An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
This is an evangelical mantra that many of us know well. But it occurred to me this morning as I posted the homily (see below) that believing in a specific moment of salvation is much more like a contractual relationship rather than a personal one, doesn't it? And yet which group trumpets having a "personal relationship" with God? Doesn't their theology ironically seem to indicate more of a contractual relationship?
Sure, we Orthodox have all the externals of ritual and religion, but at the heart of our theology I'd suggest we have a far more real notion of a personal relationship with God in terms of our salvation which we generally see as a process of growth and maturity. I suppose from an evangelical perspective they might suggest that salvation is a separate component of having a relationship with God and thus would agree that that portion is contractual (i.e. we accept that Christ takes upon Himself the sins and punishment in our place and we are thus saved as we sign the dotted line by praying the sinner's prayer acknowledging all of this). We would not separate any of this, and I think we'd say that the relationship with God is itself salvation and thus is not something we can distill down to being essential a contract anymore that we can say that we have a real marriage simply because we have a state form saying as much.
The whole "it's a relationship, not a religion" is a very strange standard to hold for people who supposedly have the Bible as their "sole" standard, because the Bible never talks like that.
It's another example of a lingering bit of anti-catholicism. Long after it matters, they keep recycling a slogan which is intended to address so -called "mechanical religion" of the 15th century.
Nowadays, it's just false advertising. It's one of many ways that evangelicals build walls and barriers to having a candid exchange with non-Christians. It's a cheesy way of scoring some sort of conversational advantage, basically saying "my religious opinions are more authentic because they're personal, whereas you're just basing your opinions on stuff in some book."
It was amazing to learn how many people around me had reasonable religious sentiments once I quit talking like that.
I think the emphasis on not calling one's Christianity a religion is also an attempt to reconcile Christian Faith with the wildly popular sentiment that says: "I'm not religious; I'm spiritual." Blech!
But what intrigues me is the insistent proposition that someone has a personal relationship with God, rather than a religious devotion, but said relationship is fundamentally based on a decidedly legal sounding contractual arrangement.
Yes, the contra-distinction between the sentimentality of the "relationship" language and the rather dry legalism of the theology is very striking for people who have been out of that scene for a while.
They see "legalism" as something they've victoriously removed from Christianity, but what they mean is "mechanical religion." In fact, their faith is way more "legalistic" in the sense that intimacy with God is entirely contingent on a legal/contractual remission of sins.
There is a passage in the Gospels where Jesus forgives the paralytic of his sins. He actually boasts about how easy it is to do. Easier than healing a paralytic! Now the best luck I've had with evangelicals is to ask whether those sins were forgiven because God in the flesh simply has the sovereign authority to do so, and if so, can't he do the same for us?
Historically, it's a meld of the old calvinist theology with the later "Pietist" movement, which had a huge impact here.