Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Are Copts Christians?

What's Up with 
Evangelicals Embracing the Coptic Christian Martyrs?

Members of my family did, but I did not watch the video of the Jordanian pilot who was executed by ISIS. Nor have I watched the video of the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya. Maybe I should, but there are already enough things I don't want to pop up in my head that keep doing so. 

I am already plenty angry about the murders carried out by ISIS and would become more angry, if I brought my self to watch the video. I would like to see justice executed in this world upon the murderers. As much as I don't want anyone to go to hell, it is hard for me not to wish to see these Islamists burn there. No matter what the grievances, there is no justification for these brutal murders. 

It has proved interesting to me that evangelicals have pronounced the 21 to be martyrs who died for their faith. Southern Baptist Russell Moore tweeted:
When the Book of Revelation speaks of those beheaded by evildoers, it speaks of the martyrs not as victims but as "overcomers."

They overcame by the blood of the Lamb & the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

These are my brothers, faithful to Christ even unto death. King Jesus puts heads back on...
Writers for The Gospel Coalition have a similar perspective. Editor Matt Smethurst tweeted:
“The people of the cross.” 21 of them—21 of us—have been promoted to glory. May God give their families great grace.
At the TGC website there is a prayer by Scotty Smith that begins...
 Dear heavenly Father, images of our orange-clad Egyptian brothers, paraded along the seashore before their martyrdom, brought many emotions to play in my heart.
Thomas Schreiner's meditation also acknowledges the Christian faith of the 21:
Most of us have read the story of 21 Egyptian Christians kidnapped in Libya.  
Matt Carter provides us with important information with his helpful FAQ that included this information about Coptic Christians:
The word Copt is derived from the Greek word for Egyptian. After the Muslim conquest of Egypt, it became restricted to those Egyptians adhering to Christianity. Approximately 12 percent of the Egyptian population—roughly 12 million people—are Christians. Egypt’s Copts are considered the largest community of Christians in the Middle East. 
The majority of Copts belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. About 800,000 are divided between the Coptic Catholic and various Coptic Protestant churches. According to tradition, the Coptic church was established in Alexandria by St. Mark the Evangelist circa AD 49, during the reign of the Roman emperor Claudius.
Scott Redd, President of Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., who blogs at Sunergoi writes of the 21:
Martyrs bear witness. That’s what the word means. They bear witness to the kingdom of Jesus Christ (John 15:18-20). The kingdom not of this world but is so much grander, so much more extravagant, that men would give up all they have to bear witness, “Ya Rab Yasua,” “Oh Lord Jesus.”
I quote these men, not at all to be critical of them, for I am not, but to ask a question: Do these evangelicals believe the murdered Copts were Christians?

The Coptic  Christians are not Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant. They are Nicene, but not Chalcedonian, Christians. The BBC describes Coptic Christology:
The Coptic belief which defined the church at an early stage is called monophytism (technically it would be better called miaphytism, but most documents use the former word).

To put it simply this is the belief that Jesus Christ has only one nature; that his divine nature and his human nature are composite and totally united - the nature of the incarnated Word, as opposed to two natures united in one person.

This single nature was formed 'from the first moment of Holy Pregnancy in the Virgin's womb' (Shenouda III). The dispute over monophytism at the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) caused the Coptic Church to separate from other Churches. Other Churches also split, and became known as the 'Monophysite Churches' or 'Non-Chalcedonian Churches'. Nowadays these churches are usually called the 'Oriental Orthodox Churches'.
In modern times Christian Churches have come to a much closer understanding of the nature of Christ, and this dispute is no longer so divisive.
Pope Shenouda  III
To evangelicals the Coptic Church will look similar to Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christianity. There is a Pope. 
Authority is not grounded in the Bible alone:
The basic source of the one faith is the Holy Bible.
The other sources are the sayings of the saints, the authenticated creeds of the holy councils, and what was recorded in the Church books, especially the ritual books.
All these are in accord with the Holy Bible and are called as a whole 'Church Tradition'.
What does Coptic Christian worship look like?
The service is composed of four parts. The first is the preparation prayer, called in Arabic the early morning prayer. This lasts only 30 minutes...the alter boys go around with incenses while chanting in the Coptic language. 
The second part is for offering, at which point a prayer is said over the holy bread. This lasts for 20 to 30 minutes.
 The third part consists of the preaching mass. Here, the priests read sections of the Old and New Testament, as well giving a sermon...
The fourth part is the reconciliation prayer. This only lasts for 10 minutes when the priests give the people Christ's forgiveness and the people do so to each other.
 The fifth part is the Believer's mass and it lasts for the rest of the service. This is when the congregation has communion, and is supposed to be only attended by those who have been baptised and who have confessed. This strict rule is now more found in small villages in Upper Egypt, but in Cairo, one must only hear the Bible reading to be able to have communion, meaning that one cannot enter very late to the service.
During the service women and men don't mix, they sit separately on each side of the church. Also during communion, they go to different chambers on the sides of the altar where the women cover their hair in respect of the ceremony.
A Coptic Priests summary of the doctrine of salvation reveals that Coptic Christians do not believe in salvation by faith alone. The "prerequisites" of salvation are:
1. Faith. 
2. Saving Sacraments: a. Baptism. b. Confirmation. c. Repentance & Confession. d. Eucharist. 
3. Good Works
I am a catholic (Nicenian, Chalcedonian, Athanasian), Protestant (Evangelical), Anglican (Articles and Prayer Book) Christian. Specifically I have not been persuaded by those Protestant evangelicals who are recasting the doctrine of justification. I believe that if I "rest in peace and rise to glory" it will be because of a righteousness not at all my own but wholly Christ's and that Christ's righteousness is mine by faith - as taught in the 39 Articles and the Homily on Salvation. On this truth I assume that all those quoted above agree with me. At the same time I am inclined to call these Coptic Christians brothers and martyrs for the faith. On this matter I am surprised, if these fellow evangelicals agree with me. 

The reasons are:

1. Evangelicalism, as I have experienced it, does not believe that Roman Catholic Christians or Orthodox Christians are in truth Christians, except by "accident" if they have faith alone in Christ alone for salvation, despite the teaching of their churches. In other words, if one believes the teaching of those churches, one is not a Christian destined for glory. If I am wrong about this, I am happy to be corrected. But, if I am right, I wonder what is the explanation of evangelicals declaring the 21 Christian brothers.

2. Evangelical experimentalism goes further still. Evangelical experimentalists ask other evangelicals if they are "real" or "genuine" or "born again." It's one thing to understand the faith, even to profess it, while it's another thing to have "true" faith that saves. One must examine his heart and his "evidences." So, in light of this kind of experimentalism that one finds among both the Arminian and Calvinistic spiritual descendants of the Awakenings, I wonder how such exeperimental evangelicals can even consdier that Coptic Christians to be Christians. Among experimetalist evangelicals there are not only "few saved" but very few saved. 

This brings me back to a question I asked to my Blog Is Nicaea Enough?: the time the Creed was constructed, its statement defined what Christian belief was. It said what one must believe about Christ. Those who confessed this faith were Christians. This was what the universal church believed which set it apart from heresy and sects. Were those who believed this those whom this Christ saved? Was the church that believed this the true church? I understand that it will be said by some that the issues I describe as explications of the saving work of Christ were not being raised. But for that very reason people could not affirm them, could not reflect on them, could not take a position on them, could not affirm them on their death beds. So, for instance: Did confession of justification by faith alone become necessary for salvation only when the doctrine was clearly stated and taught? I understand also that we are saved not by the doctrines of salvation but by Christ. But, is the Christ of the Nicene Creed the Christ in whom we believe unto salvation? 
So I ask my fellow evangelicals: If these Coptic Christians believed and practiced Christianity as taught by the Coptic Church are they beheaded martyrs in heaven asking, "How long, O Lord?" as they await their final vindication?

1 comment:

Melanie said...

I've been saying this very thing for several months now. Under any other circumstances Evangelicals/Baptists/Reformed would not admit to the Copts, Catholics or Orthodox being genuine Christians. Why does the presence of suffering change their status? I would love to hear one of those religious pundits explain their logic. I for one consider the aforementioned groups genuine Christians.

I once had a conversation with a pastor concerning where I stood confessionally, and I told him that I affirmed the ecumenical creeds but could not hold to any other statements of faith without reserve. He didn't think that this was a viable option because it neglected the doctrine of "sola fide." I would assume that this is at the heart of the debate concerning whether or not Copts are "saved", but it shows a profound ignorance of Church history and doctrinal development. No one before Luther was placing such a sharp dichotomy between faith and works, and an attempt to tack this on as an addendum to the Nicene Creed is anachronistic. I agree with you Pastor Smith, Nicea has to be the definition of "Christian."