One of the major benefits of getting married as a graduate student to another graduate student is that studying becomes one of those “couples activities” that you enjoy doing. Although I’m at home now, my husband and I still study things together regularly. So recently we began a study on Christ (or Christology).
Now, I’m not a newbie to the Christian faith, but I was shocked at how much there is to know (or learn in my case) about who Christ is and His work. But as we began our study, I was even more shocked to find that you can fall into all sorts of heresies if you fail to know Christ rightly. It’s easy to try to explain Him (being both God and man) and then fall off the deep end with a bad analogy. Basically, heresies are really really easy to believe. But fortunately, God, in His sovereign wisdom, has graced the Church to deal with a whole number of heresies throughout the entire Church age.
Now I get that a lot of people roll their eyes at knowing Church history. Some people think that picking up a book to help you understand theological things is about the worst thing you could ever do for your spiritual life, but I think that’s incredibly short-sighted. How are we to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength if we fail to engage and exercise our minds in the process? If we don’t take the time to learn, research, and study things, then wouldn’t we fall into the same pits and problems as Christians before us did? We clearly don’t do that with any other facet of our life. I mean, if I’m determined to learn how to bake an apple pie, I don’t just keep trying and trying to work it out in my mind. I consider that plenty of people for years have learned how to do it and documented it. So I check recipe books, I stalk my friend Kay’s blog, and from everything that I’ve looked at, I figure out how to bake that pie (or just follow a recipe). Likewise, we know that there is “nothing new under the sun”. Studying church history can be quite beneficial to us, and it also helps us to make sure that we are being correct in our doctrine and understanding things.
So I mention all of this today because around today in the year of 451 AD, the Council of Chalcedon met to address problems and heresies that were denying the humanity and divinity of Christ. Now, the church leaders had met a few times before to address other serious heresies that were being spread about in the Christian church, but this council had to get really really explicit about who Christ is. So, they created a creed or a definition of Christ that has stood through the ages, and it reads:
Therefore, following the holy Fathers, we all with one accord, teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood; truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us regarding his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.
Now, if you want a full understanding of why each of the phrases is important to this definition (like why the wording has to be so nit-picky and precise), I really encourage you to scroll through this explanation of the definition of Chalcedon and its importance to us. But basically, if you believe anything about Christ that is different than this definition, then you are rolling down the heresy hill really quickly. So, if you think Christ is:
- only human – you fall into the heresy of Ebionism
- only divine – you fall into the heresy of Docetism (or the Gnostics)
- of a different essence to God the Father – you fall into Adoptionism (or Arianism)
- of a lesser essence to God the Father – you fall into Modalism
- comprised of a separate human nature and a separate divine nature – you fall into Nestorianism
- comprised of a brand new nature composed of the melding of his humanity and divinity – you fall into Eutychianism
- comprised of a human nature that has been replaced with a divine mind – you fall into Apollinarianism
You see! Heresies are really easy to fall into when you haven’t taken the time to know and understand what you believe. Personally, I thank God for all of the Church leaders who came before us and took the time to deal with the heresies and random beliefs of their day so that we can fully know the truth from Scripture and know where we should draw the lines in our understanding of who Christ is.
So I hope this post has you got you thinking today about who you understand Christ to be and whether or not that understanding is truly Biblical or not. My prayer is that if you find that you have slid off one of these slopes, that you repent and come to a full understanding of who Christ is. And I also pray that you are more diligent to study and make sure that you are fully rooted and grounded in the Christian faith. Take a cue from Jude 1:3-4. We have a faith that was “once for all delivered” to us. It’s a historical faith that we must take time to learn.
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.