An Introduction To The Five “Solas” of Reformation

August 14, 2005 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

  I am sharing to you some of the lessons from God that we have learned as a church since the separation we had nine years ago from a church that has departed from the Faith. And as I said, if we are to properly thank and praise God for what He has done for and through SDG church for the past nine years, one of the things that we can do is to follow what Paul wrote to Timothy in 2nd Timothy 3:14,   But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,   Last week we have looked at four lessons:
  1. The first lesson is a WARNING: We must not assume that because the SDG church started correctly, she will inevitably continue to do so.
  2. The second lesson is an ENCOURAGEMENT: Not all church divisions are sinful or unbiblical.
  3. The third lesson is a REBUKE: As disciples of Christ, we must set aside our own agenda and seek to align ourselves to God’s agenda, the church.
  4. The fourth lesson is a CHALLENGE: The church must exert every effort to be delivered from theological illiteracy.
  When I gave comments on the fourth lesson which is a challenge for the church to exert every effort to be delivered from theological illiteracy, I mentioned that some of the practical things we could do is to get to know the great doctrines that shook the world such as the five "solas" of the Reformation. Well, that’s what I would like to do now.   I am going to divide our study into two parts. Today, I intend only to give you an introduction and next week, the Lord willing, I will deal in more detail with the 5 “solas.” To guide is in our study, I will try to answer four questions:
  1. What is the Reformation?
  2. Why did the Reformation take place?
  3. What were the five great Reformation doctrines?
  4. What is the relevance of the Reformation for the church today?

I.             What is the Reformation?

  Encarta Dictionary: the 16th-century religious movement in Europe that set out to reform some of the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church and resulted in the development of Protestantism   Microsoft Encarta: Reformation, general term, sometimes applied to the complex changes in Western Christendom that began in the 14th century and culminated in the 17th century, but now more commonly used to delineate the religious transformation of the 16th century which resulted in the establishment of Protestantism. This transformation was unique. It did not occur in Orthodox Russia or in the remnant of Byzantine Christianity in Greece and it is difficult to find its parallel in the other advanced civilizations of Eurasia. Protestantism set out to reform the fabric of the traditional Christian Church. Protestants wanted to change not merely the Church but also its underlying rationale for offering salvation. They sought to do so on the authority of the Bible and the example of the early Christian Church. In the process, the Reformation irrevocably split Christendom, ended the ecclesiastical supremacy of the papacy and became interwoven in complex political and social changes in European society in the 16th and 17th centuries, whose outcomes it helped to mould.  

II.           Why did the Reformation take place?

To answer this question, I would like to read from the book Roman Catholicism, subtitled Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Divides and Unites Us. This book is a collection of essays from Evangelical Protestants that gives a serious and scholarly response to the historic and contemporary issues that divide the Roman Catholics from Protestants. In chapter 3, What Really Caused the Great Divide?, W. Robert Godfrey gives us the reason: Why did the Reformation take place? Historians have sought to answer that question from a wide variety of perspectives. They have given attention to the political, social, and economic circumstances of the 16th century to understand the setting of the Reformation. They have studied the cultural and intellectual developments of the late medieval and Renaissance periods as crucial backdrop for the Reformation. But ultimately it was not these factors that divided the church. These factors may have contributed in a variety of ways to the success of the Reformation, but they were not the heart of the Reformation. The heart of the Reformation was a distinct spiritual and theological vision—quite different from the one that had dominated the medieval church. During the Middle Ages many reformations had occurred in the life of the church. But all of them were movements for moral reform. They sought to address various moral abuses and corruption of the personal and institutional life of the church. The great Reformation of the 16th century also addressed various moral problems in the church. But the essence of the Reformation was doctrinal. The Reformers were persuaded that the spiritual and moral corruption of the church stemmed from doctrinal error that needed to be reformed by the Word of God. The Patristic period of church history (i.e., the first couple of hundred years after the resurrection of Christ) was primarily concerned with the doctrines of the Trinity and Christology; the Reformation was concerned primarily with two main doctrines: religious authority (who or what is the final authority that will regulate one’s faith and practice), salvation (how is a man saved?).  

III.          What were the five great Reformation doctrines?

  As the Reformation progressed there developed five great biblical doctrines and it was summarized by the well-known solas (Latin for “only” or “alone”):  
  • sola Scriptura—Scripture alone—the Scriptures are the sole and sufficient standard for preaching, doctrine, worship and life
  • sola gratia—grace alone—grace is the sole and sufficient cause for God's salvation of the ungodly
  • solus Christus—Christ alone—Christ is the sole and sufficient Savior who fully merited redemption of sinners
  • sola fide—faith alone—faith is the sole and sufficient instrument through which God justifies the guilty
  • soli Deo gloria—to God alone be glory—Because all of these things are from him, to him, through him and for Him, God alone should receive glory for His saving work

IV.         What is the relevance of the Reformation for the church today?

  You might be wondering, what is the relevance of all of that history today? History has repeated itself. Neglect of those five doctrines was the major reason for the split within the Catholic church of the 16th century and similarly, it was neglect of those five doctrinal pillars that that SDG has separated from the former church. And, looking at it from a larger perspective, I would like to say that it is because many evangelicals have forgotten these doctrines and, consciously or not, have pursued the world’s wisdom and methods that the evangelical church today is generally in decline spiritually and morally.   To best explain to you the relevance of those doctrines for the evangelical church today, I would like to share to you from the book of James Montgomery Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? subtitled, Rediscovering the Doctrines That Shook the World. James Boice was senior minister of Philadelphia’s historic Tenth Presbyterian Church for thirty years, as well as leading spokesman for the Reformed Faith until his death in June 2000. He also served for ten years as chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.  
The Condition of the Church Now
  I would like to read to you from the first chapter of the book for it, more or less, contains the main points and the summary of the book and best explains the relevance of the five solas for the church today.   These are not good days for the evangelical church, and anyone who takes a moment to evaluate the life and outlook of evangelical churches will understand that. In recent years a number of books have been published in an effort to understand what is happening, and they are saying much the same thing even though their authors come from different backgrounds and are doing different work. I was struck by three studies that appeared within a year or two of each other. The first was No Place for Truth, by David F. Wells, professor of historical and systematic theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. The second was Power Religion, by Michael Scott Horton, vice president of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. The third volume was Ashamed of the Gospel, by John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. Each of these authors was writing about the evangelical church, and one can get an idea of what each is saying just from the titles alone. Yet the subtitles are even more revealing. The subtitle of Wells’s book is Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? The subtitle of Horton’s book is The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church. The subtitle of MacArthur’s work proclaims When the Church Becomes Like the World. When we put them together we realized that these careful observers of the current scene perceive that evangelicalism is seriously off-base today because it has abandoned its evangelical truth heritage. The thesis of Wells’s book is that the evangelical church is either dead or dying as a significant religious force because it has forgotten what it stands for. Instead of trying to do God’s work in God’s way, it is trying to build a prosperous earthly kingdom with secular tools. Thus, as we have noted, Wells declared that, in spite of our apparent success, we have been “living in a fool’s paradise.” John H. Armstrong, founder and president of Reformation and Revival Ministries, edited a volume titled The Coming Evangelical Crisis. When I asked him whether he thought the crisis was still coming or is actually here, he admitted that in his judgment the crisis is already upon us. “And why is that?” I continued. He answered, “It is because evangelicals have forgotten their theology.”   To be more specific, the church is in crisis today because it is, according to Boice, “pursuing the world’s wisdom, embracing the world’s theology, following the world’s agenda, and employing the world’s methods.” Listen to how he expounds this.   The world’s wisdom. Evangelicals are not heretics, at least not consciously. If we ask whether the Bible is the authoritative and inerrant Word of God, most will answer affirmatively, at least if the question is asked in traditional ways. Is the Bible God’s Word? Of course! All evangelicals know that. Is it authoritative? Yes, that too. Inerrant? Most evangelicals will affirm inerrancy. But many evangelicals have abandoned the Bible all the same simple because they do not think it is adequate for the challenges we face today. They do not think it is sufficient for winning people to Christ in this age, so they turn to felt-need sermons or entertainment or “signs and wonders” instead. They do not think the Bible is sufficient for achieving Christian growth, so they turn to therapy groups or Christian counseling. They do not think it is sufficient for making God’s will known, so they look for external signs or revelations. They do not think it is adequate for changing our society, so they establish evangelical lobby groups in Washington and work to elect “Christian” congressmen, senators, presidents, and other officials. They seek change by power politics and money.   The world’s theology. Like the liberals before us, evangelicals use the Bible’s words but give them new meaning, pouring bad secular content into spiritual terminology. But differently, of course. We live in a therapeutic age now. So evangelicals have recast their theology in psychiatric terms. Sin has become dysfunctional behavior. Salvation is self-esteem or wholeness. Jesus is more of an example for right living than our Savior from sin and God’s wrath. Sunday by Sunday people are told how to have happy marriages and raise nice children, but not how to get right with God. The problem here is that sin is not dysfunction, though it may contribute to it. “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Answer to Question 14), and our major problem is not a lack of integration of personalities but the peril of God’s wrath toward us for our sin. What we need from God in Christ is not an example for living but an atonement. Even preaching about happy marriages and raising nice children is wrong if it leads people to suppose that, if they succeed in these areas, everything is well with them whether or not they have repented of their sin, trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior, and are following Him as their Lord.   The world’s agenda. The world’s major agenda—forget world hunger, racism, or ecology—is to be happy—happiness being understood, as Francis Schaeffer put it in several of his books, as the maximum amount of personal peace and sufficient affluence to enjoy it. But is that not the bottom line of much evangelical preaching today? To be happy? To be contented? To be satisfied? Some of the worst forms of this particularly Western form of worldliness are seen in the health, wealth, and prosperity preachers, who claim that it is God’s desire that His people be rich and feel satisfied. But it is also seen in preaching that extols the good life as a valid Christian goal while failing to address the sins of those who are living for themselves rather than for others. Far be it from many Christians today to preach a gospel that would expose sin and drive men and women to the Savior—or demand a hard following after Jesus Christ the only true discipleship.   The world’s methods. Evangelical have become like liberals in this area too. How else are we to explain the emphasis so many place on numerical growth, large physical place, and money? Or so many bizarre approaches to evangelism? Or that so many pastors tone down the hard edges of biblical truth in order to attract greater numbers to their services? Or that we major in entertainment?   …Here is [an] example. An evangelical church in Philadelphia recently distributed a brochure giving “ten reasons” to visit their Sunday evening service:  
  1. The air conditioning feels great.
  2. Coffee and goodies for everyone after every service.
  3. The music is upbeat and easy to sing.
  4. You get to meet some really neat people.
  5. The sermon is always relevant to everyday life.
  6. You can sleep in on Sunday and still make it to church on time.
  7. Child care and children’s church are provided.
  8. Free parking!
  9. You can go to the shore for the weekend and still make it to church on Sunday night.
  10. You will discover an awesome God who cares about you.
The Solution for the Church
  Let me continue reading James Boice:   …Can anything be done about the current problems within evangelical churches? The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals believes that something can be done, but it will not be easy. The opening statement of the Cambridge Declaration says, “Evangelical churches today are increasingly dominated by the spirit of this age rather than by the Spirit of Christ. As evangelicals, we call ourselves to repent of this sin and to recover the historic Christian faith.” This calls for three things:  
  1. We must recognize and understand the problem. The problem is that we are “dominated by the spirit of this age,” even though we appear to have right doctrines and believe the right things.
  1. We must repent of this sin. People do not like to talk about sin today, but sin is our problem and we must talk about it and deal with it if we are to move forward. When we talk about repenting of this sin we mean that our doctrinal failure is an offense against God and is therefore something for which we need seriously to repent. The very first of “The Ninety-five Theses” prepared by Martin Luther said, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘repent,’ he meant that the entire life of believers,” it is certainly true of our first and standing obligation to defend and proclaim the gospel, which we have failed to do.
  1. We must recover the historic Christian faith.
  …Chief among the truths evangelicals need to recover are the great Reformation doctrines summarized by the well-known solas (Latin for “only” or “alone”): sola Sciptura, which means “Scripture alone”; solus Christus, which means “Christ alone”; sola gratia, which means “grace alone”; sola fide, which means “faith alone”; and soli Deo gloria, which means “glory to God alone.” Some matters of theology and church government are debatable and will undoubtedly be so until Jesus comes again. This will be true even among the most biblical theologians and the most sincere believers. Moreover, most leaders recognize that not everything that is desirable for the church, including these debatable matters, however important some of them may be, is essential for the church’s survival. But these qualifications do not apply here. Without these five confessional statements—Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and glory to God alone—we do not have a true church, and certainly not one that will survive for very long. For how can any church be a true and faithful church if it does not stand for Scripture alone, is not committed to a biblical gospel, and does not exist for God’s glory? A church without these convictions has ceased to be a true church, whatever else it may be.   This will require serious study of the Bible, and for some it will involve a radical reordering of their entire perspectives, not to mention the way they have been going about their Christian work. For all, it will mean a new reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit to work through the teaching and preaching of God’s word, rather than a frantic search for some tantalizing new methodology to persuade unbelievers to attend and join our churches.