We do well to follow and understand the development of Christian Theology over the centuries. We need to see how it was formed and why scholars came to the conclusions they did. To ignore this history and its insights and to plant our understanding of Gospel and Kingdom in the 19th century and onwards alone, without regard to the past, is to plant our beliefs in the air rather than in the soil of God’s revelation through the Church. Fundamental to a sound understanding of who God is, what God has done in Christ and who we are as a result, is an appreciation of the Council of Nicaea and Chalcedonian Christology. I recommend to you this piece by Keith A. Mathison.
The Basics of Chalcedonian Christology
Dr. Keith A. Mathison is professor of systematic theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Fla. He is author of several books, including The Lord’s Supper and From Age to Age. “Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of thelivingGod,isaturningpointintheGospelnarratives(Matt. 16:16). Following the confession, we read, “Fromthat time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must goto Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders andchief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third daybe raised” (Matt. 16:21). Peter’s response to these wordsindicates that his understanding of what it meant for Jesusto be the Messiah was incorrect. Jesus leaves no doubt thatthe Messiah must suffer and die and then rise from thedead.
WHO DO YOU SAY I AM?
What was the question that elicited Peter’s confession?Jesus had asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). This is the question that every reader of theGospels must answer. It is the question with which theearly church was forced to wrestle for several centuries. As Christians sought to teach their children and new converts,this question would arise. As Christians sought to respondto those who rejected their teaching, this question wouldarise.
“But why did the church wrestle with this question for somany centuries? Peter’s response likely took less than fiveseconds.Thechallengearosebecauseofthenatureofwhat is revealed in the New Testament. When we read theGospels, we find Jesus of Nazareth saying and doing thingsthat only God can say or do. He forgives sin, for example(Mark 2:10). When we read the Apostolic writings, we find them describing Him in ways that can only be used todescribe God. Paul tells us that all things were created byHim (Col. 1:16). John says He is God (John 1:1, 14). Yet,at the same time and in the same writings, we find Jesus ofNazareth saying and doing things that only a man cansayor do. He grows weary (John 4:6). Most significantly, Hedied(Rom.8:34).
“WhenwereadwhattheNewTestamentrevealsaboutJesus Christ, we are inevitably forced to answer basicmetaphysicalquestions.Metaphysicsinvestigatesthenature of being, reality, and existence. If we say that Jesusis God, we are saying something about His being. The sameis true if we say that Jesus is a man. Herein lies thedifficulty. The being of God is very different from the beingof man. The attributes of deity differ from the attributes ofhumanity, and not in a merely quantitative way. God isn’tjust like us, only bigger and stronger. God is self-existent;man is not. God is eternal; man is not. God is a necessarybeing; man is a contingent being. And so on. Given thenature of the biblical revelation, the church was forced toask, What kind of being is Jesus? This is what took centuries to answer.
THE HISTORY OF EARLY CHRISTOLOGICAL HERESY IS ESSENTIALLY A HISTORY OF INCORRECT ANSWERS TO THE METAPHYSICAL QUESTION.
“The problem encountered in these answers the church rejected is that they do not take into account all of the biblical revelation. Ebionites, for example, “solved” the problem by denying that Christ is God.
“Docetism “solved” the problem by denying that Christ’s human body was real.
“The most significant early Christological heresy was Arianism and its variants. Arianism denied that the Son has the same nature as the Father. The Arians argued that the Son is a different kind of being than the Father or a human being. They said the Son is a being somewhere between the Father, who is true God, and human beings. The Arians argued that the Son is a creature, and there was a time when He was not. The Arian controversy spanned the bulk of the fourth century. *
“Twoecumenicalcouncils,theCouncilof Nicaea in 325 and the Council of Constantinople in 381,dealt with it. One important result was the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (usually referred to simply as the Nicene Creed).
“The second section of this Creed affirms the followingofJesusChrist: [Webelieve]inoneLordJesusChrist,theonlybegottenofthe Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light,very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of onesubstancewiththeFather,bywhomallthingsweremade.Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down fromheaven,andwasincarnatebytheHolySpirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for usunder Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and thethirddayHeroseagain,accordingtotheScriptures;and ascendedintoheaven,andsittethontherighthandoftheFather and He shall come again, with glory, to judge thequickandthedead;whosekingdomshallhavenoend.
“When the issue of Christ’s true deity was settled, the nextseries of controversies were focused on how He can be both God and man. Apollinaris spoke of Christ as a “middle-being,” something of a mixture of deity and humanity. Hisview was rejected.
“Another attempt to answer the questionhas been termed the “Two Sons” doctrine. This teaching,associated with Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore ofMopsuestia, claimsthattheSonofGodandtheSonofMary are two distinct subjects. The Son of God is thesubject in all of the places where we see Jesus saying anddoingthingsonlyGodcansayordo.TheSonofMaryisthe subject in all of those places where we see Jesus sayingand doing things only a man can do. Obviously, this leadsto some serious biblical and theological problems, the mostserious of which is the inability of proponents to identifytheSon ofMarywith the Son ofGod.
“One of Theodore’s students was a man named Nestorius,who became archbishop of Constantinople in the AD 428.Following in the footsteps of his teacher, he, too, taughtwhat amounted to a “Two Sons” doctrine. His teachingcaught the attention of Cyril, the bishop of Alexandria, anda huge controversy resulted. Cyril wrote several letters toNestorius attempting to correct his views, but ultimatelyanother council had to be convened. The Council ofEphesusmetinAD 431,andNestoriuswascondemnedasa heretic.Matterswerenotcompletelysettled,however,and twenty years later another council was convened in thesmallcity ofChalcedon.
“The Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) is a landmark in thehistory of theology in the same way that the Council ofNicaea was a landmark. The definition produced by thecouncil has been the standard of orthodox Christology eversince, not only in the Roman Catholic and EasternOrthodoxchurchesbutintheProtestantchurchesaswell.
It was at this council that the church established a way oftalking about the being of Christ that took into account all of the biblical revelation. It is imperative, therefore, thatChristians read and understand the ChalcedonianDefinition.
HERE IS THE CREED OF CHALCEDON
“We, then, following the holy fathers, all with one consent teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood.
Truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; coessential with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin.
Begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God.
According to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of nature’s being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the creed of the holy fathers has handed down to us.”
NATURE OF GOD
Clearly the nature of God is understood in reference to God. Not with reference to ourselves or to anything impersonal or abstract. Our salvation and transformation takes place according to who God is - not according to who God is not. The law is not an expression of God. Christ is the expression of God. It is Christ, who on behalf of the trinity enfolds us in God in His person. His persons who is our salvation and who we are becoming as a result of His Spirit incarnated in us.
J. B Torrance observes that, “Christ does not heal us as an ordinary doctor might, by standing over us, diagnosing our sickness, prescribing medicine for us to take and then going away, leaving us to get better as we follow His instructions. No, He becomes the patient. He assumes that very humanity, which is in need of redemption, and by being anointed by the Spirit in our humanity, by a life of perfect obedience, by dying and rising again, for us, our humanity is healed in Him, in His person. We are not just healed through Christ, because of the work of Christ, but in and through Christ. Person and work must not be separated.”
*Arianism distorted the nature of Christ. Legalism does too. It makes Christ an expression of the law when He is in fact the I AM and the expression of Himself and the trinity.