Can physical matter (water, bread, relics, icons, statues, rituals, pilgrimages) cause regeneration or increase in sanctifying grace to come into our souls?
My comments here are responses to Jay Dyer’s Response to Vocab Malone’s criticism of Eastern Orthodoxy and Chrismation. (see the 3 videos later in post). I agree with Vocab’s views overall, except I do sincerely think he made 2 overall mistakes in his critique. (see below) Vocab has a winsome demeanor and I benefitted from his programs on James White’s Alpha and Omega / Dividing Line in 2016 (several shows) about the cultic groups, the “Black Hebrew Israelites”.
Before commenting on the issue of the subject of this post, the EO principle that “Jesus’ incarnation sanctified physical matter”, let me say that there are 2 overall things that Jay Dyer said that is right and where Vocab Malone was wrong on. (Though I agree with Vocab Malone’s Reformed Theology and that it is Biblical and EO is not Biblical where it disagrees with Protestant Reformed Faith. I will confess that I am trying to study and understand the theological background of the Filoque clause and theology of it – it is very challenging to think through; and understand why the EO makes such a big deal about it; even beyond the fact that it seemed wrong for the western Latin church to add it to the creed without at least having consultations and meetings with the eastern bishops and provinces.
- The Eastern Orthodox Church, in the videos that Vocab Malone was critiquing, has every right to condemn all other churches and doctrines if they want to in their baptismal and chrismation services. Dyer was right to point out that Vocab Malone seemed to imply that “it was mean” of the EO to require renouncing doctrines that they consider wrong.
- Jay Dyer was right, from the Eastern Orthodox perspective, on what the issues concerning the Filoque (“and the Son”) clause (that was added to the Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed in the west in the 500s AD) means – the issue is about the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity, before time, before creation; it is not about the relational aspects of the Holy Spirit with the Son and the Father in history, or in redemption, or the “economic Trinity” (economia – how the persons interact in history – for example, The Father sent the Son into the world in history, the incarnation; The Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit to believers at Pentecost. (John 14, 16, Acts 2:33-36) Vocab was confusing the historical relations vs. the eternal relations in the essence of the Trinity in eternity past. The difficulty is that the only way we know about the “persons” / hypostasis theology in eternity past, is from the Biblical statements of the economic Trinity in relations in history and time – the Father sends the Son into the world, the Spirit sanctifies, guides, inspires prophets and apostles. The Father and the Son send the Spirit into believers at Pentecost and convert the soul at the point of conversion. John 16:7; Acts 2:33-36 – Jesus ascends to heaven and receives the Spirit from the Father and then the Spirit is poured out on the church in history. This is a good basic article of the Filoque clause theology at Triablogue, by the late Steve Hays.
The procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father alone, seems to be based on John 15:26:
“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.” John 15:26
Verses that relate to the Father and the Son sending the Holy Spirit into the world (the economy of salvation) are:
But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.
Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.
Theologians use the term “ economic” (translated in NT as: plan, stewardship, management, administration, from “household management”, etc.) to explain “relations of the persons of the Trinity to creation” or “relations of the persons to the plan of salvation”, or how God interacts between the persons of the Trinity in time, as opposed to the eternal Ontological Trinity within God in eternity past.
Because the only way we know about and have come to believe and begin to understand by faith the Trinity, and the 3 persons in eternity pasts, is because of God entering into Time in the incarnation of the Son (John 1, Philippians 2; Hebrews 1, Colossians 1) and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (John 14-16; Acts 2) (both time and relational events) – it is because of the economic Trinity that we understand the ontological Trinity (the three persons in eternity past.)
Because the term “person” or “hupostasis” / ‘υποστασις is not specifically used in the NT (Muslims and JWs and other Unitarians object to this terminology) for the persons of the Trinity (But it is used to express “nature”, “substance”, “essence”, as in Hebrews 1:3. (Christ is the exact representation of the Father’s nature) – The way I explain the term of “hupostasis” ‘υποστασις (person /persons) of the Trinity is by the Scriptural data of phrases like, “The Father loves the Son”, “the Father sends the Son”, “the Son sends the Spirit”, “The Spirit intercedes with groans too deep for words”, “to lie to the Holy Spirit”, “the love of the Spirit”, “the fellowship of the Spirit”, “you have lied to God; you have lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-5); etc. These are relational and person terms that are the Scriptural data behind the theology of hupostasis / persona and what Tertullian and the Cappodocian fathers and Augustine and others recognized.
We sometimes get hung up on why theology uses the word “economic” rather than just saying it as “the relations of the persons of the Trinity in time to the plan of salvation”. Theologians chose that word “economia” because of the meaning of the word, “plan”, management, strategy, administration, etc. in “the plan of salvation” or “the plan of redemption”, and it is in history and time.
These questions come up a lot as I teach Iranian Christians who are former Muslims, as they are learning more and more about the Trinity and church history and historical theology.
I have 8 + pages of front and back notes that I took from Jay Dyer’s response. Eventually, Lord willing, I want to comment on more, and work through the whole video of Jay Dyer and EO deacon Ananias, but for now, I just want focus on the EO concept of “Christ’s incarnation sanctifies matter”.
All of that was preliminary before my main topic of this post!
In the first video (Jay Dyer’s response), At the beginning, after Vocab Malone criticized Eastern Orthodoxy for its view of baptismal regeneration and take on John 3:5; Jay Dyer responded and said, “When Christ became incarnate He sanctified matter, as the fathers say, so He empowered matter to have the uncreated energies to be able to effect what they signify” (around the 6 minute mark) – Where is this in the fathers? Apparently that is a phrase from John of Damascus (675-749 AD), who was the first to write a full response on the defense of icons.
I am not talking about the earlier church statements about “theosis” (especially, Irenaeus, Athanasius) – which from a Biblical understanding, is the process of sanctification, holiness, perseverance, being confirmed to the image of Christ, & glorification in heaven, since Protestant theology understands those Scriptural concepts, but expresses what Irenaeus and Athanasius meant in different words (partakers of the Divine nature – 2 Peter 1:4; being conformed to the image of Christ – Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:18 (being changed from one degree of glory to another, as we look to Christ), and glorified in heaven – Romans 8:30-31; Philippians 3:20-21, John 17; Rev. 21-22) but is it really true “Christ’s incarnation sanctified all matter”? Did Christ sanctify all physical matter? Does the incarnation empower water to cleanse the soul and bread to become the flesh of Christ and relics and graves of saints to give off sanctifying energy to believers? Does Christ’s incarnation give power for a physical icon to give off sanctifying energy to you as you stare at it for hours?
And furthermore, where is this concept in Scripture?
Where does Scripture say that water can cleanse the soul and that bread and wine physically become the flesh of Jesus and blood of Jesus (and as Roman Catholics believe, we are to worship those consecrated elements), or that kissing an icon, or staring at it for hours and praying to the saint in heaven gives grace or visiting a grave or touching relics gives grace?
God uses suffering and the trials and tribulations of this life to conform us to Christ and build character in us (Romans 5:3-5) and to cause us to persevere (James 1:2-5), and God uses Scripture, prayer, church, other believers, but where does it say that physical matter can give us grace or cause regeneration?
Jay Dyer’s comment about paper and ink and sounds in the airwaves are somehow the same thing – giving grace to Evangelicals – That was kind of silly to say that the Protestant view of grace and sanctification coming through truth communicated to the mind – that somehow we believe paper and ink and sounds of words (when preaching and teaching) cause grace. The Scriptures emphasize hearing truth, hearing it with the ear and then in the mind, but even more in the soul / spirit (“the eyes of your heart” – Ephesians 1:18; “he who has ears to hear, let him hear”); wisdom, thinking, learning, meditation, teaching, apologetics, prayer, surrender, etc. – God uses the preached word as we hear (Romans 10:13-15) and the written word as we read, study, think, meditate, apply and obey. The Holy Spirit uses the truths in our minds to enter into our souls. “renew your mind” (Romans 12:1-2), “be renewed in the Spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:22-24); “meditate in the law of God day and night (Psalm 1), the law of God and word of God are my meditation all the day (Psalm 119), etc.
“Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven”. Jesus to Peter, see Matthew 16:13-18
Where is the principle that physical matter can cause grace or sanctification or regeneration?
It seems to me to be a massive jump from the incarnation of Christ – God the eternal Son became a man, which Protestants agree with (John 1:1-5 and 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8), to “Christ sanctifies physical matter” (bread, wine, water, relics, icons, incense, candles, graves of dead saints, etc.) Water is a creation blessing in Genesis 1:2; it does not seem to have a connection to baptismal waters also, even though Tertullian (and others later) did make that connection.
Physical matter is already good within itself, as a creation blessing – the body, food, air, water, sex (only within covenant of marriage), marriage, sleep, rest, trees, plants, etc. (Genesis 1-2; 1 Timothy 4) It is a jump to understand rightly that the body and bread and wine and water as good within themselves, per se; but then to say that when a priest performs a ritual service of water baptism or Eucharist service with bread and wine, that those physical elements actually cause grace or salvation or regeneration to come into the soul.
Jay Dyre dismissed the Calvinistic concept that the Holy Spirit does a secret work of regeneration before water baptism – yet, that is exactly what John 3:8-10, and the entire NT teaches! (in the context of John 3:1-7 & 8-10 – the Spirit’s work is mysterious, unseen (verse 8 – like the wind, it is invisible and “you don’t know where He comes from”) and sovereign (“He blows where He wishes”!) The fact that Jesus expects Nicodemus to understand His point demonstrates that Jesus is referring to Ezekiel 36:25-27 and the return from exile (see verse 24 and also Ezekiel chapter 37) and the spiritual cleansing that God will do in the hearts of His people in causing them to repent of idolatry. 1 Thessalonians 1:9 also demonstrates this – “how you turned from idols to serve the living and true God”. The teaching of the NT that we are slaves to sin (John 8:34), dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-3) and unable to choose Christ (John 6:44, 65; John 8:43; 47) unless God grants repentance demonstrates this. (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 2 Corinthians 4:6) God has to open the heart on the inside when a person hears the gospel, in order to respond in repentance and faith. (Acts 16:14 – “The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to the things Paul was preaching”) Jesus kept saying to the Pharisees that they were unable to understand because they were not “of God” and could not hear / understand. (John 8:43, 47) – because they were slaves of sin – John 8:34. (see context of John 8:31-36) Only the Son can set us free from bondage to sin. (John 8:36; Romans 6:6-22)
Acts 15:8-9 – “cleansing their hearts by faith” would seem to contradict the EO and RC understanding of baptismal regeneration, as does 1 Peter 3:21 – “not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience”. (Jay skipped that phrase) He quoted the first phrase of this verse, “corresponding to that, baptism now saves you . . . “; which if a person hears just that, and does not read the context and the rest of the verse, it will lead to bad interpretations.
Jay quoted Acts 2:38 and Titus 3:5 to bolster his position on baptismal regeneration. See the side bar category of “baptismal regeneration” of this blog, for many articles on how to properly understand those 2 verses and others that are usually used. See also my article, “External Forms of true religion can be abused”.
Also, See Acts 2:38 and the early church.
There is a lot more to comment on, but this should do for now, as it is getting too big of a post. I encourage everyone to watch and listen to all three videos. I hope to comment on more of this later, Lord willing. See Vocab Malone’s critique of Eastern Orthodoxy here in 2 videos: I listened once and pretty much agreed with Vocab Malone on his critique, except for the first 2 points (above at beginning) where I think Dyer was right. The bottom video about a Calvinistic Patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril Lucaris, 1572-1638 is very interesting. I had heard of this man before and also want to comment more on that later, as time allows.
I found this at an Eastern Orthodox website: (the Orthodox Church in America)
We celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy, but it needs to be a real celebration of the integrity of the Gospel message. The triumph over iconoclasm has an essential point of faith: by His Incarnation, Jesus Christ sanctified matter. We can paint a picture of God Incarnate, and experience His Presence in and through venerating the icon. We can partake of His life by eating the bread and wine of His Body and Blood; we are immersed into His life in Baptism, anointed with the Holy Spirit in Chrismation, and made part of His Body. The world itself, matter, is sanctified by Christ’s Coming, and becomes a means of communion with God. And we ourselves, in this body, in this life, here and now, are sanctified and made holy, partakers of the life of God. Salvation is about life here and now, not “fire insurance” for after death! In Christ, all things are made new. “For He has brought us up to heaven, and endowed us with His Kingdom which is to come.” This is Good News! (my embolding for emphasis)https://www.oca.org/holy-synod/statements/metropolitan-jonah/where-do-we-go-from-here