November 26, 2020

Which One of Us Is Lost or Confused?

teteUPDATE: Comments closed.

I wrote a bit about this person earlier this month on the “Praying to Mary” discussion.

I’ve been teaching Ethiopian Orthodox students for as long as I’ve been teaching Bible- 17 years.

In all that time, I’ve only met a handful of students who could even begin to explain to me anything about their religion. One student was planning on becoming a priest and was quite knowledgeable and willing to provide information. The others were students who were fasting or practicing some other part of their faith and could explain their practice. I’ve had many good conversations about worship and especially the Christian year.

These students have been quite passive in their approach to the interaction of their faith with the Baptist evangelicalism of most of our faculty and staff. No one was out to convert anyone and no one balked at the Gospel our ministry communicates.

Until this year.

This year I’m experiencing something quite different- an Ethiopian Orthodox student zealous for her version of her faith and eager to challenge the Christianity of others over issues that are important to her.

At first, this was a bit disorienting, and I took several days to reacquaint myself with the unique views of Ethiopian Orthodoxy as compared to other traditions and especially my own evangelicalism.

My student has been very persistent on every issue raised in my class. (We’re reading/discussing Mere Christianity while going through some of the argumentation of the new atheists by means of videoed debates.) She recently asked to read something of a manifesto of her own beliefs. (Oddly, much of it was taken from John Piper.) We’re always wrong. Very wrong. For example, she has debated teachers and students on the issue of the sinlessness of Mary. She’s recently moved to the issue of fasting, continually telling us that our sins can’t be forgiven if we don’t fast.

In the midst of this daily interaction, I’ve become convinced that a good bit of what we are hearing is at variance with the actual teaching of Ethiopian Orthodoxy. The response of other Ethiopian students seems to bear this out. A language barrier may play into this, but she appears to have many deficits in understanding Orthodoxy.

But I am more interested in a greater and more fundamental question: How do I respond to a professed and baptized Christian who has demonstrated, to my way of thinking, almost no understanding of the Gospel at all?

Please note that I am not talking about an understanding of Christian teaching or one’s own tradition. My student has a deep attachment to her tradition and many of its practices. What is not present, however, is a basic understanding of salvation by grace through faith.

Ah yes…..Protestantism rears its ever-present head.

At this point, I can hear the gallery picking up their weapons. I assure you, I understand the dilemma here. I’m not wanting to do an imitation of a Baptist who declares all other traditions null and void. I am not wanting to reject a baptized Christian brother or sister. I am not wanting to be the arbitrator of someone else’s salvation. I am not wanting to put my ignorance forward as “evangelism” and I am not declaring my tradition to be the only valid expression of Christianity.

But I also do not want to make the mistake of assuming something that isn’t there.

My young friend believes in God, but when the Trinity is discussed, Mary is always brought up. An error of emphasis? Yes, but how serious does this go? How serious can it go?

My friend believes she is a sinner, but is confident that her sins are forgiven though her practices while the sins of others remain because they are not Orthodox.

My friend believes in Jesus Christ, particularly in his incarnation as portrayed in the Christ child being held by Mary. She sees her faith as expressed in her Orthodox practice, but her relation to this practice is one of complete confidence in the practices.

For example, today’s episode was a condemnation of those who do not fast, because fasting is the way sins are forgiven.

I am prepared to understand that in some expressions of Christianity, my friend’s confidence in fasting is a kind of confidence in Jesus, but my problem is that she doesn’t know that, or if she does, she’s unable to articulate it recognizably. Her confidence in the practice is much like mine would be if I said, “Walk the aisle at the next revival service, because the only way for your sins to be forgiven is for you to walk the aisle and shake the preacher’s hand.” An error, but how much of an error?

My evangelicalism teaches me that people are lost without Christ and that some are lost in religions that teach truths about Christ but do not place faith in Christ for salvation. My experience with other Christians teaches me that confidence in Christ may look very different in Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism than it does in evangelical testimonies.

Is my concern that my friend does not believe the Gospel a valid concern? Or am I being a judgmental evangelical rejecting the effectual power of baptism and refusing to see the faith that’s in front of me? She has already judged that Protestants are not Christians by any of her standards. Her shock that we believe Mary sinned is constant and unavoidable. But I don’t want to make any version of the same mistake.

Is she lost? Is she someone who does not know Christ? Are there those persons who are caught in Christian religions without faith in Christ alone for salvation? Or is this Baptist judgmentalism and playing God? In wanting to hear some recognizable confession of faith in Jesus, am I demanding what my culture approves and ignoring who she is?

Is the question of “Is a Christian ever lost?” ridiculous? Or does my young friend simply need the Gospel, no matter what her status, understanding or reaction?


  1. Thanks to all who participated. This comment thread is closed.