Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Sanctification: Pentecostal and Orthodox

I've mentioned in the past that I think Pentecostals, even more so than Episcopalians ought to be introduced to Holy Orthodoxy. (I don't have anything against Episcopalians, its just that of the couple of dozen I've met, only 2 actually believed Jesus came back from the dead. The Pentecostals are much farther down the road toward Orthodox Christianity than the Episcopalians. We might see mass conversions of Pentecostals, I doubt we will see mass conversions of Episcopalians.)

With similar words (though dissimilar belief) both practice Communion. With nearly identical belief, but sometimes different words, both claim the present day operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Another area of near, if not total agreement is sanctification.

Here is one statement of what the Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostal denomination and the 4th largest group of Christians in the world (about 50,000,000 worshipers) believes about sanctification:

What is the Assemblies of God belief about sanctification, and how does it differ from other churches?
The basic idea of sanctification is that of separation or setting apart. In the Bible the words sanctification and holiness are interchangeable. At the time a person receives Christ, he is sanctified (1 Corinthians 1:30; 6:11), which means he has been separated from his past life of sin and is now dedicated to God. From Scripture we find that the Holy Spirit is the One who sanctifies (2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Peter 1:2).

We believe the Bible is clear in teaching that Christians should continue living a life separated from sin and dedicated to God because, as the apostle Paul tells us, this is His will for them (2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:3). We call this the progressive aspect of sanctification. The Scriptures speak of it in a variety of ways, such as growing in grace (2 Peter 3:14) and being gradually transformed spiritually (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The purpose of the sanctification process is that believers might become more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though Christians may not attain absolute perfection in this life, they are expected to make every effort to live a holy life, because "without holiness no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14).

Some churches teach that sanctification is a one-time experience that takes place after a person has become a Christian, at which time he is made perfect. The Assemblies of God teaches that sanctification takes place at the moment of salvation and then progresses as the believer continues to submit to the control of the Holy Spirit. (From the AoG USA website)

It is difficult to say, concisely, what the Orthodox belive about sanctification. Brevity is not one of the Orthodox Church's gifts. As Metropolitan (then Bishop) Kallistos wrote in his book, The Orthodox Church, We can't talk about Sanctification without also talking about everything else.

"Theology, mysticism, spirituality, moral rules, worship, art: these things must not be kept in separate compartments. Doctrine cannot be understood unless it is prayed: a theologian, said Evagrius, is one who knows how to pray, and he who prays in spirit and in truth is by that very act a theologian. And doctrine, if it is to be prayed, must also be lived: theology without action, as St. Maximus puts it, is the theology of demons. The creed belongs only to those who live it. Faith and love, theology and life, are inseparable. In the Byzantine Liturgy, the Creed is introduced with the words, ‘ Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Trinity, one in essence and undivided.’ This exactly expresses the Orthodox attitude to Tradition. If we do not love one another, we cannot love God; and if we do not love God, we cannot make a true confession of faith and cannot enter into the inner spirit of Tradition, for there is no other way of knowing God than to love Him.”

However, it is not wrong to say the orthodox view Sactification as one of the most importat ways the Church reveals God to the rest of Creation. As Metropolitan (Then abbot) Jonah wrote in 2001,

The sanctification of the life of the community itself, daily life, is also a fundamental element of the Church as the revelation of the Kingdom of God on earth. The life of each community of the Church is built around the mutual support of the members for one another in their common spiritual process of transformation. (Source)

The life of the community is experienced, primarily, in the Holy Mysteries or Sacraments, thus it is that sanctification is always mentioned as the goal of the Sacraments. For example, before and after Communion there are prayers prayed by the Orthodox stating that we are unworthy, asking for God's mercy, and asking for God's aid in becoming holy. And these prayers are prayed, and the Holy Mysteries are experienced at least once a week by the Orthodox. The reason for this is that the whole point of the Christian life is sanctification, or as Fr. John Breck wrote, the goal

...is to allow the Holy Spirit to re-create us in the Divine Image, to lead us from a self-centered state of sinfulness, corruption and death to one of righteousness, peace and joy, as we dwell in eternal and intimate communion with the Lord of all things.

So, we and the Pentecostals are working toward the same goal. And though they lack the means of the Holy Mysteries God gave the Church they are zealous to reach that goal. Are our bishops talking to the leaders of the Pentecostals? If not, let's pray that God will lead them into conversation with each other.

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