The Christ Alone

A great need in Christianity today, says V. Norskov Olsen, is for the church to return to the Reformation's controlling principle that all theology and religious experience must revolve about Christ alone.

V. Norskov Olsen, Ph.D., Th.D., is president of Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California.

The following address was the keynote devotional of a two-day meeting held Octobers 3 and 4 in Washington, D.C., to examine righteousness by faith in its doctrinal and spiritual aspects. Dr. Olsen's emphasis on "Christ alone" set the tone for the discussions on this all-important topic. —The Editors

The Christomonistic Principle:

A principle is a settled rule or truth that is general and upon which other principles are founded; a source or cause from which a thing comes. On the basis of both definitions we find the Christomonistic principle firmly rooted in Scripture. The word Christomonistic is a combination of two Greek words, Christos meaning Christ, and monos, alone, thus giving the expression, "Christ alone."

With Christ we must begin and end. Outside Him there is no true saving and redemptive knowledge of God. Christ Himself is both the source and content of redemption and of a true knowledge of God.

The "Christ alone" from eternity to eternity

When we seek the beginnings of the beginning we cannot move beyond a certain point—the giving of the covenant of life. Since God is God and man is man that covenant had to be a commanding covenant—obey and live, disobey and die. That covenant embodied the very principle of life.

In the same instant that the covenant of life was established, the everlasting covenant of redemption was also born between God the Father and God the Son, confirming that the covenant of life indeed originated in love. God's eternal decision of grace is part of His essence, rooted in love. However, the Father does not act independently of the Son. And the Son is not only true God; He is also true man, Jesus of Nazareth. As such, He is representative of mankind, who in Him and through Him are united with God as Jesus Christ is Himself. "He [God] hath chosen us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4).

In Eden the covenant of life was bro ken and the fall of man took place. Out side Eden an altar was raised. Later, Abraham, the father of the covenant people, went to Mount Moriah with his son. Isaac asked, "Where is the lamb?" and Abraham answered, "God will provide" (Gen. 22:7, 8). Centuries later John the Baptist gave the complete answer: "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:29). The drama of the ages took place on Calvary.

"Christ alone" from eternity to eternity is a Person, and our redemption and life depend upon our relationship to Him as a Person. Scripture presents Him in eternity past as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," as the "Lamb of God" who came at a specific time and place in history to take away the sins of the world, and as the Lamb who throughout eternity to come will receive "blessing, and honour, and glory" from all inhabitants of the uni verse (see Rev. 13:8; John 1:29; Rev. 5:12, 13).

The "Christ alone" of history

"Christ alone" is the goal of history. Scripture and the Hebrew-Christian culture perceived history not through the round of nature, as did many ancient cultures, but through a linear concept. The uniqueness of the Book of Daniel is its linear concept of history climaxing in the appearance of the Son of man. Jesus not only took this name from Daniel 7, He based His earthly mission on the vision and proclamation of this chapter. He knew that He had a function in the great drama of history pictured by Dan iel.

Likewise the apostles, the early church, and the Reformers of Protestantism lived, preached, and worked within the charged atmosphere of the "latter days." They considered their own time an apocalyptic age. They lived in a historical tension between the first and Second Advent—between the now and then. The apostles and the Reformers took very seriously the historical realism of Christianity. The driving force of their Christian mission had a historical base—a proclamation of the mighty acts of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

World history and salvation history have constantly moved toward a climax. The apostle Paul states it in these words: "For God has allowed us to know the secret of his plan, and it is this: he purposed long ago in his sovereign will that all human history should be consumated in Christ, that everything that exists in Heaven or earth should find its perfection and fulfillment in him" (Eph. 1:10, Phillips).*

In the "Christ alone" of history we have the salvation wrought at the first advent bringing all things under the sub mission of Christ as Lord of lords; the salvation to be wrought at the Second Advent will bring all things under sub mission to Him as King of kings. This is Adventism in its true meaning. The "Christ alone" of history is a Person, and His deeds should be proclaimed in all their historical realism.

The "Christ alone" of the Bible

The Protestant Reformation became a real re-formation and re-orientation in the field of hermeneutics. New exegetical tools were found by which Biblical theology and New Testament Christianity could be restored. The exegetical principle of the Reformation was "Christ alone."

Christ conversed with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus on the day of His resurrection. "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he ex pounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. . . . And they said one to another, Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?" (Luke 24:27-32). Christ and His disciples after Him interpreted the Old Testament for their contemporaries in the light of Christ in the Scriptures. The Protestant Re formers did the same. There is a difference between saying "God in the books of the Bible" and "Christ in the books of the Bible," just as there is a difference between saying "God-centered education" and "Christ-centered education."

The Bible was not written as a creed or a baptismal manual. Rather, it is the story of what happened to people who now had a new way of life that they could not have obtained for themselves. The facts of the life and work of Jesus Christ are primary; the way those who came into contact with Him explained the significance of those facts is the experience of salvation. That experience is available to everyone. The value of the New Testament is that the experiences and the meetings with the person Jesus Christ of the Bible, as described in Scripture, become normative for all Christian experience that must, in turn, be judged by Scripture.

Therefore, when creedal statements were formulated at the time of the Reformation,, they had only relative author ity; the Scriptures were the absolute authority. The common concept is well expressed in the First Basel Confession of Faith (1534): "We submit this our confession to the judgment of the divine Scriptures, and hold ourselves ready, always thankfully to obey God and His Word if we should be corrected out of said Holy Scriptures." Accordingly, the Bible for the Reformers was an unregulated regulator.

Let's turn to Luther to illustrate the principle of "Christ alone" in the Bible. Luther entered the monastery in 1505 and began his professional studies in theology from the beginning of 1507 until receiving the doctorate in 1512. In 1513 he began to lecture on the book of Psalms and did so for more than two years. Most contemporary Luther scholars assert that his remarks on the subject of righteousness by faith found in his comments on Psalms 31 and 71 actually state his rediscovery of the gospel as found in Romans 1:17. In 1515, 1516, and 1517 he began to lecture respectively on Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews. The key that opened the Bible for Luther was the Christomonistic principle. He found the Psalms grand and beautiful, " a precious and beloved book," which "might well be called a little Bible," since it briefly contained everything that is in the entire Bible. Luther called Genesis "an exceedingly evangelical book," but it is Daniel who received the longest, the most detailed, and the loftiest pref ace of all the prophets, for Luther felt it prophesied about Christ so precisely and well that "one cannot miss the coming of Christ unless one does it willfully." 1

Christ expressed the Christomonistic principle of hermeneutics when He said, ' 'Search the scriptures . . . and it is they that bear witness to me" (John 5:39, R.S.V.). Luther said that in the Old Testament "we find the swaddling clothes and the manger in which Christ lies . . . simple and lowly are these swaddling clothes, but dear is the treasure, Christ, who lies in them. . . . And what is the New Testament but a public preaching and proclamation of Christ, set forth through the sayings of the Old Testament and fulfilled through Christ?" 2

Unfortunately, in Protestant thought there has been some ambiguity in the use of the phrase "Word of God." It has been said that the Bible is the Word of God, that it contains the Word of God, and that it bears witness to the Word of God. In Luther we find these three kept in a relationship that descends from the Word as Christ (John 1:1) to the Word as gospel (John 1:14) to the Word as the Bible.

Luther said that Christ is the "star and kernel" of Scriptures, that He is "the center part of the circle" about which everything else revolves. He once com pared certain Biblical texts to hard nuts whose shells resisted cracking and said that on encountering them he would throw them against the rock (Christ) and then be able to find within them their "delicious kernel." 3 It is this "delicious kernel" Adventism seeks to point out in the doctrines of the church including a Biblical understanding of the law and the Sabbath. It aims, as does the literature of Ellen G. White, at a Christ-centered dogma. She writes: "Christianity has a much broader meaning than many have hitherto given it. It is not a creed. It is the Word of Him who liveth and abideth forever. It is a living, animating principle, that takes possession of mind, heart, motives, and the entire man. Christianity, oh, that we might experience its operations! It is a vital personal experience, that elevates and ennobles the whole man." 4

The primary religious issue for Luther was: "How to obtain certainty of salvation?" In this quest the Reformers revived New Testament Christianity and coined such theological phrases as "the Bible alone," "Christ alone," "by grace alone," "by faith alone." These are principles as we earlier defined a principle. "The Bible alone" is the frame work within which we move. Within that framework lies another principle "Christ alone" that operates as a settled rule, a source, a truth on which all others are founded. Within the frame work of "Christ alone" we have two other principles indicating direction. One moves from Christ to man ("by grace alone") and one moves from man to Christ ("by faith alone"). The Re formers' doctrine of Christ insisted so predominantly on the uniqueness and all-sufficiency of Christ that it became not only the thrust of their doctrine of Christ, but also the pivot of all their theology, to which even the doctrine of justification became ancillary.

Throughout the history of the Christian church theologians have periodically discovered a neglected portion of a certain doctrine and emphasized the importance of it. This is as it ought to be, but if this neglected point becomes the center of a theological system or a movement, it becomes dangerous, maybe even heretical.

If a certain aspect of a doctrine be comes the center of a theory, it is easy to lose the totality of the Biblical message. For example, Martin Luther was not a dogmatist when he dealt with the subject of the atonement; he was an exponent of Scripture. His writings on the atonement contain statements that could fall within common classifications—patristic, Eastern, Latin, penal, substitutional, etc. However, Luther was concerned about presenting a Biblical message rather than about propounding a theory of the atonement.

The Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century were Biblical theologians seeking to preserve in all dogmatic discussions the totality of the soteriological message of the Bible. It is significant that Jan D. Kingston Siggins, in his book, Martin Luther's Doctrine of Christ, pro poses that while Luther can be quoted to support motifs that figure in all the historic atonement theories, he doubtless had no atonement theory as such. Siggins writes: "But, perhaps the very variety of the answers to the question about Luther's view has obscured the suspicion which must rest upon the question itself. For Luther has no theory of the atonement." 5 He goes on: "Shallow comparative study might suggest that Luther held all the great schemes (of the atonement) or that he was a con fused thinker who really grasped none of them. In fact, Luther is not attempting what the theologians attempted for dogmatic or apologetic purposes, and it is impossible to equate his result with theirs. The logical structure of his doctrine differs from all of them and there fore may not be typed with any of them. Doubtless it can be typed with the Scripture, which also propounds no theory." 6

Luther defined Christ as the "star" of Scripture or "the central point of the circle." We may also say that Christ is the "hub of the wheel." Just as many rays radiate from a star, so from the hub of the wheel of salvation extend many spokes—forgiveness, conversion, repentance, justification, sanctification, atonement, regeneration, adoption, resurrection, and glorification. Each is an attempt to describe what happens to the believer when by "grace alone" he exercises "faith alone" in "Christ alone." The rim keeps all the aspects together in Christ—preserving the totality of the soteriological message. Faith introduces an individual into a relationship with an other Person—a theology of experience in which two persons give themselves to one another. We do so by faith; Christ does so by grace.

Luther penned these beautiful words: "Faith not only gives the soul enough for her to become like the divine Word, gracious, free, and blessed, it also unites the soul with Christ, like a bride with the bridegroom, and from this marriage, Christ and the soul become one body. . . . Then the possessions of both are in common, whether fortune, misfortune, or anything else; so that what Christ has, also belongs to the believing soul, and what the soul has, will belong to Christ." 7

Salvation is a surrender to "Christ alone" by faith. Then the Christian is so intimately united with Christ that he be comes "one being," "one body," with Him.

Luther's insistence that justification is the magisterial doctrine, the chief article, the head and cornerstone of the church has to be qualified in two ways. First, Luther intended much more by the word "justification" than the formal or systematic content of the doctrine of justification in its forensic use. Second, for Luther justification was only one aspect, however vital, of a far broader theme the theme of "Christ alone."

Luther felt no inconsistency whatsoever between the teaching of Paul, and that of John. On the contrary, he read the Pauline phrase "in Christ" in the light of the prayer of John 17 dealing with the oneness of Christ. Accordingly, in many of the passages in which Luther called justification the cardinal point, he was using the word "justification" to denote a far wider area than the dogmatic tradition comprises. He used it to indicate the whole wealth of our relationship of unity with Christ by faith. Luther readily identified Paul's theme of righteousness by faith with John's stress upon Christ's person, office, and kingdom.

Thus the peculiarly dogmatic form into which the doctrine of justification is cast for polemical purposes is an inadequate key to the richness of Luther's faith. Not justification, but Christ alone, was the norm of his theology and the lifeblood of his faith. "Faith alone" was simply another way to say "Christ alone." "Christ alone" as the sum of Christian doctrine and life is what the Reformation was all about. Said Luther: "I know absolutely nothing but Christ alone. Oh, if only we could stake it all on Christ." 8 Thus he stressed the personal uniqueness of the relationship with Christ in which theory becomes actual fact, expectations become fulfillment, and desire becomes possession.

Likewise for Calvin, the genesis, the dynamics, and the content of his spirituality is found in "Christ alone." While acknowledging the logical priority of justification, Calvin underlined its inseparable connection with sanctification. Justification he understood not merely as a forensic imputation of righteousness, but as an inner transformation. It was faith in a person, a faith that meant a mystical union with Him.

Listen to Calvin himself: "How is it we are justified by faith? Because by faith we take hold of the justice of Christ, which alone reconciles us to God. But we cannot take hold of this without taking hold, at the same time, of sanctification. For he is given to us as our justice, wisdom, sanctification, redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). Therefore, Christ justifies no one without also sanctifying him. For these benefits are joined by an eternal bond, so that whom he enlightens by his wisdom he redeems. Whom he redeems he justifies, whom he justifies he sanctifies, But, since the whole question only touches justice and sanctification, we will confine ourselves to them. Though we may distinguish one from the other, Christ contains them both without division. Do you then desire to obtain justice in Christ? You must first possess Christ. But you cannot possess him without participating in his sanctification, for he cannot be torn apart. Since, therefore, the Lord never gives us the enjoyment of these benefits without giving us himself, he gives us both at the same time; never one without the other. Thus we see how true it is that we are not justified without works, but yet not by works, since our participation in Christ by which we are justified includes sanctification as well as justice." 9

"Our salvation consists of these two parts, that God rules us by his Spirit and reforms us to his image through the whole course of life, and also that he buries all sins." 10

For Calvin, justification and sanctification were effected continually in the Christian; they coexisted in dialectical tension implying ongoing process and progress.

This incipient union with Christ is the necessary condition for the spiritual life. In justification, grace is pardon; in sanctification, grace is power. The wholeness of God's redemptive and restorative act means both reconciliation and renewal. Faith itself, the prior element in the Christian experience, is understood as dynamic and re-creative in human life. The doctrine of believers' baptism rein forces that point as does also the doctrine and work of the Holy Spirit.

Luther insisted that faith is a "living, energizing, active, powerful thing." He felt that faith was "always in action" and said that it is no more possible to separate the works of law from faith than to separate light and heat from a flame. For Luther each, as part of the doctrine of salvation, is one sole act of God. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old is passed away, behold, the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17, R.S.V.). The Holy Spirit is the exclusive agent of the acts of salvation. He makes the believer "a new shoot growing out of the vine of Christ," "a new creature with a different mind, heart, and thought." Man becomes "one body," with Christ. 11

At the turn of the century when the church was torn between liberals and conservatives, one churchman said: "If our evangelists were our theologians, and our theologians were our evangelists, we would be nearer the ideal church." In John Wesley existed a rare combination of evangelist, theologian, educator, and church administrator. You recall Wesley's experience in the little congregation in London. The reader came to this point in Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans: "Faith is a divine work in us, which changes us and makes us newly born of God, and kills the old Adam, makes us completely different men in heart, disposition, mind, and every power, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. O faith is a lively, creative, active, powerful thing, so that it is impossible that it should not continually do good works. It does not even ask if good works are to be done, but before anyone asks it has done them, and is always acting."

John Wesley felt his heart warmed in an unusual way. He was griped by a new power. He felt that now he really did trust in Christ, and looked for his salvation from Him alone. He said, "An assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death." 12

This was Wesley's conversion experience. Theory had become actual fact; expectation had become fulfillment; desire had become possession. And in turn, the response to John Wesley's preach ing, from shepherds and miners alike, was in the cry:


"Just as I am without one plea

But that Thy blood was shed for me,

And that Thou bid'st me come to Thee,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come."


Reformation thought on union with Christ has been beautifully stated in these words: "When we submit our selves to Christ, the heart is united with His heart, the will is merged in His will, the mind becomes one with His mind, the thoughts are brought into captivity to Him; we live His life. This is what it means to be clothed with the garments of His righteousness." 13

The "Christ alone" of ecclesiology

The Protestant Reformers agreed that there were two marks of the true visible church—the gospel rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered. But they anchored both in the principles of "Christ alone."

Man stands as an individual before God, but as a member of the body of Christ he also stands as a member of the covenant people. These two concepts have to be held together.

Theologically the Christian church was founded in Caesarea Philippi, when Peter confessed "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," and Christ commented, "Upon this rock I will build my church" (Matt. 16:16, 18). The Re formers spoke about Christ and Peter's confession about Christ as the rock of the church. And the history of the Christian church testifies to the fact that its success or failure is in direct proportion to its confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. In the eyes of the Reformers the medieval church became antichrist because it failed to confess Christ.

The church lives today in an age similar to the pre-Constantine period—a pagan world. Today, one sixth of the world population is Moslem.

With 60 million people, Nigeria has the largest population of any African country; a little less than half of Nigerians are Moslems, and a little more than a third are Christians. Most of the rest follow various local religions.

The Reader's Digest and Information Please Almanacs for 1978 reported estimated numbers for world religions in 1976. According to these sources, Christians numbered 1 billion; Moslems, 700 million; Hindus, 520 million; Confucianists, 275 million; and Buddhists, 260 mil lion. Dr. Ralph Winter of Fuller Semi nary, Pasadena, reported in Church Growth Bulletin, May, 1977, that 3 billion people in the world are members of socio-cultural groups in which there is not one practicing Christian.

Today Christianity is involved every where in a double confrontation—with the great world religions on the one hand and with secular humanism on the other. The so-called Christian world seems to have lost its Christian reality. Theology, church councils, and church organizations have been engaged in alien fooleries with the result that their Christian soul has become sick. The seeking, hungering soul asks with weeping voice, as did Mary Magdalene: "They have taken away the Lord . . . and we know not where they have laid him" (John 20:2).

The history of Christian thought and modern religious trends vividly and convincingly demonstrate how Christ has been buried under dogmatism, liberal ism, institutionalism, religious trends, issues, and isms.

But there has always been a remnant. The question that remains is: How can the remnant fulfill its mission in a pagan world? There is only one answer the remnant today must fulfill its mission as did the early church. The early church had a message of the mighty works of Jesus Christ. The early Christian was impressed with Jesus Himself. The power of early Christianity lay directly vested in Christ, the Person. Theirs was a proclamation of the uniqueness of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ who said, "I will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32). He Himself was Christianity and the gospel. The Greeks said: "Sir, we would see Jesus" (verse 21). "Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord" (John 20:20). The early Christians were convinced, they had an assurance, they knew, there was no doubt whatsoever, for they had Christ, and they knew what He had done for them. They knew the experience of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ.

John formulated their experience in words growing out of a significant theological struggle with gnosticism and docetism toward the end of the first century. "The man who really believes in the Son of God will find God's testimony in his own heart. The man who will not believe God is making him out to be a liar, because he is refusing to accept the testimony that God has given concerning his own Son. ... It follows naturally that any man who has Christ has this life; and if he has not, then he does not possess this life at all" (1 John 5:11, 12, Phillips).

Let this be our personal testimony and confession:

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!

O, what a fore-taste of glory divine!

Heir of salvation, purchase of God,

Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.


This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Saviour all the day long;

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Saviour all the day long.


I close with the "Christ alone" benediction of Ephesians 3:20, 21: "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the' church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen."


1 Luther's Works, Am. ed. (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press; St. Louis: Concordia) 35, pp. 238, 254, 313, 314.

2 Ibid., pp. 235, 236.

3 Ibid., p. 368.

4 Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1944), pp. 421, 422.

5 Jan D. Kingston Siggins, Martin Luther's Doctrine of Christ (New Haven and London, 1970), p. 109.

6 Ibid.

7 W. M. Landeen, Martin Luther's Religious Thought (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1971), pp. 141, 142.

8 D. Martin Luther's Werke, Kritische Gesamtausgabe (Weimer, 1883- ) 47, pp. 154, 777.

9 Institutes, III. 16. 1.

10 Comm. Malachi, ch. 3, v. 17.

11 D. Martin Luther's Werke, 45, p. 667; 28, p. 187.

12 Martin Schmidt, John Wesley (London, 1962), vol. 1, p. 263.

13 Ellen G. White, Christ's Object Lessons (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1941), p. 312.

* Texts credited to Phillips are from The New Testament in Modern English, J. B. Phillips 1972. Used by permission of The Macmillan Company.



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V. Norskov Olsen, Ph.D., Th.D., is president of Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California.

January 1980

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