Solus Christus, the teaching that “Christ alone” is the means to salvation, was formulated in response to the strongly mediatorial understanding popular among sixteenth-century Roman Catholic clergy that only through the clergy can man approach God.
Solus Christus and Priesthood
The fear is that a fallible human being would presume to stand between a believer and God, that a priest could actually prevent someone from having access to salvation. This idea is similar to Donatism which was a Christian sect leading to a schism in the Church, in the region of the Church of Carthage, from the fourth to the sixth centuries AD. Donatists argued that Christian clergy must be faultless for their ministry to be effective and their prayers and sacraments to be valid. But instead of a denial of the efficacy of the sacraments from a particularly wicked priest, Protestants denied priesthood altogether because of the fallibility of the clergy. In the sense that the Reformers usually meant it, that salvation is possible only in and through Christ.
Solus Christus is acceptable to Orthodox and Catholic doctrine but not the accompanying rejection of the clerical role, and most especially in serving the sacraments. Some reformers emphasized the “priesthood of all believers” to the exclusion of the sacerdotal priesthood, thereby pitting the laity against the clergy. Orthodoxy also believes in the priesthood of all believers, but not in the eldership (the meaning of the presbyterate) of all believers. Ancient Israel had a similar notion for all believers: “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:6, NKJV) yet Israel still retained a sacrificial priesthood to carry out the temple worship. The clergy has a role to play in salvation as the ministers of the sacraments, as the ones who are icons of Christ in offering up the sacrifice, but it is not an absolute role. God may save someone despite the wickedness of a priest, and we regard all believers as icons of Christ and members of the royal priesthood.
Solus Christus and Saints
Solus Christus, was also a response to the intercession of departed saints, since “Christ alone” has everything to do with salvation. Orthodox and Catholic churches don’t see departed saints as people who speak to God because we can’t. They are fellow believers whom we call alongside us to pray with us and for us. We believe that departed Saints are alive in Paradise and are the triumphant members of the same one church in which we are militant members. We are all members of the Church, which is the one Body of Jesus Christ. The triumphant become invisible members because of the death of their bodies, and the ones still in material flesh are the visible ones. In God’s sight, we are all a visible holy family. Saints departed from earth, but did not leave the church; their love toward their brothers did not cease by their departure and dwelling in Paradise. Their prayers for the salvation of all the world never cease. They pray for us, and we venerate them as they are our holy and dear friends. The intercession of Saints doctrine is based on Scripture. We ask for the intercessions of the saints, as Jacob did when he asked for the intercessions of his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac “Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you” (Gen. 32:9, NKJV). Moses asked for the intercession of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ So, the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.” (Exod. 32:13-14, NKJV). We Believe the Saints are not dead and they have special privileges in front of God as Our Lord and Savior taught “nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.” (Luke 20:36-38, NKJV).