What Does Solus Christus Mean?

What Does Solus Christus Mean?

Written by D. Blair Smith |
Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Solus Christus was needed in the sixteenth century and is needed in the twenty-first century in order to press upon us the fact that our relationship with God can be mediated by none other than Christ alone.

Whatever age we live in, whether the age of the Reformers or the present age, we are tempted to pollute the beauty of Christ through our idols. John Calvin said it’s in our very nature: “Man’s nature…is a perpetual factory of idols…Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity.”

The doctrine of solus Christus was highlighted during the Reformation as the Reformers identified the problem of a church that was casting shade on Christ; of a church that was arrogating to itself prerogatives that belong to Christ alone. This problem impressed upon the Reformers the need to purge anything that would throw shade upon the absolute brilliance of Christ’s supremacy in our salvation. The Reformers clearly identified this problem and brought a biblical and theological solution that provides application for our own day.

The Problem of a Strong Church

In the early sixteenth century, the church was at the center of people’s lives in Western Europe. Over the previous centuries, the Roman Catholic Church had devolved from the “Company of the Saved” to the “Salvation Company.”

What is meant by “Salvation Company”? Luther recognized that in his day people had become enslaved to the sacramental system of the Roman Catholic Church, and instead of looking to Christ for their standing before God they looked to the Church. It was thought that because of Christ, Mary, and the saints there was a storehouse of grace in the Catholic Church. Priests were its sole dispensers and the faithful had to come to them.

In 1520, Luther wrote The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, where he attacked the sacramental system of the church. That system, Luther said, represented a captivity that had become its own Babylon, holding captive the people of God from cradle to grave: In the church one was baptized as an infant, confirmed as a youth, married as a mature person, and received extreme unction on one’s deathbed. Each of these sacraments, along with ordination, were seen as conveying grace when administered by a priest. The grace conferred was supplemented throughout one’s life by two further sacraments: regular confession of sin to a priest and the reception of the Eucharist through a priestly Mass.

From cradle to the grave, the Christian was dependent upon the Catholic Church, tethered to the sacraments in order to receive the grace by which one can be saved.

Luther looked to Scripture and saw only two sacraments. The effect of his teaching was to shift focus from the Catholic Church and its clergy to Christ alone—salvation not from a company with priests turning on the taps of grace, as it were, but salvation in a singular person: Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Stripped of this ornate sacramentology, one might ask where one went for grace? If the Catholic Church had it very wrong, what were believers to do? Where would Reformers such as Luther point them?

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