This question is one of the Protestant Evangelical questions that often starts conversations. I know it has been for decades even when I was an evangelical. To the Protestant Evangelical the belief in a “Salvation” that is instantaneous and tied to a moment in time is essential.
My friends in that community are often put off by the teaching of the ancient Church. Many times their answer is “If that’s what you believe then in your eyes I’m not saved.” That conclusion often leads them to be instantly offended. Let’s look at that belief.
The idea of an instantaneous salvation began with Martin Luther. It was not taught before the reformation. The teaching was firmly rooted in Luther’s doctrine of Sola Scriptura which said that Scripture Alone was the basis for all teaching.
First to understand is that the New Testament was collected and canonized in 386-389ad clearly 356 years after the Church began. The Church did not wait to teach until there was a New Testament, as a matter of fact the Book of Acts, history of the beginning of the Church says: “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
Acts 2:41-42 NKJV
It’s notable that in these two verses that after Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost, those who received his words (nothing says receive Jesus) those people were baptized and they continued in the Apostles’ doctrine fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers. The focus I am putting on the Apostles’ doctrine is intentional. There is no place where St. Luke (writer of the book of Acts) defines this phrase. We simply know they were taught and continued in that teaching, that doctrine.
The areas where the Apostles went, they preached this Gospel and baptized. The local churches needed overseers and the overseers (otherwise called bishops) were ordained to care for and teach the local churches. Timothy and Titus had been left behind by St. Paul with instructions to take all that he had taught them by word or example and teach faithful men who could teach others. These are two that we know about because he referred to this task. If St. Paul used that plan in those two places, I think it is safe to conclude the other Apostles either did it themselves or had others serve that function for them. After all, the twelve were special, we are certain, but there is the reference to the seventy that also were sent out by Jesus. History tells us they also went out preaching and founding new local churches also. Zebedee the father of James and John, who also was referred to in history as Aristobulus took a group of disciples to the area now known as the British Isles.
The Church was seriously concerned and the apostles made sure to tell the local churches that all of the people spoke and believed the same thing. The letters from St Paul were ways that he redirected the local churches when they strayed from his teachings. He made sure to tell the Corinthians: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
I Corinthians 1:10 NKJV
The Apostles were not allowing divisions, denominations or other separations in the local churches so that the Church could be ONE. Jesus prayed for his disciples before the crucifixion that they would be one. So divisions were not tolerated and teaching was uniform throughout the Church.
As the Church grew, many more local churches grew up and the organization of the Church solidified around the local bishops. History shows us that as the local churches grew up, administration of the overall Church was organized. Why do I mention this? Because many in the modern world want to disregard the organized Church in the ancient world. Saint Paul mentioned various spiritual gifts in his letter to the Romans and still others in his letter to the Corinthians. In his letter to the Romans he made specific mention to a gift of administration or government (depending on who translates the passage) and it is clear that God gifted some to do organization.
If we look to ancient Israel, when Moses was being given the task of creating a Tabernacle (a temporary place for worship) and God told him there were already people gifted to accomplish each task, metallurgy or fabric or anything else. If God took care to provide artisans for the image in the desert for those people, it is clear that since the Apostle Paul noted there was a gift of administration, that the organization of the Church, and by extension the local churches, was similarly provided for.
The growth of the Church, the adding of local churches, continued into the beginning of the fourth century. After Christianity was made legal, and Constantine made it the official religion of his empire, a new division cropped up. A preacher named Arius decided that he could interpret teachings his own unique way. He began teaching that since Jesus was begotten of the Father, there was a time in eternity where Jesus didn’t exist so Jesus was a created being. This caused great division among local churches and distressed the whole Church. The only way to settle this division was to bring all the bishops together in a council to examine the issue. This was the pattern shown by the twelve apostles in the early church when they examined a seeming division between Paul and Peter.
The Council of Nicea brought the bishops of the Church from all over to examine and expound on the teachings of the Church. They each were afforded time to declare what they had been taught from the beginning and basically compare notes. The teaching of Arius was deemed to be heresy, and refuted, and all who had taught it were afforded the opportunity to submit to the teaching of the Apostles or be expelled as heretics. The year this happened was 325ad and the council wrote the first two sections of the Creed and sent it out to all local churches to be taught to everyone so that the Church could “speak the same thing” and uniformity in doctrine was possible. NOTE: they still had not collected the entire New Testament and many local churches did not have most of the writings of the New Testament that we have today
In 381ad another Council was called this time meeting in Constantinople to address a new teaching that was dividing and confusing the Church. The teaching about the Holy Spirit that claimed He was not God, not the same as the Father and the Son in essence and being. Some were saying the Holy Spirit was simply the effect of God being around. So the bishops, once again compared notes, expounded what they had been taught from the beginning. The last parts of the Creed were written. The group of the Church leaders finalized the Creed so that the written doctrine of the whole Church was clear, then they committed that none of it could be changed. The consensus was that anyone changing any of the Creed was to be accursed and labeled a heretic. This would mean that they could not be part of the Church as a whole. The local churches all agreed and taught this Creed. Finally the overall Church had doctrine that conformed to what had been taught and passed down from the Apostles.
The last action of the Council of Constantinople was to commission a committee or board of scholars to examine all writings that claimed to be scripture. All of these writings were examined for three years and compared to what the Church taught and thus some were found to not be consistent with the knowledge of the Church. Only those books that were consistent with previously established revelation were kept as scripture. From that collection, we have the New Testament. This was then canonized as the New Testament Scriptures and disseminated to the whole Church.
So what happened? Why did some people abandon centuries of unity to create doctrine of their own? In the 16th century, Martin Luther came along. He was part of the Roman Church. They had separated from the rest of the ancient Church in 1054ad and shortly thereafter started changing the teaching all had been following. They changed the Creed, many argued then and some argue now the change was minor but it was not minor and the Great Schism became part of history. Jumping forward and Luther was trying to reform the Roman Church. He decided that he would translate the New Testament into German for his German parish. This way he got to decide what books were included and also could use his translation to make sure the German translation fit his own doctrine. Kind of stacking the deck and do it was on.
One of those convenient teachings was one that said that only SCRIPTURE could be used for doctrine. A kind of idolatry that makes the written book superior to everything and everyone. If it’s not found in the pages of the New Testament then it’s just not valid. Odd but that teaching itself is not found anywhere in the New Testament. People rolled with it anyway. Then, there came another Luther-created doctrine, instantaneous salvation. If someone professed faith in Christ they were declared “Saved”. It is real convenient since the ancient Church never taught that.
In the ancient Church, someone heard and believed the Gospel and they were baptized and chrismated being received into the Church. The newly enlightened person would begin to learn and participate in the sacraments of the Church, the chief among them is communion. Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ for forgiveness of sin and healing of soul and body. The Christian would then seek to grow and become continuously more like Christ, a process the Church came to refer to as Theosis. Salvation was the end result when at the Final Judgement the Christian would hear Christ say, “Welcome, my good and faithful servant”
Luther came up with this idea that if someone professed faith and said the right things they could be declared “Saved” making it an instantaneous event.
Following that reasoning, modern Evangelical Protestants have evolved over the past few decades to a point that it goes something like this. A person feels guilt for being a sinner, they’re told they need to be saved, they respond in some fashion and are then told they must receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. They are often led through a prayer often called “The Sinner’s Prayer” and afterward they’re told that they’re “Saved”. So the result of reciting this incantation means they’re saved and often they’re told that all sins they committed in the past and any that they will commit in the future have now been forgiven. Nice neat package.
Well, to those who want to be part of the Body of Christ I want to tell you, it’s not reciting a prayer like an incantation. It’s not going to happen in an instant. You aren’t saved until the end when Jesus welcomes you into that salvation. You aren’t saved now.
Here, now, today you can choose to be part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Christian Church and begin to become more like Christ. You can begin Theosis. You will be part of the Body of Christ.
I cannot tell you that in the end you WILL or WILL NOT be saved by your religion. I can identify whether a religious belief is or is not Orthodox. To be Orthodox, something has to fit the definition of that word. Orthodox is a compound Greek word meaning right teaching. So correct teaching makes some religions Orthodox and others not Orthodox. It’s not just another school of thought or theology that is equal to others. There are multiple schools of theology and thought that are equal. For all intents and purposes that group would be called heterodox which would be multiple teaching. If you are thinking that the thousands of religious teachings that call themselves Christian are equal then that is heterodox thought. The baptists of various flavors and the charismatics of various flavors and the Pentecostals of various flavors all accepting each other as Christians are a group of heterodox churches. Can you still “make it” in the end? I cannot presume to tell you that. No one can because who God chooses to save in the final analysis is exclusively in His prerogative. Anytime someone claims to be “saved” they are presuming on God’s exclusive prerogative to decide.
So what CAN be said? I know that the best place to find the path to Theosis is the Body of Christ. This is not some invisible group as some would claim that is made up of “all true believers in all churches and denominations” it is a defined, visible, and easy to find Church. The Church says the same thing no matter what ethnicity you find it, no matter what nation you are in, that’s what is meant by the word CATHOLIC. Catholic means UNIVERSAL. Catholic is not a trademark of the Roman Church. While in the USA it seems like it. The Creed is clear when it says: “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.”
Jesus established His Church. It’s not mine, it’s not created by a specific man, it is Christ’s Church. If you want the full experience of God, you can be part of it. It is genuine.
So if you get offended in this, that’s really something you should examine in yourself. I am often told, “I can go to God directly, I don’t need a priest.” Well everyone can, you’re not special. However, I can also fulfill the scripture that says “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you can be healed.”
Theosis is not about concentrating on a few singular ideas and fulfilling those and forgetting the others, it is about concentrating on the whole counsel of God. Letting Him work on each area of your life and making you a little more like Him every day.