“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
Just over a week ago I arrived over one hour early at Winnebago Lutheran Academy for the 2019 WELS National Choral Festival sacred concert, a biennial choral fest held at different WELS high schools around the nation. The choir is made up of over 500 high school students from 21 different WELS high schools across the nation. It was a good thing I showed up so early too! Seats on the main floor were already mostly filled up by the time I arrived. This was my first time at a Choral Fest; it won’t be my last (Lord willing). If you ever have a chance to take one in, I highly recommend it.
There were many people from outside the area who drove to this event. One such woman, who sat next to me, had come from close to one hour away. We struck up a conversation with each other prior to the service. She told me where she was from. I told her where I serve as pastor. She mentioned the church she belongs to. As it turns out, it is a church I am familiar with and both of whose pastors I know.
The woman and I spoke about the church’s relatively recent name change to Christ Alone Lutheran Church. The name is derived from one of the Five Solas of the Reformation: Sola Gratia (by Grace alone), Sola Fide (by Faith Alone), Sola Scriptura (by Scripture Alone), Solus Christus (in Christ Alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (for the Glory of God Alone). These five solas sum up the teaching and focus of the Lutheran Reformation and Bible doctrine: That we are saved by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, which is revealed to us in Scripture alone. Therefore, to God alone be the glory.
Admittedly, changing one’s church name to Christ alone is a bit of a radical move in our ecumenical, tolerant, and accepting society. Even more so, this was done in a community that has a very strong presence of Jews, who reject Jesus as their Christ (Hebrew: Messiah).
From what this one woman told me, a Jewish woman from the community called the church to complain about the name of the church. From what I gathered from our conversation, “This name hurts me,” was the sum of her complaint. Where the conversation went from there with the secretary, I do not know.
But no doubt, if the Jewish woman was bothered enough by the name of the church that she actually called the church to complain, the hurt must’ve been genuine. She was hurt that they were implying that she (currently) would not be going to heaven because she does not believe in Jesus Christ.
And yes, for those who are outside the Christian church, that statement can come off as hurtful and Christians ought not ignore or dismiss that hurt. The hurt is real. This is especially true in a society where it is generally accepted and believed that there are many paths to salvation. In today’s world, it is often viewed as arrogant, cold, unloving, even hurtful to suggest people aren’t going to heaven simply because they hold a different view than you do.
And this isn’t just a point of view that is held by the world. In a recent poll, 47% of Millennial Christians “agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” This is considerably higher than previous generations, and is likely to be amplified in the upcoming Gen Z.
Given that sharing one’s faith is not just a core practice among many religions, but for Christians is an actual mandate from the mouth of Jesus himself before he departed the earth, why are nearly a majority of Millennial Christians trending against Jesus’ marching orders for his church? Doesn’t this seem to be in direct conflict with the core of their faith? For more on these questions, click here.
I agree wholeheartedly with the Jewish woman. It hurts to hear that one is not currently in the kingdom of God. She’s not the only one who is hurt, either. You know who also was hurt by this? The Apostle Paul. Listen to his words:
“I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel.” –Romans 9:2-4a
Paul says that, if it were possible, he would gladly put himself under God’s eternal judgment, without any hope of reprieve or exit, if it would mean the salvation of his people, the people of Israel, i.e. the Jews, i.e. this woman. No doubt it bothered Paul unceasingly that many of his people so passionately rejected Christ as he once did. That he routinely put himself out there, overcoming the many personal fears he had, literally risking his safety and life to share the gospel of Jesus with a community he knew would be hostile toward him, is perhaps the greatest piece of evidence of Paul’s ‘great sorrow and unceasing anguish.’
And it wasn’t just Paul. Many Christians have shared the hurt of this Jewish woman, hurt not by a perceived intolerance coming from Christian doctrine, but hurt because they are firmly convinced of Christian doctrine. They do not want the people they know to be lost eternally in hell. I myself have experienced this hurt, this ‘great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.’ It has kept me up at night. It has scared me that there are people I know and love, people I am close to, who would not be spending eternity in heaven if they were to die at this very moment. Little do they know, I’m sure, of the number of prayers I have offered on their behalf for God to answer that petition of the Lord’s Prayer “Thy kingdom come” by making his kingdom come into their hearts that they too might “know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11) I’ll admit, a part of me hopes that there is some way they can be saved apart from Christ.
But such a thought is pure folly, “for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21) This is what separates Christian doctrine from all other world religions. It is not merely philosophy; it is primarily historical in nature. It is centered around the cross of Christ and his empty tomb—the historical event that Jesus went to the cross for you and me, died, and rose again from the grave. By his suffering and death, he paid for a whole history of human sin. By his rising from the grave, he proved that our sins are paid for and that he is God. It is a message that Paul and the other Apostles risked life and limb to preach while never becoming rich or powerful off of it.
Just think: If there was any other way for mankind to gain righteousness in God’s sight so that God would be pleased with us and welcome us into heaven, it would have been the biggest, most colossal waste of time, energy, and suffering for the Son of God to come into this world and endure what he did. Why would you die for the sins of the whole human race if salvation is possible through some other avenue?
The very nature of the crucifixion of Jesus—the suffering, the abandonment of God (Matthew 27:46), the death of his human body—screams exclusivity. If God did that to make salvation possible, then there is no other possible way. There just isn’t.
And that leads to the last and greatest hurt. Again, it wasn’t just the Jewish woman who was hurt, it wasn’t just the Apostle Paul, it wasn’t just me or other concerned Christians, it was chiefly Jesus. He was hurt enough by the death sentence that hung over the fallen human race—condemned to death and hell for our sins and our sinful nature—that he was willing to endure the ultimate hurt on the cross to pay for those sins. When Jesus was scourged, he was hurt. When the nails were driven through his forearms and feet, it hurt. Every breath he took from the cross, rubbing his cut up back along the rough wood so that he could draw breath, hurt. Being forsaken by his Father in heaven hurt. Dying for our sins hurt.
I feel this Jewish woman’s pain. And so does Jesus. He feels it, and felt it, better, more keenly than she ever will. That’s his love for her. And that’s our love for her, that we are willing to ‘hurt’ her with a church name like ‘Christ Alone Lutheran Church’. Because sadly, in a world infested by sin, the truth sometimes hurts.
Does that make the truth evil? Not at all. Remember, as Scripture says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.” (Proverbs 27:6) Not all wounds are an evil. For “by his (Christ’s) wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) Indeed, wounds to our pride, our arrogance, our stubborn sinful rebellion are helpful. They lead us to despair of ourselves so that we rely on Jesus. They are the pin-prick of God’s law so that we become conscious of sin (Romans 3:20) and thus conscious of our need for a Savior.
Jesus is that Savior. He alone is that Savior. There is no other way, and if there were, then what a waste the sacrifice of Christ would be.
It is my prayer that this Jewish woman, those I know and love, and all people yet alive will join in the popular Getty & Townend hymn as their confession of faith:
In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.