Amanda has done a wonderful job here of unpacking some issues regarding the use of Chalcedon in our churches today. The issues raised are appropriate, but I found myself wondering what this might mean for me, being someone who rejects Chalcedon.
I want to be clear about my position. My position isn’t clear. I do not reject Chalcedon because of some perceived heresy that I see within it. I don’t see a theological bogeyman that needs to be confronted or rejected. What I do see is an irrelevance.
Chalcedon is irrelevant because of the following: 1) It builds on earlier assumptions from the three earlier councils, which I also reject. Such outsourcing of theology is rejected by me. 2) The councils did not originate out of some sort of pastoral concern, but out of a felt need on the part of church leaders to control and streamline what is taught. Such hegemony is rejected by me. 3) The way in which the councils have been used as a measuring stick for orthodoxy has created “others” who weren’t “others” before the council. Such dualism is rejected by me. 4) The arguments and assumptions used to form Chalcedonian standards are rooted in a pre-modern, Greco-Roman worldview. While I affirm every culture’s right, nay, NEED, to enculturate the gospel, what I reject is the calcifying of the gospel as being necessarily understood through any particular cultural understanding. Which is exactly what Chalcedon has done.
Let us show our work. As noted by Amanda, the council of Chalcedon in 451 largely dealt with the debate between those who thought Christ’s divine nature overshadowed his human nature and those who thought the reverse. My assessment of this is: What difference does it make? Theologically and spiritually, it makes very little difference in the living out of the gospel and God’s mission. Why then the big fuss? Because politically, it made a large difference.
You see, it was inferred that the relationship between the church and the empire was typified by the relationship between Christ and God. Thus to emphasize one over the other would have implications for the politics of the day more than the day-to-day of the church. Ergo, I reject a notion that only serves only to divide the church and to legitimate a political position.
Further, the language of Christ’s two natures, while taken for granted by Chalcedon, is a Greco-Roman construct. Homoousios vs. Homoiousios is not Biblical language. It is simply one culture’s way of framing the earlier Hebraic faith. I oppose Chalcedon because it gives the appearance of divine approval to an outsourcing of theology to a 4th and 5th century Greco-Roman group of people who admitted no agenda, but clearly had one.While claiming to affirm a certain level of mystery, Chalcedon only does so after it has already said more than it should have.
Further, why does Christ have to be both Divine and Human? Or more to the point, if scripture only approaches this teaching narratively, why do we insist on understanding it mathematically? Economically? Through a Roman lens? Is it not enough to understand Jesus as being fully human, yet paradoxically doing and saying things only God could say and do? Why not let many theories abound?
Here’s a secret: most Christians today are not Chalcedonian compliant. Most Christians I know, apart from official doctrine, hold a modalistic view of the Trinity. Yet we still claim the old heresies as our own. Here’s a bombshell – I think Pelagius was way more right than Augustine. I have affinity for ebionite Christianity. I don’t particularly like Arianism, but I approve of all of those Barbarians as Christians, not heretics.
I may be the most heretical member of Political Jesus, but I am a committed Christian with an extremely high view of the scripture. But my view of such high authority does not pass on to a high view of the councils. My faith, as much as it is possible for me, tries to acknowledge the traditions of our faith history, but I do my best to understand my faith through the lens of my culture interpreting the words of the 1st century Hebraic faith of Jesus. Not understanding our faith through the lens of our culture, the lens of the enlightenment reformation, the lens of Latin theologians, the lens of Greco-Roman councilors, viewing a 1st century faith of Jesus. That looks like heresy to me.
But don’t worry, I have a generous view of heresy. It is what we all are, if we are honest.