By Mike Willis
In 1 Tim. 2:5, Paul wrote, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” This was a novel idea expressed by God to the pagan world. The pagan world not only imagined a number of gods, they also imagined that a number of intermediaries existed between God and man. For Paul to teach that there was only one God was not new; they had been acquainted with Judaism for years. However, to go the next step to speak of one mediator between God and man was new.
Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. “The word `mediator’ is meshes, `one who intervenes between two, either in order to make or restore peace and friendship, or to form a compact or ratify a covenant.’ Our Lord is a mediator in that He interposed Himself by His death, and made possible the restoration of the harmony between God and man which had been broken by sin” (Kenneth S. bluest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Vol. II, “The Pastoral Epistles,” p. 41). Jesus is our mediator. Whereas we once were enemies of God (Rom. 5:8-10), we are now God’s adopted sons because of the reconciliation made possible to us through Jesus Christ.
Since there is but one mediator between God and man, man can be saved only through the reconciliation made possible through Jesus. Jesus recognized this when He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (Jn. 14:6). Jesus is man’s only access to God. Any religion that tries to approach God in any other way than through Jesus Christ is worthless. Hence, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mohammedanism, etc. are just so many worthless and false religions. One can have access to God through the one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ.
There is no other way to approach God.
Within the Christian religion, men have added other mediators in addition to Jesus Christ. I would like to mention just a few of these; perhaps others can add cases to the list which I have left out. However, these are cases of instances in which man must approach God through some mediator in addition to Christ.
1. The Catholic Priest. The Catholic system of worship places the priest between God and man as the dispenser of salvation. He has the right to grant absolution from sins. Absolution, in Roman theology, is the act by which the priest declares the sins of penitent persons to be remitted to them. The Council of Trent gave the priest the right to remit the sins of penitent sinners. Hence, the Catholic who sins must go to the confessional booth, confess his sins, and allow the Catholic priest to absolve him of the guilt of his sins.
One of the major doctrines which Protestantism rebelled against was the doctrine which gave the priest the right to forgive sins. Whereas Catholicism has a standing priesthood in distinction to the laity, Protestantism believes in the priesthood of all believers. According to Protestantism, every Christian has direct accessibility to God and can get forgiveness by appealing directly to God for it. We need no mediator other than or in addition to Jesus Christ. Quite properly, the Protestants emphasized that there is only one mediator between God arid man.
2. The Baptismal Formula of Jesus-only Pentecostals. Sometimes, men place mediators in addition to Jesus Christ between themselves and God quite unconsciously. The Jesus-only Pentecostals have done this. According to their theology, one’s baptism is not valid, regardless of how sincere a believer and how penitent the person might have been, unless the proper formula is said over the person being baptized. Hence, one’s salvation depends, not only upon one’s own faith, repentance and immersion in water, but also upon a formula being said over the subject to be baptized. Unless the proper formula is said, the baptism is invalid. Hence, the person saying the formula stands between the sinner and God. He is a mediator in addition to Jesus Christ.
Any system which posits a mediator in addition to Jesus Christ is a corrupt system which has departed from Jesus Christ. Sometimes the putting of mediators between God and man occurs in subtle manners. We must always be on the look-out that we do not allow such things to happen to us.
The Public Confession
I am afraid that some among us have gotten the idea that the church stands as a mediator between man and God with reference to public sins. Hence, in the eyes of some, the church has become the dispenser of salvation rather than the recipient of salvation. I have talked with saints who thought that they could not obtain God’s forgiveness without making a public confession. Their concept was that the church stood between them and God.
My brethren, there is but one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ. The church is not a mediator between God and man. It cannot confer forgiveness upon anyone. It is a recipient of salvation rather than the dispenser of it. Once we begin to look upon the church as the dispenser of salvation, there is but a short step until we begin to look upon preachers as set-apart ministers who give out salvation to the sinners. Therefore, we need to reconsider what the purpose of a public confession is lest we end up placing the church between the sinner and his salvation.
The passage generally appealed to as authority for a public confession is James 5:16; it says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” The prayers that are made when one confesses his sins to one another are not to be viewed as being necessary for one’s salvation. Otherwise, should the church refuse to pray for a penitent sinner, he could not receive forgiveness. Rather, this is just the case of a man acknowledging his faults and requesting the prayers of his brethren to help him to overcome them. This is the intercessory type of prayer, whereby we ask something from God in behalf of a brother.
“There is no mention here of absolution, either by a priest or any other person . . . . All that it can mean is that God promises pardon to those who are truly penitent, and this fact may as well be stated by one person as another. No priest, no man whatever, is empowered to say to another either that he is truly penitent, or to forgive sin. `Who can forgive sins but God only?’ None but he whose law has been violated, or who has been wronged, can pardon an offence. No third person can forgive a sin which a man has committed against a neighbor; no one but a parent can pardon the offences of which his own children have been guilty towards him; and who can put himself in the place of God, and presume to pardon the sins which his creatures have committed against him?” (Albert Barnes, James, pp. 95-96).
I am afraid that a number of Christians have misunderstood this text to the point that they believe that a public confession before the church is necessary so that the church can grant forgiveness to them. We need to be reminded that no one other than Christ can grant forgiveness. The church is the recipient of salvation and not the dispenser of it.
There is but one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ. Neither the priest, a minister who utters a proper formula before baptism, nor the church stands between God and man. One has access to God only through Jesus Christ our Lord. Although public confessions of public sins need to be made, let us understand that the church is not the dispenser of salvation when public confessions are made.
Truth Magazine XXI: 26, pp. 403-404
June 30, 1977