|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
It has been well said that Eastern Orthodoxy is "Roman Catholicism without its papacy and Mariolatry."
A reader asks, "Are Eastern Orthodox practitioners (Russian, Serbian, Greek, Antiochian, Ethiopian, etc.) true Christians? If not, wherein lies their non-adherence to Scripture in their beliefs and practices?"
It has been said that Eastern Orthodoxy is "Roman Catholicism without its papacy and Mariolatry," and that is indeed an apt summary of its theology and practice. Some church historians make much of what is termed the "Great Schism" that occurred in the 11th century between the Western church (centered in Rome) and the Eastern church (centered in Constantinople). But the impetus for that division was not a choice between obedience to the Word of God and the word of man, but rather a choice between two competing sets of that which Scripture repeatedly condemns as "the commandments and doctrines of men."
What really matters, as our reader's question rightly puts it, are not the differences between Rome and Constantinople, but between both of these visible bodies and Holy Scripture. The section of our Bible Knowledgebase on Roman Catholicism deals extensively with that false church's departures from the Word. In this article we shall focus on key elements of Eastern Orthodox theology and practice. Examining just three areas - Eastern Orthodoxy's positions on Scripture, sin, and salvation - tells us all we need to know to reject it as a false faith.
Like the Roman Catholic church, the Eastern Orthodox church insists that it is the one true church of Christ on earth. Like Rome, the Eastern Orthodox church also holds to the false doctrine of apostolic succession, claiming that its patriarchs are the latest in an unbroken line of successors to the authority of Christ's apostles. They believe that salvation lies within the Orthodox church alone.
Like the Roman Catholic church, the Eastern Orthodox also reject the doctrine of the authority of Scripture alone, declaring it to be the great heresy of the Reformation. They believe that Protestants in particular have departed from the true faith. Eastern Orthodoxy holds that the single source of revelation is what it terms "holy tradition." This is, in fact, not a single source of "revelation" but an amalgamation of many alleged sources. In addition to Scripture, the Eastern Orthodox church recognizes these forms of man-made tradition as authoritative:
The writings and decisions of the first seven ecumenical councils, which took place between the 4th and 8th centuries
The writing and decisions of later church councils through the centuries (which have often conflicted with each other as well as Scripture)
The writings of so-called church fathers, especially those of the first four centuries A.D.
Icons made of metal, stone, wood, and cloth which are set up as objects of worship by edict of the church
The official (and complex) Liturgy which governs the church's worship
The church's canon law, consisting of laws, regulations, and commentaries on the various elements of "holy tradition." Canon law not only governs the activities of th church but also claims a degree of authority in matters of state. Eastern Orthodox canon law is known as the Pedalion (Greek for "rudder"), since its purpose is to "steer" the church.
Authentic Christianity, in contrast, tells us to reject the commandments and doctrines of men:
Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words. For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:4-10)
The Eastern Orthodox church rejects the Bible's teaching that man is in spiritual bondage due to the corruption of his nature through the fall of Adam. Therefore the Eastern Orthodox church also rejects the doctrine of the imputed guilt of all mankind, having sinned in Adam. Eastern Orthodoxy teaches that men are guilty only for their own sins rather than being already under condemnation as a consequence of Adam's fall, before they have done any good or evil of their own.
Authentic Christianity, in contrast, declares the doctrine of original sin and the guilt of all men in Adam, and the necessity of the person and work of Christ as the Second Adam who redeems them from that condemnation:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned - (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)
Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:12-19)
Like Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy teaches the necessity of confession of sin to a human priestly mediator in order for the individual to maintain his salvation, and teaches that the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice for confessed sins in addition to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Authentic Christianity, in marked contrast, declares the priesthood of Christ alone, who has made full and final atonement for sin:
For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time... (1 Timothy 2:5-6)
For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people's, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever. (Hebrews 7:26-28)
Like Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy holds that salvation commences with water baptism. Eastern Orthodox theology falsely claims that no one can be saved unless he is baptized with water.
Like Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy teaches that man is able to cooperate with God in bringing about his salvation, and that regeneration is the product of a synergistic effort of God and man. Like Romanism, Eastern Orthodoxy rejects the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as heresy.
The operative word describing salvation in Eastern Orthodox theology is theosis - "becoming God". This term describes an alleged progressive transformation of the individual into full likeness to God, in both soul and body, through a cooperative effort involving faith and good works. Like Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy denies the distinction between justification (God's unilateral act in declaring a sinner righteous based on faith in the merits of Christ alone - Romans 5) and sanctification (the indwelling Spirit of God conforming the regenerated individual more and more to the image of Christ, a work consummated in the believer's glorification - Romans 8). In fact, Eastern Orthodoxy's false doctrine of theosis additionally conflates regeneration with justification and sanctification.
Authentic Christianity, in marked contrast, declares the great doctrines of grace:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)
The Eastern Orthodox church deviates from authentic Biblical Christianity in many other respects, but the foregoing are adequate to demonstrate that a great gulf exists between that which God requires according to Scripture, and that which Eastern Orthodoxy requires according to its man-made doctrines. The difference between the two is the difference between Heaven and Hell for a lost sinner.
But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men. But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. (Titus 3:4-9)
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