Now, before we move forward to the five principles of The Reformation, let me say once again, that this need did not develop overnight. It developed over a millennium, with much of it coming over a 400-year period. Consider that America is only 241 years old and how far we have come from (many would say fallen from) the originating ideals for this country. How much further might the general understanding of “self-evident truths” and adherence to the original governing documents change over the next 160 years? Over the next 960 years? Given that perspective, you now begin to have an idea of the challenge that the reformers faced in restoring light to the Church – even though God was obviously on their side.
With that in mind, over the next several weeks, our services will focus on a couple of ideas. First, we will be covering the five enduring principles from The Reformation. I mentioned these at the conclusion of last week’s message, and I will quickly introduce each of the five today – beginning in a few minutes. Secondly, our Teaching Moments will focus on introducing key figures related to The Reformation. You will hear several references from me about Martin Luther, but we will hear about others such as John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, and others beginning with John Calvin in just a moment. But make no mistake, The Reformation was not about these individuals, it was about Jesus.
As we begin to look at these five core principles of The Reformation, let me clarify again that we must remember that the more formal name of this series of events is The Protestant Reformation (Protest-ant) Reformation. But to understand this idea, we need to know what the word “reformation” means.
Reformation (Re – Form – Ation)
- RE – from a Latin word; has an element of “again” or “again and again”; a backward motion (like retrace or revert); return
- FORM – to construct or frame; to arrange or organize
- ATION – an act of process
Thus, the protestors want to initiate a process to construct, frame, or organize something as it had been in the past. What was that something? The Church. The Church as Jesus said He would build it – not what it had become over the centuries. It was a call to reform the Church based upon five key thoughts often referred to as The Five Solas. They are:
- Sola Fide
- Sola Christus
- Solus Scriptura
- Sola Gratia
- Soli Deo Gloria
Over the next five weeks, we will cover them in more detail (in this order), but for today, let me introduce each one. After a short introduction, Roger will read a verse of two that characterizes the principle and then we will sing a song that references the idea in some way.
Sola Fide – By Faith Alone
Key Verse: Romans 1.17
The cornerstone of The Reformation was the idea that we are saved by faith, not works. The Catholic system had added various works to faith as a matter of salvation. Salvation is about our faith in what Jesus accomplished, not what we can add to it. Granted we are to work (we might better say serve) because we are saved (after all, faith without works is dead), but it is not our work that saves us or adds to our salvation, it is our response in thanksgiving to what God has already done.
Romans 1.17 was a verse that literally shook the foundations of the church in the 16th Century. If we, indeed, are saved by our faith because of God’s righteousness (and faith in the righteousness of God), not any effort on our part to become righteous, then much of what the Church was teaching at that time needed to be amended – and Luther was being prepared for the task.
Sola Christus – By Christ Alone
Key Verse: Acts 4.12
Faith is necessary, but faith which is misplaced means nothing. Thus, the second Sola I will mention is the one that stands at the center of The Reformation. Solus Christus – Christ alone.
How important is Christ. Jesus said without me you can do nothing (John 15.5). Paul said through Him we can do all things (Phil 4.12). If in no other matter, these two thoughts merge regarding the most important of matters – our salvation.
Acts 4.12 must be clear that it is only through the name of Jesus that we can be saved. Given the issues of the early 16th Century, this means that it is not your money, it is not the pope, and it is not the church that saves us – it is Jesus, and Jesus alone!
Solus Scriptura – By Scripture Alone
Key Verse: 2 Timothy 3.16-17
The idea of truth has been debated for eons. Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” ( John 18.38). This question occurred just hours after Jesus had proclaimed to His disciples that He is the truth (John 14.6). And if Jesus is the truth, then the Bible must be filled with it. Why do I make such a claim? Because Jesus is the living Word (John 1.1) and the Bible is the written Word.
2 Timothy 3.16-17 speaks of the veracity of the entirety of Scripture – all of it is true. It is all fully truth, although Scripture is not the full truth (e.g. nowhere in Scripture do we find recent events (such as two hurricanes striking the US) or even truths such as a2 + b2 = c2. That said, Scripture provides every bit of detail we need to know regarding how to live and what to believe that we might glorify God. When Luther was demanded to recant his writings and teachings regarding the infallible nature of the Bible, and the imperfect nature of the pope, it is said, he proclaimed, arguably his most famous sentence, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” May we be as bold to defend Scripture.
Sola Gratia – By Grace Alone
Key Verses: Ephesians 2.8-9
An important point of note with regards to this doctrine is that the Catholic Church DOES BELIEVE you are saved by the grace of God. The difference is the word alone. Nothing you or I do can make God look at us and think, “that person is worthy of my grace and should be saved.” No, we are all equals – we all sin. We all fall short of the glory of God. But it is through His grace, the great gift of grace of which Paul wrote that you and I can be saved. As Luther said, “God doesn’t love us because of our worth, we are of worth because God loves us.”
We will unpack these verses in their context in the coming weeks, but if you recall from our study of Ephesians a few years ago, it is Ephesians 2.4 that expresses, “But God.” We cannot earn anything of our salvation. Why? Because the Bible says we were dead – and dead people can’t do anything good (or bad for that matter). But God. Luther commented that anyone who tries to add even the least bit of works to grace, doesn’t understand the idea of grace at all.
Soli Deo Gloria – For God’s Glory Alone
Key Verse: 1 Corinthians 10.31
This particular doctrine is one which causes a great deal of trouble for most people – and Christians aren’t exempt. The idea here is that we do everything for God’s glory. Most people have a dualistic mindset. When I go to church, I give God glory. When I am at work, I am doing my work. When I am on vacation, I am doing what I want. The idea is we break down what we do into “my and I” statements versus “God” statements. And, of course, the world does this when they say, “Keep your religion to yourself.”
1 Corinthians 10.31 says that even the most mundane tasks – things we don’t normally even think about – like eating and drinking, should be done for God’s glory. (We should not overlook the fact that this verse is just before Paul speaks of how the Corinthians Church was abusing the Lord’s Supper.) Luther was not a perfect man, far from it, but his aim was to please God, not the pope, not the church, and not even himself. May we find ourselves, in all aspects of our lives, seeking God’s glory, not our own.
This post is simply a short introduction to the Five Solas – or Five Onlys. Some people mock this idea because only means singular, but the idea here is that the “only” is set against the teachings that were present in the day. Only God’s glory, not our own. Only Scripture, not the church. Only grace, not our works. Etc. We will explore these more fully in the coming weeks.
It is quite possible that these thoughts do not sound foreign to you at all. If so, that is good and the way it should be. But 500 years ago, these five ideas were barely a flicker of thought to any man, let alone a congregation, or denomination, or to Christianity in general. And it was these teachings which would get you excommunicated from the church if you were fortunate, and killed if you weren’t.
As we go through each of the solas in the coming weeks, I will get more specific about their continued applicability to us. But for today, let me just give our JOURNEY letter as:
JOURNEY: J – Jesus
Again, all five solas point to Him. Our faith is in Jesus. The Scriptures point to Jesus. God’s grace was made known through Jesus. And it was Jesus who brought God perfect glory and enables us to as well. It was, and is, and ever shall be, about Jesus!
NEXT STEP(S): LEARN You may be familiar with these five principles, or maybe this post is the first you have heard of them by these names. I encourage you to learn more about them – not because of The Reformation, but because of the truths they represent. We will cover them more in the coming weeks, but I can only scratch the surface, and bringing God glory demands more.