Last night during our inquirers’ class, Fr Patrick spoke about faith’s role in salvation. (Once again, it was a great teaching, especially as he talked about Orthodoxy’s ability to synchronize properly the essential subjective and objective dimensions of faith.) At one point Fr Patrick began speaking about the Protestant emphasis on “accepting Jesus as your personal Savior.”
In our modern world, “personal” translates into “private.” Scripturally, a private existence is no existence at all. It is self-delusion and self-destruction. There is no such thing as a private salvation or a private savior. Both are oxymorons. True life as God intended, and therefore true salvation into that life, is relational. It is communal. That’s what the Greek word koinonia means — communion, participation.
So Fr Patrick offered a better question that has been echoing in my mind since last night, “Have you accepted Jesus as our common Savior?” As the Body of Christ, we hold Jesus in common as our Savior. Together we are his Body. Together, we commune with him. Together, we participate in him. Together we unite ourselves to him and to each other. Thus, together, we are being saved in him.
So with this resonating in me, I was thrilled to read Fr Stephen’s latest post entitled, “The Orthodox Church and Personal Salvation.” In the post he shares some thoughts regarding a Franklin Graham article and then includes a short article that he wrote on personal salvation. The entire article is definitely worth reading. But his included earlier article is awesome and supports what we discussed during last night’s class. Here’s the majority of the article:
“Thus there is always something of a hesitancy when someone asks (in newspeak), “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” If only we would, it would be truly significant. But in our modern street-wise theology, Christ as personal savior becomes synonymous with Christ as private savior, and as such is no savior at all. For no one and nothing can save the false existence we have created in the privacy of our modern existence. We were not created for such an existence.
“In the story of Genesis – the first appearance of the phrase, “It is not good,” is applied to man – in an existence that is private. “It is not good for man to be alone.” We do not exist in the goodness which God has created for us when we exist alone. The most remote hermit of the Christian desert does not live alone, but lives radically for others and to God. Of all men he is the least alone. No one would take on the radical ascesis of the desert for themselves alone: it is an act of radical love.
“And thus the personal God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, determined that salvation for humanity could only take place as we lived fully and truly into the existence for which we were and are created: the Church. In the Church we do not exist as mere individuals but as members of the Body of Christ. My life is the life of Christ. What happens to me is essential to what happens to all the members of the Body and what happens to the members of the Body is essential for what happens to me. Their life is my life.
“Thus when we approach the cup of Christ’s Body and Blood, we never approach it for our private good but as members of the Body. We are thus enjoined to be in love and charity with our neighbor and to forgive the sins of all – otherwise the cup is not for our salvation but our destruction.”
And then comes the climactic moment of the article:
“The salvation into which we are Baptized is a new life – no longer defined by the mere existence of myself as an individual – but rather by the radical freedom of love within the Body of Christ. To accept Christ as our “personal” savior, thus can be translated into its traditional Orthodox form: “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” And this question is more fully expounded when we understand that the Christ to whom we unite ourself is a many-membered body.”
For me, Fr Stephen’s article drives home two facts: First, Jesus is our common Savior with and through whom we commune together. And second, the Orthodox Church has faithfully preserved and practiced this truth through the ages by its Holy Tradition.