For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6)
The Christian idea of God is so different from all other conceptions of deity that this point alone distinguishes our faith from all non-Christian systems of thought, including Judaism and Islam. Only by severely diluting our idea of God can we say that we affirm monotheism with them in a similar sense. We indeed affirm that there is one God, as they say they do, but God has revealed that he is a Trinity, so that a God who is not the Trinity is not God at all. Thus non-Christians do not believe in God, even when they say they do. They can make the sounds that affirm such a belief, but their thoughts do not correspond to anything in reality. There is no such thing as a non-Triune God.
The Christian doctrine about Jesus Christ further divides us from all non-Christians and our faith from their systems of thought. We affirm that he is fully divine and fully human, in that he is the incarnation of God the Son, and this God-man is the sole mediator between deity and humanity. If the Christian concept of God alone is sufficient to distinguish the Christian religion from all non-Christian systems, the doctrine of Christ as sole mediator proves devastating to all doctrines and traditions that falsely claim the Christian name, including Catholicism, Mormonism, and other cults that borrow and distort the faith of Jesus Christ.
Any doctrine cannot be true if it persuades men to depend on anyone other than Jesus Christ for full access to God. Catholicism, of course, is one of the most obvious offenders. Paul’s point is straightforward and unmistakable – there is only one God and no other, and there is only one mediator and no other. To introduce other personalities as necessary bridges between God and men, and to make the heresy thoroughly absurd, between Christ the Mediator and men, is to subvert this simple model of spiritual access. The saints and angels would be horrified by the reverence that so many misguided individuals direct toward them.
There are less obvious manifestations of this tendency to place a wedge between God and men, and to place mediators between the Mediator and men. Humanity is prone to idolatry, and inferior Christians often turn away from non-Christian idols only to replace them with Christian ones. Thus they group themselves into cliques and proclaim that they follow this preacher or that professor. And because they consider their idol superior than the rest, they consider themselves superior for following him. But Paul refers to this primitive problem as a display of carnality. So when someone suggests to me that he is superior because he follows so-and-so a theologian, apologist, or preacher, I know that he is carnal and inferior.
Then, scholars often make themselves into mediators between God and men, and again with the even more absurd phenomenon, into mediators between the Mediator and men. They do this by making their specialized disciplines in biblical studies the necessary gateways to a sound understanding of Scripture. This puts ordinary people at their mercy, so that a Bible that has been translated into the language of the public remains closed and forbidden. I find that scholars often overstate the significance of their findings, and they are so engrossed with their narrow points of interest and research that their conclusions are often either already stated in the text of Scripture or plainly contradicted by the text of Scripture. Their effect is destructive because they propagate the impression that ordinary readers cannot trust what the Bible says in straightforward sentences, as if some nuance in the Greek or some factoid in history can completely alter the meaning of the text.
Scholars must ask themselves, are they really guiding men to Christ, or putting themselves in between Christ and men by making themselves appear indispensable when they are really not? The truth is that much of the Bible, even without specialized training, can be recognized as clear and simple, and all of it is logical and without even a hint of paradox or contradiction. The most important skill in Bible interpretation is basic reading comprehension, not any specialized training. And it seems that the latter is in fact more easy to come by than the former.
The doctrine that Christ is the only mediator between God and men carries many other implications. For this reason, it must be constantly emphasized, and we must strive to correct unconscious violations of it in our theology and practice. For example, parents who are believers should not assume that their faith has any direct bearing on their children’s salvation. Christ is the only mediator. A husband or wife must not assume that he or she is a believer just because the spouse seems to be one. All this appears elementary, but how many people feel a measure of security just because they are related in some way to devout believers? That feeling is an empty promise. What do I do? By the strength that God gives me, I throw myself at the feet of Christ, wrap my arms around him, and refuse to let go. And I have great confidence before God because I have great confidence that Christ is justified and accepted before God.
The minister’s task, and indeed the task of every believer, is to tell sinners to do this – that is, to lay hold of Christ for themselves, and to cling to him as their very life and breath, so that they may be saved. The greatest betrayal against divine grace and our holy calling is to gather disciples for ourselves. It is true that we can become teachers to others, but it is to teach them to trust Christ, and not ourselves. We cannot save the people; we cannot give them what they need. But we tell them, “Go to Christ, and you will find salvation, power, and refreshment, and living water to satisfy your soul. Go to him now with your mind, with your words. Only he can save you from condemnation, and grant you assurance before the Holy Father.”