No salvation outside of (which?) church

People think I make this stuff up.  Now if someone says, “You aren’t reading the context,”  fair enough.  But if we have to qualify it with “context,” then we need to stop making blanket condemnations of Protestants.

“Whoever denies Orthodox hesychasm is excommunicated by this Council (of St. Gregory Palamas), and whoever cannot understand the hesychastic life shows that he does not have the mind-set of the Church.” Eminence Hierotheos Vlachos, Metropolitan of Nafpaktos

Concerning the necessity of not permitting heretics to come into the house of God, so long as they persist in their heresy. (Canon 6 of the Council of Laodicea)

Do not err, my brethren: if anyone follow a schismatic, he will not inherit the Kingdom of God. St. Ignatius Of Antioch, Epistle to the Philadelphians, 3:2-4:1

He that saith not ‘Anathema’ to those in heresy, let him be anathema. (Seventh Ecumenical Council) [I can agree with this statement depending on who means what by heresy]

Neither the Papist nor the Protestant church can be considered as the True church of Christ. The first was altered by a number of innovations and the accursed despotism (Primacy) due to which resulted the schism from the Orthodox. The same goes for the Protestants whose innumerable innovations lead to total anarchy and chaos. Only the Orthodox church maintained the teachings of Christ flawlessly without a single innovation (St. Nektarios of Aegina)

Those that are not reborn by the divine grace in the only One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, they do not consist of (comprise) any church, neither visible nor invisible. (St. Nektarios of Aegina)



A brief tribute to Ian Paisley

Granted, he wasn’t the most polished Reformed guy in ecclesiology or the most Confessional.  Still, he had what the Reformed world probably needed most:  courage.  He also had wisdom and insight.  Whereas most Reformed will reject Romanism for its deficient theology, and rightly so, Paisley saw it for the existential threat it is.  He knew the Jesuits have one goal:  the destruction of Protestant nations.  Modern Calvinists won’t touch that topic with a ten foot pole.

Find his sermons here.   If anything, they are fun. Find his sermon on Richard Cameron.  Two moments in it will give you chills: one when he is quoting Psalm 46 and the other when he is quoting Cameron’s sermon and says, “And the gates of Rome will burn!

How the mighty have fallen!

Tell it not in Gath; publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice

Extra Israel nulla salus

The question in the canon debate is not whether the Church approves–and hence creates–the canon, but whether Israel’s Scriptures approve the church (per Robert Jenson).

The second question is not whether am I saved because I am part of Institution x (which makes mutually exclusive claims from Institution y, both of which damn eternally members in the Set ~{xy} ), but rather “Am I ingrafted in Israel?”

That question gets tricky.  Paul specifically says the true church (leaving undefined at the moment, which he did) is en grafted into God’s olive tree, which identity is Israel.   But he says ethnic Israel has been (temporarily) cut off (sidenote:  regardless of millennial views, how someone can read Romans 11 and not see a future inbringing of Jews is simply amillennialism’s desperate last gasp).

This brings us back to the question of identity:   those who are saved are the in-grafted-into-Israel-ones.  I leave aside questions of eternal salvation at the moment.  Paul affirms a future inbringing of Jews–which will be the catalyst for life-for-the-world.

Corollary:  Communions which are anti-semitic are under a negative judgment per Paul’s comments circa ingrafting.

Corollary 1b: I do not agree with everything the modern nation state of Israel does.  I do not vote Republican.

Corollary 2: Is the Church the New Israel?  I know covenant theologians like to make that connection, and I am sympathetic to some of the conclusions (e.g., infant baptism), and I understand that New Testament writers use OT priestly language in reference to the church, but I hesitate saying that.  While the position isn’t fundamentally wrong, it clouds the discussion and turns attention away from the dialectical purpose of God in history (I know that was a very Hegelian sentence.  I don’t mean it that way): the church is a mystery revealed in these last times, of whom ethnic Israel is jealous, which jealously shall lead to their conversion; which conversion shall be life for the world.

That is the essence of New Testament eschatology.

“Coming home” is bad ecclesiology

Convertskii love to say how “they came home to Mother Church.”  But we have no home on earth.  We seek the Jerusalem that is above.  Our mother is the heavenly Zion.  It is still in heaven (Revelation 21-22). Therefore, I can’t come home.

And I don’t care what denomination it is (Presbyterian, Romanist, Orthodx, Moonie), books about conversion stories are so saccharine and cloying I can’t read them.

A rejoinder into the Leithart foray

My first round of disputatiorum with Orthodox Bridge was seen as combative.   I still do not know why, but I hope this will be more irenic.  I am not actually trying to attack or refute Orthodoxy.  I am simply responding to a response of a weak critique of Orthodoxy.  No more, no less.

 He begins by noting the “exodus” of Protestants from Protestantism toward high-church traditions.  He calls it a “crisis.”  I don’t think it is.  There is a crisis in Reformed self-reflection today, of which I will elaborate below, but not in an exodus from the Reformed church.  The truth is, I think a lot of these numbers are overblown and as one commenter noted, shall we inquire of the number who leave Orthodoxy?

He notes the men who have left Protestantism for higher traditions.   Fair enough, but with the possible exception of Stellman, these men, with all due respect, represent mainstream, lowest-common denominator Americana evangelicalism, not robust Confessionalism.    He then picks up the Gillquist narrative and even mentions Frank Schaeffer (he probably shouldn’t have mentioned Schaeffer.   I think Schaeffer has abandoned theism altogether, in which case he functions as a counter-argument to Orthodoxy, for he left Eastern Orthodoxy!)

He comes to his thesis:  My assessment is that Protestantism having lost its theological center has become a fractured and confusing, if not volatile and unstable. Troubled by this state of confusion many are seeking refuge in the historic early Church. This is the backdrop to Leithart’s recent column.

That’s probably a fair assessment, though I would like to point out that he risks equivocating on evangelical and protestant.  I define historic Protestantism as a full commitment to the historic Reformed documents, especially as they pertain to worship (Regulative Principle), government (rule by elder, classis, synod, assembly) and doctrine.  This is how the Reformed traditionally saw themselves (cf. Scott Clark, 2008).  Such a definition rules out almost all of the examples he gave.

Now on to the substance of the matter.  He then gives a brief and fairly accurate summary of recent Evangelical history.  He notes the Ancient-Faith and Emergent Church movements.  He then turns to Leithart:

Leithart and his FV colleagues believe themselves to be on the cutting edge of “the-future-church” and much closer to getting it right than say the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) or the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). In actuality, they are just another “new-and-improved” Reformed splinter group.

Sadly, that probably is how they think.  I have no disagreements with that paragraph.  I am going to assume that Arakaki has gotten most of Leithart’s argument correct.  The problem is, though, that Leithart wrote this as a very short blog piece.  There are sections of it where both he and I would like to see Leithart flesh out his argument, but that simply isn’t possible.   Full critique and analysis must simply wait another day.


Clark, R. Scott.   Recovering the Reformed Confession.  Phillipsburg, NJ:  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2008.

He writes,

This evolutionary approach to church history is congruent with postmillennialism favored by Reformed theologians. It reminds me of Mercersburg Theology’s Philip Schaff who posited that church history is the outworking of a Hegelian dialect, that over time division will be resolved into deeper unity, and that over time heresy and error will be resolved into deeper truth. This is radically at odds with how Orthodoxy understands truth and what the Bible teaches.

This is probably true, though one should point out that Leithart’s postmillennialism has little in common with any of the postmillennial schools in the past, but is an aberration of his mentor, Jordan.   Further, the Mercersberg theology has been rebuked and resisted many times in Reformed history (Charles Hodge had already pointed out the Hegelianism of the movement).

Leithart’s portrayal of time is based on a false characterization of the Orthodox understanding of time. Time is not the issue here. The issue here is the promise of the Holy Spirit Christ made to His Apostles in the Upper Room discourse (John 13-16).

Let’s assume that is the case.  Here is what Leithart didn’t say and should have:  Orthodox will occasionally employ the same idea of progress but will never call it such.   Notice the difference in reflection and content from Justin Martyr to Gregory Palamas. One is hard-pressed to come to the conclusion that one simply passed down the faith to the other.   True, we could argue that the latter (and I am just using these two men as examples) was merely responding to controvesies and so he would be different.  That’s true, but let’s ask a different question:   Did Justin Martyr believe in the essence/energies distinction that Palamas did?   If you say “no,” then you concede Leithart’s point.  If you say yes, then you have committed the fallacy of asserting the consequent (if p, then q; q, therefore, p).

Even acknowledging that the Holy Spirit was with the Church, and few Reformed deny that, then what precisely follows?  That every council would be infallible?  That doesn’t wash with the Robber Baron’s council or with Heira.  He then links to Ralph Winterr and the “Blinked Light” theory.  This is disingenuous.   Christianity Today may hold that position, but even a surface-level reading of Calvin, Turretin, or Owen (to name just a few) will disprove that.

He then refers to Jude 3 and 2 Thess. 2:15 (The faith once deliverd and traditions, respectively) and argues that this disproves Leithart’s evolutionary theology.  It very well may, but my same challenge returns:  without begging the question and asserting the consequent, show us that your traditions today match the apostle’s (presumably unwritten) traditions?  (Unwritten tradition by definition resists verification).

I am sure Orthodox apologists have a response to this, but to the layman on the street, this objection is fairly substantial.  I remember my own interest in Orthodoxy and Holy Tradition.  I’m no mean theologue myself.  I’ve read more than 99% of laymen today, and yet my wife stopped me in my tracks with the above type question.

He then concludes with a discussion of chairos time and chronos time.  He then gives an exegetical analysis of the Greek language of several passages.  What’s interesting is that it looks (at least in method) exactly like what evangelicals do!  Which raises the question, any appeal to Scripture by the Orthodox apologist presupposes that the Protestant can understand Scripture independent of Orthodox tradition, otherwise why quote the verse?  This is starting to look a lot like sola scriptura.

The Church is the city of the living God, not in the process of becoming the city of God.

Yet, one cannot help but see a whole lot of “becoming” in church history.

Thus, if Rev. Leithart’s theological argument is flawed, then Protestants should give serious consideration to converting to Orthodoxy.

This only holds good if Leithart’s argument fully exhausts all Reformed self-identity, but on everyone’s account, Leithart is a recent mutation (I say that with respect).

He ends with an anecdotal conversion account.   I will end with a few more comments.

RA mentions the eucharist and iconography.  I’ve raised several problems both with the EO understanding of Eucharist and Icons (which, ironically, is the same objection).

Is Iain Murray a Revivalist?

(In what follows I am not endorsing any one revival.  I largely agree with Clark’s analysis.  I think the 2nd Great Awakening sowed dangerous seeds and the 1st Great Awakening had wacky moments that its supporters do not account for.  Of other revivals such as the 1859 Ulster one, I simply do not have the expertise to comment on that).

Clark’s larger argument is that we should be suspicious of those who claim that we should have spiritual experiences outside the divinely-established means of grace and preaching of the Word. Admittedly, this is a fair point. Clark’s antagonist is Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ). MLJ repeatedly urged for a “revival” to come, understanding revival as an experimental outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Clark, 79). Clark rebuts him, noting that MLJ is advocating Calvin’s doctrine without Calvin’s sacramental piety. Clark does admit, though, that MLJ never used “revival” to manipulate his own people (81).

Clark takes issue with Iain Murray’s distinction between “revival” and “revivalism.” In the first category would be Reformed evangelists like Edwards and Whitefield. In the latter category we have the horror of today’s evangelicalism. Clark accuses Murray of using providence to justify revivals he likes but ignoring providence on revivals he doesn’t like (81-82). Clark concludes his critique of Murray by asserting on Murray’s gloss what unites true Christianity is “experience, not doctrine” (82).

Clark does a good job in pointing out some weaknesses in individual Reformed evangelists and in some of the more inane happenings in the First Great Awakening. He also points out what many are now beginning to realize: Jonathan Edwards departed from the Reformed confession on a number of key philosophical points. Clark also establishes that Harry Stout’s narrative of Whitefield cannot be easily dismissed. There are some inconsistencies and factual errors in Clark’s analysis, though. Murray does not simply lump the Arminian and Calvinistic revivals in the same category. He is very critical of the Second Great Awakening towards its end. Further, Murray does not promote experience over doctrine as the basis of unity. Murray is specifically arguing, however, that the communions in North America shared a common, if somewhat broad, doctrinal agreement on soteriological concerns. I would probably side with Clark on this one, since Murray’s account downplays important ecclesial issues, but it is not the case that Murray simply compromised doctrinal agreement. Most importantly, however, is that Clark does not come to grips with Iain Murray’s distinction between revival and revivalism. The latter is not merely hoping for the Spirit of God to be poured out as an alternative to the means of grace. It is more properly seen as “whooping and hollering” until the decisions come. Revival, on the other hand, is when God sovereignly displays his power among his people in an unusual way. Further, Clark seems to grant that distinction with regard to MLJ (Clark, 81) but not with Murray.

I suspect MLJ overplayed his hand on the importance of revival. Clark is correct on one point: the church’s sanctification is through the means of grace and discipline. That is the established norm. I think I can also argue, though, that MLJ’s views can be modified and accommodate some of Clark’s concerns on this point. MLJ strongly argued “that the New Testament appeal to sanctification is always an appeal to the reason of the believing man” (Murray, The Fight of Faith, 173). Of course, one would need to supplement this statement with a discussion on the Lord’s Supper, but it is a good start.

While Clark is correct that MLJ probably doesn’t represent good Reformed ecclesiology, MLJ’s exegesis is not so easily dismissed. Perhaps MLJ’s understanding of the 1859 revival doesn’t rest on exegesis (with that I agree with Clark), but MLJ’s understanding of the nature of revival and even the continuation of spiritual gifts (and I know this is uncomfortable with many) does rest upon carefully-reasoned exegesis (cf. MLJ, Prove all Things, 32-33; Joy Unspeakable, p. 21, 23; The Sovereign Spirit, p. 26, 120, pp. 31-32). In any case, MLJ does encourage his congregation to delight in the day of small things and to be careful in seeking “phenomena.” That at least must be granted. I agree with Clark that MLJ was perhaps a bit too dismissive of anyone who disagreed with him. That was not helpful on the latter’s part.


I have some questions about Clark’s analysis. I think I have demonstrated that it is incomplete. I agree with his overall vision for the Reformed church’s sanctification through Word and Sacrament and that those who constantly seek revival downplay this. Further, I agree with all of his criticisms of Edwards and most of his criticisms of Whitefield. That said, however, Clark’s analysis really can’t account for the fact that God indeed does refresh his church in powerful ways from time to time. Admittedly, we are interpreting facts at this point, but they are still facts. While we shouldn’t sit on our hands waiting for revival to come, that does not mean that when God sovereignly displays his power in our lives we should say to him, “No God, this isn’t how you work.” (Of course, I don’t think Clark is saying that).

Southern Presbyterianism and the Culture War

D.G. Hart has long been a whipping boy among postmillennialists and Reconstructionists.  Indeed, it took me about 8 years to warm up to his arguments.  I used to be a hard-core Recon.  I thought the highest goal in my life would be to take back city hall for Christ (okay, maybe it wasn’t really that, but you get the idea). Through various shifts and trials in my life, I have backed away from that rhetoric.  Something else appeared as superior to the culture war:  ecclesiastical statesmanship.  Christ’s promises were specifically made to his church, not to parachurch ministries and quasi-political cell groups.

Both sides in the debate, R2Kers and Kuyperians, have a troubled use with Thornwell, Dabney, and Southern Presbyterianism.  On one hand, Hart and Co. have correctly identified and applied Thornwell’s “Spirituality of the Church” doctrine.  This is a slap in the face to Kuyperians, at least modern-day ones.  On the other hand, I am not sure how thoroughly Hart can fully apply Thornwell.  Thornwell had no problem with society being governed by “right reason” in accord with a general biblical outline.  (Few Van Tillians hold to Common Sense Realism).  Further, Thornwell (and especially Dabney) are not dis-interested in political and economic questions.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if the 2Kers have a practical point: whether we ought or ought not to “transform” society for Christ, we have to look at issues on the ground.  I am not going to trumpet the typical R2K objections to Kuyperianism (e.g., the world is evil and transformation is impossible).  I think there is a far more troubling objection:  what if the  transformationalists actually succeed?  The problem is that a lot of transformationalists think they are going to go back to Patrick Henry.   More like, though, and more troubling, is that we won’t get Patrick Henry.  We will get Tim Keller.  Tim Keller is a more likely bet for transformationalism.  He is a gifted speaker, a talented organizer, and has a growing church in a large, important city.   The problem:  Tim Keller isn’t really Reformed.

And such a “reformed” society would end up looking like the broader PCA culture.

But what about the points where the transformationalists seem like they got it right?  Should they just be abandoned?  Maybe not.  This is where simply being a student of the magisterial reformation pans out:  we get the theocratic impulse behind such views but we root it in a robust ecclesiology.

Communion of–but don’t commune with!

Prayers to the departed saints sounds strange and unbiblical to American ears, but it actually rests on several commonsense and biblical observations.   As Christians were are part of the communion of saints (and confess as much on Sunday morning in most any non-low evangelical church).  Therefore, the next conclusion is that the departed saints are part of the Communion of Saints.  Who will deny that?  Do we ask our (living) Christian brothers to pray for us?  Certainly.   May we also ask the reposed Christian brothers to pray for us?

If the Evangelical says no, he’s forced with several options:

  • He must consider the reposed saints as “off limits,” effectively reducing them to second-class status.    This is absurd, though, for these saints are actually in heaven and have been perfected.
  • Deny on the other hand any sort of division in the communion of saints, but now he has to answer why he refuses to allow intercession to departed saints.

So there’s no good churches around…

Does that mean one should abandon the Church altogether?  This is one of the consequences of globalism:  one reads of theology and the Church (usually on the internet) and wants to join this church, but there is isn’t one around for hundreds of miles.   What do you do?   This is becoming more and more a reality.

To make the problem even worse, what if you want to join this church but find out the Bishop is either Novus Ordo, communing with Freemasons, or participates in the World Council of Churches?   If you are not aware of that–particularly freemasonry or ecumenism–it’s not so big a deal.  But if you are aware of that, it is tough to knowingly commune with those who are communing with Masons.

I say all of this to acknowledge the painful reality of my Talmudic acquaintance’s problem.  It’s not fun to “be the only one left in Israel who has not bowed the knee” and then to drive several hundred miles on a Sunday.  He has a point which should not be casually dismissed.  The logical structure of his arguments he has given on this point are not very impressive, to be sure, but he has touched on something that has kept me awake for many nights.

Turning to the Fathers

I am not entirely certain I am comfortable with the True Orthodox Church.   I agree with their arguments on the Old Calendar (and for what it’s worth, courtesy of St Herman’s Press, I use an Old Calendar).  That said, I think they are correct on Ecumenism, freemasonry (which as a former Southern Baptist, I fought that battle even then), and modernism.   Their inability to communicate the gospel with love and gentleness, as a general rule, will likely keep more from joining their ranks.

In any case I asked a True Orthodox priest what I should do.   He said keep the church cycle as best one could and make pilgrimages to a Church on feast days, citing Blessed Seraphim Rose as an example.

Interestingly, St Basil, in a slightly different context, sheds some light on this point.   In times of persecution, it is doubtful there will be any churches around, good or not.    And as America is moving more and more to this situation per FEMA and the PATRIOT ACT, this will be a very real problem.   How should we commune, then?

St Basil writes (p. 179 in the NPNF II series, volume 8):

It is needless to point out that for anyone in times of persecution to be compelled to take communion in his own hand without the presence of a priest or minister is not a serious offence, as long as custom sanctions this practice from the facts themselves.  All the solitaries in the desert, where there is no priest, take the communion themselves, keeping communion at home.   And at Alexandria and Egypt, each one of the laity, for the most part, keeps the communion at his own house, and participates in it when he likes.

I am definitely not saying one should do house communion or even worse, house church like the Reconstructionists do!  Heaven forbid!   I am pointing out that the Holy Fathers didn’t get hung up on this point.  They realized the fact of unusual situations, and recognizing that these situations are not normative, nor will they become normative in the future, they allowed them.  The point is there are ways to keep the faith, resist modernism, and resist freemasonry without saying all the churches are hereby defunct.

Okay, so “outside the church there is no salvation…”

Roman Catholics are usually more vocal (and annoying) about this than Orthodox apologists (though, of course, the latter hold to the dictum as well).  The phrase in one form or another dates back to St Cyprian.  This phrase offends Protestants because the way it is defined excludes Protestantism from the true church.  Therefore, this means that Protestants are outside the Church.   Therefore, Protestants are “going to hell” (pronounced “hae-yul” if you are from the South).

So is this true?  Did God create Protestants simply to roast ’em forever?   Not quite.  This is an example of one taking a legitimate theological axiom–the church is the visible and physical focal point of salvation on earth–and making conclusions based on evidence a person cannot possibly have. Blessed Seraphim Rose warned against such scholastic reasoning.

My observations on St Cyrpian’s phrase:

1) Calvinists accept some form of it.   Calvin said somewhere you can’t have God as your father without the church as your mother.  Why then do Calvinists get upset when Orthodox say it?  Similarly, most Calvinists do not believe Orthodox (or Catholics) are “saved,” so why do they get mad when others return the favor?

2) It’s not entirely clear what St Cyprian “meant” by it.  Even in his own time this phrase did not always have “obvious” epistemological clarity.  Who’s in the church?  As St Augustine mused, it’s often hard to know.

3) Maybe it’s truer meaning doesn’t primarily deal with individuals at all.    Protestant and evangelical churches have a tendency to self-destruct over generations.   They simply don’t last.  Either they capitulate to modernism (and by their own admission have little or nothing to do with even the vaguest forms of Christianity) or they simply lose enough members and die, even if they maintain some form of a Christian witness.  Part of the problem is sola scriptura:  if it is ultimately “my interpretation of the Bible,” and there are 200 million of me, then there is inherently a self-mutating motion in evangelicalism.  Therefore, St Cyprian can be said to say, “outside the church, you cease to resemble a real church over the long run.”

4) I don’t think Protestants (particularly evangelicals) and Orthodox view salvation in exactly the same way.  For the Orthodox, as I understand it, salvation is not reduced to a one-time moment at a Billy Graham concert rally. Without the visible, apostolic church, you aren’t going to see the fullness of the faith.

5) On the other hand, the stupidest thing an Orthodox (or Catholic) can do is to go up to a Protestant and say, “Yup, you and your family are going to roast because you aren’t part of us.”  For one, you don’t know that.  The final judgment has not yet happened.  Secondly, you have effectively driven them away from Orthodoxy.  Good job.

Clark Carlton has a fantastic podcast on this topic.