In a previous post I described one of the many “other christs” that were introduced to the natives of the New World through the words and actions of the Conquistadores. The “other christ” I highlighted there was the perpetually weak and defenseless Baby Jesus sitting on the lap of his mother Mary.
Another such “christ’ was the Encomendero or Slave Master Jesus.
During the colonization of the Americas, the Spanish Crown would grant land and property to the Conquistadores in order to regulate indigenous labor. These “trustees” were called Encomenderos (from the Spanish word “encomendar” – to entrust). In theory, the Encomendero was a good guy who would protect the natives from warring tribes and instruct them in the Catholic religion. In reality, though, the difference between an Encomendero and a slave master would have been minimal.
It’s not hard to imagine why the amerindians would end up viewing Jesus as some sort of heavenly boss, tyrant, or slave master.
During his life as an Augustinian monk, Martin Luther had a similar view of Jesus. In theory, the gospel of Jesus was supposed to be a good thing for the world, but to Luther, Jesus was nothing more than a new boss to answer to, yet with even higher standards for achieving righteousness. No matter how hard he tried to accomplish the righteous demands of this “heavenly slave master” he would always fall short.
I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough that miserable sinners eternally lost through original sin are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the Decalogue, without God adding pain to pain by the Gospel and also by the Gospel threatening us with His righteousness and wrath.
Luther’s reformation breakthrough occurred when he realized that with the phrase “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17), the gospel reveals a different kind of righteousness, a righteousness that is not demanded from us by God, but a righteousness that God bestows on us. (The Genius of Luther’s Theology, Kolb & Arand)
This [re] discovery that our merciful God has justified us (that is, declared us righteous) by faith replaced the slave master Jesus of medieval pietism with the Christ of the Gospel, who is anything but a heavenly tyrant. Unlike the Encomendero of colonial Latin America, Jesus came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
This Jesus, who is full of grace and truth (John 1:17) came not to oppress us with the law, but to fulfill the righteous demands of it in our place (Romans 10:4) and graciously share His righteousness with us (Philippians 3:9).
Please pray for our LCMS missionaries and sister churches in Latin America as even still today they work to replace any and all “other christs” with this Christ of the Gospel.