As part of our faith, at least within Western Christendom for the past 500 years, we at least to some measure, adhere to what is termed the 5 solas. These are the 5, though originally only 3, supposedly foundational set of principles of our Protestant faith. They are:
Sola Scriptura – by scripture alone, though more often in recent times prima scriptura (first priority is given to scripture);
Sola Fide – by faith alone;
Sola Gratia – by grace alone;
and the 2 extras,
Sola Christus – through Christ alone; and
Soli Deo Gloria – to the glory of God alone.
Certainly, in comparison to the depravities of the fallen Roman Catholic Church of the 15th century, these are good foundations. But let’s look at the first one – Sola Scriptura. Originally it was intended to put the authority of our faith back on the canon, and take it from the traditions and the whims of Popes and other clergy, or even secular leaders. However, it also closed the door to our direct access to our Father in heaven. He, and the voice of His Spirit, were silenced. It also meant that, at a time when books and reading were not available to the general populace, that priests now had to expound the scriptures, where previously the congregations came together to pay homage to their God. Since then ministers have sought to spend a great deal of effort and time bringing as much information, real or not, to their congregations. Congregations, that by and large, at least for the last 100 years in Western Christendom, have slept through or forgotten the message even before leaving the service. We firmly believe that studying the scriptures and expounding the tenets of our faith are vitally important, but a worship service is not the appropriate time.
We are extolled to keep to the true path of our faith and not to deviate from it. And that’s a good thing to do. But what is the true path of faith? What if the path we currently believe is already a deviation from the truth?
If we accept the concept of an invisible supernatural sentient being, that for short we call god, then we ask, “What is the relationship between this god and us? Is there a connection? Is what happens to us, good or bad, related to how god treats us? If what we do is not acceptable to god, does he punish us? How can we be in his good books?” Many ways of answering these questions have been attempted throughout the ages. It’s about how we can atone to god for our wrong doings so that we can have goodness, or at least, less badness. And how we as Christians have tried to answer that question is what makes Christians different. Generally, theories of atonement put the onus on humanity to get it right, even some so-called Christian ones!
In a nut-shell, for the last 500 years the church has told us that: God created us, we did wrong against him, we have to be punished, our punishment is death. But Jesus died in our place, and only if we accept him as our lord, then we can have a good relationship with god. If not we will suffer forever. Therefore, Christians believe that Jesus atoned for humanity, though the above theory says only for some in practice.
This theory of atonement is called the Penal Substitution or Justification theory or Orthodox Reformed Theology, and gained favour with the Reformation and later the Calvinists. But this theory of atonement has raised more problems and questions than it answered. This path of our faith was a deviation from a theory from about 1100 AD, or 500 years prior to the Reformation. This theory is called the Satisfaction theory, where the death of Jesus satisfied God’s wrath as a substitute for us.
“But what was before 1100 AD that this deviation came from?”, you ask! Well, the most prominent theory for nearly 1000 years was the Ransom Theory. This is where Jesus paid the price to buy back humanity from Satan. But even here we see a deviation, and that is in our understanding of ‘ransom’. Usually we understand ‘ransom’ to be a sort of financial transaction, and indeed throughout history people have been released from capture or enslavement by the payment of money or goods, even in this day and age. However, another form of ‘ransom’ is to take back the captured or enslaved by force. It was this understanding that seems to be the original form of atonement.
It means that when Jesus was crucified, He conquered the powers of Satan, Sin and Death, and redeemed (or ransomed or released from captivity) all of humanity to our position as children of our Father God, and gave us back our authority as co-heirs of His kingdom. This is the Christos Victor theory. Whereas our recent deviation of Justification, or Penal Substitution theory, makes atonement available only to certain individuals, the all-conquering all-powerful Jesus-the-victor theory applies to all humanity. But, as per 1 Timothy 4:10, the benefits of which are most enjoyed now by those who believe. This victorious Jesus is our loving benevolent King and Lord, not a vengeful tyrant.
So how did Jesus conquer Satan, Sin and Death? Simple – He loved! Love covers all sins (Proverbs 10:12). For God so loved the world (John 3:16). The first commandment is love God and the second – love each other (Mark 12:29-31). Love your enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). For God is Love (1 John 4:8). Our Father God in Heaven so loves you that He sent Jesus to destroy the powers of Satan, Sin and Death that held us captive, and that perfect love conquers all, casting out fear, sickness and disease, and loneliness. Through Jesus, who loved us, we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37).