One of the mottos coming out of the Protestant Reformation was “Christ Alone.” Contemporary heirs of the Protestant Reformation will sometimes make the argument this way: “We are saved by Christ alone, not Christ plus the church, not Christ plus the sacraments, not Christ plus works of piety or mercy.” In my mind, this argument seriously misunderstands how Jesus makes himself present today. It presents us with a disembodied savior who only relates to us through the spiritual ether.
Jesus, however, comes to us in the waters of baptism and the elements of communion. In baptism we are united with Christ and clothed with Christ. At the table, Jesus literally said, “This is my body. This is my blood.” I believe him. The fourth gospel proclaims that Jesus’ body and blood are food for eternal life for those born from above. The apostle Paul calls communion a “participation” in the body of and blood of Christ. Paul does not see a conflict between Christian faith and confidence in God’s sacramental actions.
Similarly, Jesus proclaimed that he is present where people gather in his name and Paul identifies the church as the body of Christ.
Along the same lines, we encounter Jesus in the pages of the Holy Bible. Without the Bible, our generation knows nothing of Jesus. More importantly, Jesus makes himself known throughout the story of God’s people. We encounter the Word made flesh as we read and hear the written word, both privately and in corporate worship.
Jesus is also present in prayer, and not just silent, personal prayer. It is also in corporate, liturgical prayer that Jesus promises to come to us.
And he is present in works of mercy done for his brothers and sisters.
To speak about the centrality of the church, its sacraments, its liturgy and its life in the world is to speak about the Jesus who is revealed to us in the scriptures. There is no “plus” anything here. Jesus has promised to be with us in and through the life of his church and we receive that promise by faith. Any other Christ may simply be the product of our own imaginations.
Christ alone, yes, but Christ in accordance with his own word. Not Christ plus, but Christ in and through, just as he promised.