A failure to unify around sound doctrine has devastating consequences. North Africa church’s rejection of the Definition of Chalcedon sowed the seeds for the beginning of the Coptic church and the eventual loss of region to Islam. The beheading of Coptic Christians by Islamic forces can be traced to horrible decisions made over 1,500 years ago.
On May 23, 451 a council began to meet in Chalcedon. They would eventually issue the Definition of Chalcedon in November of that same year. The Definition of Chalcedon clarified the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ’s divinity and humanity.
For the most part, there was widespread acceptance of the conclusions of Chalcedon. Christians accept the Chalcedonian Definition to this day. However, in Africa, there was not acceptance. In his wonderful book,Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark Noll writes:
In Egypt . . . determined opposition arose to the [definition of Chalcedon]. An Egyptian bishop, Proterius, said at Chalcedon that if he signed the statement he would be signing his death warrant. Six years later he was indeed killed by a mob because of that very act. So strong was Alexandrian, Word-flesh Christology in Egypt that, in opposition to almost the rest of the church, the Nestotorian “Monophysite” position (that Jesus only had one [Greek monos] nature [physis] became official dogma in the Egyptian church. (To this day the Coptic Church o Egypt retains a Monophysite Christology.) Rancorous intramural theological quarreling that continued with great intensity after Chalcedon in North Africa constituted one of the factors that weakened Christianity in that region and so prepared the way for the triumph of Islam, sweeping out of Arabia in the mid-seventh century.
In February of 2015, we learned that the Islamic State beheaded 21 Coptic Christians.