Friday I was talking to a friend of mine, a pastor of an Assembly of God church nearby
who has two master’s degrees, about John Calvin’s shenanigans in Geneva, Switzerland in the 1600s. He said N.T. Wright (who is an Anglican bishop) takes a more Eastern Orthodox position. The Eastern Orthodox did not agree with Augustine‘s ideas about original sin and predestination. The pastor said Calvinism completely rests on the first of five logical pillars, Total Hereditary Depravity.
“Like Luther, Calvin belongs to the Augustinian tradition, which explains his insistence on the corruption of human nature, the ineffectiveness of works for salvation, and justification sola gratia and sola fide. It is in this context that we must situate his concept of dual predestination. However, Calvin goes much further in this area than the Augustinian tradition, as represented, for example, by Thomas Aquinas, for he holds not only that some are predestined for salvation while others are cast aside (the “outcast”) but also that predestination to damnation is a deliberate act of divine sovereignty. Such an idea of God obviously poses a problem, from which have arisen many conflicts in Reformed theology up to and including the recapitulation of the entire question by Barth (KD II/2)…”–Alasdair Heron
The Eastern Orthodox never accepted the idea of original sin from Adam that resulted in total hereditary depravity, the idea that humans are so fallen that they cannot choose to follow God in and of themselves, they have to be called by God. This difference in viewing the fall of humanity results in a very different view of salvation, which to the Eastern Orthodox is a life-long continuous process. In western protestantism salvation is a one time event. Salvation to the Eastern Orthodox is more like what some protestant denominations call sanctification.
My friend said that since the Catholic Church’s doctrine of salvation was based on Augustine’s idea of Original Sin, when the Reformation started, they didn’t have much to work with (except Augustine’s ideas about Original Sin) and therefore the protestant Reformation was largely limited to wrestling within Augustine’s theology about humanity’s need for a special call from God.
The Eastern Orthodox Church never had a Protestant Reformation comparable to Luther nailing 95 objections to the selling of forgiveness of sins, to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. But the Eastern Orthodox also never believed in Total Depravity. (They do believe the world is fallen, as Paul taught in Romans 5.) Their theology of salvation does not start with original sin and humanity’s inability to choose God without being chosen by God. The Orthodox start with the fact that we are created in the image of God, and that as we are being saved from our sins we reflect God’s image more and more.
Reasons the Orthodox never had a Reformation are that they never had an Emperor who was also a Pope, they never allowed the bishops to govern politically, and they never had a pope in the sense that the Roman church did. So power was spread out more. They never required celibacy of their priests.
The Orthodox also don’t talk about an infallible Bible, nor do they subscribe to the principle of sola scriptura. Church tradition is more important to the Orthodox. The Bible is regarded as the most reliable and earliest source of the Apostles’ and church fathers’ traditions, the Bible being the core of the church traditions. They believe in the 7 councils of the Bishops, beginning with the Nicene Creed. They also don’t believe any of those councils or creeds are infallible, just highly regarded. (However many view the primary confessions as nonnegotiable, required for membership as an Orthodox Christian. To say that Jesus was not fully man and fully God is heresy to most Orthodox Christians.) Many in the Orthodox traditions also do not have as nasty a view of hell as the western church does.
Now isn’t that interesting? Is it possible that our view of Christianity has been limited by a few wrong turns, and that we should open up our eyes to other possibilities? N.T. Wright seems to think so.
[The second to last paragraph was updated 8/4/13]