01 March 2010

Thoughts on Yesterday's Gospel, or We Go to Heaven Together and to Hell By Ourselves

I know the topic of corporate salvation is A Very Big Deal and one of those things that cause many Protestants looking into Orthodoxy to cringe. However, what may surprise many is to find that Jesus himself granted forgiveness of sins based on the faith of others. Specifically, if we look at the first Gospel (St. Mark II:1-12) reading from yesterday (the story of the healing of the paralytic) we see just that:
And again he entered into Capernaum, after [some] days; and it was understood that he was in the house. And forthwith many were assembled, so that there was no room to receive [them], no not so much as about the door: and he preached the word to them. And they come to him, bringing one sick with the palsy, who was borne by four. And when they could not come nigh to him by reason of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken [it] up, they let down the bed on which the sick with the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the sick with the palsy, Son, thy sins are forgiven thee. But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, Why doth this [man] thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? And immediately, when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said to them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the sick with the palsy, [Thy] sins are forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, he saith to the sick with the palsy, I say to thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go into thy house. And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; so that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.
I have drawn emphasis to the relevant passage above. What we see from the scripture's teaching is that this man who had been sick with palsy was forgiven his sins because of the faith of his friends, and their loving action to do whatever was necessary to put him in the path of the Lord. Now, I'm not saying that people don't have some responsibility for their own salvation (after all, the paralytic man could have refused to believe in his healing, and remained firmly in his bed), but it seems to me that the "ruggedly individualistic" notion of salvation is not scriptural. We are saved by the Church...and that salvation by grace is not mediated just through the enumerated Sacraments, but also through the sacrament of being brought together from all the tribes, nations, language-cultures and political persuasions in the world into one body, one holy nation, one Church. The visible expression of the mystical union is the Sacrament of Communion (which, in mystery, makes this real--that we be one flock with one shepherd). And it seems to me that through this mystical union, we are supported and support one another in faith; indeed, we go to Heaven together, and to hell by ourselves.

Pax vobiscum+


Anonymous said...

I never noticed that in this wonderful passage, and thank you for pointing it out. This element of being in it together is one of the beautiful truths of Orthodoxy.

Justinian said...

You know, I never thought of it either until becoming Orthodox. In fact, I am almost certain that any time I heard this passage preached on as a Protestant, it was presented with the idea that the love of the friends bringing the man to Jesus is why Jesus healed him of the palsy. No mention was every made about the role their faith played in the forgiveness of his sins. But that isn't what the passage says at all.

Anonymous said...

Which proves that everything is seen through colored glasses, our particular biases. And it's so "fun" to read through Scripture again, almost like it's the first time, seeing so many new and beautiful truths.

Anonymous said...

I guess I would not be described as Orthodox. In fact, many Christians would describe me as a heretic.

The comment I would like to make on this is that this story may not be as simple as that to interpret.

I have come to accept the authority of scripture. Part of that process has been the recognition that if I am having trouble accepting what it is telling me there are two possibilities. It is either not telling me what I think it is telling me or I am not submitting to its authority.

I do not accept that anyone is saved by the faith of others. I would be interested in learning the details of the translation from the original Greek.

I do believe in the importance of Christian community and fellowship. I do believe that God, through the urgings Holy Spirit, often acts indirectly through others to impact us individually rather than directly in our own lives.

So in a way the faith of his friends out him in a position to accept the Grace offered to him. However he could have, in that moment, refused to accept Jesus's command. He could have refused to accept the freedom that was offered to him. Jesus commanded him, not his friends, to arise and take up his bed.

I do not think we can deny that God wants us to live in community. Does the faith of others have an indirect impact on our forgiveness? Yes. Can forgiveness be ultimately be attributed to anything but the individual acceptance of God's Grace? No. The faithfulness of his friends brought him to a place where he was given the opportunity to be forgiven if he obeyed Jesus' command (showing acceptance of Grace).

I do believe it is dangerous to single out a single piece of Scripture without viewing it the light of Scripture as a whole.



Justinian said...

Hello my friend,

I, too, have had troubles accepting the authority of the Scriptures (as you might imagine--I have authority issues), but what I have come to believe, through my coming into the Orthodox tradition via the Russian church, that the Scriptures are indeed infallible, as long as they are interpreted by the Church. So the place to look for the correct meaning is in the Church Fathers.

I will answer your charge that I am singling out a single piece of scripture and viewing Scripture as a whole through that. That is profoundly not what I am doing; the statements in the NT about salvation are not as universally clear as some might like. I offer to your consideration two from off the top of my head, which seem to say something about people saving others:

1 Timothy 4:16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

James 5:14-15 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

You'll notice in that last passage from St. James, the connection between sickness and sin (the same relationship seen in the story of the paralytic) is present. I think that is significant, but worthy of greater treatment perhaps some other time.

At present, the word we want to examine from the passage of the Gospel of St. Mark is the Greek word πίστις (pistis), specifically in the context of the passage quoted: Mark 2:V "καὶ ἰδὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὴν πίστιν αὐτῶν λέγει τῷ παραλυτικῷ· τέκνον ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι."

Strong's says that the word pistis/pistin means, overwhelmingly in the NT, the belief or reliance in Christ for salvation. And, from even my limited knowledge of Greek, it's pretty clear that τὴν πίστιν αὐτῶν refers solely to the friends of the paralytic, and their belief in Christ's ability to save their friend.

And I am not disputing the fact that the paralytic could have refused the salvation and healing offered to him; in fact, I made that point in my original post. However, the fact remains that the text says what it says; he was brought to salvation by the faith of others. Just as Timothy, through faithfulness to the Gospel he received, brought others to salvation. Just as the prayer of faith (of the elders, again from the Greek referent) saves the one being prayed for an anointed with oil.

I don't know for sure that we are disagreeing, even. I'm not saying that salvation can happen completely apart from the will of the one being saved (I'm not a double predestination Calvinist, after all). Rather, I think that salvation in the context of the community of the Church, where the individual will cooperates with and is supported by not only the will of God (who desires the salvation of all), but also with the will of the others within the Church who are individually in the same predicament. The strength to be more corporately than any of us can be by ourselves, through the operation of the Grace of the Holy Spirit, mediated through the sacramental nature of the Church, accomplishes this in mystery. And I think, in saying that, I am in agreement with the early Church Fathers.

I especially appreciated this comment, friend. It made me have to dig in to think about my position, and offer it to someone who does not share, necessarily, the same assumptions about the Faith that I do.

God bless,

Train Wreck said...

All of my evangelical friends who don't call me a pagan, call me a Calvanist. Sometimes I am not sure which to be more insulted by.

I have read much of Calvin's work and based on that I am far more in his camp than Arminius. That being said there are many people who think of themselves as Calvanist who do not seem to have read Calvin's work.

Sometimes I like the ring of pagan or heretic.

I really appreciated your original
post. It caused more than a bit of wrestling. In the end I think we are saying the same thing on this paticular subject (and if you scratch deeper than the surface probably about much more).

I am not a biblical literalist. The Bible is always true, it is not always an acurate historical account. I do not think the authors (inspired by God) were bent on writing a history. To me it seems far more likely that they were trying to tell the story of how they saw God's interaction with them in others in their lives. I believe in the authority of the Bible but do have trouble submitting to it on a regular basis. Like I said in my original comment, I am convinced that Scipture is meant to be taken as a whole. When you do not you run the risk of becoming legalistic. The world has enough pharisees.

As my favorite preacher puts it. "I am more wicked than I could ever believe, and more loved than I could ever imagine."