From Chapter One: “A Burning Question”:
In the latest edition of The Orthodox Church, Bishop Kallistos (Ware) raises the question, “If Orthodox claim to constitute the one true Church, what then do they consider to be the status of those Christians who do not belong to their communion?” For many Christians today—both Orthodox and heterodox who are seriously contemplating a conversion to Orthodoxy—, this is a burning question.
It is typically Protestants, more than other Christians, who wrestle with this issue. The exclusivity of the Orthodox Church—namely, Her claim to be the one and only True Ark of Salvation (cf. 1 Peter 3:20ff) established by the Lord Jesus Christ, preserving unadulterated the very criterion of Christianity—runs counter to everything they have been taught about the nature of the Church. A marketing manager of a major Orthodox publishing house specializing in “evangelistic” literature was once heard to remark that the number of phone calls and faxes her company receives on the question of the ecclesial and eternal status of heterodox Christians is consistently high. Many Orthodox are interested in this issue, and this book is in part an attempt to provide a cogent answer.
The problem with this and other questions relating to the boundaries of the Church is that there currently exists a variety of contradictory answers. Those who have a reasonable knowledge of the state of Orthodoxy today know that certain aspects of ecclesiology are hotly debated. This is especially true with regard to the status of those not in visible communion with the Church….With all due sympathy to those trying to sort out the nuances of Orthodox ecclesiology, a consistent Orthodox position is definitely discernible, if only one resorts to a careful examination of Holy Tradition, and specifically, Sacred Scripture, the writings of the Church Fathers, and the Sacred Canons….
Perhaps the reader wonders why it should take so long to answer such a simple question as the one posed by Bishop Kallistos. Many undoubtedly would like an accurate and succinct answer not involving extensive theological discussion. To satisfy these readers, it is worthwhile at the outset briefly to state the Orthodox position vis-à-vis the heterodox.
The status of the heterodox is properly seen in two ways. When speaking of their ecclesial status—i.e., their relation to the Orthodox Church—we would say that the heterodox cannot be seen as Her members, because they have not been grafted into the one true Body of Christ through Holy Baptism. On the other hand, when speaking of their eternal status—i.e., the implications of this ecclesial separation—, we leave them to the mercy of God and do not judge them. To affirm their separation is not to imply their damnation.
In what follows, we will first lay some of the theological groundwork that is requisite for a full treatment of our question. In so doing, we will address many of the issues relating to this question. A critique of various well-known answers to this question, including that of Bishop Kallistos—one that, although often cited, raises numerous problems—will bring our study to a close.
From the Conclusion to Chapter VII: “Bishop Kallistos’ Answer”:
The “moderate” view—which, revealingly enough, appears to be the bad fruit of frequent contact with the heterodox—does not stand up to close scrutiny. It is ambiguous, overly speculative, and fails to reflect accurately the true nature of the Church and the Mystery of Salvation found within Her. Lacking conclusive Patristic justification it should be rejected.
What is needed in these times is a reaffirmation of the so-called “rigorist” view. Orthodox should have no reservations about unequivocally stating that “all non-Orthodox are outside the Church.” In so doing we are not inconsistent to affirm that heterodox believers have a deep and genuine faith in Christ and that God will have mercy upon them. To that end we humbly submit a new apothegm: “We know who is in the Church but we cannot be sure who will not be.”
From Appendix IV: “A Personal Letter to a Protestant Inquirer”:
Thank you for your note and questions. Of course, the overall premise of my book is that it is not a contradiction to hold the Patristic axiom “extra ecclesiam nulla sallus” while at the same time holding forth the possibility of persons inheriting eternal life without having been in the Orthodox Church. The second principle is drawn from dogmas concerning God: that He is a righteous Judge who is plenteous in mercy and rich in love, Whose will it is that all men might be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). I demonstrate that the juxtaposition of these principles results in an Orthodox answer to the “burning question”: the maintenance of an apparent antinomy. This answer is one that enjoys wide support from Saints and teachers of the Church. In other words, in my book I do two main things. First, I try to clarify and reinforce the reader’s understanding of Orthodox ecclesiology during a time when it is under siege. Second, I critique various derived statements concerning the difficulties raised by its implications, ultimately positing a “new apothegm….”
--Copyright 1999 by Patrick Barnes