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The Immanent or the Incarnate?

By Mark R. Rushdoony
December 01, 2003

When I tell people that the name of our foundation is Chalcedon , many ask what that name means. The short form of my usual response is usually, "Chalcedon is the name of the early church council that defined Jesus Christ as being truly God and truly man." I get a lot of responses to that description. The most interesting are from Christians who respond with "Oh" and an approving nod. Suspicious as many churchmen are of creeds, many seem relieved that, perhaps, they can live with a creed that defines Jesus as truly God and truly man. How we live in the West today has, in fact, been dictated by the definition of Chalcedon .

Pagan Thought 

The ancient world believed in a unity of being , that the natural and divine, man and the gods, were only different by degrees. In what has also been called "the great chain of being," the reach of man was unlimited. Many of the gods of the ancient world, such as those of Greek mythology, were men who became gods. Man and nature, the immanent, were potentially the equal of any god in the ancient world, and salvation was achieved through deification by some means. This claim of common nature with the divine did not, however, elevate the individual. Rather, it elevated the state as the ruler of man, which assumed a divine role. As the ruler and benefactor of the masses the state claimed a preeminent position to divine aspiration, becoming both the political and religious center of man. Freedom apart from the state was impossible, because any opposition to the state was both treason and heresy. This was the universal pattern of ancient social order.

The Bible, however, presents not a unity of being but a difference by nature between God the Creator and man the creation. Satan's temptation, in fact, was that man had the right "to be as gods" (Gen. 3:5). Man's rebellion in terms of this satanic quest added a moral gulf between the already clear Creator-creation distinction. The distinction in nature and moral standing is very clear in the Old Testament law and requirements of worship. The Hebrews were clearly instructed to acknowledge the difference in nature, not degree, between themselves and God. Jesus Christ, as God in human flesh and the only Mediator between heaven and earth, stands as the reminder of the clear distinction in the Hebraic-Christian tradition. Because of this, modern man stumbles. Men who still desire "to be as god" will tolerate a "teacher Jesus" or an "historical Jesus"; they are offended by His claims to be the only means of access to the Father.

The nature of Christ's incarnation dictates His role as Mediator and as the means by which we are saved. One of the first controversies after the close of the New Testament canon concerned the nature of Christ, because the gospel flew in the face of all pagan thinking. If Jesus Christ was not fully God, or if He was a man who somehow rose to divinity, salvation cannot be in His power. If Jesus Christ became God, then others may do so as well. Christ's role in the Trinity is at best a subordinate one. Jesus might then be an example of salvation by divination, but He would then not be its means. Without anything transcendent, that means would necessarily be sought in nature and natural man. It would be salvation by means of the immanent.

The search for the "historical Jesus" is a search for an immanent, or human, Jesus so that we might see Him as no more than a remarkable man. Remarkable men, remember, can be imitated and even superceded in relevance. Modernism is also a denial of the supernatural Jesus for the human, and humanistic, Messiah. The subordination of Jesus Christ to less than truly God means that He cannot have all power and authority committed to Him, that He cannot be the coming judge of the quick and the dead. That right then devolves to the immanent, to man.

Contrary to the state-god of ancient times, some have tried to claim ultimate power in the immanent individual. This is the false claim of both pure democracy and the anarchist. The individual, however, can never exist in isolation. Man was made to be a covenantal being, to exist in relationship to others in a community. Covenant and community either are subordinate to a higher authority, or they inevitably delegate that authority to themselves. Authoritarian statism results. This is why non-Christian representative governments in the West have tended to increase their claims and limit liberty.

While many in the apostolic era sought to limit Christ's deity, some in the church sought to limit His humanity, ostensibly so as to keep the divine pure. But if Jesus Christ was not fully man, His role as Savior was impossible. Christ came to be the last Adam, to be slain as the Lamb of God. Instead of exalting Christ, denying His incarnation as a true man actually denies His saving work. This limits Christ's realm and that of the church to the spiritual. The result is mystical faith, not one focused on Christ's role as King of kings and Lord of lords.

The Definition of Chalcedon 

The Council of Chalcedon met in A.D. 451 to resolve this problem concerning the nature of Christ. Its definition or formula summarized the Biblical doctrine of the incarnation. It declared that Jesus Christ was:

[A]t 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 as regards his manhood; like us in all respects apart from sin.

Moreover, the definition declared Christ was to be understood:

[I]n 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 as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.

As a theological statement, the definition of Chalcedon was simple enough. Its theology, however, had long-range implications in philosophy and politics. Chalcedon was a great blow to the political and philosophical order of the ancient world. Chalcedon , based as it was on the Biblical doctrine of Christ as the sole Mediator between God and man, made Western culture distinct by making liberty possible. Chalcedon made Christendom possible by recognizing the uniqueness of Christ's incarnation. Given the position of Christ as defined by Chalcedon , all other authority had to be limited and ministerial.

What Chalcedon Meant

Chalcedon announced that believing the ancient idea of the unity of being was inconsistent with the Christian faith. Chalcedon said that only Jesus Christ mediates between heaven and earth, that salvation is only found in His accomplishments. Chalcedon claimed that Christ's incarnation was unique, that no person or state could claim unity with the divine. Man and his institutions were strictly temporal.

Without an orthodox view of the incarnation such as Chalcedon established, Christ's incarnation could have opened up the door to rampant humanism. Belief in man's union with the divine, sanctification as deification, and the Lord's Supper as a stepping-stone in this process have, in fact, existed in the church. Such ideas, however, have been clearly outside the parameters of orthodoxy since the definition of Chalcedon in A.D. 451.

Chalcedon 's Orthodoxy Today

Today, in the post-Christian West, statism has again reared its ugly head. The right of the church to exist has been challenged since the Enlightenment, and tax codes and zoning are slowly defining its rights as privilege. Man is immanent, as is his political order. When men reject the supremacy of the incarnate Jesus Christ our Lord, they will, by default, justify the supremacy of man's order.

In order to return to limited government, a higher order must be recognized. In order to deny sovereignty to man the sovereignty of Jesus Christ must be recognized. In order to return to jurisdictional, ministerial roles for the state, its authority must be seen as derivative. Only the doctrine of Jesus Christ as the incarnate God can do this. Christ's claims are not based solely on His divinity, but are based on the fact that He is the incarnate Deity who restores us to the Father, giving the totality of our lives meaning, purpose, law, and hope. Unless Christ's unique right to this role is recognized, man will in some way assume it, as in the ancient world and all non-Christian regimes of history.

Man will never find self-realization. Fulfillment only comes through his restoration to God, which is an act of grace received by faith in Jesus Christ. Christendom gave the world liberty for the first time because it operated on a recognition of the centrality of Jesus Christ. Liberty did not come about for its pragmatic benefits ("so we could preach the gospel") or for man-centered reasons ("man has been freed by Jesus Christ so he has a right to liberty") but for truly Christ-centered reasons. Liberty came about because the church was faithful to the Scriptures, and because after the definition of Chalcedon it declared that Jesus Christ alone is the Mediator between God and man. Consequently, no man or human institution has a right to claim prerogatives that belong to Him alone. Power in Jesus Christ means man's power is limited. Authority in Jesus Christ means all human authority is limited and derivative. Christian liberty is in the context of Christ's rule, not rights inherent in man; His primacy necessarily denies it to man or his institutions.

Christians may debate the sequence or timing of the end times, but the central image of the Revelation of St. John is Christ, the Lamb of God, reigning from the throne of heaven. This is why the epistles so frequently refer to His coming, so that we can think in terms of its centrality. The center of history was incarnate in human flesh and shall come again in like manner. Man finds his hope not in the immanence of the world but in the incarnation of its God.

Thus, our foundation's name is Chalcedon . Far from being a historical curiosity or a long-forgotten church document, Chalcedon was a watershed for the church because it clarified the message of the gospel by boldly proclaiming the uniqueness of its Messiah, the incarnate God, Jesus Christ.


Topics: Apologetics, Reformed Thought, Theology

Mark R. Rushdoony

Mark R. Rushdoony graduated from Los Angeles Baptist College (now The Master’s College) with a B.A. in history in 1975 and was ordained to the ministry in 1995.

He taught junior and senior high classes in history, Bible, civics and economics at a Christian school in Virginia for three years before joining the staff of Chalcedon in 1978. He was the Director of Chalcedon Christian School for 14 years while teaching full time. He also helped tutor all of his children through high school.

In 1998 he became the President of Chalcedon and Ross House Books, and, more recently another publishing arm, Storehouse Press. Chalcedon and its subsidiaries publish many titles plus CDs, mp3s, and an extensive online archive at www.chalcedon.edu

He has written scores of articles for Chalcedon’s publications, both the Chalcedon Report and Faith for all of Life. He was a contributing author to The Great Christian Revolution (1991). He has spoken at numerous conferences and churches in the U.S. and abroad.

Mark Rushdoony lives in Vallecito, California, his home of 40 years with his wife of 42 years and his youngest son. He has three married children and nine grandchildren.

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