It was 500 years ago this week that the monk, Martin Luther, nailed his ninety-five theses on the door of the Wittenburg church. It’s been said Luther didn’t intend to start a revolution but merely to express and discuss his views in the way that was typical at the time. Whatever his intentions, he fuelled a larger movement we now call the reformation; it disturbed the very core of the culture at the time, with ramifications no one could have imagined.
One of the fundamentals of the reformation was solus Christus – the notion that right relationship with God is made available through Christ alone. We sing the the song on Sundays – one that I love – that expresses solus Christus well. You know the one:
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
No amount of church attendance, or bowing and scraping, or volunteerism or good will or sacrifice, can substitute for the work Christ did in forgiving and paying the price for sin.
Particularly Luther wrote against the practice of the sale of indulgences, a money-making technique in which people were encouraged fork over hard cash in exchange for a break from purgatory; but in general he became convinced that faith in Christ alone, by grace alone, could bring people to God. It turns out he was right.
I am currently involved in an Alpha course with a group of people who are exploring and thinking about the claims of Jesus. One of those claims, in John 14.6, is this: I am the way, the the truth and the life; no one comes to Father except through me. Jesus was blunt and unapologetic: He alone is the mediator through whom we enter into relationship with God the Father. He didn’t pretty it up or attempt to make it more palatable to his hearers (some of whom were horrified at his exclusive claim); he just came out and said it. And He said it more than once.
Some modern-day hearers of the words of Jesus are equally shocked. How could Jesus possibly have claimed to be the sole pathway to God? How very narrow and exclusive! That message was unpalatable in the ancient near east in the first century (where there were many gods, and many religious practices in use) and it’s pretty hard to swallow today. Although my experience is that a lot of folks have heard of Jesus and would give him the thumbs-up as one who spoke truth to power or as a radical who upset the prevailing system of the day or all-around zen-like purveyor of peace and love, most are unaware of his outrageous-yet-true claim to be the only pathway to God. Frankly, it puts a lot of people off; He probably should’ve hired at PR company to soften the impact of this incredible claim.
How can we lovingly represent and demonstrate that Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, reformer of oppressive religious systems and all-around good guy, also lays claim to us and asks us to follow Him whatever the cost?
I wonder about this and wonder if others do too.