[We remember our Reformation heritage with this fourth instalment of an article entitled the “Five Solas”. Salvation is in “Christ Alone.]
By Dr. Keith Mathison, Reformation Bible College
When we discuss the Reformation slogan solus Christus, it is important to understand the precise point of dispute. The Reformers did not reject the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine of the person of Christ. Nicene Trinitarianism and Chalcedonian Christology were not the issue, and the theologians of the Reformed churches readily used the biblical and theological arguments of patristic and medieval theologians to defend traditional Trinitarianism and Christology.
The problem, then, was not the person of Christ. The problem was the work of Christ. The debate centered on the sacramental system that Rome had constructed, a system in which the grace of Christ was mediated to the people through an elaborate system of priests and sacramental works. Through this sacramental system, the Roman church effectively controlled the Christian’s life from birth (baptism) to death (extreme unction) and even beyond (masses for the dead).
Martin Luther and other Reformers realized that this elaborate system of works obscured the person and work of Christ as it was so clearly taught in Scripture. Luther argued that the papacy, through this sacramental system, had usurped the prerogatives of Christ, making itself the dispenser of God’s grace. Christ alone, and not the church, is our only Mediator (Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 181). As Huldrych Zwingli proclaimed, “Christ is the only way of salvation of all who were, are now, or shall be.” In Article 54 of his Sixty-Seven Articles (1523), Zwingli explicitly contrasts the Roman sacramentalist view with solus Christus: “Christ has borne all our pain and travail. Hence, whoever attributes to works of penance what is Christ’s alone, errs and blasphemes God.” The Westminster Confession of Faith affirms that Christ alone is the object of our faith: “the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace” (XIV.2).
The Reformers and their heirs were intent on proclaiming Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). They recognized that because Christ is the only way of salvation for man, He is central to the message of the Bible (Acts 4:12). Their books were Christ-centered. Their sermons were Christ-centered. Their worship was Christ-centered. All of this was in stark contrast to the man-centered religion of late medieval Roman Catholicism. If we are to see a new Reformation in our day, we too must believe and confess the biblical doctrine of solus Christus.