Like Pelagius in the 4th century, Emergent leaders Doug Pagitt and his best friend Tony Jones deny the doctrine of original sin. And just as Pelagius and his followers found refuge in the East, so Pagitt and Jones say that their view, while heretical to Western Christians, is acceptable in the (Eastern) Orthodox Church.
This is an interesting claim, and deserves a historical and theological response.
1. Historically: it is true that Pelagius was not condemned in the East, but that was because the slippery Pelagius denied his views before the Jerusalem Council and the Synod of Diospolis. There he anathematized some of the statements of his student, Coelestius, who had learned those ideas from Pelagius himself. Other reasons for Pelagius’ acquittal were the inability of his accuser to speak Greek and the desire of the assembled bishops to be reassured of his orthodoxy. When Augustine learned that Pelagius had been let off the hook, he replied that “it was not the heresy that was acquitted, but the man who denied the heresy.”
2. Theologically: Timothy Ware, an important bishop in the Greek Orthodox Church (he is a titular metropolitan bishop of the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate), wrote in his book, The Orthodox Church (Penguin, 1963; reprinted 1985), 228-29, that the Orthodox believe that “the consequences of Adam’s disobedience extended to all his descendants. …Man’s will is weakened and enfeebled by what the Greeks call ‘desire’ and the Latins ‘concupiscence.’ We are all subject to these, the spiritual effects of original sin.”
“Certainly, as a result of the fall man’s mind became so darkened, and his will-power was so impaired, that he could no longer hope to attain to the likeness of God.”
“Men (Orthodox usually teach) automatically inherit Adam’s corruption and mortality, but not his guilt.”
Me: while it’s true that the Eastern church has a less severe view of original sin than is found in Augustine and the West (i.e., the West thinks that original sin consists of both corruption and guilt, while Ware only includes the former), yet it is apparent that the Eastern church does believe that everyone is born corrupted because of Adam’s sin.
Here is the point: those who deny original sin cannot sustain their claim that their view was or is acceptable to the Eastern church. Their antecedents include Pelagius, the rationalistic Socinians of the 17th century, and modern liberals such as Albrecht Ritschl. None of these adhere to the historic, orthodox faith. What are the implications for Jones and Pagitt?