Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kabane and the Eastern Orthodox View of Salvation (Part 2)

When I last left off, I was dealing with the proof-texts that Kabane the Christian was tossing out in favour of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration (which the Eastern Orthodox hold in common with Roman Catholics and the Campbellite Churches of Christ). Most of the passages from Romans and Galatians which he throws out there don't really support the doctrine at all since they speak of identification of one's faith (unless you read into the text, of course), so I will skip ahead to the last passage given, since that is the one which might probably provide the best case:

Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ...
(1 Peter 3:21)

Notice that Kabane only quotes the first part of this verse (a trend which I have noted among most people who attempt to use this passage as a proof text), and do not seem to notice what follows immediately after it: "not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. " Special focus should be given to the clause which is most literally translated by the KJV and NKJV: "but the answer of a good conscience toward God" (ἀλλὰ συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς ἐπερώτημα εἰς θεόν). Peter, it seems, presupposes that those who are being baptized have already received justification and are merely responding to this gift of grace which God had bestowed upon them. For those who want the well-written Reformed Protestant treatment of this verse and its interpretation (which Kabane would undoubtedly disagree with but which I think would be profitable to present anyway), it would be worth quoting John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion for a better understanding of what this particular verse means:

Peter also says that “baptism also doth now save us” (1 Peter 3:21). For he did not mean to intimate that our ablution and salvation are perfected by water, or that water possesses in itself the virtue of purifying, regenerating, and renewing; nor does he mean that it is the cause of salvation, but only that the knowledge and certainty of such gifts are perceived in this sacrament. This the words themselves evidently show. For Paul connects together the word of life and baptism of water, as if he had said, by the gospel the message of our ablution and sanctification is announced; by baptism this message is sealed. And Peter immediately subjoins, that that baptism is “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, which is of faith.” Nay, the only purification which baptism promises is by means of the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, who is figured by water from the resemblance to cleansing and washing. Who, then, can say that we are cleansed by that water which certainly attests that the blood of Christ is our true and only laver? So that we cannot have a better argument to refute the hallucination of those who ascribe the whole to the virtue of water than we derive from the very meaning of baptism, which leads us away as well from the visible element which is presented to our eye, as from all other means, that it may fix our minds on Christ alone.

(4:50-5:50) - Kabane attempts to use Acts 8:14-17 as evidence for the practice of the sacrament of chrismation (or confirmation, as it is called in some western churches). Unforunately for him, this passage is too slender a reed to support the interpretation that he is imposing upon it. For in the first place, he assumes that chrismation (done in conjunction with baptism) is the way by which believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit. I have demonstrated towards the end of the first part of this review that the Holy Spirit comes upon believers in numerous ways, including instances wherein the Holy Spirit comes before baptism or laying on of hands is applied to believers (recall Acts 10:44-48). Also, if there is any action to which the sealing of the Holy Spirit can be connected to, it would be the preaching of the word and the subsequent belief of those who hear (see again the previously referred to verse, not to mention Ephesians 1:13).

The other problem with his usage of this passage is the assumption that the laying on of hands is sacramental in nature. We already pointed out that the effects that he is trying to connect to the laying on of hands can also take place apart from it. And besides, the incident recorded here has only the faintest similitude to the more elaborate practice of chrismation which the Eastern Orthodox churches have developed (yes, developed) over the centuries. Thus, there is no reason to suppose that there is any kind of sacramentalism involved in Acts 8:14-17.

(5:50-6:00) - What does Philippians 2:12 have to do with theosis? It is simply too much of a stretch to try and connect this passage to theosis. This has more to do with sanctification, or the work of the Holy Spirit in producing good fruit in believers. Take note of the the verse that comes immediately after, which states, "for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." Partaking of God's glory will definitely come in the future, but this is not reflected in the text just quoted.

(6:00-7:20) - I don't really have much quarrel with Kabane's statements about the Church being the body of Christ. However, I do take issue with his statements on the Eucharist. We ought to be thankful that the Eastern Orthodox Church has not erred in the way Roman Catholicism has in taking the Aristotelian notion of accidents and substances and using it to forge a doctrine of transubstantiation. However, the Eastern Orthodox understanding of the Lord's Supper is still problematic enough to be worth a treatment.

Here, John 6:52-58 is given to demonstrate that the bread and the wine used in the Lord's Supper is literally Jesus' flesh and blood. Think about this just for a moment though: The Lord had not yet instituted the Supper at this point. How could He be giving the Jews an explanation of the Eucharist if He when nothing of the sort has ever even been practiced yet? Also, it has been argued that Jesus must have been talking literally since He made no effort to correct the Jews. This flies in the face of the fact that Jesus often speaks figuratively, then makes no effort to correct his Jewish hearers when they think he is speaking literally. Take for example John 2:18-22, where Jesus speaks figuratively about "destroying the temple." The Jews thought He literally meant the temple in Jerusalem, even though the text states that "He was speaking of the temple of His body" (John 2:21). Thus, those who think the Lord Jesus was speaking of literally consuming his flesh in John 6:52-58 have fallen into the same misunderstanding that the Jews have fallen for (with the notable difference that we now have people who actually are attempting to do that which the Jews thought they were being told to do, and rejected).

Rectifying this misunderstanding, it must be said that when Jesus spoke of eating His body and drinking His blood, He actually referred to exercising faith in Him. The text makes it abundantly clear with the abundant references to believing which appear in the chapter (John 6:35,36,40,47). And lest those who oppose this interpretation think that it is a novel one, I will refer to Saint Augustine, who understood similarly:

They said therefore unto Him, What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” For He had said to them, “Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that which endureth unto eternal life.” “What shall we do?” they ask; by observing what, shall we be able to fulfill this precept? “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He has sent.” This is then to eat the meat, not that which perisheth, but that which endureth unto eternal life. To what purpose dost thou make ready teeth and stomach? Believe, and thou hast eaten already. Faith is indeed distinguished from works, even as the apostle says, “that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law...

He repeats this again when he says,

Wherefore, the Lord, about to give the Holy Spirit, said that Himself was the bread that came down from heaven, exhorting us to believe on Him. For to believe on Him is to eat the living bread. He that believes eats; he is sated invisibly, because invisibly is he born again. A babe within, a new man within. Where he is made new, there he is satisfied with food...

Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan elaborates further on Augustine's view of the Eucharist. He writes,

Augustine’s doctrine about “the sacrament of the body of Christ” was less explicit than his doctrine about baptism, not because he spoke of it less often (though he probably did), but because he did not specify its content with equal detail. Even those interpreters of Augustine who maintain that he taught the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist so explicitly that his language is “inexplicable unless he not only employed realistic formulas, but understood them in a realistic way” have been obliged to acknowledge that “certain formulas” are found in Augustine which can hardly be explained easily…

It is incorrect, therefore, to attribute to Augustine either a scholastic doctrine of transubstantiation or a Protestant doctrine of symbolism, for he taught neither—or both—and both were able to cite his authority. It is scarcely less idle to debate whether Augustine counted seven sacraments, as the scholastics eventually did, or only two, as Protestants did. He used the term “sacrament” more or less synonymously with “signum” and “signaculum.”[1]

I understand that there are many Eastern Orthodox who dislike what Augustine has to say on soteriological matters, but this is shown to prove that the Protestant interpretation is not an innovation, but can be traced back to the early church fathers. And Augustine is not the only one, for there are many also who have thought likewise. For example, Saint John Chrysostom taught with regards to the Lord's Supper that,

This is done in remembrance of what was then done. For (saith He) “do this in remembrance of Me.” ( Luke xxii. 19.) It is not another sacrifice, as the High Priest, but we offer always the same, or rather we perform a remembrance of a Sacrifice.

Theodoret of Cyrus taught likewise in his Dialogues. Interestingly enough, here it is the heretic (who goes by the name of Eranistes) who believes that some kind of change occurs to the bread and wine after an invocation is pronounced over them, whereas Orthodoxos (neat name, eh?) corrects him by saying that the bread and wine are symbols, and that they retain that nature:

Orth.—Tell me now; the mystic symbols which are offered to God by them who perform priestly rites, of what are they symbols?

Eran.—Of the body and blood of the Lord.

Orth.—Of the real body or not?

Eran.—The real.

Orth.—Good. For there must be the archetype of the image. So painters imitate nature and paint the images of visible objects.


Orth.—If, then, the divine mysteries are antitypes of the real body, therefore even now the body of the Lord is a body, not changed into nature of Godhead, but filled with divine glory.

Eran.—You have opportunely introduced the subject of the divine mysteries for from it I shall be able to show you the change of the Lord’s body into another nature. Answer now to my questions.

Orth.—I will answer.

Eran.—What do you call the gift which is offered before the priestly invocation?

Orth.—It were wrong to say openly; perhaps some uninitiated are present.

Eran.—Let your answer be put enigmatically.

Orth.—Food of grain of such a sort.

Eran.—And how name we the other symbol?

Orth.—This name too is common, signifying species of drink.

Eran.—And after the consecration how do you name these?

Orth.—Christ’s body and Christ’s blood.

Eran.—And do you believe that you partake of Christ’s body and blood?

Orth.—I do.

Eran.—As, then, the symbols of the Lord’s body and blood are one thing before the priestly invocation, and after the invocation are changed and become another thing; so the Lord’s body after the assumption is changed into the divine substance.

Orth.—You are caught in the net you have woven yourself. For even after the consecration the mystic symbols are not deprived of their own nature; they remain in their former substance figure and form; they are visible and tangible as they were before.

These and many other such writings from the early church fathers demonstrate that they did not hold to what either the Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholics believe regarding the Eucharist, but lack of time prevents me from pursuing these quotations much further. Suffice to say, they did develop a belief in a real presence, but their view of the real presence was not well developed, and is miles away from anything that modern sacramentalists claim today. This is best explained by Jaroslav Pelikan:

For example, one of the most widespread calumnies against the Christians was the charge, “most impious and barbarous of all, that we eat human flesh” or “loaves steeped with blood.” The basis of this accusation was the language used by Christians about the Eucharist, for they seem to have spoken about the presence of the body and blood of Christ so realistically as to suggest a literal cannibalism. In the midst of rather meager and ambiguous evidence about the doctrine of the real presence in the second and third centuries and well beyond that period, these slanders would seem to be an important source of information in support of the existence of such a doctrine; but it is also important to note that the fathers, in defending themselves, did not elaborate a doctrine of the real presence.[2]

To this, church historian Philip Schaff agrees:

The doctrine concerning the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, not coming into special discussion, remained indefinite and obscure. The ancient church made more account of the worthy participation of the ordinance than of the logical apprehension of it. She looked upon it as the holiest mystery of the Christian worship, and accordingly celebrated it with the deepest devotion, without inquiring into the mode of Christ’s presence, nor into the relation of the sensible signs to his flesh and blood. It is unhistorical to carry any of the later theories back into this age; although it has been done frequently in the apologetic and polemic discussion of this subject.

I will continue this further on when I have the time. For now, grace and peace to you all.

In Christ,

End Notes
  1. Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971. pp 305-306.
  2. ibid., p 28.


  1. I do not have time to go through all of your points at the moment, and that's probably better suited to Kabane as this is his video you are critiquing. However, I might ask, since the theme of "development" runs through your posts quite strongly, what you believe is "elaborate" about Eastern Orthodox chrismation?

  2. To quote from OrthodoxWiki:

    Chrismation is practiced by anointing the new Christian with chrism, which is holy oil (Gk. myron). The myron is a "mixture of forty sweet-smelling substances and pure olive oil" (Gialopsos, 35). The Christian is anointed with this oil in the sign of the Cross on his forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth, ears, chest, hands and feet. Each time, the priest administering the sacrament says, "The Seal and Gift of the Holy Spirit. (link)

    By contrast, the apostles did no more than lay their hands on the new believers. Not only that, but if you look throughout Acts, you'll find that the gifts that were normally associated with the laying on of hands come down even apart from it.