Tag Archives: Salvation

What is the goal of Christianity?

 

I recently entered into conversation with a Mr. Christopher Randolph over on his blog when posted the question “What is the Gospel?” (see here) I thought it was a very interesting question to ask his readers and I enjoyed reading the responses that he got. In similar fashion I’d be very interested to find out what you, the reader, believe the goal of Christianity is. I have my own thoughts about it but I’m curious as to what others of different denominations, sects, or even faiths think.

As always, I am a big believer in conversation. I received my B.A. in Philosophy and I enjoy questioning others about their beliefs and thoughts so that 1.) they can have a chance to share what they believe and 2.) so that they might be able to find out for themselves what it is they believe when they are presented with competing lines of thought. If I respond back to you questioning your answer, please don’t see it as a personal attack, but rather as me trying to coax more out of you, for both mine and your own benefit!

So, with that said, let’s hear it: What is the goal of Christianity?


Christianity makes no sense.

Christianity makes no sense.

At least not rationally, and this is a problem for a large population of the world. The concept of a sort of “meta-person” who exists and has the ability to create, control and interact with creation can be a difficult concept for some, but the idea that that person could then die, and that be a good thing, complicates it exponentially. In a letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote:

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Even two-thousand years ago the idea of a god which which died, and yet was supposed to be all powerful, didn’t quite make sense. For the Jews, whose history had been filled with wonderous events such as the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of the first born in Egypt, the gift of mana from the skies and many others, the death of a person whom these new Christians said was of the same essence of the God they worshiped did not seem miraculous at all; perhaps more blasphemous!

For the Greeks, who valued above all wisdom, and who were steeped in the traditional philosophies of giants such as Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, the Stoics, the Pythagoreans, and a number of others, the conclusions of Christianity couldn’t not (and cannot) be arrived at through an archetypal rationalistic method.

At the beginning of his letter, the Apostle tells us:

Brethren, among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.

Christianity does not make sense, if we try to understood with the wisdom or rationality of the current age. This was true two millennia ago, and still true today. This age is ruled by science, which while by no means is a bad thing in of itself (I shudder to imagine what life would be like without the knowledge we have now), what is bad is the individual and collective egotism which can come from it.

We have learned so much about the universe around us; from how what goes on on the surface of the sun affects what goes on here on earth, to how a malfunction in a single gene of our genetic code can have profound effects on the body. We have used this knowledge to take control of our world, to build communities of previously unimaginable sizes and manipulate our environment to sustain them, to chase away the dark with perpetual light, to fight back against illnesses that would previously ravage our bodies with little to no opposition, and to build machines which allows us to communicate instantly any where in the world, manufacture goods with almost no human interaction and carry us across vast distances.

These are all good things. But these things have also caused us to believe that if something exists, we can find it,  and that if something needs to be known or done, we have the power to do it; it has caused us to believe that we can do anything that we need to, on our own.

The Orthodox Church teaches us that this is what was the downfall of humanity, represented in the persons of Adam and Eve, this belief that our wisdom is so great that we do not need God and figure everything out on our.

In the quote above, the Apostle mentions that he and his fellow workers impart a secret and hidden wisdom, one which does not pass away as does the wisdom of the rulers of the age. More importantly, it’s a wisdom that God has instituted for our glorification.

When humanity was first created, God created us for the purpose of communion, communion with each other and with Himself. We created in such a way that we had unlimited potential to grow closer and closer to Him, to share in the love and communion which the Holy Trinity has among each person. This was our glory; that we could become increasingly more like God in love and to share in His divine light. God created us with free will so that the extent to which we grew closer to Him was dependent on us, that the love which was to be shared would be real and not imposed.

However it is also this free will which caused our turning away from Him. The tree from which the fruit eaten by Adam and Eve came was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In this way the author of Genesis conveys the idea that humanity took it upon itself to learn of the world and decided that it did not need God anymore to make moral decisions. When this decision was made, humanity turned away from the Giver of Life, and ventured out into the darkness by itself.

Due to this, God gave humanity the Divine Commandments, to give us a guideline on what was good and what we should be doing, to act as a yardstick of morality. The commandments are not a way to eternal life, they are not salvation; rather they show the way of death, and create sin by saying that any action which went against the commandments, was a sin, a turning away from God.

The Logos, the Word of God, then became incarnate in the person of Jesus. God Himself married his divine nature to our human nature and in doing so He healed the sickness which the turning away from God had created and refreshed our souls. God made it possible for our nature to receive a fresh start and to return to the state it was in when humanity was first created.

And lastly, to return to the point of contention at the beginning of this post, Jesus, God incarnate, died. Up until this point, when the body died the soul could not return God, since in life it had turned away and lost the glory which had been ascribed to it. Having turned away from the Source of Life, the soul was shut out the Kingdom of Life. Jesus’ soul too went down into death, but, being divine and the Source of Life the bonds of death could not contain Him. The divine nature broke the bonds of death and “shattered the gates of Hades,” making it so that those who had turned back to Him in life could not be prevented from returning to him after it.

This is the wisdom of God that the rulers of the age did not and continue not to understand. This is the “foolishness” of God that wiser than the wisdom of man. God did not die, he destroyed death. The wisdom of this age cannot understand the wisdom of God because it is temporary, while the wisdom of God has been since the very beginning.

No, Christianity doesn’t make a bit of sense if one attempts to arrive at it from a rational, self-contained, temporal understanding. It is not something we can hope to understand on our own because it is something completely outside of us; we cannot see it, we cannot arrive at it from cause and effect, we cannot deduce it from the evidence around us – ironically though, what Christianity teaches is a bigger miracle than was ever revealed to the Jews and it is a more profound and sublime wisdom than the Greeks could ever conceive:

It is the miracle, wisdom and gift of life itself.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Orthodox Personhood, Sin and Salvation

Before one understand morality from an Orthodox point of view, one must first understand how Orthodoxy views the person, sin and salvation. In The Freedom of Morality, Christos Yannaras says:

The person is the hypostasis of the human essence or nature. He sums up in his existence the universality of human nature, but at the same time surpasses it, because his mode of existence is freedom and distinctiveness.

This mode of existence which is personal distinctiveness forms the image of God in man, making man a partaker in being. It is not as nature that man constitutes an image of God: it is not because he has natural attributes in common with God, or analogous to His. Man constitutes an image of God as an ontological hypostasis free from space, time and natural necessity….

Personal distinctiveness forms the image of God in man. It is the mode of existence shared by God and man, the ethos of trinitarian life imprinted upon the human being. In the Orthodox Church and its theology, we study man as an image of God, not God as the image of man exalted into an absolute. The revelation of the personal God in history manifests to us the truth about man, his ethos and the nobility of his descent.

…In the historical revelation of God, we study true personal existence free from any constraint — from the constraint imposed on man by his own nature after his fall, which was the free subjection of his personal distinctiveness to the necessities and dictates of nature individuality…

In other words, it our free will and our relationship to God which defines us in the Orthodox church. Before the Fall, man was free from the exaggerated expression of our passions — greed, pride, selfishness, ego, etc. — and those passions were directed towards growing closer to God, growing more and more like Him. Our end was to reach theosis or deification, to unite our will, thoughts and actions to those of God and to become as like him as is possible.

God gave us free will however, and with it came the possibility to deviate from the course which God had created us for. The “original sin” was when man used his free will in just such a way; to pursue something other than the will of God.

Sin, in Orthodoxy, is not some concrete act, nor is it something that can be defined into laws, rules or regulations. The Greek word for sin, and the word which appeared in the New Testament, is”amartias,” which is defined as missing the mark:

The patristic tradition insists on this interpretation of sin as failure and “missing the mark,” as the loss of that “end” or aim which for human nature is its existential self-transcendence, taking it into the limitless realm of personal distinctiveness and freedom.

There is nothing God’s creation which is hypostatically  and naturally evil, not even the devil himself. Sin is failure, a failure as to existence and life: it is the failure of persons to realize their existential “end,” to confirm and conserve the uniqueness of their hypostasis through love.

To sin then is to not attempt to live up to our full potential in Christ, to not live in the manner which God created us for and to not attempt to correct the distorted image of God which we bear. This sin is understood to be a result of the breaking away of our will from the will of God in order to focus on our own individual needs and wants.

In the West, repentance is largely seen as a recognition of guilt, and this view comes from the legalistic, juridical view of sin which was developed in this part of the world. This isn’t the way that it was originally — and continues to be in the Orthodox East — seen. The Greek word for repentance is “metanoia” and it translates into “change of mind.” This is so much more than just a change of attitude; it refers to a complete change in a persons way of thought, in their outlook.

Repentance is the recognition that  man’s self-sufficiency is inadequate; it is a search for the life which is realized in personal relationship with God, a thirst for personal communion with Him.

Repentance does not mean simply the “improvement” or even “perfection” of individual behavior and individual psychological feelings, or the strengthening of the individual will. All these can come about while a man still remains a prisoner in his autonomous individuality, unable to love or to participate in the communion of love which is true life. Repentance is a change in our mode of existence: man cease to trust in his own individuality. He realizes that existing as an individual, even a virtuous individual, does not save him from corruption and death, from his agonizing existential thirst for life.

Repentance then isn’t asking God to forgive us for acting “badly” and vowing that we will live “better lives,” it is recognizing that the way we have been living is focusing on ourselves and then trying to fundamentally alter our world-view. Our salvation comes through this whole-hearted attempt to live the way which God wants for us, which we were created for. Salvation comes from recognizing that our individual efforts are not enough, that our individuality is a lie told to us by the world and that is symptom of a mis-directed will.

This is what I’m learning as I read through this amazing book. I’ll continue to post my thoughts and reactions and hope to read some of yours as well!


Against “Sola Fide”

St. Augustine

Reject those who say we need only our own free will and not prayer to help us keep from sin. Even the Pharisee wasn’t blinded by such darkness. For, although he mistakenly thought he only needed his own righteousness (and believed he was saturated with it), nevertheless, he thanked God that he wasn’t “like other men, unjust, extortioners, adulterers…” Yet it isn’t a question of prayers alone, as if we don’t need to include our willful efforts. For although God is “our Helper,” we cannot be helped if we don’t make some effort of our own. God doesn’t work out salvation in us as if we are dull stones or creatures without reason or will.

-St. Augustine of Hippo (emphasis mine)

Sola Fide, or “faith alone” is a protestant doctrine that human beings need only have faith in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Those who ascribe to this view see man’s relationship with God as very judicial; we human beings are “criminals” by virtue of our fallen nature and soley by believing in Christ, God gives us a judicial pardon (justification) and decides to save us. We play absolutely no part in this salvation outside of merely believing in God. I (as well as both branches of ancient historical Christianity) have a problem with this, and my personal reasons are three fold: (1) It is irreconcilable with normal human behavior and is essentially a “get out of hell free” card, (2) the idea of a judicial pardon is irreconcilable with the idea of an all powerful God, and (3) it is demeaning to the creations of God and ignores the gifts which He has given us.

(1) Get out of hell free: I say that the doctrine of sola fide is likened to the Monopoly game’s get out of jail free card because if all that is needed for salvation is belief, then it ignores how we act. Now, I will agree that faith is the jumping off point, the essential beginning step for salvation, but it is not enough to retain that salvation. If all I need to get to heaven is to believe in Christ (and what exactly is it that we’re supposed to ‘believe’ in order to gain the salvation?) then as long as I have that faith, can I go out and do anything I want? Can I continue to live in the world, valueing money, gratifying my body and the desires of my passions etc. and still get to heaven as long as I “believe” in Christ? This just doesn’t make sense!

In Orthodox Christianity (as well as Roman Catholicism) salvation is a dynamic process. We do not say that we “are saved,” rather we say that “we have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved.” You have to work to keep your salvation! This isn’t to say that salvation comes about by human effort, not at all! Salvation can only be granted by God. But if we truley believe that Jesus Christ was God. If we truley believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is near, if we truley believe in everything that God has revealed to the world from the time of Noah down to the time of Christ, then we will be active in our faith. We will strive to conquer our will, we will fight to overcome our passions, we will learn the tacticts of the demons and the subversive logismoi and learn to fight against them, trying as hard as we can to live like Christ and how God wants us to. It is not enough to say “I love you Jesus!” and then think that we are automatically granted entry into the Kingdom.

(2) We must be reconciled, not God: This reason I have against the idea of sola fide actually has its roots in the whole western conception of original sin and salvation. Western Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism) tends to view original sin as some sort of stain on the soul which each of us inherits at birth. Because of this view, the Western idea of salvation tends to be that we must appease the wrath of God and ask for forgiveness for this sin on our souls. It is seen much like a court process: God is the stern judge, and we are the defendants. We must plead our case before God and then hope that he chooses to forgive us. But let me ask this, if God is truley just, then why does He hold us responsible for a sin which we did not commit?

Eastern Christianity has never seen salvation like this. We are only responsible for the sins which we ourselves commit. We do not inherit some stain on the soul. Rather, what we inherit are the results of the original sin; death and subjugation to the passions. If you view salvation in the manner that the Western Churches do then in effect what you say is that we have to reconcile God to us; we have to make God change His mind and they way that He views us. Again, this view is mistaken! It is us who would be changing, not God. It is us who should change the way that we live and us who have to work to live how God wants us. If you believe in sola fide then you unequivocally buy into this idea that God must change to justify us, rathern we changing in orther that we be justified.

(3) We are not cattle: My last major objection to sola fide comes from the complete helplessness that it leaves the human race. Sola fide assumes that human beings are completely depraved and absolutely helpless to do anything to change the situation. How demeaning is this! We are told that we are made in the image and likeness of God. To say that we are such base creatures as to not be able to do anything under our own power but wallow in sin rejects this truth. No, we human beings, while not having the power to actually achieve salvation on our own, do have the ability to work towards it, to prove to God that we are trying to live how He wants. We are not dumb animals, walking around in the dark praying for someone to turn the lights on for us. We are icons of God.

The truth that the Eastern Orthodox Church has proclaimed for nearly 2,0oo years—since the time of the Apostles—is this: Adam and Eve, acting as representatives of all of humanity, were created in the image and the likeness of God. At the time of creation our will was perfectly in tune with God and because of this there was no corruption in our bodies, we could see and talk to God easily. The fall from this state of grace was the result of going against the will of God. The result of this was that it because increasingly harder to do the will of God and so we left the state of grace which we lived in. No longer partakers of the divine grace corruption entered our bodies, meaning that we don’t have easy control over our will and passions, and eventually the material body corrupts tot he point to where it cannot sustain life or the soul (death). God didn’t abandon us though, and chose the Israelites to teach how to enter back into that state of grace. To make it easier for us to overcome our will and to realign it with God’s, He gave the Israelites commandments and laws. These served as a way to deny the things that we want, and to eventually overcome those wants.

Over time however the Israelites looked to those rules and laws and ends in themselves. They saw them as the way of achieving salvation, rather than as a jumping point. So, God became incarnate in the flesh and came down Himself to teach us a new way. He became a rolemodel for us, showing us how to live, how to love, and teaching still that we must deny ourselves and look to God on how to live. By dying on the Cross, the immortal destroyed the power of death, and opened up the gates of Heaven so that now when the body fails, the soul has the opportunity to go straight to Heaven and be with its Creator.

In order to this we must acknowledge God as the only true God, and Christ as God Himself. We must acknowledge that we often live for ourselves, gratifying our passions and seeking after our own will. Futher, we must deny this and work to conquer this will and instead do the will of God. We must have faith that by doing this we can reach the state of Adam and Eve before the fall, and then once in that state we can strive to grow in God, and to learn more and more about Him. We cannot reach God through our own power, but neither are we powerless in our struggle. Salvation is a two way process: God has set up the right conditions and waits for us with open arms, while it is up to us to see those conditions and to run willingly into those arms.

May God bless you during this period while we eagerly await the celebration of His ressurection!

IC | XC
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NI | KA


God will take away your gifts…

So here we are, ending the third day of the Great Fast. This is the time of the year when we are to really strive to live lives pleasing to God, to purify ourselves of harmful passions, and to fill our lives with spiritual thing things. I’ve been reading a wholly edifying book known as the Unseen Warfare which was written by a Roman Catholic priest in the 1600s, and over time made its way to Mt. Athos, and then to Russia where two Eastern Orthodox monks, St. Nikodemus and St. Theophan translated, edited, and made some changes to it.

In chapter 20, How to overcome negligence, it states:

Let the conviction never leave your thought that a single raising of your mind to God, and a single humble genuflexion to His glory and in His honour has infinitely more value than all the treasures of the world; that every time we banish negligence and force ourselves  to do the work we should with diligence, Angles in heaven prepare for us the crown of a glorious victory; and that, on the contrary, not only has God no crowns for the negligent, but that little by little He takes back from them the gifts He bestowed upon them for their former diligence in His service, and will finally deprive them of His kingdom if they continue to be negligent, as He said in the parable of guests bidden to supper, who were too lazy to come: ‘For I say unto you, that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper’ (Luke xiv. 24).

This is a very power statement, and one that I believe we should really think over during this lenten period.  It is only be continuing to progress on the spiritual path, by continuing to subdue and conquer our harmful passions and striving to align our will with the will of God that we can be assured of the Kingdom of God. If we are negligent in this task, and focus instead of gratifying our own base instincts and working to please our selves, or even if we just stop in a neutral position, God won’t punish us right away, but the longer we wait to restart our work, the more of His grace God removes from us until we have fallen so far from Him that we lose our salvation.

I pray that God will keep us all strong over the next 46 days until Easter, that we will have the strength, courage, and conviction to run the entire course of the fast, and that we can use this time of “concentrated Christianity” to regain what Grace we’ve lost, and refocus our energies into worshiping the Most Holy Trinity. May God bless you all!

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Lent is a useless tradition…

Lent is a useless tradition. It is nothing more than acting like the Pharisee in the temple; standing before the crowd where everyone can see how ‘holy’ you are, and praying to God saying that you are thankful that you are not like the rest of those dirty sinners. Lent is a pointless, prideful tradition which was created by man, is not found in the Bible, and so not something we should do.

At least… this is what many Protestants and those not familiar with a liturgical Church calendar would have you think. And this might understandably be the view given the popular Roman Catholic conception of the season; eating fish on Fridays instead of meat and giving up chocolate for 40 days but giving in and then up halfway through. Now, I mean no offense to my Roman Catholic cousins, but you have to admit, the popular conception of Lent does seem a little shallow.

I once heard the Orthodox Church described as the “Marine Corp of Christianity” and I think that this is a very apt description, especially when it comes to Lent. The Orthodox Church prescribes the strictest fasting requirements of the whole year during the 40 day lenten period and while I won’t go into the specifices, the general rule is no meat, eggs, dairy, wine, or oil for the entire 40 days. But why? What is the point? What good does it do?

In order to understand the purpose if Great Lent (and I’m going to give it from an Orthodox viewpoint) you have to understand the way that the Orthodox Church sees the issue of original sin and how that differs from the Roman Catholic Church (and by extention Protestant churches)  view, and how it influences the idea of salvation.

The Western conception of original sin is that it is some blight, some stain on the soul of every human being. The Christian then must ask God to forgive her for carrying around this burden, and ask that God would remove it from her. Because of this view the Western view of Christianity tends to run very legal: When we commit a sin it is as if we broke a law that God has. Once we break this law we must approach God as if standing before a judge in a courtroom and plead our case, asking God to forgive us. If we do not ask for forgiveness then we will be punished for breaking that law.  Because of this legalistic Western worldview, Christ’s death on the cross came to be seen as an atonement for our sins. A lot of people see it like I recently read on another blog (which prompted me to write this post); that Christ’s death was a sacrifice which had to be made to God in order for God to forgive our sins, and that Christ was the only creature worthy of acting as this sacrificial lamb.

While the Eastern Church does agree that Christ’s death was a sacrificeChrist Icon on our behalf, She does not teach that it was a sacrifice of atonement in the same way as the West. Instead original sin being a stain on the soul, and us having to ask forgiveness for a sin which we did not commit, the Eastern Church teaches that when Adam and Eve commit the first sin, by disobeying the will of God they broke a certain harmony that existed between us and God. We were made in the image and likeness of God, but when we followed our own will over and above God’s, we ‘blurred’ the image, and the effect of this was that we became subject to our passionate will (it became harder to overcome the longer we gave it attention), and material corruption (i.e. aging and eventually the breakdown of the body to such a point that it is unable to sustain life and contain the soul).

When God decided to send His Pre-Existent Word to us, and by the Word became incarnate and God in a sense marrying the Divine with the material, He re-sanctified the image in us that had been corrupted by sin. He made it possible for us to once again, with His help, conquer our passionate will and realign it with His will, thus fulfilling the purpose we were created for and worshipping Him.

When Christ died on the cross his divine nature decended with his human nature into the land of the dead. Being He-Who-Cannot-Be-Contained, the land of the dead could not hold Him and its fatalistic hold over humanity was broken; it is no longer a necessary consequence of life that we die and go, all of us, sinner and saint, to a land of seperation from God. To prove that he had destroyed death, Christ came back to life.

What does this have to do with Great Lent? Everything! Great Lent is a 40 day period of purification, reflection, and anticipation. It is intimately married with the Holy Day of Pascha (Easter), and infact Pascha is the entire reason for Great Lent. During this 40 day period preceeding the celebration of Christ’s ressurection we work to, even though we know we will never be to fully, make ourselves worthy of this glorious ‘second chance’ that God has given us. We practice the ascetic practices as a way of training ourselves to sublimate our will when it does not conform to God’s. We study the scriptures with an enhanced fervor, we attend church more often, we struggle to keep God before us in heart and mind constantly. We reflect on what God has done for us and we praise Him for his long-suffering and patience when dealing with us. We strive to set our selves on a path that will take full advantage of this opportunity which God gives to everyone.

Lent is is a holiday in the fullest sense of the word as being a holy time, set apart from normal life for a specific purpose. It’s when we change our lives, instead of changing things to suit our lives. It is a time when we change our mode of thinking and remember that we are Christians, that we are not of this world, and that we have an opportunity that, sadly, the proud or ignorant might never take advantage of, and opportunity with eternal ramifications.

And perhaps most importantly, it is a time of eager anticipation when we await the glorious celebration of our victory over death and sin, and when we welcome (liturgically) Christ back to the world.

It might be a time of sorrow for our offenses, but it is a joyful sorrow; the sorrow of a Bride who is seperated from her Bridegroom, though she knows the reason is so that she can get ready for the wedding.