From Sheep Cheese Dumplings to Glorification

Posted on Posted in Theology

Let’s take our sheep cheese dumpling insight and apply it to a real ecumenical question.

When Lutherans talk about salvation, they tend to use the terms “justification” and “sanctification.” But when the Orthodox talk about salvation, they tend to use terms like “purification,” “illumination,” and “glorification.”

It is clear right away that we have two different ways of expressing the process of salvation here. These two sets of concepts were not invented in opposition each other, as if one had to be right and the other had to be wrong. The Orthodox lived in another part of the world, mostly, and developed their concepts before Lutherans even existed. When Lutherans developed their ideas, it was in the setting of conflict with Catholics, and in almost complete ignorance of the Orthodox. So how can Lutherans and Orthodox relate to each other on the topic of salvation?

It would be a big mistake to try to translate directly from one to the other. It would be incorrect for a Lutheran to say, for example: “Purification and illumination are just another way of saying justification, and glorification is just another way of saying sanctification.” In this case the Lutheran would be trying to turn Orthodox theology into Lutheran theology, instead of respecting and understanding Orthodox theology in itself.

It would also be false for a Lutheran to say, “We Lutherans must reject the Orthodox concept of glorification, because we have a theology of the cross.” In this case, the Lutheran hasn’t really tried to understand what the Orthodox mean but assumed that they use the words in their language the exact same way Lutherans use words in their language.

Therefore, in ecumenical dialogue, we shouldn’t be deceived by the words. We need to start learning the other church’s language so we can really understand the thing they are talking about. It often turns out that agreement on the thing lurks below disagreement on the verbal formulation of the thing.

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