Posts Tagged Orthodox

Met. Hierotheos (Vlachos): “Man has two cognitive centers.”

Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) – (1945-    ) is a Greek Orthodox metropolitan and theologian. He graduated from the Theological School of the University of Thessaloniki and is one of the finest Patristic scholars living.

hierotheos vlachos“Man has two cognitive centers.  One is the nous, the organ suited for receiving God’s revelation which is then formulated by our reason, while the other is reason, which knows the tangible world around us.  With our nous we acquire knowledge of God, while with our reason we acquire knowledge of the world and the learning offered by the science of sensory things.”  From The Person in the Orthodox Tradition, trans by Esther Williams, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 1998.  p. 28

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Maximus: “The scriptural Word knows of two kinds of knowledge of divine things.”

Maximus the Confessor (c. 580 – 662) was a 7th century Christian monk, theologian, and scholar who many contemporary scholars consider to be the greatest theologian of the Patristic era.  Two of his most famous works are “Ambigua” – An exploration of difficult passages in the work of Pseudo-Dionysius and Gregory of Nazianzus, focusing on Christological issues, and “Questions to Thalassius” or “Ad Thalassium” – a lengthy exposition on various Scriptural texts.  This quote is from the latter work.  It affirms the primacy of experience in an authentic spiritual life.


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Maximus the Confessor (c. 580 – 662)

“The scriptural Word knows of two kinds of knowledge of divine things. On the one hand, there is relative knowledge, rooted only in reason and ideas, and lacking in the kind of experiential perception of what one knows through active engagement; such relative knowledge is what we use to order our affairs in our present life.  On the other hand, there is that truly authentic knowledge, gained only by actual experience, apart from reason and ideas, which provides a total perception of the known object through a participation by grace.  By this latter knowledge, we attain, in the future state, the supernatural deification that remains unceasingly in effect.” ~  Ad Thalassium 60

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Secular “psychology” can only help you cope: only God can deliver and cure.

The word “psychology” literally means, “study of the soul” (it is made up of two Greek words: ψυχή, psukhē, meaning “soul”; and -λογος – logos, meaning “study of”).

The fact that we are tri-partite (three-part) beings, consisting of “spirit”, “soul”, and “body” is well attested to in the New Testament (cf. 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 4:12) and in the writings of the early Fathers (e.g., Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil of Cesaraea).

Jesus identified many psychological issues in his teachings that we now might term “denial”, “defense mechanisms”, “projections”, and “inner healing”.  The Apostle Paul was certainly deeply involved in the transformation of the fallen human “soul” and “body” through the power and influence of the “Spirit” of God.  There are many additional New Testament examples of psychological teachings, both in the Gospels and the Epistles.

The actual term “psychology” was first used in writing during the Enlightenment of the 16th century.  The modern science of psychology is brand new, emerging in Europe in the 1870’s, with its super-hero, Sigmund Freud, starting his work in the 1890’s. I know that seems odd, given that “psychology” is such a familiar and popular part of our secular culture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. But, as a science, it really is brand new, relatively speaking.

The problem with contemporary secular psychology is that, at most, it only deals with two parts of a human being; the body and, perhaps, parts of the soul. With few exceptions, the secular study of psychology virtually ignores the spiritual aspect of humanity. It suffers the modern bias for what can be observed and measured through the five senses, relegating all else (such as spirit), to the intellectual dumpster of superstition and/or imagination.

And that is why I maintain that modern psychology can only help you “cope” with problems, it cannot “deliver” us from them or “cure” them. Secular psychology only deals with two of the three variables of the equation; our fallen “body” and “soul”. It arrogantly ignores the most important element of our being, the “spirit”. Therein lies the healing cure for these problems; the power of the “Spirit” to transform both the soul and the body to align and conform our entire being to the perfect will of God. Only God can truly heal, cure, and deliver us from psychological afflictions.

This is not “new” news, folks.  This is ancient Christian teaching that is largely being ignored or shouted down by contemporary secular “science”.

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Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not

The beginning of the first century AD saw the rapid rise of the Roman Imperial Cult. This religious cult was based upon the proclaimed divinity of Augustus Caesar (c.62 BC – 14 AD / Reigned 31 BC – 14 AD) and subsequent Roman Emperors. This Imperial Cult was a unifying political and religious factor across the whole Roman Empire in the first century. The emergence of the Imperial Cult preceded, but also developed with, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The earliest written Christian records we have are the Letters of St. Paul from the mid-first century. A good summary of the theme of his gospel message is contained in the Letter to the Romans Chapter 1, Verses 3 &4: “…concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead…”.

In the opinion of British theologian N.T. Wright, “Despite the way Protestantism has used the phrase (making it denote, as it never does in Paul, the doctrine of justification by faith), for Paul “the gospel” is the announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth is Israel’s Messiah and the world’s Lord.”

Wright goes on to explain that Paul’s euangelion, his gospel (Good News) message, was every bit as much a confrontational and subversive political proclamation as it was a religious one: “Paul was announcing that Jesus was the true King of Israel and hence the true Lord of the world, at exactly the time in history, and over exactly the geographical spread, where the Roman emperor was being proclaimed, in what styled itself a “gospel”, in very similar terms.”

Later, Wright applies Paul’s gospel message to his [Paul’s] vision for the ekklesia, the church. His basis for this comes from Chapter 3 of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Wright tells us: “We may begin with 3.20.  “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await the Saviour, the Lord Jesus, the Messiah”. These are Caesar-titles. The whole verse says: Jesus is Lord, and Caesar isn’t. Caesar’s empire, of which Philippi is a colonial outpost, is the parody; Jesus’ empire, of which the Philippian church is a colonial outpost, is the reality.”

Wright goes on to discuss the implications of Paul’s vision of this empire of Jesus: “if Paul’s answer to Caesar’s empire is the empire of Jesus, what does that say about this new empire, living under the rule of its new lord? It implies a high and strong ecclesiology, in which the scattered and often muddled cells of women, men and children loyal to Jesus as Lord form colonial outposts of the empire that is to be: subversive little groups when seen from Caesar’s point of view, but when seen Jewishly an advance foretaste of the time when the earth shall be filled with the glory of the God of Abraham and the nations will join Israel in singing God’s praises.”

Paul’s vision for this ekklesia, as subversive colonial outposts of the coming empire of Jesus, could not be realized after a series of events in the fourth century.  In AD 313 Constantine the Great issued the Edict of Milan, a proclamation of religious tolerance that officially ended the persecution of Christians.  The Christian Church greatly increased in power and influence in the fourth century under Imperial patronage.  The Church quickly became fully integrated into the political and cultural fabric of the Roman Empire, culminating with The Edict of Thessalonica, also known as Cunctos populos, issued on 27 Feb 380, by Roman Emperor Theodosius I.  This edict ordered all subjects of the Roman Empire to profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria. The edict officially made Nicene Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.

And the Church has been “sleeping with the enemy”, the world’s domination systems and institutions, for the entire 1,700 years since.  This is Christendom.  This is not the vision of the ekklesia of the Apostle Paul.

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Greek Experience vs. Latin Concept in Theology

I support the notion that Christianity is about experiencing an intimate personal relationship with God.  Proper theology is about how we experience that relationship from God to us. Classically, Greek Eastern (Orthodox) theology has been largely based on the experience of God’ relationship to man.  The theology of the Latin West (Roman Catholic and Protestant), at least since the days of St. Augustine, has been largely based on philosophical speculation of man’s relationship to God.

 For example, let’s contrast these two different approaches as they apply to Trinitarian doctrine.  According to Orthodox theologian Fr. John Meyendorff, in the Eastern Greek tradition, “the incarnate Logos and the Holy Spirit are met and experienced first as divine agents of salvation, and only then are they discovered to be essentially one God.”  In contrast, 19th century Jesuit theologian Fr. Theodore de Regnon stated, “Latin philosophy considers the nature in itself first and proceeds to the agent; Greek philosophy considers the agent first and passes through it to find the nature.  The Latins think of personality as a mode of nature; the Greeks think of nature as the content of the person”.

The Latin approach is based on philosophical concept from man’s view of God.  The Greek approach is based on how we experience God’s Biblical relationship to man.

I pray that pentecostal/charismatic Christians re-discover their ancient, authentic, experienced-based theology.

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Spirit-Filled Clergy and Laity Need to Get Their “Acts” (doxis and praxis) Together

‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.’

‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.’

I take these statements from Jesus in Matthew 12:25 and 23:15 and apply them to the Body of Christ in terms of its fundamental doctrines and practices. When doctrines or opinions (Gk. doxis), what you profess, and practices (Gk. praxis), what you do, do not align and complement one another, you end up with a house divided against itself and/or the hypocrisy of not doing what you say.

That’s not so much a problem with Denominational Mainline Christianity because, by and large, their Western Latin doxis of a remote, transcendent, magisterial God administering Roman justice on a fallen, sinful mankind pretty much complements and supports their praxis of guilt, bondage, control, and sin consciousness of their congregations. It is not a pretty picture of Christianity, but at least their views of right doctrines (orthodoxis) and right practices (orthopraxis) are aligned and complementary.

The problem is in the Spirit-filled, Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. Their praxis is based on operating in the Ministry Gifts (Eph. 4) of an immanent, loving, involved God (the Son, the Logos, the Christ, Jesus) and individual Gifts (1 Cor 12, Rom. 12) and Fruit (Gal. 5) of an indwelling, supporting, comforting, and guiding Holy Spirit.  This praxis is wonderful, empowering, freeing, loving and Bible-based, to be sure.

Unfortunately, the contemporary Spirit-filled, Pentecostal/Charismatic movement does not have a theology, doctrine, or doxis, that supports, complements, or aligns with their empowered praxis. They pretty much brought along, whole cloth, the orthodoxis of whatever Western Latin tradition they came from; be that Evangelical, Reformed, Anglican, or Roman Catholic. At best, this causes the problem of a “house divided” in Matt. 12, above. At worst, it results in the “hypocrisy” described in Matt. 23.

Operating in the Gifts and Fruit of the Holy Spirit was the orthopraxis of the early primitive Christian church. We know that from Acts and Paul’s un-disputed letters. There was also an orthodoxis in the primitive Church that aligned with, complemented, and supported this empowered orthopraxis. It has been suppressed by the Western Latin (i.e., Roman Catholic and Protestant) Church for the last 1,600 years.

Can you imagine what might happen if we got the orthodoxis and orthopraxis of the primitive Christian Church of Signs and Miracles together again for the first time in 1,600 years?!

That is what “First Thoughts” is all about. Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians, clergy and laity alike, need to read this booklet so that the remnant church can get its collective “Acts” together and become  the Powerhouse Body of Christ it should, and can be. Satan wants to keep it from happening, keeping us “double-minded”.


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God as a Remote Roman Magistrate Dispensing ‘Iustitia’ to Mankind

The real defect in Anselm’s doctrine of atonement is that he built upon the action or the fears of a diseased and guilty conscience in its sense of alienation from God, instead of the pure and free consciousness of Him who is the type of the normal man…

Alexander V.G. Allen, 1884

By building their theology backwards, with man in relation to God, the Western church also developed, not surprisingly, an anthropomorphized concept of God (i.e., attributed human characteristics to God).  God becomes a distant (read “transcendent”) Imperial Roman Magistrate administering iustitia, the secular Roman idea of jurisprudence, on his subjects (man).  Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220 AD) was, among other things, a Carthaginian lawyer.  He set in motion this hierarchical, magisterial, forensic, Roman view of religion.  This concept was further refined later by his fellow Carthaginians Cyprian, and St. Augustine, whom we just met.  Ultimately, St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) pushed this idea to its absurd limits in the Middle Ages.  Anselm’s vision of God resembled a kind of remote, magisterial medieval lord (God) whose offended dignity could only be satisfied by the substitutionary death of his own son (Jesus) in atonement for his subjects’ (man’s) disobedience.  This doctrine even has a Latin church name: satisfactio activa vicaria.[1]

Given the above discussion, it is clear that many of our Western Christian doctrines such as “election” and “exclusivism” (‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus’)[2] are Afterthoughts of man and not good theology.

Excerpt from the book “First Thoughts“.

[1] See Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man)

[2] Latin: ‘Outside the Church there is no Salvation’

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The Need for a Top-down Theology

The meaning of theology is to know God as He is, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3

“Theology, rightly considered, is the knowledge of God in His relation to us, the cardinal point of which lies in the truth which the old Greek poet had glanced at. “For we are also his offspring” – this is the true keynote; and theology, setting out from this kinship between us and God, we at once soar, as on wings of a spiritual intuition, across the abyss between creature and Creator.”

John Heard

Theology is the study of God in relation to man.  This is a First Thought.  Theology is not, conversely, the doctrine of man in relation to God.  That is an Afterthought born of human arrogance and pride at truly biblical levels.  The adage, “There is a God, and we’re not Him”, comes to mind.  All proper theology starts with God and works from that starting point to His relation to man.  The order is all important.  Getting it backwards has caused huge problems in Christianity that we suffer with to this day.  Take the following historical illustration as an example:

If we make the mistake of making man the starting point, we immediately have to deal with him in a condition of spiritual blindness and consequent self-alienation from God.  How do we explain this condition?  The answer is to come up with a rationale, an Afterthought, like Original SinBecause we have approached it from the wrong direction, this first Afterthought raises yet further questions.  So, we are forced into developing a series of additional related Afterthoughts to rationalize our flawed first assumptions; the Fall, the Atonement, Grace, Predestination, the problem of evil, etc.  This line of reasoning of man in relation to God inevitably leads us to a problem that has no logical solution: Either God is all-goodness, but not all-mighty, or He is all-mighty, but not all-goodness.

Excerpt from the book “First Thoughts“.

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The Difference Between “First Thoughts” and “Afterthoughts”: A New Testament Example

To illustrate the difference between First Thoughts and Afterthoughts further, let’s take an example from Romans 5. Speaking of the sin of Adam at the Fall and the corresponding Grace of God through the redemption by Jesus, Paul states in verse 15:

But the free gift is not like the trespass.  For if many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.

And just to make sure that there was no misunderstanding that the redemption of man is just as extensive as the fall of man, the Apostle repeats himself twice more in verses 18 and 19:

Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification for all.  For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Now, contrast this to what later theologians did to Paul’s First thoughts.  St. Augustine and, later, Protestant Reformer John Calvin drew a conclusion from these verses that is very different from Paul’s clear teaching.  Somehow, they inferred that man’s redemption was not co-extensive with the condemnation.  To Augustine and Calvin, there is universal damnation in Adam, and only selective salvation in Christ!

Of the thoughts of the Apostle Paul, St. Augustine, and John Calvin, discussed above, which do you think might be First Thoughts and which are Afterthoughts?

This is not a quiz!  It’s just an example to get you thinking about, and sensitive to, the concept of First Thoughts and Afterthoughts.  The differences between them had a huge impact on the development of Christian theology.

Excerpts from the book “First Thoughts

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What are “Afterthoughts”?

Afterthoughts are “fossilized first thoughts”.  Afterthoughts are additions, deletions, modifications, interpretations, or distortions of First ThoughtsAfterthoughts invariably rest in what God has done or said in the past.  They seldom support the idea that God might have new revelations for us from His word.  Afterthoughts are the building blocks of dogmatism; whose foundation is often a pre-determined conclusion backed by carefully selected texts, related or not, and from inferences when no such texts can be found.  Afterthoughts lack the sense of the true authority of God and make up for it by dogmatic bluster, prescription against opposing views, and threat of punishment from the power and authority of Church or Book.

As you can see from the preceding discussion, the ideas of First Thoughts of God and the Afterthoughts of man do not lend themselves to precise analytical definitions.  I will leave that problem to theologians, philosophers, and the like.

For our purposes, I want you to use your intuitive sense of what is true and what is of God; of how it appeals to and sits in your conscience. Don’t worry, every human being in the world has this intuitive conscience. The Greeks call it nous [1].  The intuitive conscience I’m talking about is the positive part of the soul that tells you whether or not something is right and true and from God.  It’s not the negative part of consciousness that condemns you, makes you feel guilty, unworthy, defeated, and powerless every time you do something “wrong” (sin).  No, that’s the playground of Satan and “religion”.

[1] nous is seen as the “eye of the soul”, which some also call the heart, is the center of man, where reason resides, and where true spiritual knowledge is validated.

Excerpts from the book “First Thoughts

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