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Fourth_ecumenical_council_of_chalcedon_-_1876On February 14, twenty-one Egyptian Christians were brutally beheaded by Muslim radicals working for the Islamic State in Lybia. The Coptic Orthodox Church announced yesterday that the twenty-one victims will be inserted into the Coptic Synaxarium (the Oriental Church’s official list of martyrs) and commemorated in the church calendar as martyrs and saints. Christians of every denominational and doctrinal stripe have expressed outrage, sadness, and a sense of unity with their fallen brethren.

Which leads to an important question: how should we view the Coptic Orthodox Church?

This isn’t a bad question, provided we approach it in the right way. Let’s set aside the issue of what the twenty-one martyrs understood about monophysitism. That’s not unimportant, but as far as I know the information is unattainable. Besides, what is most needed at this point is prayer for the persecuted church and sympathy for the suffering. Thinking about these men who died because of their allegiance to Christ, men who belonged to one of the oldest church communions in the world, and men who called upon Jesus as they were murdered on the beach—trying to determine whether these men were actually Christians seems like remarkably poor form.

And yet, perhaps now is an appropriate time to consider more broadly and think more carefully about why some consider the Coptic Orthodox Church to be, well, unorthodox. While participating in a panel discussion at Ligonier last week, one of the first questions we were asked was about the twenty-one Coptic martyrs and the heresy of monophysitism (yes, it’s that kind of conference). So let’s step back and try to understand the history and theology behind what may be the oldest (formal) split in the church.

Two Natures, Without Division

To tell the story properly, we have to start with a man by the name of Nestorius. Nestorius was born sometime after 351 and died sometime before 451. He was the patriarch of Constantinople. His teaching was condemned by the third ecumenical council at Ephesus in 431. It’s unclear whether Nestorius was actually a Nestorian. What is clear is that Nestorius was not very careful in his theology and did not acquit himself very well when he was put on the spot to defend his views.

Nestorius, like most heretics, was intent on preserving the truth. Most ancient heretics did not set out to disrupt the church or teach false doctrine. They weren’t like Bart Ehrman with an ax to grind, or like Richard Dawkins with an anti-Christian agenda. Most heretics in the history of the church were trying to be biblical. They would have been professing Christians, with genuine concerns, who got key doctrines wrong and whose followers got things even more wrong.

Nestorius was concerned that people were calling Mary “the God-bearer” (theotokos). His concerns were probably not entirely unwarranted. God-bearer is an appropriate title for Mary, but only if the emphasis is on the Son and not Mary. It has happened since Nestorius, and most likely was happening in his day too, that people took the dangerous step from “Mary the bearer of God” to “Mary the divine Mother of God.” Theotokos is a proper term, but only with the proper qualifications.

Nestorius objected to this popular title. He could admit that Mary bore someone and that the someone was Jesus of Nazareth. But he reckoned that she gave birth to only the human nature of Christ. How could the divine nature be born? Divinity is eternal. It can’t be given birth. So, Mary, Nestorius reasoned, could be the mother of Jesus, but not the mother of God. If she was, then the Son of God was born, making him a creature with a beginning, and making us in our worship guilty of Arianism and of violating the second commandment.

Nestorius’ solution, or at least the theological solution that got attached to his name, was to argue for a dividing wall between the two natures. He knew the Son was God, and he knew the Son was a man. So Mary must be the mother of one half of Jesus, but not the other. She brought forth a man who was accompanied by the Logos. The two natures of Christ existed, not in hypostatic union, but in a kind of relational partnership.

Nestorius was opposed by Cyril of Alexandria (378-444), the brilliant apologist and implacable foe. He made two arguments against Nestorianism.

(1) If Mary is not theotokos, then instead of the incarnation of God himself, we have a human being born with the divine Logos. In other words, if Mary is not the God bearer, then we must understand the incarnation as something different than God becoming man. We have God coming alongside a man. No longer do we have the God-man Christ Jesus. We have Jesus Christ, a man with God in him. Thus, in Nestorianism, God is in Christ in nearly the same manner God is in us. The difference is not ontological; it is only a matter of degree. Nestorianism ends up making too little of Jesus and too much of us.

(2) If Mary is not theotokos, the relationship of Christ to humanity is changed. Only orthodox Christology allows for a real redemption of fallen man. Nestorianism’s problem was not with the two natures, but with the one person. Christ is fully God and fully man in Nestorianism, but he does not seem to be one person. Instead of two natures in a single self-conscious person, the two natures are next to each other with a moral and sympathetic union. The logic of Romans 5:19—that our salvation is accomplished through “the one man’s obedience”—will not hold. It’s only through the one man Jesus Christ, the union of humanity and deity, that we are made righteous.

Two Natures, Without Confusion

Which brings us to Eutychianism and Coptic Christians. Eutyches was a monk at a large monastery in Constantinople. He was born around 378 and died in 454. Again, it’s hard to determine what he actually taught. Eutyches himself was, to quote one author, “an aged and muddle-headed thinker.” So it’s unclear how much of Eutychianism came from Eutyches.

We do know that Eutyches had a strong anti-Nestorian bias. He was loathe to fall into the error of dividing Christ’s humanity from his divinity. So instead of division, we find in Eutychianism a confusion or mixture of the two persons. Eutyches taught that there was only one (mono) nature (physis) in Christ after the union of his divinity and humanity (hence, monophysitism).

Eutyches argued for the absorption of the human nature into the divine, the fusion of the two natures resulting in a tertium quid (third thing)–like mixing yellow and blue to get green. He said that Christ’s humanity was so united to his divinity that his humanity was not the same as ours (consubstantial). Christ was “of one substance with the Father” but not “of one substance with us.”

Eutyches was stubborn and not very careful in his theology. Yet, he was not without friends in high places. Eutyches was deposed in 448 by a Synod led by Archbishop Flavian. Eutyches complained to Pope Leo that he was treated unfairly. Leo, after some back and forth, wrote a letter to Flavian where he brilliantly surveyed all the Christological heresies and concluded that Eutyches was wrong. “In Christ Jesus,” he wrote, “neither Humanity without true Divinity, nor Divinity without true Humanity, may be believed to exist.”

But Eutyches was a friend to the Emperor, Theodosius II. In an effort to defend Eutyches, the emperor called a council in Ephesus in 449. The delegates were very pro-Eutyches and when legates from Pope Leo came to present their side, they weren’t even allowed to speak. Flavian was mauled and beat up, so badly in fact that he died a few days later. Eutychianism was vindicated, but the whole meeting was a sham. It’s now referred to as the “Robbers’ Synod.”

Later that year, Theodosius died in horse riding accident. His sister Pulcheria and her husband Marcian (not to be confused with the heretic Marcion) assumed the throne. Pulcheria agreed that the last synod was a travesty. So at the request of Pope Leo she convened a new synod at Chalcedon in 451, in what later would be considered the Fourth Ecumenical Council. The First Ecumenical Council in Nicea (325) rejected Arianism; the Second in Constantinople (381) rejected Docetism; the Third in Ephesus (431) rejected Nestorianism; and the Fourth in Chalcedon (451) rejected Eutychianism.

A Mess Worth Making?

Chalcedon didn’t settle everything. Some in the east still couldn’t swallow the doctrine of Christ’s two natures. Making things more confusing was the contested legacy of Cyril of Alexandria. Cyril was a legend already in his own age, the standard bearer for orthodoxy. He was the hero who led the charge against Nestorius, securing his condemnation at Ephesus in 431. If you agreed with Cyril, you were orthodox. If you didn’t, you probably weren’t. Unfortunately, Cyril had grown fond of an unhelpful anti-Nestorian phrase: “one incarnate nature of God the Word incarnate.” He thought this phrase came from Athanasius, but the phrase actually came from the heretic Apollinarius. Cyril used the phrase as a way to safeguard the unity of Christ against Nestorianism. In later years, Cyril was very clear that he still affirmed a full human nature and accepted the phrase “two natures” as long as it did not detract from the union of those two natures.

Many in the East, however, including in Cyril’s native Egypt, believed that embracing Chalcedon and its doctrine of the two natures of Christ was a repudiation of Cyril and his impeccable orthodoxy. This lead to a church split a millennium older than any Catholic-Protestant divisions. There are six churches known as the Old Oriental Orthodoxy (or Non-Chalcedonian Churches): Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrea, Malankara (Indian), and Armenian. These six churches have a completely different hierarchy and are not in communion with the rest of Eastern Orthodoxy (under the Patriarch of Constantinople) or with Rome (under the Bishop of Rome).

These churches have been called monophysite, but they reject the label, saying they too deny Eutychianism. They prefer to be called miaphysites because they want to emphasize the one (mia) nature, without rejecting the doctrine of the two natures of Christ.

So is the Coptic Orthodox Church actually orthodox? That depends on whom you ask, especially in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Some want to underline the fact that the church of the Old Oriental Orthodoxy still repudiate several ecumenical councils and have not formally embraced the Chalcedonian Definition. Others want to talk about the ecumenical dialogue of recent years in which leaders from the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox have agreed that they don’t disagree on the doctrine of the two natures, only on the way to say it. For my part, I’m unwilling to say the non-acceptance of Chalcedon is no big deal. And yet, it doesn’t seem in this insistence as if continued non-acceptance is the same as outright rejection or damnable heresy. There are historic and national reasons which may be obscuring a great deal of unity on Christological essentials.

No matter the confusion surrounding he Coptic Church, what is clear is that a half-way Christ cannot save. We need a Mediator who can lay a hand on us both. There is no room for a Nestorianism that threatens the unity of God’s work or a Eutychianism that threatens the fully human dimension of Christ’s work. At its best, all our doctrinal defining and theological wrangling is meant to preserve the simple, eminently biblical truth that Jesus Christ is both God and man, and as such, is uniquely and solely capable of saving the chosen ones of Adam’s helpless race.

UPDATE

In the comment thread and by personal correspondence, some have expressed other serious concerns with the Coptic Church besides their non-Chalcedonian Christology. My post was prompted by the question we received at the conference regarding the monophysite heresy. Hence, the focus of this post was on the history behind this Christological debate and the origination of the division between the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox. I am not familiar enough with the inner workings (or out working) of Coptic Christianity to assess the church as a whole, nor was it my intention to do so.


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79 thoughts on “The Coptic Church and Chalcedon”

  1. John B. Carpenter says:

    @ Tony Rezk ,

    I did not ignore your comments. I identified your claim that the unBiblical practices of veneration of saints, etc., are derived from the early church is false.
    No one has offered any evidence showing that the evidence in my article, proving that the early church not only did not venerate icons but strictly forbade anything approaching that, is in any way misleading or incomplete.
    Your claim that I’ve been reading the historical sources in a biased way is false. You have no evidence for such an accusation as evidenced here by not even attempting to present any.
    The simple historical fact is that the claim of your denomination to have retained practices in unbroken continuity from the early church is a myth.
    Sola Scriptura is the teaching of the Lord Jesus and your religious groups deviation from it is an act of rebellion against the Lord. The Bible does not teach that tradition has ever been equal to the Word of God; in fact, the scriptures you read to get that idea are using the term “tradition” to refer to the teachings of the New Testament and thus to scripture.
    As for looking at the track record of one’s movement, probably no arm of ostensible Christianity has a worse record of holding to its people and influencing it’s culture positively than is so-called “Orthodoxy” (including the Copts). Almost all the lands in which that branch of so-called Christianity has been predominant have fallen to Islam or communism. Indeed, it may very well be that one of the motivations of original Islam and one of the reasons that Mohammed was not drawn to the Christianity that he witnessed was because of the degree of idolatry that permeated “Orthodoxy”, so much so that Mohammed assumed that the Trinity consisted of Father, Mother (Mary) and Jesus.
    It’s remarkable that you apparently don’t think the Lord can act in history, that He is incapable of giving His people His Word.
    Christ gave His people the Bible, He affirmed all of the Old Testament (drawing the limits at the Law, Prophets and Writings, thus excluding the Apocrypha) in Matthew 23 and Luke 24 and sent the apostles who wrote (or supervised) the NT; and, of course, the Holy Spirit who inspired them made these writings scripture, not the church. The church only recognizes scripture. He inspired it in Hebrew and Greek which is why we study those languages.
    The church has always had the Word of God. It’s the Word of God that creates the Church, not the other way around.

  2. Tony Rezk says:

    Hi Ken, it’s my pleasure to be here and get to dialogue with you! I want to read that article first and I will let you know what I think of it. But let me get to your first post. If you search the Coptic Synaxarium, or the lives of the saints, you will see that we have always associated the Chalcedoian creed with the Emperor, and that most of the time the emperor persecuted us because we refused Chalcedon. In that 200-year span, from Chalcedon till the Arab invasion, our patriarchs were persecuted, forced to flee from city to city, and forced to shepherd their flock underground. During that time the Emperor would try and bribe our patriarchs by offering them not only the Patriarchal seat of Alexandria, but to be its governor as well. Thus most of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs of Alexandria were also the rulers of Alexandria and Egypt! Most people point to 451 and Chalcedon as the official split, but actually the Roman Empire went back and forth in terms of its acceptance of Chalcedon. There was actually a time after Chalcedon, where all the churches were untied for a short period of time in the Christology of the Mia-Physite formula, I think it was during the papacy of Timothy II but I’m not 100% sure, but that didn’t last too long. The official split came after Patriarch Theodosius I of Alexandria was put under house arrest in Constantinople during the 6th century. Theodosius was actually bribed by the emperor to accept Chacledon but he refused. That is when the split became official and each side had its own competing patriarch ever since. It was a sad time indeed because both parties have always believed in the full humanity and full divinity of Christ.

    You asked: Do you think it is true that the Arab Muslims were “welcomed as liberators from their Byzantine oppressors”?

    There is definitely a truth to your first statement but we didn’t roll out the welcome wagon for them either! We know that the Copts, at first, were not totally against the Arabs, because when Amr ibn al-‘As came into Egypt, Cyrus of Alexandria (who was the Chalcedonian Patriarch and ruler of Alexandria) fled from Egypt and Amr welcomed Patriarch Benjamin I (our pope during the arab invasion) to shepherd his flock again, without having to remain underground like before.

    You asked: If so, do you think the Muslims were fair, or really deceived your people then, and after they conquered the area, instituted the Jiziye and Dhimmi policies and persectuted the Copts?

    I think the muslims were fair at first, but as early as the 7th-8th century you can see the Copts revolting because of unfair jizya taxes. Actually, as soon as Amr and Benjamin passed away, the Jizya tax began to be a real problem for the Copts, as there were times when the amount was so high, that our Patriarchs were left to beg in the streets to make the money. Sometimes the rulers of Egypt would imprison the Coptic Pope in order to bribe money from his congregation. The Jizya tax is the reason why so many Copts, down the centuries, ended up converting to Islam. During the Mamluk rule in the 1200-1500s, it was at its worst. It was convert, pay a ridiculous amount for the Jizya tax, or die, and many did die, and others converted. The Mamluks were brutal with us. I have heard twice, in two different lectures, that it was during their time that our numbers dwindled down to 10,000! You can read about some of the Coptic revolutions here: https://copticliterature.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/the-excellent-article-on-the-bashmuric-coptic-revolts-by-mounir-megally-in-the-coptic-encyclopedia/

    https://copticliterature.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/the-account-of-the-syriac-patriarch-dionysius-of-tell-mahre-of-the-last-coptic-bashmuric-revolt-of-831-832-ad/

    You asked: Do you have any good sources to recommend on that issue?

    I recommend any books on our history, the “Coptic Encyclopedia, “Traditional Egyptian Christianity”, “Early Coptic Papacy”, “Coptic Papacy in Islamic Egypt”, “The Emergence of Modern Coptic Papacy”, and “History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria.” Which I believe you can find that one online to read for free.

    You asked: Do you think it is fair for Muslims to claim that they were “doing a just war in the 7th Century against the Byzantine terrorists” ? There are articles by Muslims and many Muslims I have talked to have claimed that their wars against Byzantine and Persia were all just wars against the oppressive governments of Byzantine and the Zoroastrian Persians?

    I don’t know about that Ken, history, as it has presented itself, doesn’t really show that the Arabs conquered all these territories in order to stop any type of persecution, but instead they conquered it in order spread Islam! Moreover, overtime they became some of the worst persecutors of Christians! And if they were really against oppressive regimes, then they should have gone to war with each other. This also doesn’t explain why they went to Spain and were knocking on the doors of France! That also doesn’t explain why Turkey is now 99% Muslim. Were the Chalcedonians persecuting each other in the 1400s and before that? That’s a country that was predominantly Christian. I personally think its revisionist history. But to be honest, not all Muslim leaders treated us harshly; we have had some who have actually respected out Patriarchs and took their blessings. You can see that with Patriarch Matthew I (one of my personal favorites) and Sultan Barquq in the late 1300s. But unfortunately that wasn’t the norm, most of our Arab and Muslim leaders often persecuted us, some wished to have wiped us out from Egypt completely, and its only been by the grace of God that we have existed to this day!

    thanks,

    Tony

  3. Tony Rezk says:

    Sorry Pastor John, I will disagree with you! I have already posted a video that actually goes along very well with the article at Orthodoxbridge, that shows you exactly Icons, and religious drawings from the early church. Christ didn’t give us the Bible, he gave us the Church. I’m sorry pastor, but you are making an idol out of the Bible! Yes we all respect and love the Bible, but we can never put it above the Church, because the Church gave us the Bible! It almost seems like you are insinuating that Christ himself sat and gave us the Bible that we have today, when in reality, the Bible developed over time, it wasn’t even till around 400 A.D that the canon was agreed on and even then it was still debated! How you ignore such history is mind boggling. With all due respect of course :-D
    We don’t even see Christ commanding his followers to write anything, except for when John was commanded to write the Book of Revelation!!! He commanded them to go and to preach, it wasn’t until later that his followers started to write everything down. Why didn’t Matthew write everything down as it happened but wrote it later Pastor John? Mark and Luke weren’t with Christ, they wrote down what they heard through the oral traditions of Peter and Paul! Also, why didn’t John find it necessary to write his gospel down till the end of the 1st century? Your mode of thinking about this history is highly questionable Pastor! Also, without the church, we can never really understand the Bible correctly, this is why you choose to overlook certain verses! Explain to me John 6 please? you know that the Christian church had always believed in the real Body and Blood of Christ present in the Eucharist! Ignatius of Antioch talks about it, and he was a 2nd generation Christian. If he is wrong, then we are all screwed lol!
    This is what he says: “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes.”

    (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 7) http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.v.vii.vii.html
    Finally, I’ll leave you with this quote from St. Basil the Great:

    “Concerning the teachings of the Church, whether publicly proclaimed (kerygma) or reserved to members of the household of faith (dogmata), we have received some from written sources, while others have been given to us secretly, through apostolic tradition. Both sources have equal force in true religion. No one would deny either source–no one, at any rate, who is even slightly familiar with the ordinances of the Church. If we attacked the unwritten customs, claiming them to be of little importance, we would fatally mutilate the Gospel, not matter what our intentions–or rather, we would reduce the Gospel teachings to bare words.”

    (On the Holy Spirit by St. Basil the Great)

    Don’t mutilate the Gospel dear Pastor!

  4. John B. Carpenter says:

    @ Tony Rezk ,,
    You cannot show any icons from the early church. That statement is false. What you will be doing is showing early Christian art and then ASSUMING the art was used in veneration, as an icon. And this is the frustrating thing about trying to deal with Orthodox/Coptic people about the true history of their church: they will frequently play such games with the data.

    My article documents every known source about the icons from the early church (except perhaps “The Apostolic Tradition” [i.e. Egyptian Church Order] which states If someone is a sculptor or a painter, let them be taught not to make idols.). All of the evidence from the early church says the same thing: icons are strictly prohibited. Canon 36 of the Council of Elvira, Origen, Epiphanius, etc., all agree that the early church was opposed to even the potential abuse of art to be used as icons, which they equated with idolatry. As yet, I’ve seen no one successfully show even an exception to this in the church before AD 500, even though multiple people have tried. You’re claims is demonstrably false.

    The church recognized the Bible. It did not create it. Your second paragraph is all nonsensical and there is nothing in John 6 about the Lord’s Supper.

  5. Paul Janssen says:

    Sorry JB, but somewhere along the line it appears you crossed the line from apologist to polemicist. You pass along argument as fact. Your stridency betrays a less than charitable spirit, and it is clear you do not wish to engage in dialogue, but monologue. Blessings be on you in search of humility.

  6. Tony Rezk says:

    Pastor John, go in peace! Pray for me!

  7. John Carpenter says:

    @Paul Jannsen,

    I’m sorry that it upsets you to be told that the history of the early church does not bear out the mythology you’ve been led to believe and that is commonly used as the essence of the “Orthodox” claim to authenticity: it’s so-called unbroken continuity with the early church. But it is not a matter for debate but simply now a matter of historical fact that the early church strictly opposed the use of icons that now pervades “Orthodox” liturgy:

    1. The Jewish ethos out of which the early church arose strictly forbade images in worship. The commitment of second-temple Judaism to build a “fence” around the Second Commandment was such that Jews of the period protested the Roman flags with images and the profile of Caesar on the coins. Therefore, we can surmise that had the early church, immediately adopted the use of icons in their meetings, there would have been vigorous denunciations from the traditional Jews.

    2. Early Christians were commonly called “atheists” by the Romans. They did so because the Christians (and Jews) did not have any images in their homes or churches and hence assumed that they had no gods at all. Polycarp (c. 156) was asked by the Romans to say, “away with the atheist”, by which the Romans meant to include the Christians. The Romans so conflated visible imagery with theism they assumed those without images were atheists.

    3. The pagan philosopher and critic of Christianity Celsus made Christian rejection of all images a point of criticism.

    4. Origin (184-254) responded to Celsus by admitting that Christians used no images; he mocked the notion that images were helpful in worship, and, citing the Second Commandment wrote, “It is in consideration of these and many other such commands, that they [Christians] not only avoid temples, altars, and images, but are ready to suffer death when it is necessary, rather than debase by any such impiety the conception which they have of the Most High God.” (Origin, Contra Celsus, Book VII, Chapter 64.)

    5. Canon 36 of the Council of Elvira states, “Pictures are not to be placed in churches, so that they do not become objects of worship and adoration.”

    6. Eusebius wrote that even the incarnate Christ cannot appear in an image, for
    “the flesh which He put on for our sake … was mingled with the glory of His divinity so that the mortal part was swallowed up by Life. . . . This was the splendor that Christ revealed in the transfiguration and which cannot be captured in human art. To depict purely the human form of Christ before its transformation, on the other hand, is to break the commandment of God and to fall into pagan error.” (David M. Gwynn, From Iconoclasm to Arianism: The Construction of Christian Tradition
    in the Iconoclast Controversy [Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 47 (2007) 225–251], p. 227.)

    7. Epiphanius (inter 310–320 – 403), bishop of Salamis, wrote (c. 394), to John, Bishop of Jerusalem:
    “I went in to pray, and found there a curtain hanging on the doors of the said church, dyed and embroidered. It bore an image either of Christ or of one of the saints; I do not rightly remember whose the image was. Seeing this, and being loath that an image of a man should be hung up in Christ’s church contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures, I tore it asunder and advised the custodians of the place to use it as a winding sheet for some poor person.”
    He goes on to tell John that such images are “contrary to our religion” and to instruct the presbyter of the church that such images are “an occasion of offense.” (Epiphanius, Letter 51, chapter 9)

    Hence, the actual writings of the early church leaders are strictly opposed to iconography. As yet, I’ve found no written source of an early church leader defending the use of images in church buildings or as part of corporate worship prior to the fifth century, much less advocating for the kind of iconography now practiced by the Eastern Orthodox. I have not found an Eastern Orthodox advocate for iconography able to cite a verifiable source supporting icons, despite the high motivation to do so and the repeated claims that such sources exist.

  8. Ken Temple says:

    Tony Rezk – what do you think about my questions about the Arab Muslims invasions/Jihads in the 600s-700s AD when they conquered Egypt and subjugated the Christian Copts to Dhimmi status?

    Did the Egyptians welcome the Muslims at first as “liberators from the Chalcedonian Byzantines” who were harsh to them? (trying to force the Chalcedonian Creed by soldiers, police, force, violence, etc. ?)

    What do you think of the Muslim’s article, “A Seventh Century War on Terror?” (see my previous comments)

    Do you have sources that give a better balance?

    Raymond Ibrahim’s material is very good. He is also from Coptic background.

  9. Tony rezk says:

    Hi Ken, I actually answered your question but I guess the post is still awaiting moderation! What’s your email address?

  10. In the entire debate over ICONS…..do we in the west have our own? Church buildings, infrastructure, mortgages over our church buildings, programs, constitutions, policies. procedures, rules and service traditions? Our worship might not be targeted to them consciously but where does our energies go to? In the end it also comes down to Jesus Christ and is he our Lord and Saviour? Are we doing what he wants us to do every day in our lives as his representative? Im suspect the clutter in our institutions will fade away in the last days which may have arrived. If you die with the name of Jesus on your lips that’s good enough for me. It certainly was for thief who was crucified next to Christ. He was saved for how long……..not long at all. Blessings to my brothers and sisters in the eastern churches. May God protect you.

  11. Ken Temple says:

    Tony,
    Sorry for delay in answering back, as I was very busy in ministry on the weekend.
    Thank you very much for those answers about the Islamic invasions and the Chalcedonian/Byzantine injustice done to the Coptic Christians from after the Council of Chalcedon to the coming of the Arab Muslims. I finally found some more information on that. Thanks so much for the links and names of sources!

    If you click on my name it will take you to my blog, “Apologetics and Agape” and you can leave a comment there and then I will get your email and send you an email.

    That part of history is very important for western Christians to know, and yet we know so little about it.

    What you wrote is what I basically have understood (but need more sources and evidence to refute that article that the Muslim wrote), that at first, Islam conquered but many Christians in the Islamic land of Levant, Egypt, N. Africa slowly converted to Islam because of the Jiziye taxes and the pressure of being “Dhimmis” (protected, but second class with less rights; – but not really always protected – lots of persecution off and on) The big question is the Pact of Omar 1, the second Khalif – Omar Ibn Al Khattab, and it seems that “paying the Jiziye with willing submission” (Surah 9:29) means aggreeing that they will not evangelize Muslims or discuss spiritual subjects with them and the Christians could not build new churches.

    Why would Christians agree to that? To share the faith with others is part of our faith. Why would they agree to not do any evangelism?

    Raymond Ibrahim’s material is good in dealing with Islam. He is a Coptic Christian also.
    Thanks again Tony!

  12. Christiane Smith says:

    one way Southern Baptists can meet the Coptic Christians with understanding is to examine their beautiful liturgy that is so very ancient . . . the ways of praying of a whole faith community are one way of knowing more about them.
    An example I gave on another blog was this:

    ‘The Coptic martyrs come from a faith that professes Christ with these words prior to the reading of the Holy Gospel in their liturgical worship in community:

    “. . . You are the life of us all, the salvation of us all, the hope of us all, the healing of us all, and the resurrection of us all.”

    At the moment of their death when they called on Jesus for help, it was not their first acknowledgement of Christ as Lord.’

  13. Thiego Breno Fernandes Riker says:

    Olá,

    Estou no Brasil. O texto foi traduzido para nossa língua. E está tendo uma repercussão. É lamentável a ignorância do autor do presente texto. Se a pessoa não tem uma compreensão da fé dos cristãos Coptas, não deve se propor escrever um artigo. No mínimo deve estudar o todo. Também não pode ignorar o diálogo entre os coptas e demais igreja. kevin, você se torna um inimigo do diálogo de compreensão teológica entre os cristãos. Lamentável

  14. Arnie says:

    Pastor DeYoung,
    Thank you for this informative post, and for not being afraid to tackle these complex, but important, historical and theological issues.

    But I think that you have one typo – you state, “So instead of division, we find in Eutychianism a confusion or mixture of the two persons.” Did you intend this to be “two natures” rather than “two persons”? Two persons would insert a fourth member of the Godhead. Not to nitpick, but this would seem to be important enough to leave a comment.

  15. Paul Carter says:

    When I was at York University studying Classics and Humanities I had a professor that challenged my assumptions about faith, error and the boundaries of belonging. His name was professor Schneider and he was a very interesting man. He had been born a Jew into a non-practicing family. As an adult he converted to Orthodox Christianity and had become very involved in that group, even rising, if I understood him correctly, to become an assistant to the Bishop. Having teachers who hold different points of view was not an unusual experience at York University. I had many Jewish teachers and several teachers whose professed Christianity was so liberal as to be unrecognizable and unverifiable as such. Professor Schneider, however, seemed like the real deal. He felt like a Christian. He sounded like he really loved Jesus. He seemed like a transformed man. That challenged me and the challenge has stayed with me. As a young man raised in an independent Gospel church (read fundamentalist baptistic non associating church) I was not prepared to think kindly of anyone who venerated saints, called communion “the Eucharist”, believed in “creeds” and served a bishop with a pointy hat. Professor Schneider was all of that and yet, he also seemed to be a Christian.

    That confusion has nestled away in my soul for 20 years. I’m now a middle aged, Protestant, Baptist (now associating), Bible-believing, saints-not-venerating, bishop not having, hat-not-wearing, Gospel preaching, communion calling, creed confessing Christian man. And as such, I’ve found myself praying for brothers and sisters in Christ who have far more in common with Professor Schneider than they do with me. That has forced me to revisit that old, long buried confusion. I don’t intend with this little post to examine the roots of Eastern Orthodoxy so as to ascertain whether their beliefs place them outside of historic Christian small ‘o’ orthodoxy – if you are interested in that see here – rather I simply intend to reflect upon the issue of faith, error and the extent of Christian fellowship.

    My thinking was directed by two of this morning’s RMM readings. In John 6 Jesus uses the metaphor of eating as a way of explaining saving faith. He says:

    47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:47–51 ESV)

    Whoever believes has eternal life. Whoever eats of this bread will have eternal life. The bread is my flesh. Clearly Jesus is making use of a common metaphor (eating bread) to explain what he means by “believing”. To believe in Jesus must mean more than simply to “taste him, savor him and spit him out” – that isn’t eating; that is tasting. It seems that the author of Hebrews was aware of this teaching because he seems to use similar language in talking about final apostasy:

    4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Hebrews 6:4–6 ESV)

    Tasting is not eating. Swallowing is eating. Jesus seems to be saying that the one who tastes, savors and swallows is the one who truly believes. Not only that, the proof that he has tasted, savored and swallowed is that he continues eating. Jesus says in verse 54:

    54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:54 ESV)

    The word “feeds” is a present active participle in Greek, which is the normal way of expressing what we call in English the “present continuative”. This is ongoing action. By use of this metaphor Jesus defines faith as the on-going, persistent, tasting, savoring and swallowing of Jesus Christ.

    As to the content of this eating, it seems to be that we are to eat his Words and his flesh. The connection between “bread” and the Word of God is well established in Scripture. In rejecting the temptation of the devil in the desert Jesus said:

    “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4 ESV)

    The identification of the bread with the Word of Jesus is not in question. However, Jesus also seems to be anticipating the Last Supper where the disciples, in some sense, are said to eat his flesh. The Gospel of Luke records:

    And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19 ESV)

    In the Lord’s Supper Jesus says to the disciples that the bread is to represent his body – his life and in particular his death – that is given for you. Therefore I think we can say with some confidence that saving faith in John 6 means to taste, savor and swallow the Word of Jesus in general and the sacrificial life and death of Jesus in particular. If we see in the Word of God the climax of God’s redemptive purpose in the Son of God and if we DELIGHT in that and SWALLOW that and we keep taking it in perpetually in faith through the ministry of the Word and the sacrament of communion (taken in faith) then we are saved. The faith that saves is a tasting faith, a savoring faith, a swallowing faith and a perpetual faith.

    What is interesting of course is that Jesus did not say that it was an error free faith. He doesn’t say: If you taste, savor and swallow me AND manage to avoid over estimating the significance of my earthly mother AND manage to avoid the error of praying to saints AND manage to avoid appointing pastors with a preference for pointy hats, THEN you shall be saved. He says only taste, savor and swallow me. Believe in me. Sit under the Word and the Sacrament of Communion in faith, see God’s plan of redemption, contemplate me in the centre of it all and BELIEVE IT and you shall be saved. Errors, weakness, stupidity and confusion seem assumed.

    Those men who were beheaded on a beach in Libya died singing praises to Jesus. That sounds like persevering faith to me. It sounds like they saw, and savored and died swallowing the person, word and work of Jesus Christ. I’m not the judge, obviously, but it seems to me that those men believed in Jesus. I don’t know what they thought of Mary and I don’t know what they thought about saints or pointy hats. I imagine they thought more or less as their church taught them, but I don’t think that being wrong about Mary or being wrong about saints necessarily vitiates the authenticity of their saving faith in Jesus Christ. Now, if the real locus of their faith was Mary, then yes, that would be a deal breaker, likewise, if the real locus of their faith was a saint, or an icon or their own works of righteousness, then YES that would be a game changer. BUT. From all accounts, no one was singing to Mary on that beach. No one was praying to a saint. No one was rubbing a relic and no one was recounting deeds. They were calling on the Name of Jesus. It sounds like these men had faith mixed with error, weakness and human frailty. It sounds like these men were Christians. They were brothers and they were martyrs to the faith.

    If that is the case, and I am not just laboring under survivor’s guilt and western isolationism, then we must turn to the issue of error. Does error really matter? If it does, how should it be handled? If faith can persist alongside of lesser errors, then why do we strive for truth and for reform? Galatians 2, another of our readings this morning, offers guidance. Paul is writing about a conflict he had with the Apostle Peter in Galatia:

    11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11–14 ESV)

    Paul engaged in rigorous, public conflict with the Apostle Peter because Peter made an error that threatened to obscure the Gospel. If Peter reengaged the dietary laws of the Old Testament he threatened to obscure the free grace of God offered to all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If people have to become Jews before they become Christians than what is the significance of the cross? The message of the cross is that Jesus has done for us what we could never do for ourselves and he has paid for what we did do in his body on the cross. Peter’s error threatened to obscure that glorious truth. Therefore, it had to be confronted publicly and vigorously. I don’t believe that Paul was worried that Peter was losing his salvation. Real Christians can fall into dangerous error. Peter was saved. He was believing in Jesus. He was also practicing dangerous, Gospel obscuring error. I think that is instructive.

    Christians in the West are going to witness more and more gruesome acts of violence and persecution against Christians in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere in the months and years to come. Most of those Christians are not going to be Baptists or Presbyterians. They are going to be people who do not share our Reformation heritage. How should we respond? I am worried about two things. I am worried first of all about paralysis in prayer. I am worried that thinkers will think themselves into a cage. They will notice, rightly so, that there is Gospel obscuring error in these traditions. They will wonder if that means these people are not truly Christians. That is not an insignificant worry. Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” is truly saved. However, not everyone who cherishes error is truly unsaved. Peter was saved. And Peter cherished Gospel obscuring error. My advice to the thinkers is to err on the side of prayer. Pray for them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray. God is the Judge. He knows those who have tasted, savored and swallowed Christ. He knows those who have heard Christ in the Word and seen him in the sacrament and have believed him in their heart. You don’t. Therefore pray without paralysis.

    I also worry about those who think perhaps less than they should. I worry that we will succumb to a sentimentality that undermines discussion, growth and reform. We will say, as I had one person say to me not too long ago, “With Christians being persecuted all over the world, how can you engage in useless theological discussions about the things that divide Christians? Now is the time to unite around the essentials, not to divide around the edges”. We must remember that the Apostle Paul lived in a time when Christians were being persecuted too. Both he and Peter were martyred for their faith. And yet, they found time to discuss their differences. Paul was proud to say to the elders of Ephesus that he had taught them the whole counsel of God. In fact, if Paul did not feel it appropriate to argue about error in a time of persecution, then we would have very little of what we now call the New Testament. Error that obscures the Gospel or that undermines our faith in the Word of God or the work and person of Jesus Christ must be refuted. It must be discussed and it must be submitted to the scrutiny of the Scriptures. Error matters because it makes the Gospel harder to take hold of. It litters the field with stones and weeds such that fewer seeds find purchase and grow to harvest. We can pray and weed at the same time.

    My advice to Christians in the West who are witnessing the slaughter of Christians in the East is to pray without ceasing and to not assume that error resides only in the hearts of their brethren. Seek it also in your own heart. Let the fruit of this terrible season be both an increase in fellowship and in increase in faithfulness to the Word and to the person of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.

    SDG

    Paul Carter

  16. Tony Rezk says:

    Thank you for that insightful comment Paul Carter! I agree with most of what you said. I really appreciate your analysis and your prayers for the Christians of the Middle East. However, I also disagree with some of what you said. You simply seem to ignore the historicity of the witness of the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. You are right in that Christ used mainly analogies and allegories. For example Christ said he is “The Door”. Of course no one in the history of the Church ever believed that Christ was a wooden door. However, when Christ said, “This is my flesh, this is my blood”, “for my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” No one in the history of the Church ever believed it to be a representation or a remembrance only. The Church has always believed it to be real and that it is a mystery. The body of Christ is what gives us life as our Teacher St. Cyril said, ” Whosoever shall not confess that the flesh of the Lord giveth life and that it pertains to the Word of God the Father as his very own, but shall pretend that it belongs to another person who is united to him [i.e., the Word] only according to honour, and who has served as a dwelling for the divinity; and shall not rather confess, as we say, that that flesh giveth life because it is that of the Word who giveth life to all: let him be anathema.”

    Moreover, in John 6 we see some of Christ’s disciples turn away from him because of this teaching.
    “The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”
    53 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”
    59 These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
    60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?”
    61 When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. 65 And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
    66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. 67 Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?”

    Christ didn’t stop them from leaving, he didn’t tell them hold on there folks, I was only speaking in allegory. Nope, we see that he didn’t do that.

    Furthermore, just because you don’t agree with something doesn’t make it necessarily error. The men with pointy hats have always been there since the inception of the Church, maybe their hats weren’t pointy back then. In fact, Ignatius of Antioch, who was a disciple of St. John talks about the office of the Bishop so much that it can become nauseating to read! Does that mean he was in error? You are correct to say that Peter was in error, but he repented and stepped away from his error after the Council at Jerusalem. We shouldn’t only take the teachings of Paul over Peter, but we take the teachings of all the apostles. We take the consensus of the Fathers. Please don’t reject Orthodoxy just because it has similarities with Catholicism. Furthermore, the fact that Orthodoxy and Catholicism have things in common is a witness to what the early church looked like. The Bible as we have it now, wasn’t always there in the early church, if this is true, then what did they teach in the beginning? They simply taught the rule of faith. We have many witnesses to what the early church looked like. And we know it was a Eucharistic, Bishop-led, sacramental living, trinity believing community of believers. To simply ignore all of that is not good, and it doesn’t make us “error believing Christians” which I am sure you recognized in your professor. PS I’m not here to change your mind, just some food for thought. God bless you!

  17. Paul Carter says:

    Hi Tony,

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful response! I run a little discussion and renewal site for Canadian Baptist pastors up in Ontario. Our little group is known as CLRA (pronounced like ‘Clara’) and we try and stimulate Scriptural reflection on a wide variety of issues. Issues of association, disagreement and engagement have been at the top of our discussion list for some time. Would you mind if I posted your comments on our site for the other pastors to engage? Or even better, if you would cut and paste them to the comment threat yourself that would be fantastic! The comments I shared above were taken from an article I wrote yesterday on the site which you can find here: http://www.adfontes.ca/posts/post/article/faith-and-error/index.php Thanks! I look forward to a broad and useful conversation. Richest blessings!

  18. Tony Rezk says:

    Hi Paul,

    Thank you for the kind words. I would love to discuss freely on your website. Please take the comments and paste them as much as you would like. I like good and open respectful dialogue. I think its important and good to discuss these issues. I am not here to convert anyone or to propagate my views. God bless you!

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  21. Simon says:

    The OOC rejected Chalcedon, however in subsequent ecumenical dialogue it has been ascertained that this was largely a semantical misunderstanding. The faith of the OOC is substantially the same faith as that of the EOC in particular and of the RCC. We could well ask the same question of the Reformed churches who absolutely and unequivocally rejected the sevent ecumenical council endorsing icons. Further many Reformed reject the Church’s dogmatic teaching of Christ’ decent into hell – enshrined in the Apostles Creed. Far more importantly., the ethos and mind of protestant Christianity is foreign to the tradtional communions.

  22. Simon says:

    Ummmm…. Who uses the term “Divine mother of God”?? Theotokos means the Mother of God. No Church uses “divine” as part of this title. In the various liturgies of the church, particularly in the liturgy composed by Chrysostom, prayers are offered through the Theotokos. This tittle for Mary was incorporated into the liturgy precisely to combat heresy. The fact is that Reformed Christians have serious issues with this title, that is why the author wants to put qualifications on the usage of Mary’s title as Mother of God. Unlike Chrysostom, who included the Theotokos in the worship of the Church, there is no reference to Mary, let alone the dogmatic position of the Church of her being the Mother of God, in evangelical piety and devotion. The fact that the early Church would actually debate the proper title for Mary seems completely foreign to most Protestants. Why would this question even matter if there wasn’t any devotion and veneration of Mary in the Early Church? This must of been a widespread practice of the Church if it was brought to a Council.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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