Feb 4 2014

More about worship

Go here for part 1.

If the main purpose of Lutheran worship is to receive God’s gifts, then it follows that Lutheran worship is Christ-centered. Just take a look at the liturgical orders of service in either of our two hymnals. Everything said and done is filled with His Word. Why? Because our focus is on Christ and His work, that’s why. The focus of Lutheran worship is on Christ, not man. Therefore, Lutheran worship is always Christocentric-Christ-centered-and never anthropocentric-man-centered.  ~A.L. Barry, as quoted by Matt Richard in part 2 of his series on Lutheran worship

The heart of worship

In my opinion, the greatest statement on worship (as well as on faith) is Peter’s statement as recorded in John 6:68:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69, ESV)

“Where would we go? Only you have the words of life.”

Our word “worship” means to give something or someone great value or worth. Peter’s statement is really the ultimate worship statement, as he is not just saying that Jesus’ words are better than the Rabbis down the road. Peter goes so far as to say, “only you.” There are simply no other options. There’s life here, and anywhere else is death. This attitude, I think, is the true heart of worship.

Note that Peter doesn’t say anything about himself.  He doesn’t talk about what he has to offer, and he doesn’t say anything about how being with Jesus makes him feel. In fact, given Jesus’ recent teaching topics, Peter may have even been somewhat perturbed with Jesus due to the loss of followers. This is, rather, a clear-cut statement that Peter acknowledged that only Jesus had what Peter needs to survive. As someone once put it, Peter’s statement was one of “enlightened self-interest.”

Christ-centered worship

Mr. Barry goes on to say

… Lutheran worship takes our eyes and sets them firmly on the cross of Jesus Christ, for there the Lord of the Universe suffered and died for the sins of the world. Lutheran worship points us to the Resurrected Lord who lives and reigns to all eternity, and promises us everlasting life. Christ-centered Lutheran worship lifts our hearts and minds to the things of God and helps us to understand our place in Christ’s kingdom better as His redeemed people. Yes, Lutheran worship must always be Christ-centered.

When we say Lutheran worship is Christ-centered, this is not to say that those who gather for worship are mere blocks of stone. Our worship focuses on Christ, who is present for us and with us in His Word and Sacraments. He is truly among us. We are not contemplating a far-off Christ, or meditating on abstract ideas. Lutheran worship is not like going to a self-help group or a therapy session. It is God who gathers us for worship around the gifts He gives to us through Word and Sacrament. We are worshipping the One who is very near, as close as the preaching of the Word. We are worshipping the One who is actually present under the bread and wine of Holy Communion. He promised, “I will be with you always.” In our worship service He fulfills that wonderful promise. He is living and active among us, right here, right now, where He has promised to be-in His Word and Sacraments. Therefore, it is important to say that while our focus is on Christ, His focus is always on us! Thanks be to God that this is true!

Now, I don’t mean to say that only Lutherans worship correctly, or that all Lutherans necessarily worship correctly.  I think the principles here transcend Lutheranism, although Lutheran incarnational theology is very intertwined with Lutheran thoughts on worship, and contemporary evangelicalism tends to downplay concepts such as Christ’s real presence.

One of these things is not like the other

My point, rather than to necessarily champion Lutheran worship, is to point out the differences between this philosophy of worship and other worship philosophies which are to varying degrees influenced by Calvinism and Arminianism, both of which can have a very man- and works-centered focus.

I am also not emphasizing one style over another (although I have thoughts there, too). It is entirely possibly to be involved in a very emotionally-oriented style of worship and still be aware that the whole point is to receive from Christ.

This, by the way, is what the Lutherans mean by “Christ-centered,” which is also a term used by everyone else; no one would say that their worship is not “Christ-centered.” The difference is whether or not we are looking solely to Christ as our source for righteousness and holiness as we worship.




Feb 2 2014

About Worship

What is worship?

As my 11 faithful readers know, I was raised Lutheran. When I was in high school, I remember having friends from more, shall we say, emotional denominations and groups, and remember hearing teachings about “worship” and “praise,” things that we didn’t have to teach about in the Lutheran church. (Seriously. Keep reading…) I remember being quite confused, trying to figure out when I was praising as opposed to worshiping, etc.

Now, years later, most of us have gotten familiar with the 20-30 minutes of singing mostly vague, repetitious, elevator-rock music that has become known as “worship” where, in a manner of speaking, we try to reimburse God for what He’s given to us. Many churches also point out that collecting the offering also falls under worship, for the same reason.

At the very least, contemporary worship is a subjective exercise, where we are kind of on the honor system as to whether we actually “entered in” to worship, or just enjoyed the music.  Many people leave feeling some amount of guilt for either not feeling anything, or not being able to conjure up the same kind of emotional energy that the people around us seem to have, not realizing that many of them share the same feelings.  It’s true.  Chances are, you are one of those guilty worshipers.

Today in the church we attended, we were exhorted to focus on “entering in” to worship and giving to God.  I tended to critique the music, being a musician. I can’t help it. But, I don’t feel guilty, because I no longer believe that worship is about my emotions, or my ability to commit and focus and ignore the really terrible-sounding acoustic guitar and very awkward rhythm used on “Why I Survey the Wondrous Cross” in an attempt to make it sound more contemporary.

Worship, Lutheran-style

As providence would have it, this morning I read a great reminder about worship on the blog of a Lutheran pastor I’m Facebook friends with, entitled “”  The title aptly spells out the difference between the above-described contemporary concept of worship and Lutheran worship.  We are not talking about differences of style, such as singing choruses over hymns and liturgy, or the use of guitars and drums as opposed to organs and choirs.  I happen to think liturgy is quite important and useful, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

The difference between the 2 philosophies of worship are striking; in fact, they are direct opposites. In contemporary worship, as with much of contemporary evangelical theology, the key is what we do for God, or do to become more spiritual, or holy, or whatever. On the other hand, Lutheran worship simply where we make ourselves available to receive from God, through the truth in the liturgy, the hymns, the Scriptures (which are read for their own sake, not as preaching texts), the sermon, and Communion. It’s not about our giving—in fact, the thought is quite ludicrous—worship is about receiving.

If we’re emotional, it’s because we are the recipients of grace, forgiveness, healing, love, and acceptance. There’s nothing for us to feel guilty about, because our performance is of no consequence. We are free to enjoy the music (the Episcopal church I like to attend has an amazing music program), even if we forget to listen to the words.  We are reminded that we are God’s—not because we “have decided to follow Jesus”—but because He chose us.

Our part, as worshipers, is to be there to receive. As the author of the article states, “The purpose of worship, therefore, is to be gathered by God around His gifts.”  He goes on to quote from the Lutheran Worship book:

Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges  the gifts, received with eager thankfulness and praise.  Saying back to Him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure…  The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Lutheran Worship, p. 6).

Whether or not we worship “Lutheran-style,” I believe that worship has nothing to do with our emotions (they simply are what they are) or our efforts (which are of no benefit) or how “holy” we are. Worship is not our “job” or “where we give back to God.” Worship is simply to be gathered around God and to receive his gifts.

I am looking forward to parts 2-7 of the article on the Lutheran understanding of worship, and will possibly post more here on the series.



Jan 13 2014

Review: Pastrix

It’s been quite a while since I’ve done any kind of book review, but this one warrants a bit of attention because it is—and it isn’t—what I expected.

Trendy and hip

Anymore, I tend to avoid books that belong in the trendy, hip, postmodern category. Been there, done that. I’ve had enough of disenfranchised, “progressive” or Bono-esque Christians who think their calling is to offend, shock, or stretch the limits of theology. So, when I first heard mention of Pastrix, I thought, “oh, Anne Lamott with tattoos,” and didn’t give the book another thought.

Except, that I knew the person who designed the cover, which is totally awesome. I remember sending JuLee a Facebook message that I’d probably buy the book just for the cover. But, I didn’t, at least right away. I have too many “spiritual” books laying around that I’ve never read.

But, as weeks went by, I kept seeing Nadia’s name pop up, and then found a video of one of her messages. It was probably one of the most grace-filled sermons I’d heard in a long time. Then I listened to a couple of more of her sermons, and found her to have a very tenacious hold on grace, which I am attracted to. So, I broke down and bought the book.

The Review

On one hand, it’s not a great book. I mean, she’s not a C.S. Lewis, and you’re not going to be impressed with either her prose or her theological brilliance (I’d say the same thing about my own book). But, Pastrix is not that kind of book.  It’s also not a typical autobiography, although it is intensely personal and autobiographical. It’s also not an angry rant against traditional evangelical attitudes, or a treatise on gay rights, or an attempt to change anything. Neither is it an attempt at self-justification, the way so many memoirs are.

It is, according to it’s book flap, a spiritual memoir. I would describe it as a confession—of a sinner who is being saved by grace, an admitted misanthrope who was called to pastor “her people” as well as a bunch of people she couldn’t relate to at all.  The book is filled with her past and present failings, and her constant discovery that grace is both challenging and essential, and that life is a process of death and resurrection.

The shocking thing…

There are a number of things in the book that many of what I refer to as “shiny, happy people” Christians will find shocking. Nadia swears like a sailor, has a very colorful past, and uses a few colorful phrases that I don’t even understand. She doesn’t edit her language for the book.  At first, you might think the “f” word is inserted throughout the text on purpose, and in spite of the fact that I believe this is her “native” language, it does seem at times self-aware. But, some of that is possibly due to an editor striving to find a balance between honesty and readability. But that’s not what I think is shocking.

There are also a number of stories about a number of people who fall into the “non-straight” categories, and the fact that Nadia’s church, the House for All Sinners and Saints, is, according to their website, “queer-inclusive.” But that also is not the most shocking thing in the book.

What is perhaps the most shocking thing is that Bolz-Weber is, of all things, a Lutheran. I mean, when’s the last time a Lutheran had a best-selling Christian book? And who would expect a tattooed, foul-mouthed ex-comedian to have such a respect for the Eucharist or baptism or the Liturgical Calendar?  She is, at the same time, both liberal and traditional.

One of the things that struck me was her talking about following the Lectionary, which is essentially a preaching schedule that prescribes what texts to preach from on any given Sunday.  She expresses concern about what would happen should she ever stray from this schedule, and allow herself to preach  on any topic she wishes, as well as her concern to stay true to the text. I could only wish that evangelical pastors could follow this example. It is clear that she does not take her role as pastor lightly, and if anything, is something of a reluctant pastor, knowing that she, on her own, is inadequate.

I imagine, for some evangelicals, the fact that she’s Lutheran will just confirm the fact that she’s not really a Christian (believe me, I’ve heard some wacko stuff through the years, being of Lutheran extraction myself).  But, she understands the gospel, and it comes through time and again. Perhaps, being someone who has admittedly been “forgiven much,” she has a much batter grasp on grace than some of us. It’s no coincidence that she has a tattoo of Mary Magdalene on her arm.

Personal reflection

I expected the book to have a certain amount of self-righteousness due her church’s acceptance of sinners of all stripes, because these kind of books often do. But, there is none of that to be found. Bolz-Weber owns up to her self-righteous tendencies, and calls sin sin, taking an extremely humble attitude, and constantly looks to Jesus as savior, healer and redeemer. I found myself having to admit that at times, my own belief in grace fell somewhat short, and I was challenged to reexamine myself. But, it’s an interesting book in that it never lets you walk away feeling anything less than loved, forgiven, and in the process of being saved.

The message of the book is not to build up Nadia Bolz-Weber in any way. Where some authors take the “this is just who I am” approach to justify who they are, Bolz-Weber never falls into that trap. She knows she is inadequate, so clings strongly to the Cross and the Empty Tomb. The message that comes through loud and clear is that the Gospel is dangerous, that it will confront you and change you. That, in the words of another friend of mine, the Gospel accepts you as you are, but it won’t let you stay the way you are.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am challenging myself to reexamine some things, and this book was quite helpful in that regard, as it identified and challenged the “boundaries” of grace. This personal challenge, by the way, is not a response to current events or issues, but from actually reading the Gospels. As I’ve stated in the past, when I read the Gospels as a whole, rather than in bite-size chunks, I tend to come away more “liberal,” with a much bigger picture of grace. I noticed, for one thing, that when Jesus says,”Go and sin no more,” he doesn’t identify which sin. I try never to be presumptuous in interpreting Scripture, but it’s funny how easily we fill in certain blanks.

I am not saying I agree with everything in the book

I don’t want to give the impression that I agree with everything in the book.  She makes some statements that make me go, “Now, hold on a minute…”  I’m guessing everyone could find at least one of those in the book, and some people obviously more than others.  But, why bother to read a book that you already agree with?  That’s kind of a waste of time.

Pastrix, perhaps, is not a book for everyone. I can think of many people I wouldn’t give the book to, for a number of reasons. But, if you think you understand grace—or want to—and dare to be challenged, this may be a great book for you.

Click here to read or listen to some of her sermons.


Jul 9 2013

A Look At The Non-Western Gospel

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9, ESV)

What’s My Gospel?

There are, obviously, different gospels being taught out there. Paul called the teaching that following the Jewish custom of circumcision was a gospel different enough to suggest that those who taught this should not stop at the foreskin. Yes, he said that. Besides suggesting that they should go to hell.

But which is the proper Gospel?  As in the old TV show What’s My Line?, we should ask, “Will the Real Gospel please stand up?”  Is it the one that says we should trust in our baptism (even when we were baptized as infants)?  Is it the one that says salvation is based on our decision and our faith?  Or perhaps the one that says that however we get in, we’ve got to avoid “backsliding” or be in danger of losing our salvation?

When you look at what Paul says, choosing a gospel can be a scary proposition.

A Pre-Modern Gospel

Being a somewhat independent sort (not always a good thing, I admit), I’ve done my share of wandering, at times being sucked in by some mildly religious/superstitious forms of Christianity. Over the years, being influenced by Luther, CS Lewis, NT Wright (and a number of good Anglicans),  having spent a lot of time in Galatians, and spending 2 years teaching through the Gospel of John, I came to a number of conclusions about the Gospel.

Coincidentally, many of these conclusions are very close to the Eastern Orthodox approach to the Gospel.  I recently found a great summary of the Orthodox view of the gospel, from the Saint Justin the Philosopher Foundation for Orthodox Christian Apologetics, who seems to exist only on Facebook.  Because not everyone is on Facebook, I will reprint the article here, linking back to the original above.  I suspect they won’t mind.

I encourage you to read through it, and comment as you see fit (respectfully, of course).  I am not saying I agree with this 100%, but I think much of this is spot on.

The Gospel As Understood by the Orthodox Church

Many Protestants ask Orthodox Christians what the Orthodox understanding of the Gospel is. This is our attempt at explaining to Protestants (and others) what the gospel is:

The gospel is that the kingdom of Heaven has broken into our realm through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we have an incorrect understanding of what  these things mean, this will lead to large errors of practice, which will seriously impair our entrance to the kingdom of God. For example, Calvinist theologian Sinclair Ferguson describes  his spiritual life as “dragging his sin before the Cross.” By this, he means putting penal substitution into practice. When he sins, he feels guilty because God is angry at him. At this  point, he remembers that God already punished Jesus for his sin, so he “drags it before the Cross” to rid himself of guilt. But what does this do to actually deify him? Note the word  “deify.” Ferguson has never used that word to describe salvation. But “deification” is the substance of salvation. Let me explain. Our Lord, the pre-eternal Son and Word of the Father, is fully divine. He has, from all eternity, had all the properties of deity common to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Man was created in  the Image and Likeness of God. The Holy Fathers interpret this to mean that man reflects certain properties of God, but does not reflect them fully. This is not a “shortcoming”, but rather  a statement that God is infinite, and the brightness of man’s reflection of God can increase forever and ever. So Adam was “very good.” But He was not as good as he possibly could be. If he  was, the Hebrew would say “very very good.” Adam was granted authority over the garden. As he partook of the grace of God, he himself would reflect God ever more brightly, and, as the  steward of God’s creation, the “high priest”, one might say, he would lead all Creation to more brightly reflect the grace of God. At this point we must briefly comment on the meaning of “grace” according to the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Fathers. Protestants interpret grace to mean “God’s unmerited favor.” This is an  incorrect interpretation.

Grace is not only “God’s unmerited favor” (not to imply that the grace that we receive is earned, but rather that this idea is not contained in the word itself), but refers to the power of God actualized in the world. For example, in the first chapter of Saint John’s Gospel, Our Lord is  referred to as “full of grace and truth.” How could Christ be full of “unmerited favor?” In the third chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel, Christ is referred to as “growing in grace and  stature.” How could Christ “grow” in unmerited favor? A reading much more in accord with the Biblical text is the understanding of grace as “God’s power actualized in the world.” This is  what Orthodox Christians mean by the “energies of God.” In essence, God cannot be known. But God’s essential power is actualized in the world through His uncreated energies. These energies are  truly and really God, and they are the means of participation in the life of the divine. Adam would grow in His reflection of God’s likeness in energies, but because no man or angel could  ever partake of the divine essence, He would never be “subsumed” into God. He would always be a deified Adam, never losing his personal existence. Anyway, this path of deification was the right path Adam was walking. Tragically, through events we all know, Adam turned away from this right path. The serpent promised him that “he would  be like God.” Wanting to be like God was not Adam’s error. (As a sidenote, the fact that many Protestants think it is reflects how completely they have lost the concept of deification) We  should all want to be like God. The Holy Apostle Peter says that we are to “be holy, as he is holy.” So why would we want to be unlike Him? No, Adam’s error was trying to be deified (which  means more fully reflecting God’s properties) APART from God. This was not the end of the Fall. The pre-incarnate Word appeared to Adam and asked him what he had done. The Fathers teach  that if Adam at this point had honestly admitted his error, repented, and promised obedience henceforth, the serpent would have been thwarted and God would have reconciled Adam to Himself.  But Adam did not. Adam lied and blamed his wife.

Thus, Adam was expelled from the Garden, and the creation over which he was set a steward fell into corruption, death, and decay. Death  itself cannot be spoken as a literal (though the imagery can be used metaphorically) “punishment” from God. God did not say to Adam, “If you eat, I will surely kill you.” God said, “If you  eat, you will surely die.” Death is simply the natural result of turning away from the only source of life.Corruption, death, decay, these now all became a part of the human experience. And, in a significant, but often overlooked passage, Moses writes, “When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered  a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” This is the “image of Adam” described in the New Testament. It is the image of God in a state of corruption and  imperfection. The Old Testament, even in the deified Prophets and Patriarchs, is a story of how man tries to reach God and always falls short. The ideal of ever more brightly reflecting the  Divine Image could not be attained. Even the Saints of the Old Testament could not attain full glory, because humanity was enslaved.

This is where Christ comes in. The pre-eternal, infinite, uncontainable Word of God became a human being. The eternal Divine Word acquired a human nature. That is, He acquired the set of  properties common to all human persons. In assuming humanity into Himself, He deified it. The human nature was perfectly united and brought into communion with the Logos of God and so  became completely deified at the very moment of the incarnation. Christ, the perfect Image of God (Colossians 1:15) reconstructed the Image of God in man by becoming a man Himself. Christ  grew up, sanctifying every stage of life in His own Person. When Christ announced His public ministry, this was not going to be a collection of pithy moral sayings before He got to what  really mattered, the Crucifixion. No, every miracle and act that Christ did, every word that He spoke, has immense significance in the Christian life. By subjugating himself to death, Adam  subjugated himself to Satan. Satan was the “Prince of this World” and God’s people was a small resistance movement. Most of the false gods throughout pre-Christian history have been  demonic. Many pre-Christian civilizations were under the direct control of Satan’s minions. This is a frightening truth, but if one reads the Book of Daniel, one finds references to the  demonic princes and rulers of other, specific nations. So, when Christ announced “The kingdom of God is at hand!”, this was a world-shaking truth. It was a declaration that Satan’s rule was  over, that God had come at long last to set things right. The Israelites, however, expected this to be in a carnal sense. They expected the Jewish Messiah to come and lead an army to  overthrow the Romans and establish a Jewish government in the Holy Land. The evil Roman Empire was itself only a symptom of the disease, and Our Lord understood that, so He went and fought  the source- Satan. When He cast out demons, this was a statement that God was finished with them, that they were going to be driven out. When Christ healed men from diseases, this was a  statement that the reign of corruption was coming to an end. In short, these were all means of announcing that corruption, death, demonic rule, these were finished. When Christ taught, He  was giving us the true Torah, that which the Torah of Moses was only a shadow. This Torah was one of the heart. It was how man would live in the Kingdom that Christ was ushering in. This  Torah changed the heart of man, which is why the Lord said that “the Kingdom of God is within you.” So, Christ’s ministry had two closely related functions. It was first to announce the  nearness of the Kingdom of God and it was second to describe how man would live in that Kingdom through the preaching of a Torah of the heart.

On Great and Holy Friday, Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins. While this phrase is acknowledged by nearly all who confess the name of Christ, what this actually means is a  subject of intense debate. Most Protestants suggest that God poured His wrath upon Christ’s head so that He did not have to pour it on our heads in hell. The Scholastics suggested that  Christ, in dying a shameful death, generated an infinite store of honorable merit, which could be accessed by the Sacraments and good works. The Church, however, through its Prophets,  Apostles, and Fathers, has an altogether different doctrine. It was mentioned above that Adam had made suffering, corruption, and death a part of human experience. Christ came to reconstruct the  Divine Image through His own incarnated Person. In order to sanctify the fullness of human experience, the terrible truth was that God had to partake of death itself. He had to descend to  the lowest state of human existence. And He did. Christ suffered greatly, and died one of the most shameful deaths known to man. He partook of all our sufferings, our sorrows, our  sicknesses, and our pains. And because it was the infinite God who entered into these things, He healed all of them. This is why the Prophet Isaiah says, “By His stripes, we are healed.”  Satan, as the one who held the power of death, believed that He had won. He had taken the Messiah of God. What He did not take into account is that Christ had never subjected Himself to  Satan’s authority. Christ had never entered into Satan’s communion. But Satan took Him nonetheless. This was his greatest mistake. As Satan had no power over death, Christ broke free of it,  and released all the spirits who communed with Him into Paradise as well. Satan was disarmed. Christ said that He would “disarm the strong man”, and that He did. In the Apocalypse, Christ  says that HE “holds the keys of death and Hades.” This is a profound and glorious truth. Christ had gone down into the lowest state of human existence. He now was bringing up human  experience to the highest points of divine experience. This is the message of the resurrection! The resurrection is the ushering of humanity into the high places. It is the deification of  the body itself. The body, while before it had been a prison of corruption, sickness, and death, was now in Christ a glorious blessing. It was renewed, deified, made incorruptible.

Man, however, still has freedom of choice. God desires all men to come into the communion of His energies, His love. But true love requires freedom. If we choose not to be deified, then  that is our choice. If we desire this wonderful state of deification, how do we do it? The first thing that we must do is have faith. Faith is the foundation of the entire Christian life.  It is the particular attitude which sees God not as a distant lawgiver, but a close father, one who is merciful and good. The one who acts consistently with his faith will undoubtedly be  saved. It must be emphasized that faith does not guarantee consistently acting with that faith. One may have faith, but if one does not act consistently with it, the faith dies.  If one DOES act consistently with the faith, one chooses to be baptized. This Baptism, St. Paul says, clothes us with Christ. It clothes us with His death and resurrection. It frees one  from the subjugation of Satan, who takes every man who sins even once. This Satanic system is the system of law. When we are baptized, we are freed from it, because we become “in Christ.”  As Satan had no authority over Christ, so also He loses authority over every man who is “in Christ.” We are now in a different system, a “system” where the goal is “partaking of the divine  nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and being “conformed to the image of His Son.” (Rom 8:29) When we are anointed with the oil of God (this is known as Chrismation and is described in the Book of Acts  as “laying on of hands), we are indwelt with the grace of the Holy Spirit. This “Chrismation” is really a part of the Mystery of Baptism. The Holy Spirit is our only hope. He is the one who indwells us,  who bestows grace on us, by whose power we do anything that is good. However, salvation still requires “work.” This is not the “work” that one does in a business setting, where one works a  particular number of hours and the boss gives you a particular payment. This is the principle of obligation condemned so forcefully by St. Paul in Romans 4:4. If we work like this, there is  no relationship with the boss. One simply works and receives due payment. But God owes us nothing. Salvation itself requires intimate COMMUNION with God, so if one does these works out of  view of Christ, the communion is not improved, and they will be burned up on the Last Day. This is why St. Seraphim teaches that only good works done for Christ’s sake give us the grace of  the Holy Spirit. NT Wright describes works that save in this fashion. The only works that benefit for salvation are those that are organically related to their result. So, when you make a  new friend, you might describe yourself as “working” for that friendship. But this is only in the sense that talking, hanging out, spending time with this person naturally produces a  friendship. If you went to his house, mowed his lawn, did not talk to him, this “work” woul do nothing to produce a friendship. It is the same with God. Praying, fasting (as fasting dulls  the passions), partaking of the true Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, these are the ways that we commune and relate with God. They naturally produce communion with God.

Christ, through His incarnation, death, and resurrection,  ushered the People of God (who already existed in the form of Israel) to the highest and most advanced state possible, that of being His own Body, which we call the Church. The Church is the People of God that have  partaken of the Divine Nature in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. The Church is “necessary for salvation” only because Christ is necessary for salvation. It is through Christ alone  that man can be saved, and the Church is Christ’s Presence in the world. This is meant this in more than a symbolic sense. The Church is a Eucharistic Community. It is the Eucharist which creates  the Church. St. Paul says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17) The Church is Christ’s Presence to the world because of the Holy Eucharist. We become “one body in Christ” by partaking of Christ’s body in the Holy Eucharist. This is the People of God as it has been transformed by the new covenant. The Prophets and Patriarchs of Israel and the Old Covenant are also members of the Church, because the Church is not an organization that exists in this world, it is a heavenly reality, containing ALL the People of God, made manifest and visible to this world in the form of Eucharistic Communities.While man experiences a foretaste of his eternal destiny when he dies and his body is separated from his soul, this is still an unnatural state. On the Last Day, the Lord will return to Earth to Judge all mankind. This “Judgement” is simply the placing of every person in the place where the condition of their soul requires. Christ will deify the New Creation. The grace of God will be in all and through all. For the person oriented towards God, this means they will continue on their journey of deification forever. For the person oriented away from God, the energies of God only inspire further resistance to God. Thus, the person who reposed while walking the wrong path will forever walk that path. His Divine Image will be deconstructed eternally as they become more and more evil and selfish. The state of living eternally without any love for others, and living with others who are like that- this is hell. The state of living eternally, in a deified and glorified body, in a condition of ever-increasing love and bliss, and living under the direct rule of Christ the King, with others who lovingly serve Christ the King- this is Heaven. This is not to say that we won’t have something to do on the New Earth. No, we, as the Image-Bearing representatives of God to all Creation, together with Jesus Christ, the ultimate Image of God, will forever work on our mission of deifying all Creation. This is eternal joy.