Coming from a Protestant background, I was always taught to think of Jesus as my "personal savior." Is this view based on scripture and Christian tradition? What is the relationship of the individual believer to Jesus? How does it work?
I too come from a strong evangelical Protestant background and the idea of Jesus Christ as my personal Savior is strong in my upbringing. I think the Protestant emphasis comes from the recognition that just a simple acknowledgment of Jesus as Messiah or as Son of God or even as the Accomplisher of Salvation is not enough, but that there must also be some type of commitment involved.
In the Orthodox Church the understanding is much more organic than in the Protestant confessions. In Protestantism, the individual is saved by a personal (meaning relating to me alone) action of God and the Church is the collection of all of those saved individuals. Salvation is an individual state, according to this view. The Orthodox Faith teaches us that salvation is not individual but corporate - the whole Church is saved together and apart from the Church we cannot be saved. The conversion experience as a "saving act" is not a part of Orthodox faith - rather this conversion experience (accomplished by baptism, btw) is only the door into the saving ark of the Church. Jesus by His death and (more importantly) resurrection has defeated sin death and the devil and has unlocked the door to paradise (it had been closed against fallen man and guarded by an angel with a flaming sword) and leads us in. Will we follow? - that is what "salvation" is all about; following Christ into paradise.
The words individual and personal bring up another interesting and important aspect. Within Orthodox teaching we can say that Jesus is our personal Savior in that He takes individuals (a being that is independent and separated from all others) and makes them persons (a separate being that is united to other beings in a larger whole, in this case the Church) This contrast between individuals and persons is a little bit of an extrapolation from the doctrine of the Trinity. We worship One God (individual) in three persons. Similarly there is only One Church (individual) which is made of many persons. The emphasis on individuality in western and especially American culture is in this sense anti-Christian and derives from and incorrect understanding of the Church which is the result of the reformation in Western Europe and the resulting theology which had to justify salvation apart from the Church. We must remember that salvation is corporate - the whole Church is saved together and will be presented as a single entity as the Bride of Christ (there is only one Bride - Jesus is not a polygamist) at the 2nd coming. Our individual judgment is not whether we are saved or not, but rather we are part of the Church and following Christ. If we are part of the Church following Christ then we are saved along with the whole Church but if we cease to follow Christ and separate ourselves from the Church by placing our own judgment and will as higher and more important than that of the Church, then we are not saved because we have "jumped out of the ark".
Fr David Moser - St Seraphim Orthodox Church - Boise, Idaho
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