Ask An Evangelical: Eastern Orthodoxy

What do you want to know about Evangelicalism? Submit your question here.

By Scott McIntyre

How do you feel about Eastern Orthodoxy?

My comments about our reader’s question do not relate to individual members of any Eastern Orthodox church for reasons which are very personal to me and which I’ll share more on later.  And, I’m focusing my thoughts only on their doctrine of personal salvation compared to Evangelical Christian belief.

With that said, I believe that Evangelical Christianity and Eastern Orthodoxy doctrines are contradictory on the issue of personal salvation.  If my conclusion is true and I’m understanding the nature of contradiction correctly, there are three possible outcomes…

  1. Each could be incorrect 
  2. Both cannot be accurate
  3. One could be right

Orthodox Teachings

My understanding of Scripture convinces me that people attending an Eastern Orthodox church, which is accurately teaching their doctrine on salvation, are not hearing how they can be rescued from an eternal separation from God upon death on earth.  That causes a great deal of concern and pain for me.

In an article titled, The Orthodox Teaching on Personal Salvation, which is actually Chapter 1 of a thesis by Deacon Victor E. Klimenko, Ph.D., a graduate of the Orthodox Pastoral School of Chicago, we are told…

“Salvation is the restoration of the wholeness of God’s image in us, of the possibility of our union with God. It is the restoration of our original essence.”  He continues with a quote from Frank Schaeffer’s book, Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religion, “Holy Tradition teaches that… we will be saved when we become like Christ… Because of our faith in Him and our desire to become God-like, we are not so much saved all at once as slowly changed into the creatures we were created to be.”

Evangelical Teachings

Evangelical belief is that becoming like Christ is not what saves us, but how Christians should strive to act after receiving salvation.  And that saving comes through our faith; which we don’t produce, it’s a gift from God; that totally trusting in Christ’s death on the cross is the only thing that will bring about God’s forgiveness for our sins and allow us to spend our post-earth eternal life with Him.

‘Becoming like Christ’ – something we do, is completely different in nature from ‘Being forgiven by God’ – something we receive.  These two doctrines stand, back to back, fighting for the affection of people calling themselves Christians, as I experienced years ago.

The girl I fell in love with during high school, and just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary with, was a regular church going Catholic and considered herself a Christian.  I considered myself one too, though not for the close ties to any particular church.  With my dad a regular reader of the Bible, our family occasionally attending church, and me being a ‘good’ kid, especially compared to my older sister, I lumped myself with the Christian coalition.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, Catholic doctrine on salvation does not match Evangelical Christian belief, and requires good behavior, among other things, to qualify for life eternal.   

After both of us became Christians, through an early ‘Jesus movement’ church, we continued to attend a local Catholic church.  It was over 10 years before we became spiritually aware of the disconnect between our church of choice and what we deeply believed.  And that’s why, as I mentioned earlier, this article does not ‘call out’ people who attend an Orthodox church and label them as non-Christians.

I can’t speak to the spiritual place of an individual without talking with them and hearing their story of what makes them a Christian.  But, by analyzing some facts, it is easy for me to conclude that Eastern Orthodoxy is teaching an incorrect doctrine on personal salvation if Evangelical Christian churches are communicating the correct one.

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