Ordo Salutis

Question
Could you please provide a listing and explanation of how the major denominations view the order of salvation?
Answer
Your question is quite a tall order, and I'm not sure that I can do it justice. Even in my own church and tradition (Reformed), there are quite a number of different versions of the order of salvation. Generally the "safest" one to declare in my denomination (PCA) is John Murray's, but not everyone thinks his is the best. Really, most aspects of any order of salvation are more pedagogical than anything else. We develop the orders as teaching tools which attempt to explain the interrelationships between different aspects of salvation. We don't really expect them to be absolute and definitive statements on these subjects.

This is not to say that some aspects of our orders are not theologically distinctive or necessary to state in particular order. For example, every Reformed order of salvation lists regeneration before faith. At this point, the orders are intentionally quite theological as well as pedagogical. At other times, however, the orders are more flexible, as with the placement/presence of adoption.

Thus, I suspect that the orders I suggest for other denominations and schools of thought will be debated by a good many within those denominations and school. With that caveat, I'll take a stab at suggesting some general outlines to be expected in the orders of salvation taught by some of the more prominent denominations.

Some things that will remain consistent throughout most denominations are the placement of glorification at the end of the order (certainly after justification), and the placement of election before regeneration, faith, justification, etc., though there will be some exceptions to this (some breeds of Arminianism place election after faith and regeneration, seeing it not as an eternal decree but as a statement of current condition). All Arminian denominations will place regeneration after faith, and all Reformed denominations will place regeneration before faith. I can think of no denomination that does not place justification after faith, but there are probably some that do (almost every imaginable error is present in the church somewhere). One notable exception to this is that the Roman Catholic Church believes that in infant baptism God forgives the sin of the infant and infuses him/her with grace (which is close enough to Protestant "justification" that it warrants notice) during/through the baptism, even though the infant cannot properly be said to have faith.

In the Anglican and Episcopal Churches (those that have not gone liberal, that is), it is my understanding that the order of salvation is officially Calvinistic, and thus resembles the Reformed orders in placing regeneration before faith. This will also be officially true in almost all presbyterian denominations (i.e. in the confessions and catechisms), though it may be denied from the pulpit (as in many liberal PCUSA churches).

The Roman Catholic Church defines "justification" and "sanctification" differently than do most Protestant denominations, so it is a bit harder to compare their order. According to them, "justification" is the act by which God transforms a person from being actually unrighteous to being actually righteous. Because a person may slip in and out of justification, it is a repeatable event. "Justification is also used to refer to the continuing state of possessing "sanctifying grace." Their order begins with the Church and baptism, which affects regeneration, followed by sufficient grace which strengthens the will and illumines the mind. Assuming the person in question assents to this illumination, cooperating grace prepares man for justification through various stages which include belief, repentance, and love of God. Once prepared, the person receives infused grace, supernatural virtues, forgiveness, justification, and the beginning of sanctification (if we may call it that). Thereafter, good works ensure the completion/preservation of justification/sanctification, and finally culminate in glorification.

The Lutheran order, as I understand it, includes at least: election, calling, illumination, repentance, regeneration, faith, justification. Apparently simultaneous with justification are also adoption, mystical union, and sanctification, though sanctification also continues as long as faith continues, culminating in glorification.

Methodists and other Wesleyan Arminians may temporally begin with election, but because this is based on foreseen faith it may be better to list election after faith. In any event, they then assert prevenient grace which enables all men to believe, then faith and repentance, followed by regeneration and justification, then by sanctification (which may result in perfection in this life), and finally glorification. More traditional (non-Wesleyan) Arminians add good works to the order of salvation as the basis for acceptance with God subsequent to justification ("justification" is for them simple forgiveness of sins, and does not include positive merit).

I know this is painting in rather broad strokes, but I'm afraid that in order to do fuller justice to your question, I would need to list many dozens of orders, and such detail in other theological systems is beyond my area of expertise. Still, this should give you the highlights and most important distinctions between the major branches. Notice that not all orders contain the same elements, as not all denominations think all elements worthy of mention.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.