Today I started making a list of the various differences I’ve come across between the Eastern Orthodox and Evangelical theology (I am ignoring the RCC at this point, as it has its own issues, and it’s my blog). Here’s the list, in quasi-random order:
- The interpretation of the phrase “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church” from the Nicene Creed.
- Tradition and authority
- The acceptance of the “filioque” clause in the Nicene Creed by the RCC and Protestant churches
- Views of the Atonement: Christus Victor vs. Substitutionary or Penal theories
- Soteriology: Theosis/deification vs. a forensic view of justification
- Apophatic vs. Capophatic theology
- Mystical v Rational theology
- The nature of sin
I quite possibly have left out something important, and reserve the right to add to this list. Also, there is a bit of overlap in my list. On some items in the list, I tend to agree with the Orthodox view (3, 4, 8); on others, I disagree (1, 6), and on the rest I either am “agnostic” or would take an inclusive or MOR position. In the next few posts I will discuss each of these, in probably another quasi-random order.
One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church
It probably has not occurred to many people that churches who confess the Nicene Creed (including Orthodox, RCC, Lutheran, Anglican and many others) disagree on the meaning of “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” Most of us who were raised Protestant understand this to mean that we believe in the invisible church, inclusive of all believers regardless of denomination. The Orthodox, however, do not believe in this “invisible” church; to the East, this statement refers to the various churches in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, exclusive of the Roman and Protestant churches.
When this creed was developed in the 4th Century, there was only one church; the Roman church, while divided by language and politics, was still joined to the Eastern church. So, this was not an issue until the Great Schism of 1054 (if I recall correctly) at which time the Roman church excommunicated the Orthodox, and the Eastern church “wrote off” the RCC. Both factions laid claim to the Creed, believing that they were the “one” visible church. When Luther & Co. began the Reformation, the phrase was reinterpreted to refer to the global, “invisible” church.
It is also interesting to note that some Protestant churches disagree with this line of the Nicene Creed (the Orthodox refer to the creed as the “Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed” as it was finalized in the later Ecumenical Council), as they refuse to accept the Orthodox and RCC churches. How ironic.
Because the Eastern church believes salvation as flowing from the Church, this has obvious implications in the Eastern view of the Western churches. While most do not say that there are no non-Orthodox Christians, they will not go so far as to say that salvation is possible outside of the Church. One really has to better understand the Orthodox view of salvation to understand this issue, but I confess that so far, I don’t have that level of understanding.
If any of my 11 readers has some thoughts on this issue, I’d love to hear them. I am on a fact-finding mission here, rather than being pedantic.