13.4 The Nature Of Salvation In The Orthodox Churches
The Orthodox churches have little interest in evangelizing outside the country in which they operate; for their belief is that they alone are the people of God. Immediately, though, a huge logical gap appears in their credibility- a gap which is worth pointing out. If, e.g., according to the Russian Orthodox Church only Russians are the chosen people of God, or the Macedonians according to the Macedonian Orthodox, then how about these questions:
- According to the Bible, the Jewish people were the people of God. He was their God alone in the Old Testament, having built up a covenant relationship with Abraham’s family. The Russians weren’t then the people of God. So how did they become the people of God?
- ‘God rejected the Jews and chose our nation’ is the usual anti-Semitic, Orthodox reply. In passing, see how anti-Semitism comes into all this. But the New Testament is pretty clear that through Israel’s “fall” salvation was made possible for all nations. There are ample NT passages which stress how all nations now have the opportunity of blessing- through baptism into Christ, whereby all racial distinctions become irrelevant (Gal. 3:27-29). So how can it be argued that any one ethnic group on earth now are God’s people, on the basis of ethnicity? Each of the Orthodox churches basically teach that they are the new Israel. This is how the Bulgarian Orthodox church explain it: “ It is precisely this " small remnant" of the children of Israel-the Israel of the New Testament-who are characterized by a " correct and saving confession of the faith," the sole criterion of true Orthodox unity. Scorned, slandered, and often even persecuted by those who supposedly hold to the same faith-individuals who pretend to be Orthodox- this " small remnant" is nothing less than a " stumbling-stone" (Romans 9:32) for ecumenism and a solid buttress of Orthodoxy. Small in number, perhaps, but true to the faith of the Fathers, the Old Calendar Bulgarian Orthodox Church rallies unreservedly around this " small remnant," which responds, to be sure, to the inspired words of the Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev) of Blessed Memory: " Ecumenism will not celebrate its victory”. Note how they refer to the Bishop as speaking “inspired words”. Here is the problem. The words of men are treated as inspired, thereby leaving the inspired words of Scripture itself reduced to mere background status.
- The Russians, e.g., only accepted Christianity some centuries after the death of Jesus. Isn’t this strange, if God rejected the Jews for crucifying Jesus and then chose, e.g., the Russians as His chosen people?
- You could well labour the question: ‘Why do the Orthodox churches not seek to take salvation to others if salvation, according to the Bible, is for all?’. For the Orthodox have never done missionary work apart from amongst their own Diaspora. If the good news / Gospel they have is real and valid, well, isn’t it natural to share good news- if you really have it?
- Is all this not just evidence that the Orthodox churches are hopelessly tied up with local nationalism- hence their heavy involvement with politics? They are arguing that, e.g., the Macedonians are the true people of God and that therefore all others within the country are apostate and alienated from God- e.g. Albanians in Macedonia, or Chechens in Russia. Yet this is mere politics. The connection between church and state politics is reflected in the way the faithful are often told who to vote for. And to the discerning minority, this is immediately a major warning light as to the validity of the Orthodox churches as truly Christian organizations. In practice, it may be as well to point out early on in our relationship building what the true Christian attitude is to ‘the world’, politics, military service, voting etc.
The Orthodox churches are not the only people who think that their racial group is the chosen people. They’re actually only continuing the primitive theme of so many religions throughout history. The ancient Egyptian word for “Egyptian” meant ‘a human being’; they assumed that all other peoples were not fully human as they were. The Greeks mocked the way non-Greeks spoke- they called them barbaroi, because non-Greek language sounded to them like gutteral ‘barbar’ nonsense. And so they came to call all non-Greeks ‘barbarians’. This sort of thing is totally dehumanizing- and it is radically refuted by the way the New Testament teaches that people of all nations are equal before God as humans, and are united together in the only true humanity, which is the Lord Jesus (Gal. 3:27-29).