Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Solas of the Reformation - Solo Christo

Christ Alone!
The Reformation was thoroughly Christ-centred. That is how we can tell it was a work of the Spirit,

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-16)
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The great Reformers were concerned to glorify Christ in both his Person and his work. John Calvin was unhappy with the older Trinitarian formulas that suggested that the Father was the fountain of deity, who communicated the divine essence to the Son by eternally begetting him. Calvin acknowledged that the Son receives his Sonship from the Father, for how could he be Son without the Father? But the reformer explicitly denied that the Son received his essence from the Father. The Son is autotheos - God in his own right.
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And hence we also hold that the Son, regarded as God, and without reference to person is also of himself; though we also say that, regarded as Son, he is of the Father. (Institutes Book I:XIII,25)
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Calvin's insight was an attempt to rid the Church of subordinationist views of the Son of God. As Son, Christ is homoousios with the Father. He is God of himself as the Father is God of himself. As Donald Macleod points out,
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If Christ is not God in his own right, if he is God only by derivation, then we are tampering with his very deity. (p. 201 Behold your God! Christan Focus 1995, see also B. B. Warfield Calvin's Doctrine of the Trinity p. 189ff in Calvin & Augustine P & R 1980)
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Reformed Theology confesses Jesus as "I AM" (John 8:28) and ascribes to him the highest possible glory. Jesus is both fully God and fully Man. Only as one who was homoousios with both God and humanity, could Christ reconcile fallen human beings to God.
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Roman Catholic emphasis on the saints, Mary and the officers of the Church tended to obscure Christ. The Lord’s Supper became a sacrificial Mass that re-offered Christ as atonement for sin. This undermined the finality and sufficiency of the cross.

The Reformers insisted that Christ alone is Saviour and that his work is sufficient to save us from our sins. This is the clear teaching of Scripture:

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
(1 Timothy 2:5 & 6)

For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needs not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. (Hebrews 7:26 & 27)

One sure-fire characteristic of Evangelicalism was that Christ died as our substitute, bearing the penalty of our sin. But Steve Chalke, card carrying member of the Evangelical Alliance, infamously said that this teaching is tantamount to,

child abuse – a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed.

In an online article, Redeeming the Cross – The Lost Message of Jesus and the Cross of Christ, Chalke claims that the penal-substitutionary model of the atonement is the product of Reformation teaching as set out by the 19th Century American Theologian Charles Hodge. Hodge is the real Theological bogey man for Chalke. He blames him for popularising the penal substitutionary view of the cross that he finds so objectionable. Chalke prefers the pre-reformation view that Christ was offered as a ransom to Satan.

You do not have to be a dyed in the wool Calvinist to accept that penal substitution is the hallmark of an evangelical understanding of the cross. An 18th Century critic denounced the teaching that “the sacrifice of Christ was destined to appease vindictive justice” as “frivolous and blasphemous notions.” John Wesley responded, “These ‘frivolous and blasphemous notions’ do I receive as the precious truth of God.”.

Partly as a result of this controversy, penal substitution is regarded by some evangelicals as simply one theory of the atonement, rather than the very essence of the biblical teaching of the cross. But, if death is the penalty for sin and Christ died for our sins, then his death is by definition both substitutionary and penal. Listen to the apostle Paul as he reminded the Corinthians of the gospel that he preached to them,

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

No wonder that Don Carson, in his Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, could write of Steve Chakle and his fellow “Emergent Church” leader Brian Maclaren,

I have to say, as kindly but as forcefully as I can, that to my mind, if words mean anything, both McLaren and Chakle have largely abandoned the gospel.

Do unbelievers need to hear of Christ in order to be saved? You might have thought that Evangelicals of all people would answer YES! But this is no longer the case. Billy Graham was asked, whether “it’s possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they have been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible?” Graham replied, “Yes it is”. Billy Graham is not alone in his sentiments.

In April’s Evangelicals Now! John Benton wrote of his sneak preview of this year’s study guide for the Spring Harvest/Word Alive events.

It has been put together, with assistance, by Steve Chalke, well-known for his dismissal of the cross as a penal substitution. The guide deftly presents various options rather than definite truth on various major doctrines. And a drift away from a clear need for decision for Christ is betrayed in such quotes as the following from Newbigin: ‘The position I have outlined is exclusivist in that it affirms the unique truth of the revelation in Jesus Christ, but is not exclusivist in the sense of denying the possibility of salvation of the non-Christian.’ This really shows a concern to say things which are culturally acceptable at the expense of the gospel…the price of drawing in all the punters seems to be defection from historic evangelicalism and biblical truth. No doubt, Spring Harvest mean well, but this spells disaster

The Reformers believed that people needed to hear the truth in order to be saved. That is why they translated the Bible into the languages of the people, and preached the Word of God to the masses.

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14)

The Reformation calls us back to a explicitly Christ-centred gospel and spirituality. What could be healthier for the Church?
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John Calvin on salvation through Christ alone here
John Owen on the glory of Christ here
Did Jesus know that he was God? here
Steve Chalke and the cross of Christ here
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This is part 2 of a series on the "sloas" that arose from a couple of posts on Biblical Protestantism (see below)

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