Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Within the Body of Christ: Exploring the Different Belief Systems within Christianity (Session 8 – Arminianism)

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On Tuesday, March 12, at 6:30 p.m., we started a new series entitled “Within the Body of Christ: Exploring the Different Belief Systems within Christianity.” During each session we’ll consider what makes each Christian denomination or group distinct. We’ll discuss their basic theology, their interpretation of scripture and how their understanding of faith shapes their lives. This week we focused on Arminianism.

A podcast of the discussion is at the bottom of the page, and an outline of the session is below.

The History
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  • Jacobus Arminius was a Dutch pastor and theologian in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. He was taught by Theodore Beza, Calvin’s hand-picked successor, but after examination of the Scriptures, he rejected his teacher’s theology that it is God who unconditionally elects some for salvation. Instead Arminius proposed that the election of God was of believers, thereby making it conditional on faith. Arminius’s views were challenged by the Dutch Calvinists, especially Franciscus Gomarus, but Arminius died before a national synod could occur
  • Arminius’s followers, not wanting to adopt their leader’s name, called themselves the Remonstrants. When Arminius died before he could satisfy Holland’s State General’s request for a 14-page paper outlining his views, the Remonstrants replied in his stead crafting the Five articles of Remonstrance. After some political maneuvering, the Dutch Calvinists were able to convince Prince Maurice of Nassau to deal with the situation. Maurice systematically removed Arminian magistrates from office and called a national synod at Dordrecht. This Synod of Dort was open primarily to Dutch Calvinists (Arminians were excluded) with Calvinist representatives from other countries, and in 1618 published a condemnation of Arminius and his followers as heretics. Part of this publication was the famous Five points of Calvinism in response to the five articles of Remonstrance.
  • Arminians across Holland were removed from office, imprisoned, banished, and sworn to silence. Twelve years later Holland officially granted Arminianism protection as a religion, although animosity between Arminians and Calvinists continued.

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Doctrine
  • Depravity isn’t total - Arminius states “In this [fallen] state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace.”
  • Atonement is intended for all - Jesus’s death was for all people, Jesus draws all people to himself, and all people have opportunity for salvation through faith.
  • Jesus’s death satisfies God’s justice - The penalty for the sins of the elect is paid in full through Jesus’s work on the cross. Thus Christ’s atonement is intended for all, but requires faith to be effected. Arminius states that “Justification, when used for the act of a Judge, is either purely the imputation of righteousness through mercy… or that man is justified before God… according to the rigor of justice without any forgiveness.” Stephen Ashby clarifies: “Arminius allowed for only two possible ways in which the sinner might be justified: by our absolute and perfect adherence to the law, or purely by God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness.
  • Grace is resistible - God takes initiative in the salvation process and His grace comes to all people. This grace (often called prevenient or pre-regenerating grace) acts on all people to convince them of the Gospel, draw them strongly towards salvation, and enable the possibility of sincere faith. Picirilli states that “indeed this grace is so close to regeneration that it inevitably leads to regeneration unless finally resisted.” The offer of salvation through grace does not act irresistibly in a purely cause-effect, deterministic method but rather in an influence-and-response fashion that can be both freely accepted and freely denied. 
  • Man has free will to respond or resist - Free will is limited by God’s sovereignty, but God’s sovereignty allows all men the choice to accept the Gospel of Jesus through faith, simultaneously allowing all men to resist.
  • Election is conditional - Arminius defined election as “the decree of God by which, of Himself, from eternity, He decreed to justify in Christ, believers, and to accept them unto eternal life.” God alone determines who will be saved and his determination is that all who believe Jesus through faith will be justified. According to Arminius, “God regards no one in Christ unless they are en grafted in him by faith.
  • God predestines the elect to a glorious future - Predestination is not the predetermination of who will believe, but rather the predetermination of the believer’s future inheritance. The elect are therefore predestined to sonship through adoption, glorification, and eternal life. 
  • Eternal security is also conditional - All believers have full assurance of salvation with the condition that they remain in Christ. Salvation is conditioned on faith, therefore perseverance is also conditioned. Apostasy (turning from Christ) is only committed through a deliberate, willful rejection of Jesus and renunciation of saving faith. Such apostasy is irremediable.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Within the Body of Christ: Exploring the Different Belief Systems within Christianity (Session 7 - Anglicanism)


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On Tuesday, March 5, at 6:30 p.m., we started a new series entitled “Within the Body of Christ: Exploring the Different Belief Systems within Christianity.” During each session we’ll consider what makes each Christian denomination or group distinct. We’ll discuss their basic theology, their interpretation of scripture and how their understanding of faith shapes their lives. This week we focused on Anglicanism.

A podcast of the discussion and a brief video of the PowerPoint presentation is at the bottom of the page, and an outline of the session is below.

The History

  • In 1534, King Henry VIII separated the English Church from Rome.  The English Reformation gained political support when Henry VIII wanted an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Pope Clement VII, considering that the earlier marriage had been entered under a papal dispensation and how Catherine's nephew, Emperor Charles V, might react to such a move, refused the annulment. Eventually, Henry, although theologically opposed to Protestantism, took the position of Supreme Head of the Church of England to ensure the annulment of his marriage. He was excommunicated by Pope Paul III.
  • Henry maintained a strong preference for traditional Catholic practices and, during his reign, Protestant reformers were unable to make many changes to the practices of the Church of England. Indeed, this part of Henry's reign saw the trial for heresy of Protestants as well as Roman Catholics.
  • Under his son, King Edward VI, more Protestant-influenced forms of worship were adopted. Under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, a more radical reformation proceeded. A new pattern of worship was set out in the Book of Common Prayer (1549 and 1552). These were based on the older liturgy but influenced by Protestant principles. The confession of the reformed Church of England was set out in the Forty-two Articles (later revised to thirty-nine). The reformation however was cut short by the death of the king. Queen Mary I, who succeeded him, returned England again to the authority of the papacy, thereby ending the first attempt at an independent Church of England. 
  • Mary also died childless and so it was left to the new regime of her half-sister Elizabeth to resolve the direction of the church. The settlement under Queen Elizabeth I (from 1558), known as the Elizabethan Settlement, developed the via media (middle way) character of the Church of England, a church moderately Reformed in doctrine, as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles, but also emphasizing continuity with the Catholic and Apostolic traditions of the Church Fathers. It was also an established church (constitutionally established by the state with the head of state as its supreme governor). The exact nature of the relationship between church and state would be a source of continued friction into the next century.
  • For the next century, through the reigns of James I, who ordered the creation of what became known as the King James Bible, and Charles I, culminating in the English Civil War and the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, there were significant swings back and forth between two factions: the Puritans (and other radicals) who sought more far-reaching Protestant reforms, and the more conservative churchmen who aimed to keep closer to traditional beliefs and Catholic practices. The failure of political and ecclesiastical authorities to submit to Puritan demands for more extensive reform was one of the causes of open warfare.
  • By Continental standards, the level of violence over religion was not high, but the casualties included King Charles I and Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud. Under the Commonwealth and the Protectorate of England from 1649 to 1660, the bishops were dethroned and former practices were outlawed, and Presbyterian ecclesiology was introduced in place of the episcopate. The 39 Articles were replaced by the Westminster Confession, the Book of Common Prayer by the Directory of Public Worship. Despite this, about one quarter of English clergy refused to conform to this form of State Presbyterianism. 
  • With the Restoration of Charles II, Parliament restored the Church of England to a form not far removed from the Elizabethan version.

Doctrine
  • Anglicanism does not possess an agreed-upon confession of faith, such as the Presbyterian Westminster Confession, nor does it claim a founding theologian, such as John Calvin or Martin Luther, or a central authority, such as the Roman Catholic magisterium, to set the parameters of acceptable belief and practice.
  • There are two parallel streams informing doctrinal development and understanding in Anglicanism. Firstly, there is an appeal to the historical formularies, prayer-books, ordinals and the "standard divines". Most prominent of the historical formularies are the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, principally authored by Thomas Cranmer. The second stream of doctrine is contained in the formally adopted doctrinal positions of the constitutions and canon law of various national churches and provinces of the Anglican Communion. 
  • The Thirty-Nine Articles list core Reformed doctrines such as the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for salvation, the execution of Jesus as "the perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world", Predestination and Election. Some of the articles are simple statements of opposition to Roman Catholic doctrine, such as Article XIV which denies "Works of Supererogation", Article XV which implicitly excludes the Immaculate Conception, and XXII which explicitly rejects the concept of Purgatory. Catholic worship and teaching was at the time conducted in Latin, while the Articles required church services to use the vernacular.
  • The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is a summation of the Anglican approach to theology, worship and church structure and is often cited as a basic summary of the essentials of Anglican identity. The four points are:
    • The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as "containing all things necessary to salvation," and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
    • The Creeds (specifically, the Apostles' and Nicene) as the sufficient statement of Christian faith;
    • The dominical sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion;
    • The historic episcopate locally adapted

Government
  • The British monarch is not the constitutional "head" but in law the "Supreme Governor" of the Church of England, nor does he or she have any role in provinces outside England. The role of the crown in the Church of England is practically limited to the appointment of bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, and even this role is limited, as the Church presents the government with a short list of candidates to choose from. The monarch has no constitutional role in Anglican churches in other parts of the world, although the prayer books of several countries where she is head of state maintain prayers for her as sovereign.
  • A characteristic of Anglicanism is that it has no international juridical authority. All thirty-nine provinces of the Anglican Communion are autonomous, each with their own primate and governing structure. These provinces may take the form of national churches (such as in Canada, Uganda, or Japan) or a collection of nations (such as the West Indies, Central Africa, or South Asia), or geographical regions (such as Vanuatu and Solomon Islands) etc. Within these Communion provinces may exist subdivisions, called ecclesiastical provinces, under the jurisdiction of a metropolitan archbishop.
  • All provinces of the Anglican Communion consist of dioceses, each under the jurisdiction of a bishop. In the Anglican tradition, bishops must be consecrated according to the strictures of apostolic succession, which Anglicans consider one of the marks of Catholicity. Apart from bishops, there are two other orders of ordained ministry: deacon and priest.
Worship
  • Anglican worship is as diverse as Anglican theology. 
  • A contemporary "low church" or Evangelical service may differ little from the worship of many mainstream non-Anglican Protestant churches. The service is constructed around a sermon focused on Biblical exposition and opened with one or more Bible readings and closed by a series of prayers (both set and extemporized) and hymns or songs. 
  • A "high church" or Anglo-Catholic service, by contrast, is usually a more formal liturgy celebrated by clergy in distinctive vestments and may be almost indistinguishable from a Roman Catholic service, often resembling the "pre-Vatican II" Tridentine rite.
  • Only baptized persons are eligible to receive communion, although in many churches communion is restricted to those who have not only been baptized but also confirmed. In many Anglican provinces, however, all baptized Christians are now often invited to receive communion and some dioceses have regularized a system for admitting baptized young people to communion before they are confirmed.
Distribution




Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Within the Body of Christ: Exploring the Different Belief Systems within Christianity (Session 6 - Calvinism)


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On Tuesday, February 26, at 6:30 p.m., we started a new series entitled “Within the Body of Christ: Exploring the Different Belief Systems within Christianity.” During each session we’ll consider what makes each Christian denomination or group distinct. We’ll discuss their basic theology, their interpretation of scripture and how their understanding of faith shapes their lives. This week we focused on Calvinism.

A podcast of the discussion is at the bottom of the page, and an outline of the session is below.

The History
  • John Calvin's international influence and eventual development of the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation began in 1534 when Calvin was 25. That marks his start on the first edition of Institutes of the Christian Religion (published in 1536). He revised this work several times, and produced a French vernacular translation. The Institutes, together with Calvin's polemical and pastoral works, his contributions to confessional documents for use in churches, and his massive outpouring of commentary on the Bible, meant that Calvin had a direct personal influence on Protestantism. 
  • The Institutes, together with Calvin's other works, his contributions to confessional documents for use in churches, and his massive outpouring of commentary on the Bible, meant that Calvin had a direct personal influence on Protestantism.
Doctrine
  • Sovereign grace 
    • All people are entirely at the mercy of God, who would be just in condemning all people for their sins, but who has chosen to be merciful to some. Thus, one person is saved while another is condemned, not because of a foreseen willingness, faith, or any other virtue in the first person, but because God sovereignly chose to have mercy on him (Romans 9:16-17). 
    • Although the person must believe the gospel and respond to be saved, this obedience of faith is God's gift, and thus God completely and sovereignly accomplishes the salvation of sinners. 
    • Views of predestination to damnation (the doctrine of reprobation) are less uniform than is the view of predestination to salvation (the doctrine of election) among self-described Calvinists. 
  • Five Points of Calvinism 
    • Calvinist theology is sometimes identified with the five points of Calvinism, also called the doctrines of grace, which are a point-by-point response to the five points of the Arminian Remonstrance and which serve as a summation of the judgments rendered by the Synod of Dort in 1619. 
    • Calvin himself never used such a model and never combated Arminianism directly. In fact, Calvin died in 1564 and Jacob Arminias was born in 1560, and so the men were not contemporaries. The Articles of Remonstrance were authored by opponents of reformed doctrine and Biblical Monergism. They were rejected in 1619 at the Synod of Dort, more than 50 years after the death of Calvin. 
    • Total Depravity - This doctrine, also called “total inability”, asserts that as a consequence of the fall of man into sin, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin. People are not by nature inclined to love God with their whole heart, mind, or strength, but rather all are inclined to serve their own interests over those of their neighbor and to reject the rule of God. Thus, all people by their own faculties are morally unable to choose to follow God and be saved because they are unwilling to do so out of the necessity of their own natures. (The term "total" in this context refers to sin affecting every part of a person, not that every person is as evil as possible.) This doctrine is borrowed from Augustine. 
    • Unconditional election - This doctrine asserts that God has chosen from eternity those whom he will bring to himself not based on foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people; rather, it is unconditionally grounded in God's mercy alone. God has chosen from eternity to extend mercy to those He has chosen and to withhold mercy from those not chosen. Those chosen receive salvation through Christ alone. Those not chosen receive the just wrath that is warranted for their sins against God. 
    • Limited atonement - Also called "particular redemption" or "definite atonement", this doctrine asserts that Jesus's substitutionary atonement was definite and certain in its purpose and in what it accomplished. This implies that only the sins of the elect were atoned for by Jesus's death. Calvinists do not believe, however, that the atonement is limited in its value or power, but rather that the atonement is limited in the sense that it is designed for some and not all. Hence, Calvinists hold that the atonement is sufficient for all and efficient for the elect. The doctrine is driven by the Calvinistic concept of the sovereignty of God in salvation and their understanding of the nature of the atonement. 
    • Irresistible grace - This doctrine asserts that the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (that is, the elect) and, in God's timing, overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith. This means that when God sovereignly purposes to save someone, that individual certainly will be saved. The doctrine holds that this purposeful influence of God's Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, but that the Holy Spirit, "graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ."
    • Covenant Theology - Calvinists take God's transcendence to mean that the relationship between God and his creation must be by voluntary condescension on God's part. This relationship he establishes is covenantal: the terms of the relationship are unchangeably decreed by God alone.
  • Worship regulated by God - The regulative principle regarding worship, which distinguishes the Calvinist approach to the public worship of God from other views, is that only those elements that are instituted or appointed by command or example in the New Testament are permissible in worship. In other words, the regulative principle maintains that God institutes in the scriptures what he requires for worship in the church, and everything else is prohibited. As the regulative principle is reflected in Calvin's own thought, it is driven by his evident antipathy toward the Roman Catholic Church and its worship practices, and it associates musical instruments with icons, which he considered violations of the Ten Commandments' prohibition of graven images
  • Historical impact

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Within the Body of Christ: Exploring the Different Belief Systems within...



On Tuesday, February 19, at 6:30 p.m., we started a new series entitled “Within the Body of Christ: Exploring the Different Belief Systems within Christianity.” During each session we’ll consider what makes each Christian denomination or group distinct. We’ll discuss their basic theology, their interpretation of scripture and how their understanding of faith shapes their lives. This week we focused on Lutheranism.

Within the Body of Christ: Exploring the Different Belief Systems within Christianity (Session 5 - Lutheranism)

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On Tuesday, February 19, at 6:30 p.m., we started a new series entitled “Within the Body of Christ: Exploring the Different Belief Systems within Christianity.” During each session we’ll consider what makes each Christian denomination or group distinct. We’ll discuss their basic theology, their interpretation of scripture and how their understanding of faith shapes their lives. This week we focused on Lutheranism.

A podcast of the discussion is at the bottom of the page, and an outline of the session is below.



The History
  • Lutheranism is based on the teachings of Martin Luther. Luther's efforts to reform the theology and practice of the Roman Catholic Church launched the Protestant Reformation. Beginning with the 95 Theses, Luther's writings disseminated internationally, spreading the ideas of the Reformation beyond the ability of governmental and churchly authorities to control it. 
  • The name "Lutheran" originated as a derogatory term used against Luther by Johann Eck during the Leipzig Debate in July 1519. Eck and other Roman Catholics followed the traditional practice of naming a heresy after its leader, thus labeling all who identified with the theology of Martin Luther as Lutherans. Martin Luther always disliked the term, preferring instead to describe the reform movement with the term "Evangelical", which was derived from euangelion, a Greek word meaning "good news", i.e. "Gospel." Lutherans themselves began to use the term in the middle of the 16th century in order to identify themselves from other groups, such as Philippists and Calvinists. In 1597, theologians in Wittenberg used the title "Lutheran" to describe their church. 
  • The split between the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics began with the Edict of Worms in 1521, which officially excommunicated Luther and all of his followers. The divide centered over the doctrine of Justification. Lutheranism advocates a doctrine of justification "by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone" which went against the Roman view of "faith formed by love", or "faith and works".
  • Lutheranism rose in Germany and Scandinavia.
Doctrine
  • The Bible - Traditionally, Lutherans hold the Bible of the Old and New Testaments to be the only divinely inspired book, the only source of divinely revealed knowledge, and the only norm for Christian teaching. Scripture alone is the formal principle of the faith, the final authority for all matters of faith and morals because of its inspiration, authority, clarity, efficacy, and sufficiency.
  • Lutheran Confessions - The Book of Concord, published in 1580, contains ten documents which some Lutherans believe are faithful and authoritative explanations of Holy Scripture. Besides the three Ecumenical Creeds, which date to Roman times, the Book of Concord contains seven credal documents articulating Lutheran theology in the Reformation era. 
  • Justification - The key doctrine, or material principle, of Lutheranism is the doctrine of justification. Lutherans believe that humans are saved from their sins by God's grace alone (Sola Gratia), through faith alone (Sola Fide).
  • Trinity - Lutherans believe in the Trinity
  • Sacraments 
    • Lutherans hold that sacraments are sacred acts of divine institution. Whenever they are properly administered by the use of the physical component commanded by God along with the divine words of institution, God is, in a way specific to each sacrament, present with the Word and physical component. He earnestly offers to all who receive the sacrament forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. He also works in the recipients to get them to accept these blessings and to increase the assurance of their possession. 
    • Lutherans are not dogmatic about the number of the sacraments. In line with Luther's initial statement in his Large Catechism some speak of only two sacraments, Baptism and Holy Communion, although later in the same work he calls Confession and Absolution "the third sacrament."
  • Conversion - In Lutheranism, conversion or regeneration in the strict sense of the term is the work of divine grace and power by which man, born of the flesh, and void of all power to think, to will, or to do any good thing, and dead in sin is, through the gospel and holy baptism, taken from a state of sin and spiritual death under God's wrath into a state of spiritual life of faith and grace, rendered able to will and to do what is spiritually good and, especially, made to trust in the benefits of the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
  • Predestination 
    • Lutherans adhere to divine monergism, the teaching that salvation is by God's act alone, and therefore reject the idea that humans in their fallen state have a free will concerning spiritual matters. 
    • Lutherans believe that although humans have free will concerning civil righteousness, they cannot work spiritual righteousness in the heart without the presence and aid of the Holy Spirit. Lutherans believe Christians are "saved"; that all who trust in Christ alone and his promises can be certain of their salvation
  • Good Works 
    • Lutherans believe that good works are the fruit of faith, always and in every instance. Good works have their origin in God, not in the fallen human heart or in human striving; their absence would demonstrate that faith, too, is absent. Lutherans do not believe that good works are a factor in obtaining salvation; they believe that we are saved by the grace of God - based on the merit of Christ in his suffering and death - and faith in the Triune God. 
    • Good works are the natural result of faith, not the cause of salvation. Although Christians are no longer compelled to keep God's law, they freely and willingly serve God and their neighbors.
  • Judgment and eternal life 
    • Lutherans do not believe in any sort of earthly millennial kingdom of Christ either before or after his second coming on the last day. Lutherans teach that, at death, the souls of Christians are immediately taken into the presence of Jesus, where they await the second coming of Jesus on the last day. On the last day, all the bodies of the dead will be resurrected. Their souls will then be reunited with the same bodies they had before dying. The bodies will then be changed, those of the wicked to a state of everlasting shame and torment, those of the righteous to an everlasting state of celestial glory. 
    • After the resurrection of all the dead, and the change of those still living, all nations shall be gathered before Christ, and he will separate the righteous from the wicked. Christ will publicly judge all people by the testimony of their deeds, the good works of the righteous in evidence of their faith, and the evil works of the wicked in evidence of their unbelief. He will judge in righteousness in the presence of all people and angels, and his final judgment will be just damnation to everlasting punishment for the wicked and a gracious gift of life everlasting to the righteous. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Within the Body of Christ: Exploring the Different Belief Systems within Christianity (Session 4 - The Protestant Reformation)

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On Tuesday, February 12, at 6:30 p.m., we started a new series entitled “Within the Body of Christ: Exploring the Different Belief Systems within Christianity.” During each session we’ll consider what makes each Christian denomination or group distinct. We’ll discuss their basic theology, their interpretation of scripture and how their understanding of faith shapes their lives. This week we focused on the Protestant Reformation.

A podcast of the discussion is at the bottom of the page, and an outline of the session is below.


The Causes
  • The Reformation began as an attempt to reform the Roman Catholic Church, by priests who opposed what they perceived as false doctrines and ecclesiastic malpractice—especially the teaching and the sale of indulgences or the abuses thereof, and simony, the selling and buying of clerical offices—that the reformers saw as evidence of the systemic corruption of the Church's Roman hierarchy, which included the Pope. 
  • The Reformation was a triumph of literacy and the new printing press. Luther's translation of the Bible into German was a decisive moment in the spread of literacy, and stimulated as well the printing and distribution of religious books and pamphlets. From 1517 onward religious pamphlets flooded Germany and much of Europe. 
  • The frustrated reformism of the humanists, ushered in by the Renaissance, contributed to a growing impatience among reformers.
  • The rise of the nation state fostered and encouraged the Reformation.
Theological Strands 
  • Lutherans
  • Calvinists/Reformed
  • Anglicanism
  • Anabaptists

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Within the Body of Christ: Exploring the Different Belief Systems within Christianity (Session 3 - Eastern Orthodoxy)

On Tuesday, February 5, at 6:30 p.m., we started a new series entitled “Within the Body of Christ: Exploring the Different Belief Systems within Christianity.” During each session we’ll consider what makes each Christian denomination or group distinct. We’ll discuss their basic theology, their interpretation of scripture and how their understanding of faith shapes their lives. This week we focused on Eastern Orthodoxy.

A podcast of the discussion is at the bottom of the page, and an outline of the session is below.

What Eastern Orthodox Christians Believe

The Trinity
  • The Holy Trinity is three, distinct, divine persons, without overlap or modality among them, who share one divine essence—uncreated, immaterial and eternal.
  • Each of these three persons is typically identified by its relation to some other. The Father is eternal and not born or proceeded, the Son is eternal and born by the Father, and the Holy Spirit is proceeded by the Father and is also eternal.
Sin, salvation and the incarnation
  • At some point in the beginnings of human existence man was faced with a choice: to learn the difference between good and evil through observation or through participation. The biblical story of Adam and Eve represents this choice by mankind to participate in evil. This event is commonly referred to as the “fall of man” and it represents a fundamental change in human nature. When Orthodox Christians refer to Fallen Nature they believe that human nature is open to acts of evil, and not that the humaneness joins with evil. They reject the Augustinian position that the descendants of Adam and Eve are actually guilty of their sin.
  • As a result of this sin, humanity was doomed to be separated from God. This was mankind’s ultimate dilemma. The solution to this problem was for God to effect another change in human nature. Orthodox Christians believe that Christ Jesus was both God and Man absolutely. He was born, lived, died, and rose again by the power of the Holy Spirit. Through God’s participation in humanity, human nature is changed thus saving us from the fate of Hell (Orthodox reject the idea that Christ died to give God "satisfaction", as taught by Anselm, or as a punitive substitute as taught by the Reformers).
  • The effective change included all those who had died from the beginning of time – saving everyone including Adam and Eve. This process, to Orthodox Christians, is what is meant by “salvation”. The ultimate goal is theosis – an even closer union with God and closer likeness to God than existed in the Garden of Eden. This very process is called Deification or “God became Man that Man might become God”.
Resurrection
  • The Resurrection of Christ is the central event in the liturgical year of the Orthodox Church and is understood in literal terms as a real historical event. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified and died, descended into Hades, rescued all the souls held there through sin; and then, because Hades could not restrain the infinite God, rose from the dead, thus saving the human race. 
  • Through these events, Christ released us from the bonds of Hades and then came back to the living as both man and God. According to Orthodox tradition, each human being may partake of this immortality, which would have been impossible without the Resurrection; it is the main promise held out by God in the New Testament.
Bible, holy tradition and the patristic consensus
  • The Orthodox Church regards itself as the historical and organic continuation of the original Church founded by Christ and His apostles.
  • The faith taught by Jesus to the apostles, given life by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and passed down to future generations uncorrupted, is known as Holy Tradition. The primary and authoritative witness to Holy Tradition is the Bible, texts written by the apostles or those in the Early Church, and approved by Church leaders under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Bible reveals God's will, the relationship between the Israelites and God, the wonders of Christ and the early history of the Church. As the Bible has an inspired origin it is central to the life of the Church.
  • Scriptures are understood to contain historical fact, poetry, idiom, metaphor, simile, moral fable, parable, prophecy, and wisdom literature. Thus, the Scriptures are never used for personal interpretation, but always seen within the context of Holy Tradition, which gave birth to the Scripture. Orthodoxy maintains that belief in a doctrine of sola scriptura would lead most to error since the truth of Scripture cannot be separated from the traditions from which it arose. Orthodox Christians therefore believe that the only way to correctly understand the Bible is within the Church.
  • Other witnesses to Holy Tradition include the Liturgy of the Church, its iconography, the rulings of Holy Synods, especially the Ecumenical councils, and the writings of the Church Fathers. From the consensus of the Fathers (consensus patrum) one may enter more deeply and understand more fully the Church’s life. Individual Fathers are not looked upon as infallible, but rather their whole consensus will give one a proper understanding of the Bible and Christian doctrine.
Theotokos and saints
  • The Orthodox Church believes death and the separation of body and soul to be unnatural—a result of the Fall of Man. They also hold that the congregation of the Church comprises both the living and the dead. 
  • All persons currently in heaven are considered to be saints, whether their names are known or not. There are, however, those saints of distinction whom God has revealed as particularly good examples. When a saint is revealed and ultimately recognized by a large portion of the Church a service of official recognition (glorification) is celebrated. This does not 'make' the person a saint, it merely recognizes the fact and announces it to the rest of the Church. 
  • A day is prescribed for the saint’s celebration, hymns composed and icons are created. Numerous saints are celebrated on each day of the year. They are venerated (shown great respect and love) but not worshiped, for worship is due to God alone. In showing the saints this love and requesting their prayers, it is believed by the Orthodox that they thus assist in the process of salvation for others.
  • Pre-eminent among the saints is the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos ("God-bearer"). In Orthodox theology, the Theotokos is the fulfillment of the Old Testament archetype revealed in the Ark of the Covenant, because she carried the New Covenant in the person of Christ; thus, the Orthodox consider her the Ark of the New Covenant, and give her the respect and reverence as such. The Theotokos was chosen by God and freely co-operated in that choice to be the Mother of Jesus Christ, the God-man. The Orthodox believe that the Christ Child from the moment of conception was both fully God and fully Man. 
  • She is thus called 'Theotokos' as an affirmation of the divinity of the One to whom she gave birth. It is also believed that her virginity was not compromised in conceiving God-incarnate, that she was not harmed and that she remained forever a virgin; scriptural references to "brothers" of Christ are interpreted as kin, given that the word 'brother' was used in multiple ways, just as the term "father". Due to her unique place in salvation history, Mary is honored above all other saints and especially venerated for the great work that God accomplished through her.
The End
  • Orthodox Christians believe that when a person dies the soul is temporarily separated from the body. Though it may linger for a short period on Earth, it is ultimately escorted either to paradise (Abraham's bosom) or the darkness of Hades, following the Temporary Judgment. Orthodox do not accept the doctrine of Purgatory, which is held by Roman Catholicism.
  • The Orthodox believe that after the Final Judgment:
    • all souls will be reunited with their resurrected bodies 
    • all souls will fully experience their spiritual state 
    • having been perfected, the human race will forever progress towards a deeper and fuller love of God, which equates with eternal happiness 
    • hell, though often described in metaphor as punishment inflicted by God, is in reality the soul's rejection of God's infinite love which is offered freely and abundantly to everyone. 
Icons
  • The term ‘icon’ comes from the Greek word eikona, which simply means image. The Orthodox believe that the first icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary were painted by Luke the Evangelist.
  • Icons are filled with symbolism designed to convey information about the person or event depicted. For this reason, icons tend to be formulaic, following a prescribed methodology for how a particular person should be depicted, including hair style, body position, clothing, and background details.
  • Free-standing statues (three dimensional depictions) are almost non-existent within the Orthodox Church. This is partly due to the rejection of the previous pagan Greek age of idol worship and partly because icons are meant to show the spiritual nature of man, not the sensual earthly body. Bas reliefs, however, became common during the Byzantine period and led to a tradition of covering a painted icon in a silver or gold 'riza' in order to preserve the icon. Such bas relief coverings usually leave the faces and hands of the saints exposed for veneration.
Worship
  • Orthodox services are sung nearly in their entirety. Services consist in part of a dialogue between the clergy and the people (often represented by the choir or the Psaltis Cantor). In each case the prayers are sung or chanted following a prescribed musical form. Almost nothing is read in a normal speaking voice, with the exception of the homily if one is given. Because the human voice is seen as the most perfect instrument of praise, musical instruments (organs, guitars, etc.) are not generally used to accompany the choir.
  • As part of the legacy handed down from its Judaic roots, incense is used during all services in the Orthodox Church as an offering of worship to God as it was done in the Jewish First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (Exodus chapter 30).

Sacraments (Holy Mysteries) 
  • According to Orthodox theology, the purpose of the Christian life is to attain theosis, the mystical union of man with God. This union is understood as both collective and individual. 
  • In the Orthodox Church the terms “Mystery” or “The Mysteries” refer to the process of theosis. While it is understood that God theoretically can do anything instantly and invisibly, it is also understood that he generally chooses to use material substance as a medium in order to reach people. The limitations are those of mankind, not God. Matter is not considered to be evil by the Orthodox. Water, oil, bread, wine, etc., all are means by which God reaches out to allow people to draw closer to him. How this process works is a “Mystery”, and cannot be defined in human terms. These Mysteries are surrounded by prayer and symbolism so that their true meaning will not be forgotten.
  • Those things which in the West are often termed Sacraments or sacramentals are known among the Orthodox as the Sacred Mysteries. While the Roman Catholic Church numbers seven Sacraments, and many Protestant groups list two (Baptism and the Eucharist) or even none, the Orthodox do not limit the number. However, for the sake of convenience, catechisms will often speak of the seven Great Mysteries. Among these are Holy Communion (the most direct connection), Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, Unction, Matrimony, and Ordination. But the term also properly applies to other sacred actions such as monastic Tonsure or the blessing of holy water, and involves fasting, almsgiving, or an act as simple as lighting a candle, burning incense, praying or asking God's blessing on food.