Depends on what your definition … is

Regarding the last post and a comment by loyal reader Radoje:

I think these discussions of salvation really are at the heart of the differences between Orthodoxy and the rest of the Christian world. And some conversations I’ve been having lately with my mom indicate the same.

We need to talk about what it means to be “saved.”

As an evangelical Protestant, being “saved” meant two things to me: having Christ as my “personal Lord and Savior” and going to heaven.

As an Orthodox Christian, salvation means much more.

Mankind was created unique–with the image of God, made for a communion with its Creator that the rest of creation cannot understand. But we fell.

And the curse of that fall is more than just a legal understanding of transgression and consequence. It is about losing that which is more precious–life. We were created to be X, but now we are Y. It is wrong and we know it. By eating the fruit, by ignoring the commands of our God, we broke off the relationship with Him. We brought death into the world, and now we can’t get it out.

St. Paul’s assertion that the wages of sin is death is as much a statement of fact as it is a “legal declaration.” If I jump off a building, I will get hurt. No one sentences me to pain. It is a logical and rational consequence of defying the laws of physics which hold me to the planet. If I sin, I die. Christ’s life, His death, and His resurrection fix all that. It is for our salvation.

Salvation is life. It is the restoration of that which is spoiled. It is the repair of what has been broken seemingly beyond repair. It is healing that which is sick.

Frederica Mathews-Green writes that the parable of the prodigal son does not have the father saying, “Well, you can’t come home until somebody pays this Visa bill.” He loves him, and accepts him home and restores him to his place in the family. All the son had to do was turn for home and seek his father’s forgiveness.

Orthodoxy doesn’t primarily hold the notion of “substitutionary atonement.” The legacy of post-schism Western Christianity, largely because of the over-inflated influence given to St. Augustine and subsequently Anselm, is the reduction of the salvation to a legal act, and sets up the primary relationship between God and mankind as one of Judge and condemned.

Please understand, I am not minimizing the righteousness of God. The Bible is clear. We will ALL have to give account before Him for our every action and thought. But as with much of Christianity outside of Orthodoxy, some critical balance is missing. God is righteous, but God is love. And from the very moment of the fall, when Adam and Eve were cast out, He began to work for our ultimate redemption and restoration.

So to the Orthodox Christian, to me, salvation is about becoming that person I was created to be, to move toward a right relationship with God, and trusting in His grace to help get me there. Sure, heaven sounds fabulous. I want to go there, though, not merely because I don’t want to go to hell, but because I want to be with Him, in that relationship as it was always intended to be.

The Church, through the Sacraments, becomes a way to accept that grace, and to act in faith, to turn toward home and seek the forgiveness and love of the father.

Being “saved” is not just about bestowing a functional title on God. It is not about avoiding a rather warm eternity. It is about being a Christian…a little Christ. And that’s what He wanted for us in the first place.

Never too young

The “age of accountability” always tripped me up, growing up in my church. Almost all my friends said they were “saved when they were” 5 or 4 or even 3. But at the same time, we seemed to put such a great value on the “testimony,” from those who wandered and found the truth of the Gospel later in their life. I remember sitting through more than one Sunday or Wednesday evening service, with microphones spread around the auditorium, waiting for someone to step up and tell the story of how they came to Christ.

For me, I felt lost in both worlds. I couldn’t remember not believing in God, knowing that I was a sinner, and wanting to serve Him. But conversely, I couldn’t remember a specific point in time when I “asked Jesus into my heart.” And as I grew, the messages I heard in Sunday school took a bit of a different angle.

When you’re small, you have the flannel-graph Jesus with the loaves and fishes, or blessing the children. That Jesus loves you, regardless, and all you have to do is believe in Him. But as you get older, the Jesus of the primary Sunday school classes becomes the Jesus of the “Thief in the Night” movie. And just believing in Him isn’t enough anymore, there has to be a specific point you can identify as the moment when you became a Christian.

I used to ask about when a kid would have to ask Him to come in by, I mean what’s the last possible age that they could be hit by a car or something and not worry about it. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I was honestly concerned. My mom would always explain it with the “age of accountability.”

But what does that mean? And as a good sola Scriptura kid, I tried to find it as I got older, and I never could. What would happen if a person never intellectually reached that age, or if they suffered brain damage or dementia, how does that work?

In the Orthodox Church, we baptize babies. We don’t have an age of accountability. We don’t have confirmation. When you are baptized, you are instantly a member of the body of Christ. There is no trial period, no mysterious age where you are able to understand it or have to have decided.

In Protestant Christianity, children hear that Jesus loves them, this they know, for the Bible tells them so. And they belong to Him. But then, not long after, the message changes, and He becomes a more wrathful God, who will dispatch them to hell, or leave them behind in the rapture.

Please understand me. I am not minimizing the need for a personal understanding and commitment to the faith, a belief that is more than a cognitive assent to an idea about God. However that need to commit does not abate with a decision made once upon a time at vacation Bible school, nor does it go away with baptism or any other sacrament. We all must convert, every day, with every decision and every act of the will.

And who understands His goodness and His love more than a child? Who gets this idea of accepting sacrificial love more than one with a skinned knee? Why do we exclude them from the fullness of the Body of Christ?

We bring them in. We offer them all the sacraments. We teach them about the great gift of Salvation, about the One who came from heaven to earth for them. And right along with them we chose to follow Him, every Sunday when we accept Him and trust Him and follow Him, and every day of the week when we make diligent efforts to put that faith into practice, whether it is on the playground or the boardroom.

On Holy Tradition

Christ is Risen!

I had originally intended to write about something else, but after having a conversation with my sister, I went with this one.

She and her husband are exploring Orthodoxy, and to them I pray God’s blessings as they search. Recently she had a conversation with a coworker about home churches and the problems he has with a liturgical church (he’s a very enthusiastic free-church Evangelical with a degree in Protestant theology). It reminded me of some articles I had read awhile back about why a certain Evangelical was not Orthodox.

Basically to that author it came down to this: I’m not Orthodox because I like the Protestant traditions.

Fine.

But unfortunately, it’s not about traditions, it’s not about a theological argument. It’s about the way to Christ.

We are made to know God with our whole hearts, our whole minds, our whole souls, our whole BEINGS. Orthodoxy is about KNOWING God, not knowing things about God, not systematic theology, not finding proof-texts for why we don’t do things a certain way.

In response to my last post, “Basil” wrote that Orthodoxy is not about shifting a single belief, but rather shifting a worldview, a matter very difficult. I agree.

Orthodoxy is all about transformation. That’s why it’s so much more than deciding to believe a certain way. It’s about “becoming.” It’s theosis, about becoming more like Christ, about becoming the way we were created to be.

And it is hard. It is the hardest thing EVER. I knew when I converted that I was going to have to give up much of what I had always believed. Not all of it, but a lot of it. I knew that my Christianity was going to have be more than a Sunday gig. It would be an every-hour, every-day kinda gig.

To be honest, there are times when I think I too prefer the Protestant traditions. It was much easier not to fast, it was much easier to go to church just on Sunday, etc. But it’s not about me. It’s about God. And I believe that Orthodoxy is the way He gave us to know Him the best. It’s a rather exclusive claim, I’m aware of that.

As I worked toward conversion, and now as I learn, I realized I could not just work my way through whatever intellectual arguments I had against liturgical practice, infant baptism, sacramental worship, the Body and Blood of Christ, and others. I had to experience, to do.

As Orthodoxy sank into the core of who I was, I felt myself knowing God in the place where I was intended to know God–in my SOUL. It began to transform. And as that happened, all those other concerns and arguments made more sense. We baptise infants because the Church is the Body of Christ, where the life of Christ is, and we will not withhold that from anyone, regardless of age or mental capacity. We believe in the sacraments as a cancer patient believes in chemotherapy–these things make us better, they cure us, they make us like Christ. I could go on and on, and probably will at some point.

So to those who say I’m not Orthodox because I prefer my Protestant tradition (and we’ve had this discussion earlier on this blog), I again say fine.

But just know this is not about tradition. This is about life.

Some housekeeping

Christ is Risen!
I did what I vowed I would not do…I added a counter to the bottom of the blog, actually at the request of some curious friends. (Curious as in an action, not as a description) If the counter begins to distract me, I will remove it. But for those who visit–be good to my self-esteem. Tell your friends. OK, just kidding. Well, mostly.

With the counter, I really am going to try to be kinder to those five readers I have and blog more. I have so many things I want to write, about this glorious journey into Orthodoxy, and my subsequent journey through Orthodoxy, that at times I find it overwhelming. But I promise, more posts.

To those five who visit, please feel free to comment. I enjoy it when there’s other voices here than my own, and it adds to the richness of the dialog, even when it’s a bit of a debate. So many of you have had different journeys, have been traveling longer, or whatever, and I want to hear from you.

So…if you’re reading this, thanks for causing that little number at the bottom to inch up by one.