Not a Single Individual Will Be Saved


Perhaps the most striking thing about human beings is that we don’t actually come into existence by ourselves. There are parents (two of them when the laws of biology are allowed to work). The parents themselves are points of contact to a much larger world of the family and the culture itself. Human beings do not come without cultures. In a relatively short time, we acquire language and a host of other things from this culture around us. Concepts, beliefs, understandings will all be engaged only in a cultural context. There is something individual about us, but mostly in the abstract. It is not just other humans that we need: we cannot exist without bacteria. We have more of them in our gut than the number of cells in our bodies. We do not exist alone. In the story of our creation, we were told, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” And so we are “male and female.” How is it that our lives exist only in such a shared manner and yet many want to image that our salvation is entirely individual?

No one is saved as an individual.

There is no historical account of a Christianity that is not also the Church. Christianity must be the Church because that alone truly reflects the truth of our humanity. Jesus never taught a salvation that was individualized. Instead, He prays:

“That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us…”(Joh 17:21)

The “one” that we are to become is not a property that can belong to an individual. Alone, we are not one. Alone, we are not yet anything.

The language we use with regard to God bears a similar understanding. Christ reveals the Father by a name that can have no meaning by itself. “Father” is always “Father of…” The same is true of the name “Son.” “Spirit” is always “Spirit of” (particularly in the original languages). God makes Himself known to us in the mystery of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Nothing is more bothersome in our existence than the existence of others. Jean-Paul Sartre famously said, “Hell is other people,” (indicating that you would not want to invite him to a party). Both love and hate require other people. We do nothing alone. We might imagine ourselves to be doing something alone, but within us are the presence of many others. The voice in our head speaks a language, learned only from others. When we speak, they speak as well. Our existence is never truly individual.

And so, our salvation is never truly individual. The modern world caters to an imaginary individual, something invented by its own mythology. It speaks of liberty without responsibility and freedom without communion. Various contemporary Christianities have unintentionally become purveyors of this concept, and have created an account of salvation that isolates the believer, who is told that they can have Christ without sacrament and without the Church. They offer something that Christ Himself never offered.

God has united Himself to our humanity and become a partaker of our history and our culture. There is no Jesus of Nazareth who is not a Jew, who does not speak Aramaic, who was not born of Mary. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity enters time at the word of an angel to the Virgin. Not until God enters her womb (taking flesh of the Virgin) can we say His name is “Jesus.” That name is now exalted because it is now the name of the Son of God. But the Son of God now remains and abides fully human as well as fully God. To be fully human is to have a context.

Christ is not some sort of “transcendent man,” incarnate in all places, times and cultures. To know Him is also to know a Jew, a male, a Galilean. All those things (as do all things human) have a shared characteristic within them and have no meaning except in reference to other humans.

The human life is always a corporate life. Though each person has some measure of freedom, we remain dependent upon others. That someone should become a hermit and have no more contact with others does not erase the fact that their existence remains dependent. We are not self-creating nor self-sustaining.

The interdependent reality of our lives has traditionally been expressed in the communion of saints within the historic Christian Church. We cannot speak of Christ’s humanity apart from the Virgin Mary, and so (as a representative of us all) she is always honored in the life of the Church (just as she is honored within the gospels).

The unchurched, non-sacramental evolution of contemporary Christianity follows the track of modern culture’s portrayal of human beings as atomistic individuals. Catholics and Orthodox frequently hear others assert, “I don’t need a priest. I can go straight to God.” Of course, neither Catholics nor Orthodox say that you cannot “go straight” to God. However, they both know that no one goes alone. We are assisted by the heavenly hosts, our guardian angels, the saints, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and, yes, the sacramental priesthood of the Church who exist in the line of the Apostles. That is the universe and the faith as God gave them to us. Modernity imagines that everything can be improved, including God.

This, however, is anti-human, a re-imagining of our nature and a re-configuration of salvation. Letters written to Churches are taken as personal mail from God. In ignorance, contemporary readers remove the Scriptures from the Church, from history and from the tradition that produced them and turn them into texts that justify modernity and every bizarre turn of the culture.

The gospel is not the story of individual salvation. It is, above all, the “gathering together into one all things in Christ Jesus.” The drive towards independence and the diminishment of our common life is a drive that is moving in a direction opposite from the “mystery of [God’s] will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself” (Eph 1:9).

Modernity is on a collision course with the universe. My money is on the universe.

Rdr Andreas Moran3/30/2018 11:52 am
Bob, of course the Lord Jesus Christ can save as He knows. We cannot tell God whom He may save.
Bob3/29/2018 7:20 pm
All well and good, Rdr. Maybe it's the semantics of the use of the word "individual" that strike me wrong. But I am convinced that if a man never having heard the Word of God were stranded on a desert island and found a copy of the Bible, he could be saved from the Lord speaking to him through those words.
Rdr Andreas Moran3/28/2018 11:50 pm
Bob: the New Testament, that is, the books which comprise it, was not formed until the fourth century by which time the corpus of pre-Nicene Patristic writings had already appeared. So, the first developments of Church Tradition were well underway before the New Testament was finally formed. Of course, many of the books in the New Testament were known and used beforehand but it was the Church which chose which books should comprise the New Testament and which should not. Even so, some material such as the Epistles of St Ignatius of Antioch (+108 AD) were and remain of very high authority in Holy Tradition. The Church, being Apostolic, set forth our understanding of salvation from the start.
Bob3/28/2018 7:05 pm
I appreciate your genuine spirit of love and humility, dear Rdr Andreas. I hope that I would come across in the same way, but sadly I can be perceived a little rough. My fundamental point is that for Christians preceding the development of the Church traditions from early century writers, the New Testament had to provide enough information for people to understand salvation. An individual belief in Jesus Christ is essential. Our Lord asked each of the disciples who they said He was. This is each person individually exercising the free will God gave us. The edification by the Saints is further encouragement.
Rdr Andreas Moran3/28/2018 2:33 pm
Bob: well said, rather, St Theophylact and Fr Cleopa. I’m not sure what the rest of your comment means. The Church, following the account of Apostle Philip and the Ethiopian, and guided by the Holy Spirit, has given us a great corpus of Patristic writings to guide us in interpreting Holy Scripture and, more widely, how to navigate the path to salvation. The saints and elders up to our on times have taught us what salvation entails and how to attain to it. Far from being lost by what Holy Tradition has provided, we should be in grave danger without it. We may see more clearly because we can stand on the shoulders of spiritual giants.
Bob3/27/2018 6:53 pm
Well said, Rdr Andreas. To Basil, I would say, I presume the New Testament was written before later documents written in the 2nd, 4th, and 8th centuries. If we needed these additional tomes of interpretations to understand the meaning of personal salvation, then all hope for salvation is lost.
Rdr Andreas Moran3/27/2018 11:58 am
Fr Stephen must be referring to Khomiakov’s saying that no one is saved alone. As to John 17:21, Blessed Theophylact refers repeatedly to ‘oneness of mind’: the disciples and those who believe through them must have unity in faith. Christ warns against the ‘scandal of division’ since how would their message be credible if they ‘lack unity and oneness of mind’? People have free will and their salvation depends on its proper use but salvation whilst personal is not a private matter: Christians work out their personal salvation ‘with the help of grace . . . for man cannot be saved on his own’, as Elder Cleopa says, and within the unity of the Church.
Basil 3/27/2018 7:00 am
Intentionally impugning Protestants is a poor understanding of Father's words.
His intention was to speak the truth clearly.
Relative to your last point: perhaps you have some documents, some historical evidence that that belief existed in the 2nd, or 4th, or 8th century? I've never seen it myself.
Your position is quite new, probably less than 150 years old. The actual Church has not held such a simplistic view to my knowledge.
Anthony 3/26/2018 11:08 pm
Dear Caleb. Rejoice blessed one! I kiss your hand. Why yes. As an easterner, I find Fr Stephen's writings, well rather peculiar, to say the least. I struggle to see very much that could genuinely be construed as Orthodoxy in them, although his works will undoubtedly appear coherent to those who share cultural kinship with him. I rejoice in any event that you find Father's works so straightforward and helpful. At least someone does. I have added your name to my prayer list in any event beloved one, as I pray for Fr Stephen too.
Bob3/26/2018 10:01 pm
It is alienating and distracting to impugn Protestants by pitting Catholics and Orthodox against them. Liturgy is a means of worship – and all liturgies are not the same – but Biblical theology is the same. However, we have added to our Biblical theology throughout the ages by the interpretations and revelations of church fathers and saints. Have we made our faith clearer or cluttered? Stripped down to the basics, we are a social people, dependent on others and especially God. But if you do not INDIVIDUALLY believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are sadly left to damnation, and all your works and the prayers of others will not save you after you have passed from this life.
Jonathan Hill 3/26/2018 7:32 pm
While not taking away anything from the truth that salvation is of the body and not individual, I find your exegesis of John 17:21 innovative and problematic. Christ is saying that the union He enjoys with the Father, we will enjoy with Him. He's speaking to the Saints becoming Divine. And I think you've done a good job at saying salvation is only in the Church. But we need to emphatically say this isn't some superficial worldly unity of labels. At the same time this verse is about the individual since each one of us is at "disunity" within ourselves, and Christ prays that we can become truly one, truly Man, no longer at odds within ourselves individually.
Caleb3/26/2018 6:29 pm
Dear Anthony, was something in this article tricky or unclear, or are you reading your own anxieties and fears into it instead of what’s actually there? I found it rather straightforward and helpful, like all of Fr. Stephen’s work. God bless you, my friend, and pray for me, the sinner.
Anthony 3/26/2018 9:20 am
Ha ha Ha! What a clever headline to grab everyone's attention! WHAT! No one will be saved?!? Read article...oh phew! I geddit! Clever Fr S.!!! Of course what is even more sly than the artikel title itself is when our beloved Fr S refers to ''Catholics'' and Orthodox essentially holding the same beliefs .... ''Catholics'' and Orthodox say blah blah blah... Do you see the sly ecumenism creeping in beloveds! As though we are one and the same! Remember our Holy Orthodox Fathers always spoke direct. They weren't interested in clever underhanded double speak. But then of course, that double-talk is endemic when it comes to the western man so we should not be surprised. Beware! The painted crow!!!
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