Opinions on faith and life

You Shall Be Like God, Part 2

2008-03-01

In Part 1 I quoted some Eastern Orthodox sources on their theology, focusing primarily on salvation and the eventual state of human beings in eternity. Now I will go through the teachings paragraph by paragraph. It may be helpful to open Part 1 in a separate browser window for reference.

First Quote

We see in the first paragraph some terminology which is unfamiliar to many believers, especially those who get their theology directly from scripture where these terms are not found. The article attempts to distinguish between something called God’s “eternal essence” and his “uncreated energies”. While pointing out that this distinction is “artificial”, the writer nonetheless thought it important to say. On its own this artificial construct seems unnecessary, but we will see as we go along why they make it. It has more to do with making sense of other beliefs than in explaining something about God that scripture alone would not tell us.

In the second, we see agreement with scripture in that Christ came to restore our broken relationship with God. But sin is not a “sickness”, it is rebellion against the will of God which makes us legally condemned:

John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Romans 3:25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished…

There are many references to “sin” in the NT, and a spot check will reveal that sin is not something to be healed but something to be forgiven. If sin were merely a disease then it would only need to be healed, but since forgiveness is needed, it must be something that condemns us. Who is condemned for being sick? Other words associated with sin are guilt, fall, conviction, something we can be “in” (ref. 1 Cor. 15:17), something that stings and has power (vs. 56), something Christ could become on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21) and we can be led into (2 Cor. 11:29). Clearly the Bible does not describe sin as a mere illness.

Next we read of the writer’s view of the Bible. Many would agree that the Bible cannot be interpreted outside of some ecclesiastical authority, but I see no such stipulation in scripture itself. Ironically, many in this “tradition” use the phrase “the Bible never says such-and-such about itself” when the topic is “Bible” or the canon of scripture, but don’t apply that objection to the issue of an official interpreting body. And I completely disagree with the assertion that sola scriptura would “take the Bible out of the world in which it arose”. We who have anchored ourselves to the Bible stress the importance of studying context in all its aspects. The Bible was written, not in the exclusive lingo of the elite or well educated, but in the vernacular. Jesus spoke often in terms the ordinary people could grasp, drawing analogies from their everyday living. It is, in reality, this idea of having an official interpreting body that “takes the Bible out of the world in which it arose”.

Now we move on to the human soul. Where does this idea of the possibility of a soul in Hades being “changed by the love and prayers of the righteous up until the Last Judgment” come from? Not the Bible. Never is anyone said to move from hell to heaven, either by example or by explicit teaching. All mention of people changing have to do with this mortal life. Sure, we can pray for people, but there is no more change after death: “...people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

In the list about final judgment, I would agree with the first two items. But the third is a bit vague; if it means by “perfected” that we will finally be in the state which all the saved have in heaven, no problem. But if it means perfect as in the absolute perfection of God, that’s over the line. The fourth item, however, is very wrong. Hell (eventually the Lake of Fire) is a place of eternal torment (see my article, Hell? Yes!). It is a real place, not a mere “inability” on our part.

Now we come to the big issue, so-called theosis or deification. While no Christian would deny that we are meant to have “union” with God, orthodox theology goes a step farther and puts it as being “made god”. Let’s see if the scripture references they give for this say what they interpret them to say.

2 Peter 1:4 says “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” To participate in something is not to become it, but to be involved with it; not to become it, but to interact with it. This is far from being “made god”. John 10:34–36 is part of Jesus’ conversation with the Jews concerning his identity as the Messiah in which they try to stone him for blasphemy and he says “Is it not written in your Law, ’I have said you are ’gods’?”. His point, in context, is not to deify humanity, but to challenge the Jews’ charge against him on the basis of his claim to be God (something many today think Jesus never said!). It is a rhetorical device, not a doctrinal statement. He was basically having their charge dismissed on a technicality, something the legalistic Pharisees were quite proud of their expertise at doing.

The Psalm 86:2 reference is what Jesus quoted, not another separate proof text. Look at the context there, the whole psalm:

1 God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the “gods”:

2 “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?

3 Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.

4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

5 ”The ’gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

6 “I said, ’You are ”gods“; you are all sons of the Most High.’

7 But you will die like mere mortals; you will fall like every other ruler.”

8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance

Jesus was truly a master at mocking the devious and trapping them with their own logic!

The next paragraph looks at water baptism, and like many other theologies, makes this ritual a necessary component of salvation. That’s a whole topic of its own, but suffice it to say for now that the Bible does not teach this, and in fact contradicts it (see Eph. 2:8-9, 1 Peter 3:21, and Romans 4:4-5). It is the baptism of the Holy Spirit that cleanses us, and that happens at the moment of salvation. We are at that moment given many other things as well (see Go To Heaven!, chart under “what happens the moment we are saved”), and don’t need any official group to confer this or to be made a member of. This applies as well to the paragraph following, where they mistakenly state that the Holy Spirit only comes upon a person via a ritual after water baptism.

The final paragraph in this quote goes back to the issue of sin, and further defines it as not “a legal transgression that must be set right by a punitive sentence” but a mere “mistake”. Mistakes are accidents, but the Bible calls sin an act of will, a deliberate rebellion against God (see Isaiah 7:15-16 for example). And the scriptures given previously clearly show sin to be very much a legal transgression.

Second Quote

Oh, the depths of conceit in the human soul, to actually think “we should ask ourselves why we allow” suffering on earth, gods that we are!! This is blatant blasphemy, and quite indistinguishable from the pagan understanding of “the divinity of man”.

2 Cor. 3:17-18 most certainly does not say we are “transformed into the light”, but that we “are being transformed into his image”, his likeness-- not his “essence”!

To call the coming “Kingdom of God to be the work of God’s children acting in their divinization, restoring the Earth and rebuilding all human institutions to eliminate hunger, hopelessness, and violence” is pure Dominionism (see Reframing Jesus). We are not responsible for saving the world but for spreading the gospel, to be “salt and light”, to be ambassadors. We are not the Savior but his representatives; huge difference!

Notice then that what follows from all this is a rejection of the literal return of Jesus in the Rapture, another “hot button” topic I can’t divert to here. But standard Dominionist teaching is that Jesus will not return until “Christians” have literally taken over the world. Funny how literal the Bible becomes when it’s focused not on Christ but on us and our works.

Next our “being one” with God is taken beyond unity and fellowship to our being “both human and divine”. I’m aware that some orthodox do not go this far, and rightly so; only Jesus will ever have this dual nature. But even so, they would say that we actually “partake” of God in such a way as to share his “energies”, whatever that is supposed to mean.

Sorry, Thomas Aquinas, the poker in the fire is still a poker, still metal. It never “becomes” the fire but is consumed by it, and eventually the fire would destroy it completely and no poker would be left at all. The poker never “takes every attribute of the fire”, or any attribute of the fire at all. It does not acquire a “dual nature” as both iron and fire. Supposedly this indicates our becoming god and yet still remaining human, but it fails both as an analogy and as a Biblical truth.

And then we see the bottom of this slippery slope: ecumenism, a blending of all religions through mysticism. The writer clearly draws a connection between the orthodox understanding of deification and that of the Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists. This is nothing less than the “glue” that will hold them all into a global super-religion, the one prophesied in Revelation, which orthodox theology has declared “mystery”.

It should go without saying that truth is not a popularity contest, but the writer appeals to “many great teachers on the mystical path” as a reason to accept this falsehood. That some of them “frequently refer to the teachings of Jesus” is hardly a reason to endorse their views. Why ask unbelievers about Jesus when we can read the Bible? Why is the Bible to be rejected as showing us Jesus in favor of these “teachers”?

Third Quote

Finally, we see that all of this really does do more than make man a participant of godliness and a recipient of grace: man is to be a completer of the “incomplete” Trinity! Wow. How much more obvious can it be than this, that these orthodox teachings are in fact blasphemy?

Conclusion

Follow along the path from the seeming Biblical statements at the top to the cesspool at the bottom, and you’ll see why a small deviation from the truth at the beginning can result in a huge error at the end. People never seem to see the harm in things until they are drawn into complete heresy, and by then it may be too late. Be very careful what you agree to when discussing these things; demand precise definitions and discuss their implications. “Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?” (1 Cor. 5:6).

“Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.” (Luke 20:46)

Beware of popular religions and authoritative-sounding elitists, of those who say they want to “enlighten” you and show you a better way than “those old dry denominations”. Instead take the example of Paul, who said “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2). Keep it simple and Biblical, and you won’t go wrong.

ADDED LATER: There is an excellent audio program at This Link which is an interview with an expert on eastern orthodoxy. He spends a lot of time telling what they actually believe, and then expresses the key points of contention. Highly recommended.

2 Comments

Greg Anderson

BRAVA PAULA!

I loved the way you took Aquinas to task! It reminded me of Kepler when he showed that Aristotle’s shell theory and Ptolemy’s epicycles could not account for the apparent motions of the planets across the star-fields through the solar year.

Paula Fether

Tanx Greg!

Yeah, what is it with people being so reluctant to go with the evidence?