On the Eve of Brother Tagge's Chrismation....A Pause
Icon of the Day: St. Michael the Archangel
I'm writing this post from my friend Michael's apartment in Chicago (and on his laptop). Therefore my normal resources are out of touch. Tomorrow (well, at 8:30 AM today) he will be Chrismated into the Orthodox Church. I have mixed feelings on the issue. I sympathize with him tremendously when it comes to being indignant at the annihilation of the traditions of the church catholic from our synod and the general lack of interest by the laity in the work that the Holy Spirit has done throughout the church's existence. I also sympathize with him concerning doctrinal points that until recently I didn't think could fit within the confines of the Lutheran Confessions (thankfully I was wrong!). However, I regret that he is going to a church that prides itself on its identity and what it perceives as pure white as snow dogma handed down from the Apostles. True, they have authentic apostolic succession, but to me it seems like they are going the direction of the Jews at the time of Christ...worried more about their identity than anything else.
A point of doctrine that I was unaware of until recently was that according to Orthodox theologian John Meyendorff, the Orthodox believe that a theology that has man as sinner and saint simultaneously is incompatible with the ancient church.....but is it? Or is it a thin veil to cover over the problem that the limited view of sin on man's will and nature is incompatible with what is observed in the world....even in Christian nations? To me the whole crux of this issue is sin and the fallen nature of man. Too high a view of man after the fall, and we only need a little help to clean us off and pick us up from falling down and going boom. Too low a view of man after the fall indicates that we are brought back to life, picked up and carried to the nearest house, and pampered while simultaneously having the guy who helped us take over at our job and deal with our problems. I cannot personally accept the Orthodox concept of man as having an inherently free (albeit narrowed and limited) will. Scripture never speaks of this, but does say quite the opposite. "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalm 51:5). "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin" Romans 7:14. "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like" (Galatians 5:19-21a). If indeed that passage is talking about not a choice we make, but our condition before we are joined to Christ, then why would it be followed with this passage, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful-nature with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24).
Simultaneously with this emphasis away from the evil of man and the limitations of his will ("But now that you have been set free from sin and become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life"-Romans 7:25) there is an emphasis away from legalistic and forensic language. Why is this? I am not totally against the idea that God renews the relationship between us, and makes it better than before, but with regards to our being made righteous before Him it is faith alone in the sacrifice of Christ. That is the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. "God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses His wrath every day" Psalm 7:11. "However, to the man who does not work, but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteous" Romans 4:5. Indeed it is commonly asserted that the Subtitutionary Atonement Model is a view of Anselm and not to be found in Eastern Orthodoxy....indeed that is false. "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" 1 Peter 1:18-19.
It would be argued that the fathers never spoke of this...and again incorrect, for St. John Chrysostom's Homily #8 on the "Church and Repentance" says thus: "God is a great lover of man. He did not hesitate to surrender His Son as prey in order to spare His servant. He surrendered His only-begotten to purchase hard-hearted servants. He paid the blood of His Son as the price. O the philanthropy of the Master! And do not tell me again, “I sinned a lot; how can I be saved?” You cannot save yourself, but your Master can, and to such a great degree as to obliterate your sins. Pay attention very carefully to the discourse. He wipes out the sins so completely that not a single trace of them remains." St. Chrysostom speaks of a price of blood...a price from the sin offerings that much if not all of the Old Testament sacrifices were set up to show.
To wit, this is not what I intended to write so much about. I merely wished to state what I view as problems with the Eastern Orthodox positions on key Scriptural and Christian truths. If Orthodoxy is the "fullness of the Gospel" as many attest to (I admit they have understandings that may be synergistic to the West), why would the full pronouncement of the Gospel for the forgiveness of sins be fully expressed only on the day of Easter? Pay attention to all of the pomp and celebration of the Easter service...it speaks of us being covered in the blood of the lamb for forgiveness of sins. Dr. Eugene Smith chronicled his transition from the Eastern Orthodoxy Church to the Lutheran Church (here) and brought up the questions he was posed by a Lutheran Vicar while he was still a priest. 1. Is God a liar? 2. Do you believe you are forgiven from the cross? 3. What's your problem? 1 and 2 were easy (no and yes respectively)...but he was caught off-guard by question 3. What indeed is our problem? If we are forgiven from the cross and God became fully man and suffered for us....how then do we become deified by what we do (even with grace) when Christ clearly did it all for us? What is our problem with connecting to that grace-filled act on the cross? It is this that Orthodoxy cannot deliver for me....it seeks to connect and experience God through prayer and yet it is everyday that I experience God within me....when I'm at prayer or not.
Regardless of what side of the divide you fall on...make Christ your God and be subservient to Him and His cross.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son +, and to the Holy Spirit.