Exploring the Twain 5 – Major issues between East and West

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:

  1. The interpretation of the phrase “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church” from the Nicene Creed.
  2. Tradition and authority
  3. The acceptance of the “filioque” clause in the Nicene Creed by the RCC and Protestant churches
  4. Views of the Atonement: Christus Victor vs. Substitutionary or Penal theories
  5. Soteriology: Theosis/deification vs. a forensic view of justification
  6. Apophatic vs. Capophatic theology
  7. Mystical v Rational theology
  8. 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.

15 thoughts on “Exploring the Twain 5 – Major issues between East and West”

  1. Hi there. Just wanted to say thanks for this post, and that even years later some people are still finding it useful. Lately I’ve been feeling a little drawn towards Orthodoxy so I’m trying to get as much info as I can about it. I ended up here because I did a search on “orthodoxy and universalism” or something like that.

  2. There are two gaps here at least. In the previous comment I was referring to the ontological gap which is absolute and eternal as far as God’s essence and the essence of creation. Creation is made absolutely and entirely by God, but it is made out of nothing, not out of God’s own nature as would be understood by pantheism.
    This gap is crossed by God’s Energy, Operation, or manifestation. This energy is referred to in all the names of God and all the qualities of God revealed in the Bible.
    The Fathers teach that Christ is the image of God in His humanity. Nellas, for example in his work on Deification, says that Adam was created in the image of the image. He was created at the beginning of a path.
    My understanding is that through fellowship with God he was meant to realize the fulfillment of his purpose in Christ, even apart from sin. This is speculation because he did in fact sin and fell off the path and lost immortality, so we have Romans 5 12 ff.
    This fall into death is a second gap that Christ crossed in His work of salvation which is applied by obedient faith and love in the sacramental life of the Church.
    This is described by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians and Colossians, for example,
    Deification is described in
    Eph 3:17-19
    17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. NKJV
    Pray for me a sinner.

  3. I think there is also a difference between East and West in defining what the gap actually is. Even prior to “the fall,” there was a gap between man and God. Some in the West have the concept that crossing the gap means becoming like Adam. Does Theosis hold that man’s destiny is higher than that of Adam (assuming Adam also had a higher destiny)?

  4. I think that in all Christian theology there is and ought to be a gap between God and and His creation, especially man as the center of that creation . It is the ex nihilo gap. Karl Barth called it “the infinite qualitative difference between God and man.”
    In the West there is a problem about how this gap is crossed. It began with Augustine and Pelagius. Augustine emphasizing God’s work and Pelagius emphasizing man’s. John Cassian representing the East takes a middle position, called Semi-Pelagianism in the West.
    St. Maximos said that we can become gods by grace but not by nature. The West is nervous about any kind of Theosis. Eckhart trying to develop an experiential theology falls into Pantheism because he lacks the doctrine of the difference between God’s essence and His energy, which is clearly developed by the Cappadocians, Pseudo-Dionysius, and Gregory Palamas.
    The doctrine is that God is unknown and not participated in by man in his Essense or Superessential nature, but is knowable, known and participated in by the saints in His Divine energy.
    Doctrinal division developed in the Scholastic period between the Dominicans who emphasized God’s work and the Fransiscan’s who emphasized man’s will. There was no synergy because there was no doctrine of Divine energy in which man could participate.
    This continued in the Calvinistic Armenian debate. I suspect it is the basis for the Roman emphasis on the authority of the Papacy to cross the gap, and the Federal theory of the Atonement to legally cross the gap.
    In Orthodoxy Communion/Synergy is the center of everything. To be developed.

  5. Paul, not to worry. I’m not known for protecting commenters egos, but I do try to remain respectful.

    I’m interested in your earlier comment about the difference between energy and synergy being the cause of the Calvinist-Arminian issue. If you feel inclined, please feel free to expand on that thought?

  6. Please don’t feel you need to protect my ego. Wat ever you may say will not be as cutting as the triple by-pass I had last August 24 and I am thanking our Lord for that.

  7. i Apologize for my careless mis-spellings and typos. Embarrassing and irritating. I will try to edit more carefully.

  8. The Russian Orthodox Church has always accepted Holy aptism from Rome or Lutheran and many accept Baptism if it was in the name of the Trinity. Some think that the baptism becomes Orthodox when the Chrismation takes place in the Orthodoz parish.
    I studied under John Gerstner at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He said the the RCC was the true Church until they offically rejected the Gospel in the 12th article on Justification in the c ouncil of Trent. I believe they lost something basic when they forsake the Church in 1054 and sustained that rejection until this point,
    I do not think the Orthodox Ch ever offically rejected the Gospel and still is the true Church.
    The West has lost a good deal of sound theology since, especially failing to teach the distinction between God’s essence an energy and synergy which is the cause of the Calvinist Armenian division.

  9. I wouldn’t say that there were or are two or more churches. That doesn’t seem to be in accord with the Bible or holy tradition, that is, the manifestation of the life of the Spirit of Christ in and through God’s people.
    We would all agree that there is one body of Christ. There reality of that body in space and time in the institution is subject to our cooperation and is problematic
    I think that is one reason we constantly look to the saints, the people who the Church recognizes as having got it right.
    The Orthodox church according to Fr, Meyendorff, is fully itself in partaking of the Holy Mysteries of Christ.
    It seems to my poor grasp of history is that Rome separated themselves from us. That was to my mind a dangerous act and something of which I repented for my part, when I was chrismated.
    The russian Orthodox Church has always accepted Holy Baptism of Rome or of the Lutheran t

  10. I understand, I think, the point Paul was making. When the Nicene Creed was being developed, there were no denominations – just the one Orthodox church. So, the early church never considered the concept of the “invisible” church.

    I am presuming that this is something that Luther and the other reformers would have considered (though at that time, there were actually 2 churches, the Eastern and the RCC).

    I would also guess that this has come up in the various dialogs between the EO and other churches over the years. I should look into that …

  11. I want to respond to this, but I am a little afraid of the open forum. The issue is a bit complicated.
    His Grace Bishop Kallistos says, “We know where is Holy Spirit is, we do not know where he isn’t, quoting one of the early Fathers, maybe Irenaeus.
    It is an official member of he Orthodox Ch.
    Salvation is entirely up to God’s judgment.
    The story about the death of a recogmized saint, who on his deathbed saw heaven open and said, Not yet, not yet, I have not yet begun to repent.
    I like to say, The Apostle Paul says, Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Yes, but the Orthodox understand this to be a lifetime task and this is what we do in all our Liturgies and prayers.
    When the people of the Reformation adopted the invisitble Church concept it didn’t mean that the Church should adopt it. When Cyprian said, Outside the Church there is no salvation, it was the heretics who were outside the Church.
    When the Western leders of the Church seperated from the Church, it was their responsiblility. When Luther separated from Rome, his hope in being a part of the invisible Church was his responsibility. I pray that God will understand his sincereityh, but why should I forsake the understanding of the Nicene Creed of the first 1000 years.

  12. Only Christ knows the hearts of men. That is why He told us not to judge, lest we be judged.

    When someone tells me that I am not a Christian because I’m not a member of their particular denomination, I just tell them that they are just heaping greater judgement upon themselves.

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