The Bible does not say what the vast majority of Western Christians think it says. Christianity is not about what the vast majority of Western Christians think it is about. What if I told you that the Bible says nothing about penal substitution? That it never even mentions the idea that Jesus satisfied the wrath of God the Father on the Cross? What if I told you that the Bible teaches that we attain salvation not only through faith, but through faith and works? What if I told you that the Bible says that baptism saves you? That the Lord’s Supper is the real flesh of Jesus Christ, and that it also saves our souls? I will tell you all of these things. I will show how these doctrines, the doctrines of the Orthodox Church are spoken of clearly in the Scriptures, and how the doctrines of the Protestant faith are clearly refuted within the Scriptures.
Let me briefly explain what the Orthodox Church is. I believe that the Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church established by the Lord Jesus Christ in 30 A.D. I believe that it is the only true church, and that all other churches are ei in schism and/or heterodoxy. Today, the Orthodox Church is found largely in Russia, Greece, Ukraine, and other countries around that area. Through evangelistic efforts, it is rapidly growing in Western nations like England and the United States. Today, we’ll specifically discuss the Orthodox doctrine of salvation, soteriology. Soteriology, since the first schisms in Christianity, has been a major point of controversy. Most Western Christians know this controversy in the terms of the Reformation. At the time of the Protestant Reformation, the doctrinal battles were fought between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism generally think in different categories than Orthodoxy. For example, both groups hold that Christ’s death is to be interpreted in a legal context. By contrast, the Orthodox Church holds that Christ’s death was to be interpreted as a sort of medicine for the diseased soul, rather than a legal payment to the Father. Both Roman Catholics and Protestants tend to think in terms of divine merit generated by Christ. The difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants is how this merit was appropriated. By contrast, the Orthodox Church does not include the idea of merit in her soteriology. Rather, salvation is to be understood not as a legal balance of merit and wrath, but as a transformation of the soul from the image of Adam into the image of God.
Because of these large differences, and because of geographic separation, direct dialogue between the Protestants and Orthodox was sparse. Some dialogues did occur, but they always ended negatively, due to the tremendous doctrinal chasm existing between the two communions. Recently, however, because of Orthodoxy’s increasing presence in the West, the Orthodox Church and various Protestant communities have been clashing more and more. Debates rage over the nature of Tradition, the Holy Virgin Mary, and most importantly, how man is saved.
Since the Protestant Reformation, most Western scholarship has interpreted the New Testament documents in a specifically Protestant context. That is, it has been assumed that St. Paul talks about penal substitution in Romans 3, and it has been assumed that when St. James speaks of justification by works, he is only speaking of justification before man. This trend continued up till about two decades ago. In the late 1970s, a movement began in biblical scholarship called the New Perspective on Paul. This new perspective has been recontextualizing St. Paul in his first century Jewish context, rather than a 16th century Reformed context. Among the scholars in this movement are NT Wright, Stephen Finlan, E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, and Chris VanLandingham. Interestingly, this recontextualization of St. Paul and the New Testament in general has led to a re-evaluation of Protestant doctrines of salvation. And, despite the fact that none of the major proponents of the New Perspective are confessing Orthodox Christians, the scholarship has had a strong tendency to support the doctrines that the Orthodox Church has confessed for two-thousand years. At the same time, there has been a movement among traditional Protestants to repulse this new wave of scholarship. Among the proponents of this movement are R.C. Sproul, James White, and John Piper.
The issue of which doctrine of salvation is true has enormous implications for ones life. If the Protestant doctrine of salvation is true, the Orthodox doctrine of salvation is anathema, and all things done to attain salvation in Orthodoxy are worthless. On the other hand, if the Orthodox doctrine of salvation is true, then Christ has mandated that one must come into communion with the Orthodox Church to partake of her Holy Mysteries. The truth about this matter concerns nothing less than the salvation of your soul. Protestants and Orthodox share one thing in common: the firm belief in the inspiration of the Holy Bible. Hence, let us learn what the Bible says on this matter. As St. Basil the Great said, “Let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth.”
Before we begin, it is necessary to clarify what I mean by a few terms. By “Reformed theology”, I mean the five points of Calvinism, namely, total depravity, the idea that man is completely fallen and in total bondage to sin at birth, unconditional election, the idea that the elect are predestined from all eternity to heavenly glory on no condition of faith or works, and on the same count, that the reprobate are predestined from all eternity to hellfire on no condition of faith or works. In most variations, Calvinism encompasses the belief in limited atonement, that Christ died for the sins of the elect only, and that His death in no way benefited the reprobate. It includes irresistible grace, the idea that God irresistibly graces the elect, regenerating them on no condition, and essentially forcing them to place faith in him, and finally, it includes the doctrine of eternal security, the idea that once a man is “saved”, he cannot fall away.
By penal substitution, I mean the idea that God punished Jesus Christ in order to satisfy His own wrath for the sins of humanity and in this way provided salvation. By Sola Fide, I mean the idea that a man is justified on no other ground than faith, and that by placing faith in Christ, Christ’s perfect righteousness is legally moved to the account of the faithful.
With that said, let me give you a brief roadmap of where I will be going. First, we will analyze what the Bible says about election and predestination. Among others, we will review key passages such as John 6 and 10, Romans 9, and Ephesians 1. After this, we will examine what the Bible says about the death and resurrection of Christ and what it accomplished for us men and for our salvation. We will review passages such as Romans 3, Romans 5, 2 Corinthians 5, and others. After this, we will examine the causes of justification and judgment in biblical theology. We will critically analyze Sola Fide and its questionable biblical foundations, as well as study the biblical doctrine of baptism. Finally, we will look at biblical ecclesiology and its implications for soteriology, and study the biblical doctrine of the sacraments.
My goal is to do two things. First, I will refute the Reformed Protestant doctrine of salvation. I will deal with the Reformed Protestant doctrine of salvation because Reformed Protestantism arguably disagrees with Orthodox soteriology more than any other Protestant denomination. In their soteriology, they encompass virtually all of the errors of other Protestant denominations, and include ones unique to themselves. Because of this, refuting the Reformed Protestant doctrine covers most or all Protestant soteriologies. Second, I want to demonstrate that the Orthodox Christian doctrine of salvation is biblically true. The Reformed Protestant doctrine of salvation essentially teaches that before the foundation of the world, God predestined a group of individuals, known as the elect, to eternally share heavenly glory with Himself, and in this, to demonstrate His mercy. The Canons of Dort, a Calvinist statement of faith, say to this effect that God , “according to the most free good pleasure of His will, out of mere grace, chosen in Christ to salvation a certain number of specific men.” He also predestined a group of individuals, known as the reprobate, to be eternally damned, and in damning them, he demonstrated his wrath. After Adam sinned, the guilt of this sin was inherited by all human beings except Christ. Christ was God the Son incarnate, and He took God’s wrath for the elect upon Himself at the Cross. Because of the satisfaction of God’s wrath for the elect, their sins were destined to be forgiven. After the Holy Spirit sovereignly regenerates their souls, they produce saving faith, this faith alone uniting them to Christ and effecting the forgiveness of their sins. Their sins are imputed to Christ, and significantly, Christ’s righteousness is also imputed to them. What this means is that though they do not truly possess Christ’s righteous quality, God legally counts them as righteous and hence allows them into heaven. Following this justification event, they are sanctified by the Spirit, being made righteous over time. At the end of time, they are raised from the dead, along with the rest of humanity, but the elect are uniquely glorified into Heaven
Orthodox disagree with nearly all of these doctrines. First, predestination, according to the Church, is not unconditional. Rather, it is conditional based on God’s knowledge of future events. Furthermore, predestination primarily, though not exclusively, deals with corporate bodies rather than individuals. As an example, St. Paul, in Romans 9:4 discusses the corporate election of ethnic Israel. Yet in the following passages, the Apostle discusses why some of the Israelites were cut off from elect Israel. This demonstrates that being included in a corporate elect body does not guarantee final glorification. There are many passages that Reformed use to demonstrate unconditional predestination from the pages of Scripture. I wish to discuss four key passages: John 6 and 10, Romans 8, Romans 9, and Ephesians 1.
In St. John’s Gospel, the Lord discusses the conditions both necessary and sufficient for salvation. Among the necessary conditions for salvation, the Lord identifies being drawn by the Father (6:44). It is at this point important to distinguish necessary and sufficient conditions for salvation. Christ does not say that everyone who is drawn by the Father will attain salvation. Rather, Christ says that no man can come to Him unless drawn by the Father. Indeed, the Lord Jesus declares in John 12:32 that He will draw all men to Himself. Consequently, one concludes that all men, living in a world of sin, cannot of themselves come to Christ without the Father’s drawing. Yet, because Christ draws all to salvation and not all are saved, this drawing must not be sufficient. Rather, this is the initiatory grace poured out on all men that enables them to be saved. However, they must respond in free will and cooperate with God to attain final salvation.
The real argument for the Reformed position comes from what Christ declares to be sufficient conditions for salvation. The Lord says that all that are given to Him by the Father will be saved (6:37), and that one must be a sheep in Christ’s flock to believe (10:26). According to Calvinists, this implies that the predestining to be part of Christ’s flock is the effective cause of faith and salvation.
The Reformed interpretation of these passages is that Christ’s references to His flock concern those they call the elect. The reason the others are not coming to Christ is because they are not His elect people. By contrast, Arminian scholar Robert Hamilton states, “the set of individuals who are said by Jesus to ‘belong’ to God as Christ’s ‘sheep,’ to ‘listen to the Father and learn from him,’ and to be ‘given’ by the Father to the Son, refers not to a pretemporally determined set of elect persons...but instead primarily to the faithful sons of Abraham who were God’s children under the covenant…who were already prepared by their voluntary faith and repentance to embrace the promised Messiah.” [Hamilton]
In Right Covenant Relationship with God
Thus, according to Hamilton, it is those Jews in right covenant relationship with God that Christ refers to as the sheep given to Him. These are the Jews prepared by faithful obedience to the spirit of the Law and the Prophets, those prepared by the ministry of John the Baptist. These are the Jews that compose the early Jewish Christian Church. In Isaiah 57:13-14, God contrasts through the prophet the wicked idolatrous Jews to the righteous Jews in right covenant relationship with Him, whom He calls His people. In Ezekiel 11:19-21, God declares that a person must walk in right relationship with Him to be called His people. In Exodus 19:5-6, God says “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
Hamilton writes concerning this passage “Notice that their status as God’s ‘treasured possession’ and as a ‘kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ is contingent upon their obedience and willingness to keep God’s covenant.” In Deuteronomy 26:18-19, the terms, “treasured possession” and “His people” are equated. Hence, to be part of God’s flock, one must be in a right covenant relationship with Him.
New Testament scholars Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh note that Jesus in John 10 is using an ancient Mediterranean social device known as “in, out groups”. [John, 186] Significantly, they note that these groups were not static. That is, they did expand and contract based on loyalty. [ibid, 238] In this case, the loyalty is covenant faithfulness.
In St. Matthew’s Gospel, Christ says to the Pharisees, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” The legalistic Pharisees, whom Christ was speaking to in part in John 6 and 10, were not part of Christ’s sheep. This is not because they had been unconditionally predestined unto reprobation, but rather, because they were in a wrong covenant relationship with God, and hence had lost their status as part of God’s flock.
Based on the Evidence
Thus, one sees, based on the evidence drawn from both Testaments of Holy Scripture, that God’s flock constitutes those in a right covenant relationship with Him. Those who were not of Christ’s sheep were not those who had been predestined to eternal damnation, but those in an improper covenant relationship with God. Next, Calvinist Reformed often appeal to Romans 8, specifically verses 28 through 30, which state in the ESV translation, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Hence, Calvinists argue that predestination guarantees effective calling which guarantees justification which in turn guarantees glorification. Thus, all individuals who are predestined are ultimately glorified. A key phrase which Reformed use to argue for their interpretation comes from verse twenty-eight, that is that God calls according to His purpose. However, this is a complete guess in translation. It is equally plausible that this refers to a calling in accordance with human free choice. Ben Witherington, an eminent New Testament scholar, writes concerning this passage, that “…prothesis could refer to human beings here, in which case the text would mean ‘those called according to (their own) choice,” or, as we would say, ‘by choice,’ the free act of choice by which those called respond to God’s call. This is grammatically perfectly possible.” [Rom, 227] Ergo, the foundation of the Reformed interpretation simply is not self-evident within the text.
In verse twenty-nine, St. Paul discusses those whom God foreknew. This evidently refers to those who love God, [ibid, 227] that is, Christians. God knew in advance those who would love Him. St. Paul proceeds to explain the process of salvation, saying, “…and those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.” The “call” of Romans 8:30 is not an irresistible, “effective call”, as Calvinists say. Rather, it refers simply to the preaching of the gospel, through which grace flows to transform hearts to believe in Christ Jesus. [Wright, 210] Witherington writes, “Paul wanted to tell believers not how they became Christians in the first place but rather how God always had a plan to get believers to the finish line…” [Witherington, Rom, 228] That is, all things do work together for good, because God has a plan for those who love Him, and He will not let any outside power rip them away from Him. Thus, the Lord says in St. John’s Gospel 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” It is important to note that these passages make no comment on the possibility of apostasy. They are saying, rather, that no outside force can make God withdraw salvation. It is saying, in short, that there is no sin impossible to avoid. That is, to commit apostasy, you must freely jump out of Christ’s hand.
Ephesians Chapter One
Another key verse for Reformed argumentation is Ephesians 1:4-5, which says “…he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” First, the English tradition of translating proorizein as the relatively strong word “predestined” comes not from the meaning of the Greek, but of the Latin translation used by St. Augustine. The Latin uses the very strong word “praedestinare.” St. Augustine’s use of the Latin translation led to the strong Western doctrines of predestination which slant modern translations. [Hart, 77]
Witherington notes regarding the doctrine of election in Ephesians, “The concept of election and destining here is corporate. If one is in Christ, one is elect and destined. Paul is not talking about the pre-temporal election or choosing of individual humans outside of Christ to be in Christ, but rather the election of Christ and what is destined to happen to those, whoever they may be, who are in Christ.” [Captv, 234] Ephesians 1 can provide no support for the Reformed doctrine of election, because it does not deal with unconditional individual election, but corporate election of the Church.
Romans Chapter Nine
The centerpiece of Reformed argumentation is their interpretation of Romans 9. They read Romans 9 as a discussion of unconditional predestination unto salvation. However, Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart notes that according to the plain reading of the text, and according to the Greek Fathers, Romans 9 has very little to do with individual election unto salvation at all. Rather, it has to do with the separation and ultimate reconciliation of Israel and the Church. 
Let us therefore look closely at the ninth chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans that we may see and understand what it really teaches. St. Paul begins in verses one through five by identifying his own love for Israel, and that they are honored with the Old Testament Scriptures and prophecies, that they are honored in that the Messiah Himself-God incarnate-comes from their people.
They have been chosen as the covenant people, St. Paul says, and that is their honor. The question that he deals with, then, is, “how in the world can Jesus be the Messiah if His own people reject Him?” St. Paul begins his answer in verses six and seven. He states, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’”
We therefore see the point that Paul is making. Those who believe not in Jesus as Messiah are not truly part of Israel. To prove that not all who are descended from Abraham are under the covenant, St. Paul points to the first child of Abraham who was not under the covenant- Ishmael. Therefore, because not all children of Abraham in the beginning were necessarily under the covenant, the same can be true of the modern fleshly descendants of Abraham. St. Paul seals this argument in verse eight. He writes, “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” Thus, we see that covenant status is not dependent on fleshly inheritance.
St. Paul continues his argument in verses nine through thirteen, key passages in Reformed theology. He writes, ‘For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad--in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call-- she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”
What does St. Paul mean by this? Is he talking about election unto salvation? We see that he is not. First of all, when St. Paul quotes Malachi 1:2-3 in saying that “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated”, it is not talking about lack of divine love. Rather, the Old Testament is using hyperbolic covenant terms. Douglas Moo writes to this effect, “The verbs ‘love’ and ‘hate’ in Malachi are covenantal terms. They do not express God’s emotions…but his actions. We might paraphrase, ‘Jacob I have chosen, but Esau I have rejected.’” 
We see something very important in St. Paul’s quotation of the prophet. If one examines the immediate context of Malachi 1:2-3, one sees that the prophet is not speaking of Jacob and Esau as individuals. Rather, he is using them as symbols for the nations which they bore- Israel and Edom. Thus, St. Paul is speaking of the covenant election of corporate bodies for the purposes of God’s plan- not individual people unto salvation. Furthermore, we see later in the book of Genesis that Esau is reconciled to his brother Jacob and forgiven. Because we know that at least one Edomite (Esau) was saved, we know that St. Paul is not speaking about election unto salvation. Edwards states likewise, “In the present context Paul is not discussing the eternal salvation of individuals, but God's purposeful choices in history from Abraham to Christ.” [231-2] Witherington concurs, writing, “The discussion of election in chs. 9-11 is a discussion of corporate election, in the midst of which there are individual rejection by some and selection for historical purposes of others.” [Rom, 246]In Romans 9:15, St. Paul quotes Exodus 33 in proving the justice of God, where God says that He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. While Calvinists have viewed this as explaining God’s lack of mercy for some, this does not fit with what God is actually saying in Exodus 33. If one reads Exodus 33, God is actually discussing the abundance of His mercy, and that He will mercy people even if Moses would rather He not do so. That is to say, St. Paul is demonstrating that God is free to mercy the Gentiles if He so wishes, despite the protests of the Jews.
In Romans 9:17, St. Paul draws our minds back to God’s dealings with Pharaoh in the book of Exodus. He therefore concludes in verse eighteen that God is free to harden whomever He will. This is a difficult passage, and we must therefore undertake a study of hardening in the Bible. St. Paul right now is giving us an example of someone not part of God’s covenant people. We note that, first, Pharaoh hardened his own heart first in Exodus 8:15, 32, and 9:34. This is why St. Paul says in Romans 1:22-25 that “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”
We see that God turned them over to their own sin in response to their continuous rebellion against Him. The cause and effect is that the people rebel against God, and God says “Thy will be done”, and turns them over. This is precisely the relationship described between God and Pharaoh in the book of Exodus. One must always remember the subject of Romans 9 is explaining the relationship of fleshly Israel to God in the present time. They are not presently under the divine covenant, because they have rejected Christ. St. Paul gives an example of one who was not in a covenant with God, paralleling the Jews who reject Christ. We see that God has now turned fleshly Israel over to their own darkness and unbelief, for St. Paul writes in Romans 11:7-8, “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.’” Israel has been hardened due to their unbelief. If Reformed theology were true and this hardening refers to predestination unto reprobation, it is not going to be reversed. On the contrary, St. Paul later says in Romans 11:26 that all Israel will be saved! With that said, turn your eyes back to Romans 9 for a moment. The chapter discusses God’s purposes in corporate elections. He elects corporate bodies according to His own will and wisdom in order to bring about salvation for the maximum number of people. Why then, has God not elected fleshly Israel? Why has He now elected the body of the Church? St. Paul answers this question in Romans 11:11, saying, “So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.” Yet, God still desires salvation for Israel, and thus their jealousy will ultimately lead to salvation, as it is written in Romans 11:26 and in the Prophet Zechariah. The prophet writes in Zechariah 12:10, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”
Thus, God has wisely elected the Church in this present day that salvation may flow to the Gentiles, making Israel jealous, leading to Israel’s rejoining of the olive tree. How great is the wisdom of God! In Romans 9:19-21, St. Paul analogizes God to a potter, molding things into whatever He wishes. St. Paul is alluding to a passage from the Prophet Jeremiah, where the Lord says through the prophet, “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” As we can see, this is still dealing with corporate groups, rather than specific individuals. Some Protestant translations translate Romans 9:22 as saying, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” However, Witherington notes in his commentary on Romans that 9:22 can be translated, “Although God desired to show his wrath and to make known his power, He endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”  This makes much more sense with verse twenty-three, which says, “in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory--” That is, God endured the unfaithfulness of Old Israel in order to bring about salvation within the New Covenant Church.
How does one deal with the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? This is not an example of God unconditionally predestining individuals to reprobation. Actually, the vessels of wrath are preparing themselves for destruction. According to Witherington, “Paul uses two different verbs when talking about the vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath…Katertismena, used of the vessels of wrath, is a perfect passive participle. Proetoimasen, used of the vessles of mercy, is an aorist active indicative. This change cannot be accidental, and it suggests that Paul means that the vessels of wrath are ripe or fit for destruction. Indeed, one could follow the translation of John Chrysostom here and understand it in the middle voice: ‘have made themselves fit for’ destruction” [Rom, 258]
With this point made, St. Paul’s quotation of Jeremiah makes perfect sense. Jeremiah is discussing God’s relationship to the house of Israel, those descended from Jacob according to the flesh. He has a right to do with them what He wishes. Then St. Paul explains that God endured the wickedness of the people of Israel as long as He did because it enabled Him to make known His mercy within the New Covenant Church, composed of both Jews and Gentiles.
We have seen thus far two very important things. First, St. Paul is not speaking about salvation. Second, St. Paul is not speaking about individuals, but covenant groups. With these things proven, St. Paul’s argument is this: God’s covenant was never with a fleshly body. Rather, he elected covenant nations according to His own wisdom and purpose. Who can question the will and wisdom of God? He has a right to mold His covenant people into whatever He wishes. He has never broken His promise to true Israel, for true Israel is now all who are faithful to Jesus the Messiah, that is, the people of the Church. God has elected the Church rather than fleshly Israel in order to save Gentiles, and eventually to bring salvation full circle so that all Israel may be saved as well. Gentiles are now a part of true covenant Israel, and hence St. Paul quotes the prophet in verse twenty-five, saying “As indeed he says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call my people, and her who was not beloved I will call beloved.’”
The Biblical Doctrine of Predestination and Election
Having analyzed all of these passages, we can now understand the biblical doctrine of predestination and election. There is no such thing as unconditional election of individuals. God elects a corporate body, the Church, and whomever decides by their free will to join that Church becomes a part of that elect people. If they leave the Church, they lose their status as an elect person. When Scripture speaks of predestination, it is always speaking either of the predestination of the corporate body of the Church, or of individual conditional predestination based on foreknowledge. Now that we understand the biblical doctrine of predestination, let us examine how God made salvation possible, and how He effects this salvation in human beings.
The central tenet of Orthodox soteriology is the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Every other part of Orthodoxy stems from it. Clark Carlton, noted Orthodox theologian, writes, “In becoming man, Christ assumed human nature in its entirety…Thus, Christ as man is united essentially to every man. He is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit according to His divinity, and one with each of us according to His humanity.” (105) The Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon says likewise, “We all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhood, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood…”
Because of the incarnation, a path is open for union with God through Jesus Christ. Union with Christ’s life is the essence of salvation. In order to make this union possible, the Lord went to the Cross for our sins. Protestants believe that Christ, in going to the Cross, took upon Himself the full wrath of God the Father for the sins of humanity, and provided a perfect righteousness to be imputed to those who place trust in His work on the Cross. Because of this righteousness, those who have placed faith in Him are allowed access into Heaven. Orthodox Christians, by contrast, believe that Christ’s death had nothing to do with satisfying the wrath of God. Rather, Christ’s death served two main purposes. First, Jesus Christ united Himself with humanity in all of its sufferings, sorrows, and pains. He took upon Himself the natural consequence of man’s sin, that is, suffering, rather than the wrath of God the Father for our sins. Second, through His death, Christ annihilated the bonds of death, and in doing so, destroyed the kingdom of Satan.
Protestants appeal to a variety of texts in attempting to prove penal substitution and imputed righteousness. Perhaps foremost among this texts is St. Paul’s argument in Romans 3:25. He writes, “…God put forward [Christ] as an (hilasterion) by his blood, to be received by faith.” In most Protestant translations, hilasterion is rendered “propitiation.” Propitiation would imply that Christ satisfied the wrath of God the Father on the Cross. However, New Testament scholar Stephen Finlan writes concerning this passage, “The hilasterion is the place where the impurity resulting from the sins of Israel is ritually cleansed once a year…what Paul is saying is that God has put forward Christ as a ‘mercy seat of faith’, not ‘an expiation’ [or] a ‘sacrifice of atonement’” [Finlan, 40] That is to say, Jesus Christ has been made the mercy seat for our sins. He is where Christians are purified. He is the place of our union with God, not the means of satisfying an angry Father.
When St. Paul writes, “In his divine forbearance He passed over former sins”, he is not saying that God withheld punishment until Christ’s sacrifice. He is simply saying that He withheld the true purification until the “fullness of time had come”, as it is written in Galatians 4:4.
Another key text used by Protestants to demonstrate the propitiatory nature of Christ’s sacrifice is 2 Corinthians 5:21. St. Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” According to the Protestant interpretation, this passage references the double imputation. The sins of humanity (or the elect) are imputed to Christ, and Christ’s righteousness is imputed back. There are significant problems with this interpretation. According to the imputation view, Christ merely had sins imputed to Him, and imputed back righteousness. That is, this is a process extrinsic to us, not something that intrinsically changes us. However, St. Paul appeals in 2 Corinthians 5:20 to “be reconciled to God.” The Corinthians were recognized Christians. St. Paul tells them to be reconciled to God, and then declares that Christ was made sin so that we might become righteousness in Him.
That is, by attaining close union with Christ, we actually become righteous over time. Because this is a command to already converted Christians, this reconciliation in Christ must be a process of transformation, not an event. Robert Sungenis, a Roman Catholic scholar, writes “The grammatical construction of 2 Cor. 5:21 does not necessarily treat the subordinate clause (‘in order that we might become the righteousness of God in Him’) as an actual or definite result of the main clause (‘He made the one not knowing sins to be sins on our behalf’). [The passage shows] a potential result in process rather than a punctiliar event.” [Sungenis, 322-3]Finlan notes that St. Paul is making reference to a scapegoat ritual in this passage. A scapegoat ritual is where the disease of a community is placed on the scapegoat, and it is destroyed, hence destroying the disease of the community. Seeing sin as a disease, St. Paul teaches that Christ has partaken of our disease on the Cross, and by His death has destroyed the disease. By participating in our pure scapegoat, we may actually become righteous in Him. [Finlan, 42-4] Related to this passage is Romans 8:3, which says that God “condemned sin in the flesh” in the person of Christ. This, like 2 Corinthians 5:21, has nothing to do with penal substitution.
The passage says in full that “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.” Thus, God the Father sends God the Son, in the likeness of men, to partake of our own diseased flesh, so that He may destroy the disease and heal us.
It is written in Romans 5:9 that “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” The question is first, what is the wrath of God? Second, in what sense are we saved from God’s wrath by Christ’s death. First, the wrath of God is not a wrath of passion, where the Lord has to let off steam against His enemies. When Scripture speaks of God’s wrath, it speaks of it in three ways. St. John Chrysostom spoke of the death of a man, saying “If he was a wicked man, do not mourn but rejoice, for he is no longer able to sin.” That is, God destroys certain men so that they do not fall even further out of communion with Him. Second, God’s wrath is a corrective wrath. God uses certain things as a demonstration so that other men may repent and come into communion with God. Third, God’s wrath is lack of communion with God. It is being in the presence of God while being out of communion with Him.
The Prophet Daniel writes in Daniel 12:2, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” There is one general resurrection of the dead, and some arise in communion with God, eternal life. The others arise out of communion with God, eternal shame and contempt. When Christ speaks of the fires of hell, this is not in a literal sense. Rather, it is representative of the shame one experiences being out of communion with God. Protestant scholars Habermas and Moreland concur, writing “Mental and physical anguish result from the sorrow and shame of the judgment of being forever relationally excluded from God, heaven, and so forth.” [Habermas, Moreland, 169-70] Clark Carlton explains Hell this way: “God’s immediate presence will be to those who love Him the very bliss of heaven, and to those who hate Him the very fire of hell.” [Carlton, 261]
Understanding that the wrath of God is not an active hatred, but a term representing lack of communion with God, we can understand Romans 5:9. As seen in 2 Corinthians 5:20-21, we become righteous by being reconciled to God through union with Jesus Christ. Reconciliation to God is communion with God, the opposite of hell. Thus, Christ saves us from the wrath of God by bringing us into communion with God through His incarnation. St. Paul confirms this interpretation by bringing reconciliation in view in Romans 5:10, writing, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” Confirming this, St. Paul writes in Colossians 1:21-22 that, “You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” God is reconciling Christians to Him constantly, purifying them.
The destruction of the kingdom of death
Another related function of Christ’s death is the destruction of the kingdom of death, ruled by the Evil One. Carlton writes, “By pouring out His most pure Blood upon the Cross, Christ not only blotted out the record of man’s sin, but overcame the power by which sin holds mankind captive.” [Carlton, 142] It is written in Hebrews 2:14 that “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”
David DeSilva, noted New Testament scholar, writes concerning this passage, “Since the many children were subject to mortality, the Son also became subject to mortality in order to confront and defeat, through His own death, the devil who had used death as a tool for enslaving the human race.” [DeSilva, 118]
In his first sermon, St. Peter preaches the essence of Christianity. He does not preach about imputed righteousness, Sola Fide, or penal substitution. Rather, speaking of Christ’s Cross, He cogently identifies the reason for the Lord’s death. He says in Acts 2:23-24 that “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” Death cannot hold the very author of life. Because of this, when it attempted to hold God, God took it and destroyed it, bringing about His own resurrection. St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:21-23, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
Christ, through His death, has broken death itself. Because He has destroyed death, the kingdom of Satan has fallen and the Church is advancing. The purpose of the Lord’s death has nothing to do with satisfying the wrath of God or shuffling righteousness files in a legal file cabinet. Christ, through His incarnation, death, and resurrection, crushes death, swings open the gates of eternal life, and provides us a means of accessing this life.
The question now becomes, how does one access eternal life? We will see that salvation is a process of renewing the divine image, partaking of the divine nature, through faith, faithful works, and participation in the mysteries of the Church, all given life to by the grace of God. Before we move to the specific mysteries of the Church and their biblical basis, I want to address the relationship of faith and works. In the Protestant Reformation, the central point of controversy was the relationship of faith and works. Protestants to this day believe that one is made right before God by faith alone, with no works involved. Orthodox Christians believe that salvation is an organic process, composing both works and faith. These two positions are irreconcilable, and I intend to show you which is correct.
Four Key Passages
I will cover four key passages: Ephesians 2, James 2, Romans 3-5, and Romans 2. First, let us address Ephesians 2:8-10. This passage is often cited in discussions of Sola Fide. St. Paul says here that “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Thus, let us take this passage one piece at a time. The Orthodox Catholic doctrine of salvation is that salvation comes by grace alone, but this grace is appropriated by both lifelong faith (initiated in the mystery of Baptism, see Galatians 3:27), and also works done by the grace of God. Works done apart from the grace of God (often called works of the law), are absolutely worthless, and are a "filthy rag" as Isaiah the prophet says.
St. Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved.” Our salvation comes by grace. Many protestant commentators focus on the faith in Ephesians 2 to demonstrate Sola Fide. St. Paul is focusing on the grace, and that is where our focus should be as well.
St. Paul continues, saying that this comes, “through faith.” What is the meaning of "through faith"? Most lay readers see the faith here as our faith, which we exercise to appropriate the saving grace of God. Actually, this is likely not the intended meaning. We must view Paul's doctrine of salvation as a client-patron relationship. In such a relationship, the patron would exercise an act of favor towards the client, and the client would be expected to respond positively. Upon positive response, the patron would exercise greater favor towards the client, and the client would again be expected to respond positively. [Crook, 136] Contingent upon this relationship was the pistis of the patron. That is, the patron must be trustworthy. Thus, St. Paul is saying that we have been saved by grace, through God's faithfulness. While faith is certainly one of the positive responses we give to God our patron, this is not what is in view here.
St. Paul continues, saying, “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” The client could not take or demand anything from the patron. It was given freely, out of the goodness and mercy of the patron. It was completely and totally his gift. This does not exclude works (or postive feedback in a patronal context), but necessarily includes them, for a client-patron relationship is unquestionably synergistic, to the chagrin of Calvinists everywhere. St. Paul says that this salvation is “not a result of works” How then can I say that works are a part of salvation? It is important to understand what type of works Paul is discussing here. Note the contrast. In verse eight, St. Paul says that by grace we have been saved, and in verse nine, St. Paul says that salvation is not a result of works. The works of Ephesians 2:9 are specifically contrasted with the grace of Ephesians 2:8. That is, St. Paul is teaching that works done apart from the grace of God are absolutely non-salvific. In the context of a client-patron relationship, doing works apart from grace would be akin to responding positively to the patron and saying "See? Look how positively I responded! More favor please!". A work must be done by and in view of God's grace. St. Paul says that this is done “so that no one may boast.” Because it is only out of the goodness and mercy of God that He responds to our works done by grace with favor, no boasting may be made, because all salvation is the work of God. St. Paul says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.”
Note the subtle contrast between this and verse nine. Why does Paul refute works and then say "for we are..." The "for" here suggests that this is the logical conclusion. This is because we are not saved by works done apart from grace, but by good works. The good works of Ephesians 2:10 are specifically contrasted with the works done apart from grace of Ephesians 2:9. Again, the flow of the argument: In verse eight, St. Paul says that we have been saved by grace. In verse nine, he says that it is not a result of works. In verse ten, he says that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works. The patron, in providing us with grace, prepares us for a response of gratitude and good works, rather than dead works apart from grace. Thus, if we choose to walk in them, by the power of the grace provided, the Lord provides more grace.
Thus, Ephesians 2:8-10 is far from an exposition on Sola Fide. Rather, it teaches the great and transformative power of God's grace, which takes us and transforms us into His likeness throughout our lives, but only if we respond to His grace with works done by grace. This is why St. Paul says in Philippians 2:11-12, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Salvation does involve works. However, these are not works done by us in our own righteousness. Rather, they are works that God does through us by His divine grace.
The centerpiece of Protestant Theology
With this, we move to the centerpiece of Protestant theology. That is Romans 3-5. Romans 3 through 5 talks about justification by faith. We will not cover Galatians, because what St. Paul says in Galatians is very similar to what he says in Romans. We have already covered St. Paul’s exposition on Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. We have seen that Our Lord is the mercy seat of faith, and that we are to participate in Him to be united with God.
Immediately following this, St. Paul says “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (3:27-28) Luther regarded Romans 3:28 as the basis for his doctrine of Sola Fide. What St. Paul says in Romans 3:28, however, is that faith is justifying, not works of the law. What are works of the Law? While the Mosaic law is in view in some passages, here it appears to be the system of law. St. Paul mentions those who do not “work” in Romans 4:5. Robert Sungenis argues that this work is working as if one is employed by God. Hence, working means that one is attempting to get God to pay a salary of salvation, as if God owes salvation. Salvation is a relational growing into Christ, rather than something God owes to man. It is given to man out of free grace and love.
With this stated, most of Romans immediately falls into place. Works of the law refer to works done within the system of law. This does not immediately exclude other types of works, for example, the good works mentioned in Ephesians 2:10. With this interpretive framework established, let us examine Romans 4. St. Paul writes in Romans 4:1-3: “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.” The last part is the key part. St. Paul says that if you work within the system of law, then you count your salvation as something that God owes you, rather than a free gift.
Abraham did not work within the system of law. Rather, he obeyed God in sacrificing Isaac in faith. When God rendered him as a covenant child, he did not count that as something owed to him. Rather, he counted it as a free gift of God. Therefore, He was called a friend of God rather than an employee of God.
St. Paul then says: “just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’” (4:6-8) If one examines the context of the Psalm that St. Paul quotes, one discovers that David is lamenting his sin with Bathsheba, and praising God for forgiving him for it. We therefore discover a key biblical truth: justification, while being initiated at a specific point in time, is a process. David had been a righteous man before he sinned with Bathsheba. However, in sinning with Bathsheba, he fell from this state of grace. This is why the author of Hebrews writes that “If we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” (10:26) David had gone on in sin, and had lost his state of grace. He then repented, confessed, and was forgiven.
David continued on the process of justification by repenting and attaining a state of grace once more. This is a key point. One can lose justification by serious sin, something absolutely denied by the doctrine of Sola Fide, but demonstrated clearly in Romans.
St. Paul continues, saying, “Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.” (4:9-10) Abraham’s justification was initiated before his circumcision. St. Paul cites this fact to refute those who argue that God owes the Israelites salvation based on their circumcision.
Exegeting this part of Romans 4 allows the rest of Romans to fall into place. When one sees justification as a process, works of the law as works obligating God to save you, and works done by grace as actually salvific and beneficial to justification, all of Romans comes into proper focus. To demonstrate this, one only need look at Romans 2 in the context of both Sola Fide and the Orthodox doctrine I have just proposed.
St. Paul writes in Romans 2:6-8 that “[God] will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.”
Therefore it is clear that works do play a role on the Day of Judgment. This is why Christ, in Matthew 25, identifies good works as what will grant one access into heaven or not. Those who do good in Christ will be saved, while those who do evil will be damned. The fate of one on Judgment Day is not based on faith alone, but also on works. As we have seen in Romans 4 and Ephesians 2, however, these works must be done by God’s grace and in gratitude for His love.
St. Paul continues, writing “There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.” (2:9-10) Thus, we see, in the theology of St. Paul, salvation is dependent on the kind of life one lives. If one lives a life of charity for God and ones neighbor, ones destiny is communion with God. If one lives a life of self-centered works of the law, then ones destiny is an afterlife out of communion with God.
St. Paul writes, “For God shows no partiality. For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.” (2:11-14)
The Gentiles mentioned here are actually Gentile Christians, not pagan Gentiles. (VanLandingham, 228) Because they have the Spirit of Christ, they do what the moral law requires of them, and because of that, they attain salvation. Though the Jews have been given the Law of Moses, they still break the moral law, which that Law was to show them. Hence, St. Paul is showing that simply being given the Mosaic Law does not equate to salvation. Rather, the Gentile Christians become a law to themselves, because they have been given the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
We have seen that Romans 2 would make no sense in the context of Sola Fide. Being judged according to works is anathema to Protestant doctrine, but makes perfect sense in Orthodox Christianity. Finally, we come to a very key passage: James 2:14-26. We must first examine the context of this passage. St. James says in James 2:12-13, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
The context, therefore, is being judged right under God’s law, the law of liberty. We therefore see that St. James immediately precedes his discussion by discussing salvation. We understand, therefore, that St. James is speaking in a soteriological context. In verse fourteen, St. James opens his discussion about faith and works. He writes, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” Some Protestant translations translate it rather as “Can that faith save him?” as if St. James was discussing a specific kind of faith. This word, however, is inserted without any correspondence in the Greek text. That is, to say bluntly, it is made up. St. James is asking if faith alone can save. St. James in verses fifteen and sixteen gives an example of one who tells a cold, hungry person to be warmed and filled, without giving them anything. He then states in verse seventeen that “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
Protestants have often interpreted this to mean that St. James is talking about false faith, faith that isn’t real. He isn’t really saying that faith alone can’t save, Protestants argue. He is simply saying that there is a specific kind of faith, “dead faith”, that cannot save. This is unwarranted by the text itself. St. James nowhere identifies two kinds of faith. Rather, he is saying that works of grace give life to faith. This is analogous to St. Peter’s command to repent and be baptized. Repentance gives life to Baptism. If one is baptized in a spirit of unrepentance, the baptism is worthless. Likewise, faith must be accompanied by works, and they work together to attain salvation. St. James then says in verse eighteen “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Protestants here argue that because St. James shows his faith by his works, that means that this is the discussion of saving faith, as opposed to death faith. On the contrary, the fact that St. James discusses faith without works and faith with works in the exact same verse demonstrates that they are indeed the same kind of faith. One has been given life, however, by good works. St. James therefore can demonstrate his faith, while the others have nothing but dead belief.
The key section of the passage is verses twenty-one through twenty-four. In James 2:21, St. James cites the example of Abraham, saying “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?” Abraham offered Isaac on the altar after he was initially justified in Genesis 15. This demonstrates that justification is a process, rather than a single event. This cannot refer to justification before man, because there was only two men on the mountain: Abraham and Isaac. Abraham was doing this before God alone. It is thus established that this passage is speaking of justification before God, the same justification that St. Paul speaks of.
St. James continues, saying, “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works.” Faith cannot save by itself. James does not say that faith is merely demonstrated by works, but that faith is complete in itself. No, St. James says that works actually complete the faith. As I have said, works give life to faith. St. James quotes the same passage as St. Paul, saying “and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness‘-- and he was called a friend of God.” St. James hammers home the point that justification is not a punctiliar event. Justification is a process, with many steps. Abraham was justified in Genesis 15, and was also justified when he offered Isaac on the altar. Finally, St. James’ argument culminates when he says in verse twenty-four that “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” This is the only time that the phrase “faith alone” is used in the Bible, and it is negated, not affirmed. There are many Protestant interpretations that try to get around the clear meaning of St. James’ Epistle. Some say that when St. James said “justified” he actually meant justification is before man, that divine justification is proven by works, rather than attained by works. There are two problems with this. First of all, the justification in sacrificing Isaac was before God, as noted before. Second of all, this simply does not work with the Greek text.
The Greek word for righteousness is “dikaiosynē.” It is used in James 2:23 to refer to the crediting of righteousness. St. Paul quotes the exact same passage from Genesis 15 in Romans 4, and, as we have seen, he interprets it to refer to the divine justification of Abraham, that is, salvation. Hence, “dikaiosynē” means salvation in James 2:23. Very importantly, the Greek for justified is “dikaioō” and derives from the same root as the Greek for righteousness. Consequently, in the Protestant interpretation, the root “dikao” would mean “vindicated” in James 2:21, when Abraham offers his son on the altar and is justified by works. It would change suddenly to “saved” in James 2:23 when Abraham is credited as righteous. It would then change suddenly back to “vindicated” in James 2:24 when we are said to be justified by works and not by faith alone. If the Protestant exegesis was true the meaning of the Greek root “dikao” would change three times without notice in a very small section of this text. Not only does this make St. James’ argument mishmash, it mutilates the Greek language. Such a use of the Greek language is found absolutely nowhere in all of Greek literature.
Hence, there are two options when interpreting this passage from James. One can either believe that St. James was the worst Greek writer in all of ancient history and mutilated the Greek language to a point where it becomes incomprehensible, or two, one can acknowledge that one is actually divinely justified- saved by works, and not by faith alone
(Part Two: The Church, Her Priesthood, Her Mysteries, and Her Authority+ Works Cited)
With the relationship between faith and works in general established, I want to move specifically to the biblical basis for specific mysteries of the Church. The first sacrament one comes to is Baptism. Baptism is not merely a symbol demonstrating salvation. Rather, it is the actual means of being united to Christ, of having ones sins washed away. Baptism into Christ is the new birth. Let us review a host of passages concerning Baptism. I will argue for a position known as baptismal regeneration. We begin in St. John’s Gospel 3:5. Our Lord says “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Christ speaks of the new birth, and how this new birth is accomplished. His answer is clear: it is of water and the Spirit. Immediately Baptism comes to mind. The plain interpretation of the text is that one is reborn, regenerated, through Spirit-blessed waters. This is not to say that the physical properties of water actually save you, but rather to say that the Holy Spirit has chosen to work through these waters to bestow the grace of regeneration.
St. Paul, likewise, says nearly the same thing as Christ, again noting the connection between waters and regeneration. He writes in Titus 3:5 that, “[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” We therefore see that we are saved by the grace of the Holy Spirit, bestowed upon Christians in the font of Baptism. Schnackenburg says likewise, writing about Titus 3:5, ‘The bath of regeneration’ bestows justification in grace and a title to the heavenly inheritance, according to the hope of eternal life.” 
The Protestant interpretation of both of these passages is basically the same: references to water as a means of effecting regeneration are simply symbols of the symbolic washing of the soul accomplished by regeneration. What is noticeably lacking, in such Protestant ideas, is any actual biblical support for this idea. Where, for example, is it indicated within the text that the references to water are simply symbolic?
On the contrary, we will see that within the Bible, references to waters of baptism are explicitly connected to salvation and forgiveness. For example, St. Paul says in Acts 22:16 “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on [God’s] name.” It is therefore plain that being baptized in a spirit of faith truly washes away sins.
Likewise, St. Peter says in 1 Peter 3:20-21 that “because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
St. Peter is using an antitype. In the Old Testament, Noah and his family were saved by God through waters which destroyed. In the New Covenant, men are saved by God through waters which save, being made salvific by the power of Jesus Christ. It is not salvific because it washes the body, but because Baptism washes the soul. This passage is one of the clearest examples in the New Testament of baptismal regeneration. St. Peter says, word for word, that “baptism…now saves you.”
St. Peter likewise says in Acts 2:38 “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” The controversy swirling around this passage focuses on the Greek word for “for”, that is “eis.” According to many Protestants, this word in this context, rather than meaning “unto the” remission of your sins, means, “because of” the remission of your sins. If this was true, however, then repentance would be the result of forgiveness and salvation, rather than the cause of it. This is flatly contradicted by the Lord Jesus Christ, who says in Luke 13:3, “I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” We see in this passage that repentance is the cause of salvation, rather than the result of it. Likewise, in Luke 15:7, Christ states, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
Why is there joy over repentance? Because repentance is the cause of salvation. Therefore we see that “eis” in Acts 2:38 addresses not the result of salvation, but the cause of salvation. It is therefore best translated, “unto the.” The passage thus states, “Repent, and be baptized unto the remission of your sins.” Thus, Acts 2:38 teaches that baptism is salvific.
St. Paul teaches baptismal regeneration in Romans 6:2-4. He says “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
St. Paul says that we are saved because of our union with Jesus Christ. He teaches that this union with Christ is effected by being baptized into His death. St. Paul confirms this by saying in Colossians 2:12 that “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Nowhere in these texts is this identified as a mystical inward baptism. Rather, like nearly everywhere else in St. Paul, it is water baptism. We are salvifically united to Jesus Christ’s death through water baptism. Rudolf Shnackenburg, a Roman Catholic New Testament scholar, writes about Baptism in Romans 6 and Colossians 2, saying, “In the strict sense the sacramental sign is more than a means of illustration, more also than a mere symbol; it is an operative sign that actually sets in being those effects to which it points.” 
Thus, we see, according to the testimony of the New Testament, Baptism is a salvific event. It is not merely a symbol of a previous salvation event. Rather, it is the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5), the new birth of water and the Spirit (John 3:5), which mystically unites us to the death and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:2-4, Colossians 2:12), and, because of this, it washes away our sins (Acts 2:38, 22:16), and now saves us. (1 Peter 3:21)
Followed by Baptism is chrismation. Chrismation derives its name from the Holy Oil which the priest anoints the Christian believer with. It is identified with the “laying on of hands”, which the New Testament speaks of. Chrismation, essentially, is the rite by which the Christian believer is imbued with the seal of the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit normatively falls on the believer through this holy mystery. Despite the protests that this constitutes anti-biblical “sacramentalism”, the New Testament is actually very clear about its usage.
St. Luke records this event in the Acts of the Apostles: “Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”
We see very clearly the order of events. Simon was baptized into Jesus Christ, but he was not imbued with the Holy Spirit. This had not happened because he had not yet been chrismated. After the Apostles heard that he had not yet been chrismated, they immediately did so and he received the Holy Spirit.
St. Luke records likewise in Acts 19:5-6, which says: On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them.” St. Paul’s chrismation is also recorded in Acts 9:17, which says, “Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Some Protestants, uncomfortable with the idea that the Holy Spirit is normatively communicated through a visible sacrament of the Church, argue that Acts 10 demonstrates that the Holy Spirit falls apart from the sacraments of the Church. It is written in Acts 10:44-47 that “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, ‘Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’”
How does an Orthodox Christian deal with such a passage? The Holy Spirit is indeed falling apart from priests laying hands on the people. There is a clear reason for this, however. This is because this is the first time the Gentiles were being largely accepted into the Church. The Holy Spirit chrismated them directly as a sign to the Apostles that they must now accept Gentiles into the body of the Church. Likewise in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit directly chrismates the first Jewish Christians.
This passage, however, does not refute the fact that chrismation is to be the normative practice of the Church. Indeed, it is written in Hebrews 6:1-2, “Let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” These four doctrines are four key doctrines of the Christian faith. They are Baptism, chrismation, the general resurrection, and the Last Judgment. If the Holy Spirit were normatively communicated apart from a sacrament of the Church, why then would the author of Hebrews number it along with the core doctrines and practices of the faith? The most simple explanation is that chrismation is indeed the normative practice of Christ’s Church, and that Acts 10 recorded an extraordinary event as a sign of God’s salvation to the Gentiles.
Another key mystery of the Church is confession. The mystery of confession is the means by which Christian believers are cleansed of their sins. Contrary to Protestant doctrine, future sins are not forgiven at first salvation event. Rather, sins must continually be cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. St. John writes in 1 John 1:9 that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We therefore see that forgiveness is contingent upon confession. This confession is not a private confession to God. Rather, it is a confession to God in the presence of the Church. It is written in James 5:15-16 that “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
We thus see that the forgiveness of sins is directly linked to the confession of sins to the people of the Church. The primitive Christian practice with regards to confession was a confession to the entire church, and a prayer of absolution said by the priest after the confession. After unbelievers began observing church liturgies, the Church modified this practice so that the confessor could confess to the entire church in the person of the priest. This is because the priest is the elder, or father of the community, and because of this, can hear confessions on behalf of the people.
How do the priests have the power to forgive sins? It is important to note that the priest may forgive sins only because God has ordained to communicate His forgiveness through them. They do not forgive of their own power, but of the power of the Almighty God. In John 20:23, Christ says to His Apostles, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” We therefore see that the Apostles are given the power that the priesthood claims today, that is, the power to forgive sins.
Lest the grace of forgiveness be lost, the Apostles endowed the grace of the priesthood upon others, as it is written in Acts 1:20, “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’ and ‘Let another take his bishopric.’” And likewise in Titus 1:5, it is written, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and ordain priests in every town as I directed you.” We see from this Scripture that the power to forgive sins was not given to the Apostles alone, but rather continued in perpetuity through the bishops and priests of the Church of God.
The Holy Eucharist
The most important mystery of the Church is the Holy Eucharist. Orthodox Christians believe that the Eucharist is the true flesh and blood of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We believe that it is a true sacrifice, not a new sacrifice, but a participation in the same sacrifice made by Christ at Calvary.
The biblical evidence for this is abundant. First, in the words of institution recorded in St. Luke’s Gospel, Our Lord said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” The Greek word for “remembrance” is “anamnēsis.” Robert Sungenis notes regarding this, “In support of this perpetual sacrifice, the word translated ‘memorial’ or “remembrance’ used at the Last Supper (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor.11:24-25) is the Greek word “anamnesis.” It is also used in the Septuagint in connection with sacrifice (Lev.24:7). ‘Anamnesis’ translates the Hebrew word ‘azkarah,’ which is used seven times in the OT in reference to sacrifice (Lev.2:2,9,16; 5:12; 6:15; Num. 5:26). It is also significant that ‘anamnesis’ is only used four times in the NT, the fourth time appearing in Hebrews 10:3 also in reference to a memorial sacrifice. Hence, Jesus’ use of ‘anamnesis’ in Luke 22:19 specifies the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist. In effect, Jesus would be saying, ‘Whenever you do this, do it as a memorial sacrifice of me.’ The use of ‘anamnesis’ in Luke 22:19 is even more significant in denoting sacrifice since there was another Greek word Luke could have used for a non-sacrificial memorial .”
Thus, we see that within the words of institution itself, the dimension of sacrifice immediately becomes clear. Because Christ makes clear that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, we now must not presume in advance a symbolic interpretation. Without reason to suspect otherwise, we must conclude that when Christ says that “This is my body” and “This is my blood”, He is speaking in a literal manner.
Furthermore in the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Christ says in a stunningly clear manner that “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (6:55) The salvific nature of this holy mystery immediately becomes clear when the Lord says that “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (6:53) Some Protestants argue that the Lord was merely speaking in figurative symbols. However, the word Christ uses for eat is “trogo”, which emphasizes the literal nature of the mystery. In fact, there is not a single place in the New Testament where this word is used figuratively.
Adding to this repertoire of biblical support is St. Paul. He writes in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 that “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
The plain meaning of this is self-evident. By partaking of the Holy Eucharist, one participates in Jesus Christ. Because the Church eats the real body of Christ, the Church becomes the body of Christ. This is why St. Paul calls the Church the body of Christ in 1 Corinthains 12:27. St. Paul speaks further about the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 11. St. Paul writes, in part “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” (11:27) The logical progression that St. Paul makes is clear. If one profanes the bread, one profanes the body of the Lord. If one profanes the cup, one profanes the blood of the Lord. St. Paul is equating the two things. It is therefore obvious that the bread and wine of the Eucharist is the true flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.
Through the witness of Divine Scripture, we have been taught that Christ’s body and blood is “true food and true drink” (John 6:55), that it grants us eternal life (John 6:53), that it makes the Church into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16-17), and that it is a true sacrifice. (Luke 22:19)
Now, with all of this said, there is one more thing to discuss. That is the biblical doctrine of the Church. What is the Church, and what is its role in salvation. The Bible has a very clear teaching about the Church. First, the Church is single and united. Our Lord prayed to the Father that “[the Church] may be one as we are one.” (John 17:22) That is, the unity of the Church is so close that it parallels the unity of Father and Son. Consequently, the Church cannot be broken into divided denominations and sects out of communion with each other. In Matthew 18:17, Christ speaks of the powers of the Church. He endows the Apostles the keys of the priesthood, with authoritative teaching authority. As we have seen in Acts 1:20 and Titus 1:5, they passed on the grace of the priesthood with apostolic succession. In John 16:13, Christ promises to send the Spirit of Truth into the Church. Therefore we see that the visibly united Church has a priesthood with the authority to teach, and that it is this visibly united Church which the Holy Spirit guides. This is why St. Paul refers to the Holy Church as the “pillar and ground of truth” in 1 Timothy 3:15. We know that Christ alone provides salvation. We have seen that the Church is visibly united. We know that the Church is the body of Christ. We have seen that the Church is made into Christ’s body by partaking of His true body in the Eucharist. Thus, any Church without the keys of the priesthood in apostolic succession, without the Eucharist, cannot be Christ’s Church. It cannot be Christ’s Body. It cannot provide salvation. Christ provides salvation through His visibly united Church.
God-inspired Scripture has spoken, and the vote of truth is clearly cast on the side of Orthodoxy. The question is, what will you do? The Lord says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” The significance of the Church in this process cannot be overstated. St. Cyprian of Carthage, a bishop of the Church in 250 AD, wrote “One cannot have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his Mother.” Our Lord says in St. Matthew’s Gospel that one who rejects the Church is to be a “Gentile and a tax collector.” We have seen that the Scriptures testify clearly against the doctrines of Protestantism and of Roman Catholicism. How can they still be a part of Christ’s Church? The Lord said in St. John’s Gospel that we are to worship God in “Spirit and in Truth.” Salvation comes through Christ alone, and Christ is present to us in His body, which is the Church. I do not expound the truth that Roman Catholics and Protestants are separated from the Church with great joy. Yet, my conscience is captive to the Word of God, and I cannot contradict its witness. The Church, the Orthodox Church, is Christ’s Church. It alone worships God in Spirit and in Truth, for it alone stands up to the witness of Scripture. It is the pillar and ground of Truth described by St. Paul in 1 Timothy 3:15.
Come to Christ’s Body! The Orthodox Church is rapidly growing in the United States. If you intend to join the Church, attend an Orthodox church and speak to the priest. He will teach you and chrismate you when he feels that you are ready. The Lord says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Open wide the doors for Christ, and eat with Him at the table of the Church.
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Finlan, Stephen, Problems With Atonement, Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 2005
Habermas, Gary; Moreland, J.P., Immortality the Other Side of Death, Thomas Nelson, 1992
Hamilton, Robert, The Order of Faith and Election in John's Gospel, 2002, February 17, 2011
Hart, David Bentley, The Story of Christianity, Quercus Books, 2007
Malina, Bruce and Rohrbaugh, Richard, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, Minneapolis, Ausburg Fortress Publishers, 1998
Moo, Douglas, Romans, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2002
Sungenis, Robert, Debate between Catholic Apologetics International (CAI) and Former Catholics For Christ (FCFC) on Jesus' Eucharistic Presence, Accessed February 23, 2011
Sungenis, Robert, Not By Faith Alone, Goleta, Queenship Publishing, 1997
VanLandingham, Chris, Justification and Judgment in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul, Peabody, Hendrickson, 2006
Witherington, Ben, A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Romans, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2004
Wright, Nicholas Thomas, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul's Vision, Downers Grove, IVP Academic, 2009
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