A huge problem with modern teachings of salvation is the notion that one can be saved apart from the visible reality of God’s Church. Over the last century or so a sort of you-can-get-saved-on-your-own theology has manifested its ugly head. It is really a cultish teaching when you begin to study its premise. Granted, God uses this type of teaching to further His kingdom, but remember, God will use a Donkey if he needs to…and has done so!
The Gospel, as described by Christ, begins as a small seed and grows into the largest plant in the garden. This means that the Gospel is an organic reality of heaven on earth that is actually growing from something to something. We, as people, begin to become grafted into this organic reality as St. Paul explains in Romans 11.
The Orthodox Church does not teach that salvation has to have some sort of radical, one time, psychological experience attached to it. One does not have to break down in a moment of time and recite a “sinner’s prayer.” Salvation does involve repentance, of course, but the way this repentance unfolds in many people looks quite different from what the modern church movements are claiming. Salvation is not about a sudden magical experience and then waiting until the end of our days. Salvation is about becoming one with Christ’s movement within time and space! It is about turning from one kingdom to another and continuing to draw away from the one kingdom into the other. The time that this takes to actually happen is not as important as making sure that God’s Spirit of salvation is actually happening within the convert’s life.
A Movement of People
The Orthodox Church is a part of the Universal Church. This Universal Church is a tangible reality of what Christ first initiated in his sacrifice and resurrection. It is an actual movement that is taking place within God’s kingdom that we as Orthodox have found a part in. This movement is eschatological; it is a work of the Spirit that spans time itself (from the ancient to the future). And time itself is tantamount to its purpose. This means that the kingdom of God, as Christ says in the parable of the mustard seed, is growing from something very small to something very large. This growth will be founded on people and salvation has so much to do with how we convert to this movement of people. Salvation has everything to do with how Christ converts a person from following the path of destruction (what the world is eventually destined for) to following the path of Christ’s kingdom (what Christ is building on earth which will eventually and completely merge with paradise).
Christ explains in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Matthew 13) that there is a process in which the “seeds” (you and your calling) take root. This takes time! And to rely on some sort of psychological transaction is extremely dangerous! I am of the belief that many of those that rely so heavily on this type of conversion are those that actually fall away and become the “bad seeds”!
Becoming a rooted part of a garden takes much watering and cultivation. A seed does not just instantaneously become rooted and begin to sprout. It takes much cultivation for this to happen. Likewise, we should not assume that because the Bible describes that people “believed” as a result of preaching, that they somehow became rooted in to God’s kingdom all at once, instantaneously.
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”
Christ, in the Gospels, as well as Paul, in Galatians, both use royal language to describe salvation. They are not creating a system to be saved, but rather they are pointing to the kingdom of Christ. Christ’s death and resurrection is the pinnacle of our salvation; and it is from this that the kingdom is established. It is through this kingdom that we are saved. What does this kingdom look like? It looks like what Christ calls “the Church,” both heavenly and earthly; the Church and all that it has to offer, both ecclesiastically as well as spiritually.
When a person “believes in Jesus” they are not saved from everything; that is, they are not in heaven with Christ and merely waiting for this earthly body to ascend to our “saved” body in heaven. We have but one body and soul and both are here on earth. When the Scriptures say that people are “saved” we should understand this to mean that God has saved us from something to something. The modern notion of “being saved” seems to imply some sort of being frozen and preserved, but the Scriptures clearly speak of being saved in more of an existential form, notwithstanding salvation’s heavenly/eternal benefits. The people of the Old Covenant asked Jesus who would save them, not in a psychological sense but in an eschatological sense, (i.e. where are our people headed in the long run). They wanted to know who would bring them to the Promise Land. Other times in the Scriptures we see the term also being used in the more circumstantial sense but on a local and more cultural level. Luke says in Acts 2:39 and 40 that people are being saved from “an evil generation.”
What has happened within the modern movements is that Bible words have been abused and missused. Look at what the Gospel of Luke says in Luke 1:70-72
70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
Who have been since the world began,
71 That we should be saved from our enemies
And from the hand of all who hate us,
72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember His holy covenant,
Salvation, according to the Bible is not so much as a one time psychological event as it is God doing something in your life: bringing you to and through His Church so that you can begin to live for him and escape the snares and overall culture and eternal punishment of the devil.