For the past 500 years Western Christians have been debating how we are saved. Protestants see salvation as something completely external to man, and profess the doctrine that we are saved by faith alone. To illustrate this, Dr. Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, described Christians as “dunghills covered by snow.”
Roman Catholics on the other hand have insisted that man is saved by faith and good works. Of course no one knows how many good works are necessary for salvation. Roman Catholics are taught that it is necessary to have faith and to live a good moral life.
What does the Orthodox Church teach about salvation? The Orthodox Church does not teach that we are saved by faith alone, or by faith and good works. The Orthodox Church teaches that we are saved by Jesus Christ.
Salvation is described as theosis. Through Christ we may be born from above, enter into union with God, be “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), and become by grace what Jesus Christ is by nature. The Good News is not that we are saved in our sins (dunghills covered by snow), or that we can improve morally and become better people through faith in Christ; but that we can become a new creation in Christ. This is the teaching of the Church of the first millennium (the “Undivided” Church), and it remains the teaching of the Orthodox Church today.
The goal of the English Reformation was to restore the Faith and Order of the "Undivided" Church. Some Anglicans understand this. Most however, have never understood this or have forgotten it. Most have become involved in the Reformation/Post Reformation debates, see Anglicanism as an “ism,” and are content in their own separate denomination. Even if they call it a "branch," it is a branch broken from the Vine. Most Anglicans have come to accept either the Protestant view that we are saved by faith alone, or the Roman Catholic teaching that we are saved by faith and good works.
CS Lewis was one of those Anglicans who understood the goal of the English Reformation, and embraced the Faith of the “Undivided” Church of the first millennium. Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) says, "Again and again we have found that CS Lewis articulates a vision of Christian truth which a member of the Orthodox Church can whole heartedly endorse. His starting point may be that of a Western Christian, but repeatedly his conclusions are Orthodox, with a large as well as a small 'o'."
In his classic work, Mere Christianity, CS Lewis dealt with salvation as theosis. He wrote:
“‘Niceness’—wholesome, integrated personality—is an excellent thing. We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power to produce a world whereas many people as possible grow up ‘nice’; just as we must try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save.
“For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature. Of course, once it has got its wings, it will soar over fences which could never have been jumped and thus beat the natural horse at its own game. But there may be a period, while the wings are just beginning to grow, when it cannot do so: and at that stage the lumps on the shoulders—no one could tell by looking at them that they are going to be wings—may even give it an awkward appearance” - Book IV, ch. 10.
“People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, ‘If you keep a lot of rules I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.’ I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature…Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other” - Book III, ch. 4.
“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible” - Book III, ch. 9.
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself” - Book IV, ch. 9.
CS Lewis’ understanding of salvation as theosis was the understanding of the Church of the first millennium in both the East and the West, including that of Blessed Augustine of Hippo. St. Augustine has been misused by both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. This is obvious from the fact that though claiming him as their own they have come to opposite theological conclusions!
The Protestant Reformers used proof texts from the writings of St. Augustine, usually from his writings against the Pelagians, to support their novel teachings; while Roman Catholicism reads St. Augustine through the later Schoolmen (Scholasticism) rather than letting him speak for himself.
Some Christians even claim that St. Augustine was responsible for the theological divisions between Eastern and Western Christendom, but that is not correct. George Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou wrote, “[Georges] Florovsky [the great Russian Orthodox theologian] did not hold Augustine responsible for the theological divisions between eastern and western christianity. Otherwise, it would be difficult to imagine Florovsky referring to Augustine as ‘a Father of the Church Universal’” (Orthodox Readings of Augustine, SVS Press, 2008, p. 27).
Regarding salvation as theosis, St. Augustine wrote:
“O men and women, do not cease to hope that you can become children of God, because the very Son of God - that is, God’s Word - has been made flesh and has dwelt among us. Make your return to him; become spirit and dwell in him who has become flesh and dwelt among you. For we have no reason not to hope that by participating in the Word, we humans can become children of God, since the Son of God, by participating in our flesh, has become a son of man. We changeable beings, therefore, transformed into something better, become participants in the Word. For the unchangeable Word, not at all transformed for the worse, was made a sharer in flesh through the mediation of a rational soul” - Ep. 140, to Honoratus.
St. Augustine teaches that we become children of God by participation in the Word who, “being made a partaker of our mortality, made us partakers in his divinity” - Trin. 4.2.4.
CS Lewis is not the only Anglican who understood salvation as theosis, “one can find it as a recurring theme within Anglicanism: in Lancelot Andrewes (17th c.), the hymnody of John and Charles Wesley (18th c.), Edward B. Pusey (19th c.), and A. M. Allchin and E. Charles Miller (20th c.)” - Theosis, Orthodoxwiki.
For those Anglicans who understand the goal of the English Reformation and, like CS Lewis, have embraced the faith of the "Undivided" Church without addition or diminution, it is possible to unite with the 300 million-member Orthodox Church while preserving their English and Celtic cultural, liturgical and spiritual heritage and patrimony. There are now Western Rite Orthodox congregations and monastic communities in North America, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and on the continent of Europe, and our numbers are growing.
Redemption means much more than forgiveness of sins and moral improvement, as important as they are. Redemption means living in union with God, partaking of the Divine nature, and becoming a new creation. As CS Lewis said, “For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature.”