Straight Answers to Honest Questions
by Arden C. Autry, Ph.D.
Question: Could you explain the difference between Protestantism and Orthodoxy?
Answer (part 3): While sharing the same faith in Christ, we have differences in emphasis and expression. Some differences are like those between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Differences in "style" of worship are obvious, but heirs of John Wesley can find substantial agreement with the Orthodox concerning salvation, especially regarding the goal of what we call "sanctification."
In contrast to some Protestants who focused on intellectual adherence to right beliefs, Wesley preached the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and God's will for the Christian's "entire sanctification" or holiness. Using different terminology, the Orthodox Church emphasizes the same goal, the total transformation of the Christian. Their term for this process and its goal is "deification" or "theosis."
The Orthodox do not mean that humans become independent "gods" of their own worlds. Rather, theosis describes the process and result of God's transforming presence in our lives. We do not cease being human; nor do we take on God's essence as our own. But when God's energies pervade our lives, we live differently--we think, feel, and act differently. The ultimate goal of this process is for God to touch everything we touch, because he is so present in us. For example, a piece of steel does not cease being steel when it is heated white-hot, but the heat is so present in the steel that whatever it touches, the heat touches. Supporting their teaching on "deification," the Orthodox point to such texts as 2 Peter 1:4 ("partakers of the divine nature") and Jesus' prayer in John 17:21 ("As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us"). And the Apostle Paul constantly emphasized that our life is now "in Christ" (e.g., Rom. 8:1; 1 Cor. 1:30; Gal. 2:20; Phil. 3:9-11; Col. 3:3).
Orthodox and Wesleyans agree that salvation is more than acquittal for past sins and permission to enter heaven in the future. Salvation means forgiveness but also transformation. The sanctifying effect of the Holy Spirit even changes our desires (instantaneously or over time), until God's purpose for creating us is finally realized. Power for this transformation is what Wesleyans call "sanctifying grace"; the Orthodox call it "deification." Both groups emphasize the progressive nature of these changes as the Christian is shaped by God's Word and Holy Spirit in prayer and worship.
Compared with typical Methodists, the Orthodox put more emphasis on the shaping influence of the "Divine Liturgy" and more emphasis on the effect of Holy Communion (although Wesley himself stressed frequent communion far more than typical Methodists). An observer of Orthodox worship and Methodist worship would see, on the surface, rather different ways of going about it. But if the Object of worship is the same (God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and the "objective" is the same (transformation according to God's will), then what unites us is greater than what divides us.
Submit your question to Dr. Arden Autry, firstname.lastname@example.org