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understandings nd By Martin Lohrmann


Series editor’s note:We continue our 2017 “Luther and the Reformation” articles with the second of three essays discussing the three “solas” of the Reformation. Th is month’s article, by Martin Lohrmann, focuses on “Christ alone.” Next month we’ll look at “faith alone.” —David Ratke, dean, College of Theology, Lenoir-Rhyne University, Hickory, N.C.


“If you know Jesus well, it is enough, even if you know nothing else. But if you do not know Jesus, whatever else you learn is nothing.”


These words were the personal motto of Lutheran reformer John Bugenhagen (1485- 1558). He was the head pastor in Wittenberg, Germany, a co-worker in the Reformation and Martin Luther’s pastor.


While it makes for a nice saying, what do these words mean for us today? With so many good things to know and learn in this world, has Bugenhagen said that only a certain kind of Christian knowledge is holy, useful and good? Are Christians the only ones who know true things about God and life?


Questions like these help us consider the meaning of the Reformation slogan solus Christus, Christ alone. At fi rst glance, Bugenhagen’s motto and phrases like “Christ alone” can sound like salvation and wisdom belong to “Christians alone.” That is not what this phrase means.


The good shepherd and merciful judge Many New Testament verses tell us that Jesus knows the people of this world better than we do. Jesus has sheep in other pastures (John 10:16), he promised salvation to the honest thief on the cross (Luke 23:43), and he welcomes into heaven those who never knew that they


44 AUGUST 2017


were serving him (Matthew 25:34-40). From this perspective, “Christ alone” is not a way to keep people from God.


Instead, “Christ alone” is a word of freedom. When we are tempted to make salvation something we achieve through our holiness, “Christ alone” reminds us that Jesus is the only one who truly brings reconciliation, freedom and the life of God. When religious people— including our churches—want to defi ne who is in or out of God’s kingdom, we recall that “Christ alone” is the good shepherd and merciful judge. When we wonder what it will take to piece this broken world back together, we know that “Christ alone” gives the healing love that makes us whole.


For this reason, reformers like Luther, Philipp Melanchthon and Bugenhagen used the phrase “Christ alone is our righteousness” to show how Jesus uniquely cuts through all the obstacles that get in the way of reconciliation with God and our neighbors. The second generation of reformers used this same phrase in the Formula of Concord (Epitome, article 3) to affi rm that no one and nothing else in creation sets us free from that which keeps us from God. Further, “Christ alone” does not minimize the other members of the Trinity but points to the unique work of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit.


A claim to service It’s true that “Christ alone” is a statement of faith that belongs to Christians. Even so, this does not need to create an “us against them” situation when it comes to other religions or viewpoints. We can share our experiences of Christ’s goodness, using the same loving care that Jesus extended even to enemies. Being solus Christus


deeper nd er CHRIST ALONE


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