Wednesday, November 16, 2005

More on monergism and synergism

I hadn't expected that my exploration of the terms monergism and synergism would lead to a review of the Eastern Orthodox and Baptist doctrines. However, it seems that those coming from either background look at synergism through that corresponding lens. My background and lens is in the doctrine of Baptist and its daughter, American Evangelicalism, churches. The continuing theme of these responses is that synergism, no matter how practiced, is a form of works righteousness. In my experience, along with the scripture cited below, synergism is a path to spiritual death. One cannot cooperate with God in salvation, which is why a Savior was necessary. The more years spent thinking that one can do anything to become justified or sanctified, the further from the gospel one moves. This is my experience.


Question: Can the Eastern Orthodox position on Theosis be confused with the Lutheran terms for sanctification? From what I understand about Theosis is that man should not count the race won (I guess this is a position of humility) and strives for perfection. I also understand that the Orthodox view St. Ambrose as legit, that is, faith without the works saves. Could terms be misused for actual lines of agreement?

Answer: In Eastern Orthodox teaching theosis or divinization is a process by which human beings achieve the union with God that was lost in the fall into sin, a process whereby human beings become participants in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). The Orthodox do not think of theosis in terms of pantheism, however. Rather it is the process by which human beings are restored to the likeness of God. “As we cooperate with God's grace, he renews the distorted image in us so that we attain the likeness and consequently become godlike.” (Daniel B. Clendenin, Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective. p.134, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994)

The Eastern Orthodox reject the Lutheran teaching of justification by faith alone and in reality confuse the scriptural doctrines of justification and sanctification. The disagreement between Easter Orthodoxy and Lutheranism is more than an argument about terms. The Eastern Orthodox have no understanding of total depravity, that human beings are born dead in trespasses and sins, unable to cooperate with God in conversion. In fact the Eastern Orthodox are strong proponents of synergism. They believe that a sinful human being can and must cooperate with God in every stage of the "process" of salvation.

Lutherans teach that human beings cannot cooperate in conversion or justification. Our salvation is attributable only to what God has done for us. Justification is always full and complete. Our salvation is sure and certain through faith in Jesus. Sanctification is a process in which the Holy Spirit makes us more God-like and leads us to produce good works in our lives. Good works have nothing to do with saving us (Ephesians 2:8-9). They show that we have been saved by God's grace alone. They show that we are new creatures of God created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). Good works are our response of thanks to the God that has done everything for us. Sanctification in this life will always be incomplete because we will retain a sinful nature until the day we die. In sanctification our new man (the faith or new life which the Holy Spirit has created in us) does cooperate with the Holy Spirit. Yet even in sanctification we recognize that "it is God who works in you both to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:13).


Question: I've enjoyed reading your answers to the questions submitted here. I don't know much of Lutheran faith or practices and have found your website very helpful. But, I have to disagree with your answers regarding certain Baptist teachings. I do agree that Baptists, in general, can be varied in their teachings to some degree. But _not_ to the extent of including works as a means of salvation. I am Southern Baptist (the largest group among Baptists by far) and I have never heard anything but that salvation is a free gift offered solely by God's grace...freely offered and given at His desire. The alter call which Baptist churches perform is intended for answers to God's offer....

Answer: ... Please allow me to explain why Lutherans see some Baptists as espousing a subtle form of work righteousness. Those Baptist groups that adhere most closely to the T.U.L.I.P. theology of Calvinism believe that their salvation is entirely in God's hands apart from anything that they can do. Other Baptists are closer to Arminianism and believe that the sinner has a role to play in his own conversion (Decision Theology). They teach that an unconverted sinner must decide for Christ or invite Jesus to come into his life in order to be saved.

Confessional Lutherans see such synergism or human cooperation in conversion as a subtle form of work righteousness. Lutherans believe that sinners by nature are dead in their transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1, 5). Because they are spiritually dead they have no power to cooperate in their own conversion and therefore cannot decide for Christ or ask Jesus to come into their lives or do their part. We believe that sinners are purely passive in conversion. God converts the sinner. He alone acts in conversion. The sinner is passive. He is converted by God and becomes a believer. Unbelievers cannot choose Christ. Rather Christ chooses us (John 15:16). If a person is asked to do his own part in conversion, then salvation ceases to be a free gift from God, but something which the sinner at least partially merits or deserves (Romans 4:4ff, Romans 11:5-6).

You state that the Holy Spirit convicts some of their sins and the sinner chooses to answer or not. That sounds to me like Decision Theology, a theology which Confessional Lutherans reject because they see it as work righteous and contrary to Scripture.

Ephesians 2

Made Alive in Christ v. 1-10

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

No comments: