What does it mean when we say we are saved by Christ alone? This article also looks at Jesus Christ as the head of the church.

Source: The Outlook, 1991. 3 pages.

Christ Alone

The Reformational doctrine of the mediatorial office of Christ and that of His sole headship of the church have also been expressed in Latin terms which are not quite as common as those previously considered in these articles. The former is indicated by the phrase "a Christo solo," or "by Christ alone," or "through Christ alone," and the latter by the words "Christus solus," in the nominative case, indicat­ing Christ alone as "the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls." Both of these matters are of great importance.

Christ the Mediator🔗

The Roman Church in the Middle Ages had not one Mediator between God and man but many, and Christ Himself was hardly thought of in this capacity. Traditional ecclesiastical art portrayed Him "on the throne of His glory," stern of mien, and ready to judge the quick and the dead. His righteousness was defined as that at­tribute of perfect justice according to which He condemns sin and sinners and sends the latter into everlasting punishment, and since "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," there was little chance of any escaping except they had the help and assistance of other "mediators" who would intercede for them.

The first and best of these other "mediators" was of course, the mother of our Lord, the blessed Virgin Mary, who had influence with Him as none others might. Prayers and devotions centering on Mary, therefore, became one of the sinner's foremost hopes.

The saints, or those believers of old whose good deeds were so numerous as to build up for others a "treasury of grace" were also helpful, and the humble sinner might invoke any num­ber of these ancient worthies in behalf of his or her cause.

Other "good works" in the form of special seasons of prayer, pilgrimages to well-known shrines, and self-afflic­tion were also recommended by the priests.

And of course, the priests them­selves were mediators, having been sacramentally ordained for this very thing. Day by day they offered up mas­ses for the living and the dead, and in the mass Christ's true body was thought to be sacrificed anew in an un-­bloody fashion in order to appease the wrath of God, administered by the jus­tice of His Son, against the sinners of our mortal race.

This whole system of mediation was firmly put aside by our Reformers and with one voice. They found in the Holy Scriptures but "one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus," and they insisted that His work for sin­ners on the cross was a finished work, and that His righteousness was such that sinners, being justified by faith, now had peace with God through Jesus Christ the Lord. They were led therefore, to certain conclusions.

Reformation Testimony🔗

All of the Reformers reaffirmed the Catholic Faith concerning the person of Christ. They acknowledged the work in this respect of the first six Ecumenical Councils and with these, they rejected all the ancient heresies regarding the Trinity or what is com­monly called today the "Chalcedonian Christology," or the doctrine of His two natures in one person which had come to classic expression in the Council of Chalcedon. When the Socinian arose resurrecting the doctrines of Arius, the Reformers united against them, and they likewise opposed the Anabaptists who were also displaying some deviations from the received truth concerning Jesus Christ. They believed and taught, as we must still believe and teach, that only the God-man can be the Mediator who saves us from our sins.

The Reformers also abolished the mass in their cities and countries, call­ing it "nothing but an accursed idolatry," and their reason for this was not prejudice or hatred, but the realization that the doctrine of sacrifice which the mass incorporated took away from the unique position of Christ the Mediator. The abolition of the mass led at once of course, to a modification of the public services of worship, and on this matter a division appeared between the Lutherans and the Reformed. The former believed that the order and ceremonies of the mass might be retained so long as the doctrine of sacrifice was removed, and a purified mass became the standard of Lutheran worship and so remains until today. The Reformed insisted that no ceremonies or rituals be al­lowed in public worship which are not commanded in the Word of God itself, and this resulted in the simple preach­ing services which, until modern times, have been the general Protestant standard.

Along with the mass, the Reformers also set aside the special "priesthood" of the ministers of the sanctuary, and affirmed instead the sole high-priestly office of Christ, and the general priest­hood of all believers according to the Word of God.

They also did away with the cult of Mary and the saints. Mary of course, remained in their eyes "blessed among women" because she was chosen to be­come the virgin Mother of our Lord, and some of the saints were still spoken of as worthy of emulation, but not worship. The Reformers, unlike ourselves, had a detailed knowledge of church history and were thoroughly familiar with the writings of such an­cients as Augustine and Chrysostom and quoted them freely.

In brief, the leaders of our Reforma­tion all took seriously the words of our Lord Himself in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh to the Father except by Me." Our salvation has been mediated by Christ alone, "a Christo solo."

Christ the Head of the Church🔗

Not only is Christ the only Mediator between God and man, but He is also the only Head of the Church. Luther did not come to see this at once. He thought that the Pope, who called him­self the head of the church, might simply have been misled by tradition, and that, as the truth of the Holy Scriptures was once again unfolded, he might come to the knowledge of the truth and command that it should be everywhere taught. When the pope ex­communicated him instead, Luther thought for a short time that the bishops, as fathers in God, might step in to correct him, and indeed some of the bishops embraced the Reformation (giving the Lutheran Church in Sweden, for example, like the Church of England, "apostolic succession" in their episcopates, for whatever that may be worth), but the great majority opposed. Luther was soon led, there­fore, to another conclusion which was supported by all the Reformers without exception, that Christ alone was the Head of the Church and that He continued to rule the church by His Word and by His Spirit, and that all things in the church must be managed therefore by His direction.

Some of the Reformational churches seemed to compromise this doctrine by allowing civil rulers "jurem in sacris," or authority over some aspects of church life, and this continued to haunt them until modern times. The Reformed churches generally opposed this idea, although sometimes with less than complete success, and insisted on Christ alone as the Head of the Church, or "Christus solus."


The consequences of the doctrine of Christ the Head of the Church are far-reaching and significant to the present day. It allows for human government in the church, but that human govern­ment can only make declarative judg­ments, that is, stating what the will of God revealed in Holy Scripture on a particular matter may appear to be, and then only after prayer and the thorough study of the relevant pas­sages. The great Synod of Dort was ex­emplary in this respect allowing no papers or books to be brought to the meetings of the Synod except only the Bible.

The human government of the church, moreover, must conform to the divinely given pattern. No church or synod of churches can ever alter that pattern. The argument about women in office, for example, cannot by this principle be settled by the will of the majority or by the temper of the times or by the supposed advantage to the church that such an arrangement might provide. The prohibition of God's Word is absolute; and Christ the living Word is our "Pope," the alone authority in matters of this sort. Neither may synods lord it over the churches, but follow the word of Christ rather than the example of the Gentiles.

Many churches today are run on "business principles." Numerical and financial growth are the standards of excellence. Efficiency and success are the hallmarks of "successful" minis­ters. The Head of the Church, however, gives no encouragement to such things, but exemplifies and teaches a spiritual policy at all times.

The modern church seems to have overlooked both the "by Christ alone," and "Christ alone the Head of His Church" to its own great disadvantage and to the spiritual impoverishment of its life and witness. If Christ is not at the heart of the message we preach, we have another gospel. If Christ is not the Master and Lord of the church, we have no genuine congregation of the faithful. May God awaken us to these truths before it is too late!

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