proper act in which he took due account of the resurrection. Had he not been expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and senseless to pray for the dead; but since he had in view the splendid reward reserved for those who die a godly death, his purpose was holy and devout. That was why he offered the atoning sacrifice, to free the dead from their sin. – 2 Macc 12.43-45.

This does not mean I believe we can buy our way into heaven; but at the very least we can two things.

  • a “biblical” model for pre-Reformation indulgences.
  • the hope of redemption by acts, even after death.

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William Law on Infidelity and Self-Torment

Rosa Celeste: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the...
Rosa Celeste: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven, The Empyrean (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am currently reading William Law‘s works for a review of Anglican Gold on Logos. I found this gem:

 I will grant you all that you can suppose, of the Goodness of God, and that no Creature will be finally lost, but what Infinite Love cannot save.

But still, here is no Shadow of Security for Infidelity; and your refusing to be saved through the Son of God, whilst the Soul is in the redeemable State of this Life, may at the Separation of the Body, for aught you know, leave it in such a Hell, as the infinite Love of God cannot deliver it from. For, first, you have no Kind, or Degree of Proof, that your Soul is not that dark, self-tormenting, anguishing and imperishable Fire, above-mentioned, which has lost its own proper Light, and is only comforted by the Light of the Sun, till its Redemption be effected. Secondly You have no Kind, or Degree of Proof, that God himself can redeem, or save, or enlighten this dark Fire-Soul, any other Way than, as the Gospel proposes, by the Birth of the Son of God in it. Therefore your own Hearts must tell you, that for aught you know, Infidelity, or the refusing of this Birth of the Son of God, may, at the End of Life, leave you in such a State of Self-torment, as the infinite Love of God can no way deliver you from.

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Do you even Council of Trent, bro?

From time to time, Protestants will stick their foot in their mouth about Catholic theology. From “worshipping Mary” to “works righteousness,” the more Evangelical/Reformed you are, the worse off you are going to be in describing basic Catholic teachings.

For instance, Tim Challies has recently decided to garner some attention by declaring Pope Francis a false teacher, placing him next to the likes of Arius (and early Baptist) and Ellen G. White (a major mover and shaker in 7th Day Adventism). No, I wish I was kidding, but this type of unfounded vitriol is actually taking place.

Sounding just like the guy who wrote Two Babylons or any of the Jack Chick tracts, Challies proceeds to not only lambast the Pope but resurrects Protestant hysteria about Rome. In attempts to use flash-pan rhetoric to underscore his point, but his John Birch-style language will only reach the ears of those who have already decided Rome is the devil incarnate, the whore of Babylon.

However, there are two nice rejoinders. The first is by Francis Beckwith. This one is intentional and directed against Challies, but nicely. The second is found in the essay by Michael Barber in the book to your right (published last year). Not only do both of these resources seek to counter Challies’ anti-Catholic bigotry, but they explain in nice detail the Catholic view on justification and works. Needless to say, I lean to this side. Perhaps it is because I am currently a Wesleyan, or perhaps because I recognize what real biblical theology looks like. Regardless, I do know what theological ignorance looks like.

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Reading Justification: The Roman Catholic View (Joel) @ivpacademic

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There were no essays in this volume which I approached with any amount of trepidation, except for this one by the Roman Catholic theologians, O’Collins and Rafferty. Perhaps it was because that I have known for sometime my predilection to the Roman Catholic position on Justification. History is never as one-sided as the sectarians would have us believe, and this essay, giving the history of the still-Roman Catholic debate which led to Luther and from Luther to Trent, shows that the usual Protestant banter around this particular topic is often devoid of an objective view of history. Further, the entire essay by these two authors shows that the movement of Scripture is still alive and well in the Roman Catholic Church.

The essay is split in twain, with Rafferty giving the general lead up to Trent, as well as the actual discussion of Trent (although it is light on this subject) and O’Collins adding a theological reflection as well as a personal journey regarding the present topic. If we Protestants continue to see Rome through Trent, we will continue to allow Rome to out pace us in ecumenical moves and theological discussions. Other than the spirituality expressed in this essay, there is not much here to tell. These scholars of theological history show that Trent is often misunderstood, which allows the responders to, rightly, call into question the fact that even with all the change Vatican II put into place, the 16th century council was never revisited. Further, they stress as those before, during, and after Trent, that justification is a many splendored image. If it is misinterpreted, and rarely used rightly, allowing O’Collins to issue his own personal theories, then it should be reexamined and in some way changed. Further, given that both the West and the East have recognized that justification is a theme, an image, that fits into the Scriptural view of salvation, then Trent should be reexamined in such a way as to allow for some of the anathemas to be rescinded, which is a major sticking point for Protestants, and rightly so. But Rome has a great deal to show us in the way it tackles theological questions, often without alienating the factions, but finding a way to strengthen the entire Church.

Full review to follow soon enough

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Blogging Through “Justification: Five Views” Roman Catholic View @ivpacademic

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Here we are—the last entry in our survey of IVP Academic’s Justification: Five Views. In a way, this final essay on Roman Catholicism brings us back full circle to where we started. The Traditional Reformed View was, after all, a reaction to medieval Roman Catholicism. I guess it’s fitting, then, that the authors, Gerald O’Collins and Oliver Rafferty, spend much of their time talking about the 1547 Council of Trent.

Trent, according to the authors, is probably the “clearest exposition of the Catholic position on justification” ever penned, and was done so with the specific purpose of drawing a line in the sand between Roman Catholic and Protestant teaching on the issue. After spending a lot of time tracing the Roman Catholic position on justification from Augustine down through the late Middle Ages, the authors describe the decree as a clear explanation of the Catholic position “that justification involved not only the remission of sins but also the sanctification of the individual.”

Although the authors suggest that the Council at Trent was “determined to avoid contentious adjudication on issues of divine grace and human freedom of the will,” the authors themselves have no such compunction and express themselves quite ably on this topic:

At an intellectual level, the Catholic tradition has, of course, profoundly accepted and maintained that no one can stand in the sight of God without blame. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).We cannot make ourselves sinless. It is God alone who justifies the sinner through the merits of Jesus Christ. At the same time, the tradition, in general, affords the conviction that all was not lost by the sin of Adam and Eve. There was not an utter corruption of the human person, and although the image of God was severely occluded, it was not obliterated and was certainly not replaced by the “image of the devil,” as Luther, in a perhaps unguarded outburst, maintained. Most importantly of all, human beings retained, despite concupiscence, an essential freedom of the will, which, under the right conditions and stimulus, could move toward God.

Later in their article, the authors do eventually broaden their analysis beyond the history of the Council of Trent and begin to highlight other issues as well. Among them is the claim that justification should not be the primary metaphor for the “Christ event,” a view which has become almost a consensus opinion among the scholars represented here. In what is by far the longest list of alternative metaphors so far, the authors suggest that  “salvation, reconciliation, expiation, redemption, liberation, sanctification, transformation, new creation, and glorification” can all stand alongside justification in Paul’s metaphoric hall of fame.

Another welcome perspective—and one that has popped up frequently in other books and blogs lately—is the observation that theologians have too often neglected the resurrection in their discussions about justification. In one of the authors’ rare scriptural citations, they refer to Romans 4:25 “He was handed over for our sins and raised for our justification,” and suggest that “innumerable theologians, not to mention rank and file believers, have long neglected the resurrection in their versions of redemption in general and of justification in particular.” I say a hearty Amen to that!

The responses to O’Collins and Rafferty’s essay were, I think, among the clearest and most articulate of the entire book. Michael Horton, especially, provided what is probably one of the clearest summaries of Luther’s view of the “near-dissolution of the imago Dei” I’ve ever read. He also frames what I think is one of the central questions of the debate when he writes “Why does justification have to be subsumed under sanctification in order for us to affirm both?”

Similarly, Michael Bird wonders why everyone can’t agree that justification is both forensic and transformative. Bird admits that that there are substantive differences between the Catholic and Protestant view of justification (referring specifically to the authors’ claim that believers are able to fulfill the moral imperatives of the law and “thus cooperate with their own justification”), but he does make me wonder whether some of the differences between Catholics and Protestants aren’t primarily in the words we use rather than in the substance of what we believe.

My primary criticism of O’Collins and Rafferty’s essay is echoed by James Dunn, who describes their survey of the patristic and medieval sources as an example of “the interpretations of the biblical text becoming more influential than the biblical text itself.” In fact, I have this same criticism with several of the essays. Horton, O’Collins & Rafferty, and (to a slightly lesser extent) Karkkainen, all appeal primarily to the interpretations of scripture by the founding fathers of their traditions rather than an analysis of the scriptures themselves. And while this may be a valid way of presenting their position, it doesn’t instill me with the same confidence as, for example, Michael Bird’s and James Dunn’s essays do.  I think all these scholars would agree that scripture itself should be more persuasive than what Augustine or Luther said about it.

Finally, I think it’s worth mentioning that in his personal account of his exploration of justification, O’Collins rejects the concept of penal substitution, which he describes as “burdened with the guilt of human sin, Jesus was treated like a sinner on the cross and through his suffering and death propitiated the anger of God.” While O’Collins winsomely describes “reflecting for a lifetime” on whether Paul’s theology supports the concept of penal substitution, he fails to provide the details of the exegesis that lead him to reject it. Later, in his response to O’Collins’ essay, Michael Bird challenges the Roman Catholic position, saying “This doctrine can get caricatured and misrepresented, but as long as Jesus suffers the penalty of our sins in our place, then a doctrine of substitution is clearly biblical.”

I have to agree with Bird here. Although the theory of penal substitution has suffered from a serious public relations problem for the last few years, it is still a valid aspect of the atonement that is supported by scripture. I’m glad to see that someone agrees.


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