Ancient Faith Radio now has both parts of my talk “Scripture and Tradition” available for download here and here as part of the Roads From Emmaus podcast.
This talk is the second installment in the four-part Foundations of the Orthodox Faith series and was originally delivered on May 23, 2010.
Those interested in a particular aspect of this talk, namely, the formation of the New Testament canon as a question for apologetics, may find the post and comments here (from This Is Life!: Revolutions Around the Cruciform Axis) to be of some interest.
I have enjoyed listening to your podcasts. I was raised Catholic as a child, then left the Catholic church and have been in Protestant churches for the past 15 years. I have recently become intrigued with the Orthodox church because of talking to some Orthodox friends. Here is a question I have: There are obviously true believers in Jesus Christ in all 3 divisions (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant). How do we account for that if there is only one ‘true’ church? Is the ‘church’ then complied from all three and not actually just one of them? And if not, how do people in each group come to the understanding of the gospel and grow in Christ if they are not a part of the ‘true’ church? It does seem odd that there are so many contrary beliefs in Christians. And obviously not all can be correct. Not that I am supporting heterodoxy, but I’m wondering how any church can claim that they alone are correct when others also know God and do things/believe things differently. Especially since, in the New Testament, being a believer is equated to being part of the Body of Christ, which is His church. Just curious to hear your thoughts! Thanks!
God bless you!
The question you are asking is fundamentally one of ecclesiology, namely: What is the relationship between the Church as a visible community and the eternal salvation of particular people? I cover this a bit in the first O&H podcast.
In Orthodox Christianity, the only way to understand what seems like a contradiction here (i.e., that the “institutional” Church is not exactly equal to the company of all the saved) is by putting the question within its proper eschatological context. That is, there will come a day when the tangible Church community will be identical to the number of those who have received deification in Christ, those who are saved. But that day is not yet, because the end of all things has not yet come.
In the meantime, we know that there is only one actual community which is the Church, because it was established by the Apostles and has kept the same faith, and that is Orthodoxy. Roman Catholicism has altered and added to that faith, while Protestantism has altered and subtracted from it, and other religions have only a few similar elements.
The only sure path is the one which is the same from the beginning and which originated in God’s revelation to mankind in Christ. That does not mean that those other paths are utterly useless, but they are, to varying degrees, closer or further from what Christ actually gave the Apostles. We are not given to know what, exactly, the effects are of following an incomplete (or even mostly false) path. We are only given the Path. We don’t theologize outside the Church.
That said, we believe that God is always merciful, but it is not up to any of us to place boundaries on His mercy according to our preferences, whether wider or narrower.
Heresy is, indeed, dangerous, but we cannot say with any certainty what the effects of that danger will be for any particular person.
Bless! You said, “Heresy is, indeed, dangerous, but we cannot say with any certainty what the effects of that danger will be for any particular person.”
I have difficulty with this statement because I do not see how it jives with St. Paul’s authority to “anathamatize” various people who were teaching a false gospel, and for that matter, the authority to say that certain persons were living as “enemies to the cross of Christ.”
In reading Christian history we can cite examples over and over again where the Church judges not only heresy, but heretics as well. Honorius and Origin, for example. But there are many more. The Eastern Church anathamatized the Roman Church when they wandered into heresy.
I understand that we are called to be merciful. But we are also called to speak the truth in love and judge with right judgment. For those who have never known the truth and way of righteousness, God holds them to a different standard. However, for those who have known the truth and turn away, the Scriptures, Apostles, Fathers in the faith, and Saints, all have a serious warning. They are choosing to endanger the salvation of their souls and be cut off from the Kingdom of God. Otherwise, why the serious warning in Hebrews:
“Of how much worse punishment do you suppose will be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?”
And this is just one of many such warnings. I think the effects of heresy, as shown by many Scriptures, can indeed be very dangerous. So, you’ve got me scratching my head here.
Forgive me if I seem too bold or offend you in any of my statements here.
I think you may be mistaking what I’m saying. It is one thing to identify someone as a heretic. It is another thing, however, to tell that heretic, “Because of your heresy, I am sure you in particular will be damned forever.”
The reason why the Church identifies heretics and anathematizes them is not really on account of that person’s salvation but rather for the sake of the body of the Church. An anathema is to prevent further infection of the body, not to pronounce condemnation on the one being anathematized. It is not an eternal condemnation of their souls. It is rather sending them out from the community.
Orthodox condemnation for heretics with regard to their eternal salvation is always in general, conditional terms, typically worded in terms of “Those who teach [heresy].” When it comes to specific people, all that is done is to remove them from the community for the good of the body.
Origen is a good example, actually. He was very much a member “in good standing” during the whole of his life. He was only anathematized centuries after his death, not as a condemnation of his soul in particular, but rather to cut off the influence of his teachings, which were regarded as so generally dangerous as to need complete anathema. This is why he was anathematized in person rather than simply in specific writings, to be sure that Origenism as a whole would be removed from Orthodox consideration. But that still does not mean that the Church knows he is damned.
Thank you, Father, for the clarification.
It seems to be the case that when discussing matters of “true church,” heresy, and the like, things can become obscured and muddled. due to the nuances and complexity of the topic itself. Since the Reformation, and especially the last two centuries, the schisms that have erupted within “Christendom” have given rise to even further complications.
I have tried to begin with the basic question, “Is the Holy Spirit at work outside of the Orthodox Church?” Surely I have no doubt that He is, else I would dismiss, and further deny that Christ was at work within my own life before I ever became Orthodox. However, I must preface such a comment with the caveat that while this is true, in hindsight I believe that the sum total of my experiences outside of Christ’s Holy Church were meant to lead and graft me into His One, Holy, Apostolic Church: namely the Orthodox Catholic Church.
The difficulty comes in, I think, that sometimes we may feel pressed to give a one-size-fits-all, blanket statement as to the condition of each person’s soul outside of the Holy, Orthodox Church. I’ve had such a restriction placed upon me when I’m urged, “Just give me a direct answer. Are Protestants saved according to the Orthodox?” Or, “Do you think fill-in-the-blank are saved according to the Orthodox Church?” At this point I feel as though I’m the defendant on the witness stand and the prosecutor demands, “Just answer the question with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’!”
It takes wisdom and patience, and a reasonable knowledge of Christian history to be able to deal with this issue. It becomes problematic when one is oblidged to lean too far in one direction or the other. The one case, becoming an ecuminist to such an extent that the differences and distinctions are diminished, or worse yet, ignored, for the sake of unity. Such “unity” would be a farce, though. OTOH, one could become so elitist they would deny that the Holy Spirit is at work within the lives of those outside of the Orthodox Church. Such a view could lead one to damning everyone to hell who is not Orthodox.
I can’t help but compare this whole subject to that of walking on a tight rope in which leaning too far to one side or the other will result in falling to the ground. Ah, what a balancing act it is!
BTW, Father, on a side note, I too, am a Star Trek fan from way back. Often, I liken various experiences of my life to a particular Star Trek episode. 🙂 I suppose there even might be an episode that could relate to this very topic. I just can’t think of which one that would be off hand.
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