Sola What?: Solus Christus

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This post was edited July 21, 2014, Edits appear in red italics.

Gentle Reader,

We continue in our journey through the hallmark doctrines of Protestantism, focusing today on the position and role of Jesus Messiah.

Solus Christus: Christ alone (sometimes rendered Solo Christo)

In our earlier discussion on Soli Deo Gloria, we looked at the necessity of honoring God. Living in such a way that brings Him glory is a mark of the true believer. Knowing the love and grace of God moves the Christian to obedience. We should seek to submit to His will in all things. He is the Lord, the Master, of every aspect of our lives.

It is my opinion that turning our eyes to gaze steadily on the beautiful countenance of God leads us to grapple with the Incarnation; whoever has seen Him (whether by common or spiritual vision) has seen the Father (Jn. 14:8-9). Jesus is God revealed. If we wish to know the Lord, we need only look to Him.

How, then, does the Messiah, the God-Man, tell us that we are saved?

Jesus said to Him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” – John 14:6 (NKJV)

Jesus intimately connects His own Person to the process of salvation. In the Gospel of John alone, He refers to Himself as the water (Jn. 4:10-14), the bread (Jn. 6:35), the light (Jn. 8:12), the gate (Jn. 10:7-9) and the shepherd (Jn. 10:11-18). These are just a few examples of how integral Jesus is in mediating between God and humankind. Water is essential for survival. Bread quiets hunger pangs. Light dispels the darkness. Gates let in those allowed and keep out those not. The shepherd knows His sheep – and He sheep know Him, following no other.

Protestants and Catholics agree on this, but there is sharp divergence on whether or not the redemptive work of Christ is enough to bring about salvation for each of us. Here we arrive at the role and meaning of the sacraments, meritorious works and the role of Mary and the saints (who, to my understanding, form a sort of repository or treasury of faith and works the Christian today can access and benefit from). Let us consider each separately.

The word “sacrament” is defined as a sacred act or ceremony. Most Protestant denominations engage in only two sacraments, Baptism and Communion/Eucharist, neither of which are understood to confer grace in and of themselves. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, by contrast, defines the sacraments as:

efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions. (1131)

In other words, to a Protestant, grace already exists in the life of the Christian by virtue of His belief and the sacraments are the outward signs or rites of that inward reality. The Catholic Church teaches that the sacraments (of which there are seven – Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony) are avenues (instituted by Christ) through which grace is deposited into the Christian.

The contrasting ideas of the sacraments flow directly into the role and place of meritorious works in the believer’s life, a bone of deep contention between the two sides. The role of works is inextricably linked to the doctrine of justification (right standing before God); is the righteousness of Christ imputed (assigning a value, possessed by one, to another), imparted (bestowing a quality) or infused (fill and instill) into the life of the Christian?

In Romans 3:21-4:25, Paul goes into great detail about the imputed aspect of justification. Christ’s righteousness, His life of perfect and complete sinless obedience, is “charged” to or against the sinful account of the one who cries out in sincere repentance. Thus, while the sinful nature is not immediately eradicated, God may still look upon the Christian as if she is complete and pure.

Imparted righteousness may be more closely identified with sanctification (the process by which God, with the submission of the believer, works to remake her). The more we come to know and love God, the more we want to be like Him and do what He wants us to do. Sin becomes abhorrent as we submit to God and He heals our blindness, our deafness and melts our hearts of stone.

Infused righteousness must be maintained by meritorious works. We cannot be filled with the Spirit, or, really, filled with salvation if we are not doing what God wants us to do. Here we see that there is less distinction in Catholicism between justification and sanctification than in Protestant theology, which sees justification as a “moment” and sanctification as “life.” Catholicism, to my understanding, lumps the two together. We are both justified and sanctified over the course of our years. And yet it goes further; the emphasis on this infusing means that works become inextricably linked to maintaining one’s position in Christ. Instead of righteousness coming by faith and works being an expression of that faith, righteousness comes by what one does. There is a heightened sense in which man plays a role in his own salvation, a sense not found in even the most ardently Arminian Protestant theology.

It would be easy to spend the rest of our time in the discussion of works, but I would like to conclude this section by saying that I see ample evidence in Scripture and experience for justification as imputed (seen in the Romans passage above), imparted (2 Pt. 1:4, 1 Jn. 3:9) and infused (Jn. 14:15). God declares us righteous, remakes our natures and then expects us to live accordingly. But it is important to note that we are immediately made right before God the moment that we confess Christ and that our works, while showing evidence of imparted righteousness, are not what makes us pure before God. It is only the death and resurrection of Christ, and our faith in Him, that accomplishes such a thing.

Now it seems that we come back to Mary, and, frankly, that annoys me. I do not want to consider Mary, for she was only a human being. And yet it is impossible to escape the place of importance she occupies in Catholic theology. Mary is given the title “Co-Redemptrix” for her free cooperation with God in the plan of redemption, something that seems plainly offensive to me. Without her obedience, the Incarnation would not have happened, and so I am thankful that she chose to submit to God. Yet I cannot make the leap that Catholic thinking requires in asserting that, because of her obedience, Mary is thus a mediator, though of lesser value, between God and man. This blatantly flies in the face of everything Scripture teaches. For confirmation, we need only to consider the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Finally, the faith and works of the saints are available for additional “goodness” in the life of the Christian. While I am thankful for and inspired by the lives of Christians who have gone before me, neither their sins or their righteousness have anything to do with me. I am judged solely on whether or not I am in Christ, not on whether or not I “dipped” into some pool of obedience.

I do not believe that it is a stretch to say that Catholicism teaches that the death and resurrection of Christ is not enough to secure salvation for each person. We must have faith, but we must also work. And the work, when it becomes a means to salvation rather than an outflow of it, cheapens the faith.

Salvation is by Christ alone. He was the perfect sacrifice (again, read all of Hebrews). He did all the work. Our only role in the process is to respond to His offer. It is to take the complete and perfect package. We don’t do good things in the hope that they will save us. We don’t “start” with Jesus and then “add” to Him by doing good things. We don’t need to “add” to Jesus at all. We do good things because we are already saved. We do good things out of love and adoration.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the Sola What? series, go here.

 

Sola What?: Soli Deo Gloria

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This post was edited July 16, 2014. Edits appear in red italics.

Gentle Reader,

Of the Five Solae (Five Alones) that are said to sum up the basic doctrine of the Reformers, Soli Deo Gloria is not generally listed first. In determining where to begin examining these ideas, however, I thought it best that we look to the source of all theology: God.

Soli Deo Gloria – to the glory of God alone; for God’s glory alone

“Glory” can be a difficult concept to nail down. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word kabod, derived from kabed (to be heavy), “lends itself to the idea that the one possessing glory is laden with riches (Gen. 31:1), power (Isa. 8:7), position (Gen. 45:13), etc.” (1) This certainly describes the Lord, and yet leaves out the important aspect of His “inherent majesty.” (2) God is majesty itself, unmatched in splendor, by virtue of His being. He need not do anything to achieve this glory. This idea is carried over into the New Testament, the Greek word doxa denoting “His majesty [and] perfection.” (3)

There is another sense in which “glory” may be used:

The intrinsic worth of God, His ineffable majesty, constitutes the basis of warnings not to glory in riches, wisdom or might (Jer. 9:23) but in the God who has given all these and is greater than His gifts. (4)

Here we move from description to action. When we are instructed to “glory in God,” we are being told to take great delight in Him. To find Him as the source of all our pride and pleasure. Material possessions are not our security, nor is wealth or notoriety. Our satisfaction, identity and sense of safety is to come in knowing He who is glorious.

In essence, then, every aspect of a Christian’s life is to be lived in recognition and reflection of the glory of God. We worship and honor Him because we love Him and understand our place before Him. We know who He is and know that this is what He is due.

Up to this point, orthodox Christians on both sides of the Reformation aisle agree.

The argument exists in the divide between Protestant doctrine, which does not distinguish between different sorts of glory or honor, and Catholic doctrine, which does. Catholics use three levels or degrees (for lack of better terminology) when describing the verb sort of glory. There is latria, the supreme worship reserved for God alone; dulia, the reverence (deep respect for someone or something) accorded to saints and angels; and hyperdulia, higher than dulia but less than latria, properly reserved for the Virgin Mary. These distinctions appear to be based in passages such as Exodus 20:12, where God commands children to honor their parents. Catholic authors point out that the word for “honor” here is the same one used to describe God’s glory, and thus, to their thinking, renders Soli Deo Gloria false.

I do not have time to get into each of the Marian dogmas; that will have to be reserved for another post. But let me say here that I’m thankful that Mary submitted to God. I’m thankful that she chose to cooperate with God’s plan to save humanity and set the cosmos to rights. And I certainly respect all faithful Christians who have gone before me, who can rightly all be called saints, just as we who live today can be called saints (1 Cor. 1:12). I appreciate the example of their obedience.

Here is the key question in all of this: What is the relationship between honor, glory and worship?

Yes, we are told to honor our parents. Yes, we should be thankful for and inspired by the obedience of Mary and other Christians. But the respect I owe to my parents by virtue of their position is nowhere near the same thing as the respect I owe to God by virtue of His. The language may use the same words, but the concepts are totally different. As an adult daughter, I respect my parents by seeking out their wisdom, speaking with love, doing as they ask when I am in their home (admittedly not always without a grumble) and, as they age, taking care of them. Yet I can (and do) disagree with them. Our views and habits diverge in many ways. Despite these differences, we are able to maintain relationship.

By contrast, when I disagree with God, it’s called sin and it has enormous repercussions. Certainly there is room for asking God questions, for seeking clarification of His will on this or that matter. And, to the everlasting praise of His name!, He does forgive us when we sin if we confess and ask. But, ultimately, I as a Christian will do what God wants me to do – and I’ll do it His way. Period. No exchanges or refunds.

There is a huge difference between the two cases.

Further, the fact that we are commanded to worship God (Deut. 6:13) indicates an intimate relationship between giving Him glory and worshiping Him. In fact, we might say that the two are synonymous. We thus tread very dangerous ground with the categories of latria, dulia and hyperdulia. There is no human being, no matter her outstanding qualities, who deserves greater respect than another. There are not various pedestals on which to place the people in our lives, past or present, some lower, some higher.

In short, the more we focus on another person, the more we hone in our attention upon him, the more likely we are to begin worshiping. The teaching of the Catholic Church on the “degrees” of glory paves the way to this idolatry. 

There is one pedestal, and only One who can rightly be upon it.

Nowhere in Scripture are we told that certain people are to occupy a space somewhere between ourselves and God. There are people and there is God. People below and God above. That’s it. We are to worship God alone, an idea outlined nicely here:

We worship God because he is God. Period. Our extravagant love and extreme submission to the Holy One flows out of the reality that God loved us first. It is highly appropriate to thank God for all the things he has done for us. However, true worship is shallow if it is solely an acknowledgement of God’s wealth. Psalm 96:5-6 says, “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.” In other words, our worship must be toward the One who is worthy simply because of His identity as the Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent One, and not just because God is wealthy and able to meet our needs and answer our prayers. We must focus our practice of worship on the worthiness of God and not his wealthiness.

So we give glory to God alone.

The examples of Mary and the saints, past and present, should drive us to live lives that glorify God alone. These believers certainly offered respect where respect was due (to their parents, to civil authorities), but I see no evidence of anyone other than God being at the center of their existence. Consider the Magnificat, Mary’s worship song, recorded in Luke 1:46-55:

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has been mindful
of the humble state of His servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is His name.

His mercy extends to those who fear Him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as He promised our ancestors.” (NKJV)

Over and over again Mary glorifies the Lord. She rejoices in Him. She is thankful for His mindfulness. She will be called blessed because of what He will accomplish through her, because of what He has done for her. He is holy, merciful, mighty. He lifts up the humble, fills the hungry, helps His servants. This is entirely about God.

The Lord fashioned this world and everything in it (Gen. 1). He knew us before we were born (Ps. 139:13). He placed a longing for eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11). We were made to worship God alone (Ps. 29:1). We were made to live for His glory. Our lives only make sense when oriented around the Lord.

Best to let Him occupy the pedestal and keep every person on the same, earthly level we ourselves occupy.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the Sola What? series, go here.

 

References:

1 E. F. Harrison. “Glory,” in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. by Walter A. Elwell. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 484.

2 Ibid., 484.

3 Ibid., 484.

4 Ibid., 484.