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Eastern Orthodoxy

One of the hallmarks of false teaching is specialized definitions for many words. We can think of many religious teachings that fit this description, but this study will focus on one which is very subtle and seems to be growing in influence within the Christian community: Eastern Orthodoxy. First, quotations of significe from that source.

Teachings of Eastern Orthodoxy

In discussing God’s relationship to his creation, Orthodoxy used the concept of a distinction between God’s eternal essence which is totally transcendent and his uncreated energies which is how he reaches us. It is also necessary to understand that this is an artificial distinction, not a real one. The God who is transcendent and the God who touches us are one and the same.

By his participation in human life, death, and resurrection [Christ] sanctified the means whereby we could be restored to our original purity and regain our right relationship with the Father. This is what the Orthodox call salvation from consequences of the sickness of sin. Christ’s salvific act worked retroactively back to the beginning of time thus saving all the righteous people from the bonds of sin, including Adam and Eve.

The Bible is always interpreted within the context of Holy Tradition, which gave birth to it and canonized it. Orthodox Christians maintain that belief in a doctrine of sola scriptura would be to take the Bible out of the world in which it arose. Orthodox Christians therefore believe that the only way to understand the Bible correctly is within the Orthodox Church.

Though [a dead person’s soul] may linger for a short period on Earth, it is ultimately escorted either to heaven or hell, following the Temporary Judgment (Orthodox do not believe in Purgatory). ...The Orthodox believe that the state of the soul in Hades can be changed by the love and prayers of the righteous up until the Last Judgment. For this reason the church offers special prayer for the dead on the third day, ninth day, fortieth day, and the one-year anniversary after the death of an Orthodox Christian.

The Orthodox believe that after the Final Judgment:

According to Orthodox theology, the purpose of the Christian life is to attain theosis, the mystical union of man with God. This union is understood as both collective and individual. St. Athanasius of Alexandria, wrote concerning the Incarnation that, He (Jesus) was made man that we might be made god. See 2 Peter 1:4, John 10:34–36, Psalm 82:6. The entire life of the church is oriented towards making this possible and facilitating it.

[Water] Baptism is the mystery which transforms the old sinful man into the new, pure man; the old life, the sins, any mistakes made are gone and a clean slate is given. Through baptism one is united to the Body of Christ by becoming a member of the Orthodox Church.

Chrismation (sometimes called confirmation) is the mystery by which a baptized person is granted the gift of the Holy Spirit through anointing with Holy Chrism. It is normally given immediately after baptism as part of the same service, but is also used to receive lapsed members of the Orthodox Church.

Sin is not viewed by the Orthodox as a stain on the soul that needs to be wiped out, or a legal transgression that must be set right by a punitive sentence, but rather as a mistake made by the individual with the opportunity for spiritual growth and development.

Now some quotes from Union With God:

Instead of asking why God allows so much suffering on Earth, we should ask ourselves why we allow it!.

Paul says we are like mirrors that not only reflect God’s brightness, but which are transformed into the light which they reflect(2 Cor. 3:17-18).

Matthew Fox, an Episcopal priest known for his many works on Christian mysticism, agrees. The final section of his masterwork, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, is titled A Vision of the Second Coming, and considers the coming of the 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.

I have come to believe that God has also entrusted us with far more of the responsibility of saving the world than we might commonly suppose.

Theosis is one more reason why I believe the emergency airlift idea of the Rapture is completely mistaken.

Some points of clarification: deification does not mean that we will only have a divine nature, but that like Christ, we will be one, with God, both human and divine.

Thomas Aquinas described it like a poker being held in a fire. The poker becomes a fire, in that it takes every attribute of the fire. It burns, radiates heat and light, emits energy as it is transformed by the fire’s energy. And yet, it though it has become fire, it is unquestionably iron as well.

I believe there is a largely unexplored potential for inter-religious cooperation and understanding at the deep, universal level of this quest for mystical union with the Absolute. In Hinduism, this transforming union is called in Self-realization or liberation; in Islam, it’s fana; in Buddhism it’s enlightenment, and in all traditions, it’s awakening.

Many great teachers on the mystical path have seen the value of learning from the common strands in their own faith and other faiths; for instance, Thomas Merton, John Main, Laurence Freeman, and Bede Griffiths are but a few of many Catholic priests who have learned much from Eastern spirituality, and the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, the world’s two most prominent Buddhist writers, frequently refer to the teachings of Jesus.

Finally, quotes from another site on theosis:

The doctrine of theosis puts the trinity in a new light. Many modern thinkers tell us that 3 is an incomplete number. Carl Jung, and some others have proposed adding Mary and making it a quaternity.

For Protestants theosis leads to the idea that the 4th member of the godhead might be humanity.

Responses to Eastern Orthodoxy

The reader will have already noticed a subtle progression from the vaguely acceptable to the outright unbiblical. This is true of many religions; they all sound the same until you pin them down on specifics.

First Quote

We see in the first paragraph some terminology which is unfamiliar to those who get their theology directly from scripture, since such terms cannot be found there. 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 paragraph 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 says, 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 says, 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 New Testament, 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 they don’t apply that objection to the issue of an official interpreting body. The assertion that sola scriptura would take the Bible out of the world in which it arose is completely baseless. We who have anchored ourselves to the Bible stress the importance of studying context in all its aspects. The Bible was not written 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 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 come from, of the possibility of a soul in Hades being changed by the love and prayers of the righteous up until the Last Judgment? It is not found the Bible. Never is anyone said to move from hell to heaven, either by example or by explicit teaching. All mentions of people changing have to do with this mortal life. Certainly 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, most Christians 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 unbiblical. The fourth item, however, is very wrong. Hell (eventually the Lake of Fire) is a place of eternal torment. It is a real place, not a mere inability on our part.

Now we come to a key teaching called theosis or deification. While no Christian would deny that we are meant to have union with God, Eastern 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 interact or be involved 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, where 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; it clearly speaks of mere mortals who stood in the place of God in relationship to the people. 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. But 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 it happens at the moment of salvation. We are at that moment given many other things as well, and we don’t need any official group to perform this. It 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.

Regarding 2 Peter 1:4, the word rendered you may become goes with the earlier phrase about promises and divine communion. That is, the promises we've been given (past tense) are what enabled us to be in divine partnership. In contrast, Eastern Orthodoxy claims (or so they can be taken to say) that we gradually acquire divine nature itself, achieving it by our works/devotion. So they change he has freely given us great and priceless promises which have enabled us to be in a close bond with the divine nature to he has freely given us great and priceless promises that we might someday become divine. The first is what is instantly done for us at salvation, while the second is what a person strives for over time. The first is about intimate relationship, while the second is about actually achieving divine nature.

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 the will, a deliberate rebellion against God (e.g. Isaiah 7:15-16). The scriptures cited 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 heathen 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 or 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 this source). 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.

Notice then that what follows from all this is a rejection of the literal return of Jesus in the Rapture, another hotly-disputed topic to be covered separately. But standard Dominionist teaching is that Jesus will not return until Christians have literally taken over the world. It’s very interesting to see 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. Not all of the Orthodox go this far, and rightly so; only Jesus will ever have this dual nature. 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.

Thomas Aquinas was quite mistaken about his belief that a poker in the fire becomes the fire. In time the fire destroys it completely; it 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.

Now we come to 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. 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 us a participant of godliness and a recipient of grace: Man is to be a completer of the incomplete Trinity! How much more obvious can it be than this, that these Orthodox teachings are not orthodoxy but blasphemy?


If we follow along the path from the seeming Biblical statements at the top to the blasphemy at the bottom, we’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. We must be very careful what we agree to when discussing these things; we must demand precise definitions and discuss their implications. As scripture wanrs us in 1 Cor. 5:6, Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? And in Luke 20:46, 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.

Beware of popular religions and authoritative-sounding elitists, of those who say they want to enlighten us and show us 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).

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