Synergism

Read also Living What We Believe

“Enoch walked with God”
– Genesis 5:22 [and 24] (KJV)

“Noah walked with God”
– Genesis 6:9 (KJV)

‘In theology, synergism is the position of those who hold that salvation involves some form of cooperation between divine grace and human freedom. It stands opposed to monergism, a doctrine most commonly associated with the Lutheran and Reformed Protestant traditions, whose soteriologies have been strongly influenced by the North African theologian Augustine of Hippo (354–430). Synergism is upheld by the Eastern Orthodox, Methodist, and Catholic Churches, and is an integral part of Arminian theology.

Synergism, the teaching that there is “a kind of interplay between human freedom and divine grace”, is an important part of the salvation theology of the Roman Catholic Church, and also of the Eastern Orthodox Church: “To describe the relation between the grace of God and human freedom, Orthodoxy uses the term cooperation or synergy (synergeia); in Paul’s words, ‘We are fellow-workers (synergoi) with God‘ (1 Corinthians iii, 9). If we are to achieve full fellowship with God, we cannot do so without God’s help, yet we must also play our own part: we humans as well as God must make our contribution to the common work, although what God does is of immeasurably greater importance than what we do.”

These churches reject the notion of total depravity: they hold that, even after the Fall, man remains free, and human nature, though wounded in the natural powers proper to it, has not been totally corrupted. [Click here to read my attack on Western original sin.] In addition, they reject the idea that would “make everything the work of an all-powerful divine grace which arbitrarily selected some to be saved and some to be damned, so that we human beings had no freedom of choice about our eternal fate”. [Click here to read my attack on this doctine.]

They also teach that the ability of the human will to respond to divine grace is itself conferred by grace. “By the working of grace the Holy Spirit educates us in spiritual freedom in order to make us free collaborators in his work in the Church and in the world”. “The preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace.” “When Catholics say that persons ‘cooperate’ in preparing for and accepting justification by consenting to God’s justifying action, they see such personal consent as itself an effect of grace, not as an action arising from innate human abilities.” “When God touches man’s heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God’s grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God’s sight.”

Arminian Protestants share this understanding of synergism, i.e., regeneration as the fruit of free will’s cooperation with grace.

This is similar to the position taken in the Conferences of St. John Cassian.

In this work, the matter of grace and faith is taken as analogous to that of the invalids that Christ healed. That Christ met the ill persons where they were is likened to prevenient grace because unless Christ went to them, the invalids would have had no opportunity to ask him for help. Likewise, without prevenient grace no sinner would be able to ask God for help. The actual asking for help comes from the free choice of the invalid or person in question. It is made possible by Christ’s presence (by prevenient grace), but there is no necessary outcome: Christ’s presence (prevenient grace) leaves a person able to ask for help, but also able to refuse to ask for help. Asking, however, does not accomplish anything to actually heal the person; Christ’s response to their request is what heals them, not their own choice. Likewise, God saves those who ask Him. However, they are only able to ask because He first comes to them with prevenient grace. Nonetheless, they are free to refuse to ask for His help, just as the invalids were free to not ask Christ for healing. Thus it is concluded, “it belongs to divine grace to give us opportunities of salvation… it is ours to follow up the blessings which God gives us with earnestness or indifference.” God is then free to decide how to response to our earnestness or indifference, which make up a part of the data which He considers in His free decision. We know, however, that in love He will respond by completing the salvation of those who respond earnestly, while leaving those who respond with indifference to their own devices.’ (1, added “[]”, emphasis added)

Erasmus has great parables to make things more clear:

“A father lifts up a child who has fallen and has not yet strength to walk, however much it tries, and show it an apple which lies over against it; the child longs to run, but on account of the weakness of its limbs it would have fallen had not its father held its hand and steadied its footsteps, so that led by its father it obtains the apple which the father willingly puts in its hand as a reward for running. The child could not have stood up if the father had not lifted it, could not have seen the apple had the father not shown it, could not advance unless the father had all the time assisted its feeble steps, could not grasp the apple had the father not put it into his hand. What, then, can the infant claim for itself? And yet it does something. But it has nothing to glory about in its powers, for it owes its very self to its father.”
(…) For since there are three stages in all things–beginning, progress, and end–they attribute the first and last to grace, and only in progress say that free choice achieves anything, yet in such wise that in each individual action two causes come together, the grace of God and the will of man…
– Erasmus (2)

In other words:
Source: Evan Minton

“His mercy comes before us in everything. But to assent to or dissent from the call of God is a matter for one’s own will.”
– Augustine (3)

The Greek Orthodox Archdiosese of America puts synergism the following way
(I am not part of the denomination of the orthodox church):

‘The reception of the gift of salvation is not a one-time event but a life-time process.  St. Paul employs the verb “to save” (sozesthai) in the past tense (“we have been saved,” Rom 8:24; Eph 2:5); in the present tense (“we are being saved,” 1 Cor 1:18; 15:2), and in the future tense (“we will be saved,” Rom 5:10).  He can think even of justification as a future event and part of the final judgment (Rom 2:13, 16).  For Paul, Christians are involved in a lifetime covenant with God in which we work, planting and watering, but it is “only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor 3:7).  We are “co-workers with God” (synergoi Theou, 1 Cor 3:9; 1 Thess 3:2). (Not “co-workers underGod” as some translations would have it).  The mystery of salvation is a duet, not a solo.  It is a life-time engagement with God.  It has ups and downs, twists and turns, with opportunities to grow in the love of God, knowing that we can turn to Him again and again and receive forgiveness and a new birth.  When we come to Christ as sinners, we have no works to offer to Him, but only faith and repentance.  But once we come to Him and receive the gift of salvation, we enter into a sacred covenant to honor Him with good works.  We read in Ephesians:  “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God . . . [We are] created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph 2:8-10).

The teaching of the New Testament is that God’s grace, our free will, and our faith and good works, are intimately connected.’
Source: http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/how-are-we-saved
the original content was written by Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos and is used with permission from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

So we, as Orthodox Christians, affirm as clearly and unambiguously as any Lutheran, for example, that “salvation is by grace” and not by our works. Unlike medieval Catholicism, Orthodoxy does not hold that a person can build up a “treasury of merits” that will count in our favor at the Judgment Seat of Christ. What will matter then is our having surrendered our sin to God through confession, and our gestures of love (Mt. 25), together with the unshakable conviction that “Jesus Christ is Lord,” and the unique Way to eternal life.

Orthodoxy does recognize, however, the importance of our “cooperation” with God, what we term “synergy.” “Salvation,” as we usually understand the word, is only the beginning of a pilgrimage that leads us through this life, through our physical death, and into life beyond. Salvation, accomplished by the death and resurrection of Christ, means freedom from the consequences of our sinfulness: separation from the holiness and love of the God who desires only that we be saved and enter into eternal and joyful communion with himself. If we were not continually tempted to fall back into sin, there would be no need for such a “synergy.” Then we could declare, with absolute confidence, “once saved, always saved!’ [which we cannot say, please click the link if you are not sure about that]
Source: https://oca.org/reflections/fr.-john-breck/salvation-is-indeed-by-grace
added words between “[]”, added links. Permission granted by father John Matusiak.

This is my personal view on synergism,
(It will be worked out step by step in my upcoming book.):


Pictures: copyright Tom Torbeyns. You are allowed to copy this scheme, if my name and a hyperlink to this website are included. You are not allowed to adjust this scheme.

This Christian boxer summarized it well:


Source: Boxing Champ Manny Pacquiao, “What is A Real Christian?” (youtube: Trinity Broadcasting Network)

“Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath.”
– Romans 2:4-8 (KJV)

“There are sins which, by divine constitution, are unto death spiritual and evangelical, that is, are inconsistent with spiritual and evangelical life, with spiritual life in the soul and with an evangelical right to life above. Such are total impenitence and unbelief for the present. Final impenitence and unbelief are infallibly to death eternal, as also a blaspheming of the Spirit of God in the testimony that he has given to Christ and his gospel, and a total apostasy from the light and convictive evidence of the truth of the Christian religion. These are sins involving the guilt of everlasting death.”
– Matthew Henry, Commentary on The Whole Bible, Commentary on 1 John 5:14-17

“The sin in view would appear to be the hardening of the heart against the offer of the divine light in its most unmistakable form.”
Encyclopedia of The Bible, Mortal Sin

Read also Living What We Believe

Later on, I found the following video by Jesse Morrell. He appears quite a lot
on this website, 
although I do not agree with his sauteriological views.
Let this video be a strong warning, as well as a strong encouragement:

original source: Jesse Morrell, RefutingCalvinism, “What If A Believer Sins?” (youtube) [This is a shortened version on my youtube account, so it is more relevant]

Some interesting questions, worthy of contemplation, are noted in the works of Jacobus Arminius:
1. ‘Is it truly said, concerning the good works of believers
“they are unclean like a menstruous cloth”, And does this confession, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags,” &c., (Isa. lxiv. 6,) belong to those works?
2. In what sense is it correctly said “Believers sin mortally in every one of their good works”?
3. Do the good works of believers come into the judgment of God so far only as they are testimonies of faith; or like- wise so far as they have been prescribed by God, and sanctioned and honoured with the promise of a reward, although this reward be not bestowed on them except “of grace” united with mercy, and on account of Christ, whom God hath appointed and set forth as a propitiation through faith in his blood, and, therefore, with reference to faith in Christ?’
– Jacobus Arminius, Certain Articles To Be Diligently Examined And Weighed. Because Some Controversy Has Arisen Concerning Them Among Even Those Who Profess The Reformed Religion, Scripture And Human Traditions (emphasis mine)

“There can be no doubt that every individual, in the exercise of his own proper power of will, may shape his course in whatever direction he pleases.”
– The judges agreeing with Archelaeus, The Acts of the Disputation With Manes, 33

“The liberty of believing or not believing is placed in free choice. In Deuteronomy, it says, ‘Look! I have set before your face life and death,
good and evil. Choose for yourself life, that you may live.’ ”
– Cyprian, Three Books of Testimonies against the Jews.  Book III, Chapter 52

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”
– Galatians 6:7-8 (NKJV)

“The soul is freed of all constraints, and obtains from the Creator a life at its own discretion; and because it was made in God’s image, it understood the good and knows its joys, and has the possibility and power of maintaining its natural life by continuing to gaze on the good and to enjoy the life of the spirit. But it has also the possibility on occasion of abandoning the good.”
– Basil, God is not the author of Evil (Homily 9)

“And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.
Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.”
– 1 John 3:23-24 (NKJV)

See also “Statement of Faith” for more info.

To be clear, I believe, like every Christian of every profession (denomination) believes, that, in the end, Christ will monergically pull us out of the grave, into His eternal kingdom, by His sheer grace.
Understand therefore also: “Sola Deo Gloria“!


Exterior sources used:
(1) wikipedia, Synergism. (See the original source for secondary sources)
(2) Desiderius Erasmus, On the Freedom of the Will
(3) Augustine of Hippo, On the Spirit and the Letter, 34, 60.

Pictures used:
Anonymous, St. John Cassian, dormitionpgh
Holbein, Erasmus, wikimedia
Anonymous, Augustine, suscopts
David Bailly, Jacobus Arminius, wikimedia

Archeleaus
Cyprian
Basil
1-Minute Bible Love Notes

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