As a Christian, can you define what it is that you believe? How about in one sentence? Maybe the Reformation can help.
Although the 16th-century Reformation may be regarded as a historic relic, the principles it enunciated continue to have relevance for Christians today, comprehensively shaping our devotions to God, faith, and salvation.
In this post, we’ll look at the Five Solas from the Reformation, their scriptural foundations, arguments for and against, and how they clearly convey the foundations of Christianity.
Since New Testament churches are decentralized entities with a plurality of elders in leadership, it is easy to see how a centralized entity with a single leader could grow in dominance; historically, such was Roman Catholicism. In the early 16th century, religious, political, and social upheaval in Europe sparked calls for reforms in the practices and beliefs of the Roman Church. The Reformation directly confronted these abuses and the Roman Church.
Martin Luther, a German monk who challenged the authority of the Church primarily objected to the sale of indulgences, which were certificates that promised forgiveness of sins in exchange for money. Luther believed that salvation could not be bought nor earned through works but was a gift of God’s grace that could only be received through faith in Jesus Christ.
The resulting Reformation led to a re-establishment of Biblical Christianity which rejected many of the teachings and practices of that era and set a standard of belief that is straightforward and penetrating even today.
The Five Solas of the Reformation can be summarized as follows:
The Five Solas are individually inclusive of scripture, faith, grace, Jesus Christ, and the glory of God.
- Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone): means that the Bible is the only source of authority for Christian faith and practice and was a response to the belief prioritizing tradition.
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17 articulates, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
- Psalm 19:7 says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.”
- Some have argued that the concept of Sola Scriptura is not supported by the Bible because the Bible itself does not teach it explicitly. However, the Bible does teach the sufficiency and authority of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Matthew 4:4), and commands against adding to or taking from the Scripture (Deuteronomy 4:2, Proverbs 30:6, Deuteronomy 12:32, Revelation 22:18-19). Also, Mark 7:13 warns of invalidating Scripture through the addition of tradition.
- Sola Fide (Faith alone): means that salvation is by faith alone, and not by any good works or merit on the part of the believer, and is a response to the belief in the necessity of good works for salvation.
- Ephesians 2:8-9 declares, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
- Galatians 2:16 articulates, “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law, no one will be justified.”
- Some have argued that James 2:24, which states “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” is proof against Sola Fide, but this verse is actually talking about the relationship between faith and works; that is, true faith produces good works, not that works produces salvation.
- Sola Gratia (Grace alone): means that salvation is a gift from God that cannot be earned or deserved. This was a response to the belief in the necessity of sacraments and good works for both the origination and even maintenance of one’s salvation.
- Romans 3:23-24 expresses, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
- Titus 3:4-7 states, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
- Solus Christus (Christ alone): indicates that salvation is through Christ alone and not through any other mediators or means. This was a response to the belief in the required intercession of priests, saints, and the Pope, as well as reliance on other religions and even false gods.
- John 14:6 expresses, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”
- Acts 4:12 articulates, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name [Christ] under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
- See the major argument against this below.
- Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone): means that all glory and honor belong to God alone and not to any human being, institution, or creation. This was a response to a misplaced emphasis on the authority and duty to the Church and its leaders.
- 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
- Romans 11:36 says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
- The first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism confirm this declaration: “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
Refuting the Solas
Overall, no scriptural verses directly refute the Five Solas of the Reformation. Outside of the arguments discussed above, possibly the primary disagreement with the Five Solas will be the exclusivity of salvation in Christ alone.
Although the Bible is clear in Acts 4:10-12 “[that] by the name of Jesus Christ…whom God raised from the dead…there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among mankind by which we must be saved” some have issues reconciling this with those purportedly without an opportunity to hear the gospel.
The argument often follows along the line of “What about the poor Pigmy in Africa who has never heard the Gospel?”
In his book “The Gospel According to Jesus,” John MacArthur writes, “God is not limited by geography or culture or language. He is able to save anyone, anywhere, at any time. He can reveal himself to people in ways that we cannot even imagine, and he can draw them to himself through his grace and mercy.”
Since God’s revelation comes in different forms, including through creation, conscience, and culture, even those who have not specifically heard the gospel can still know something of God’s character and attributes through the natural world (creation) and their own sense of right and wrong (conscience). This knowledge of God can lead people to seek Him and ultimately find salvation through faith in Christ.
This argument is supported biblically as follows:
- Romans 1:20 – “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” This verse suggests that God’s attributes can be seen in creation and that people can know something of God’s character through the very existence of the natural world.
- Acts 17:26-27 – “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” This verse suggests that God has a purpose in creating different nations and cultures and that He desires that all people would seek Him and find Him.
- John 10:16 – “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” This verse suggests that there are people who are not part of the “sheep pen” of Israel but who still belong to Christ and will hear his voice.
- Acts 10:34-35 – “Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.'” This verse suggests that God accepts people from every nation who fear him and does what is right, regardless of their religious background or nationality.
- There are numerous missionary stories that relate indigenous persons remarking something along the line of “I know God, I just didn’t know his name.” The Missionary Movement in American Catholic History by John Tracy Ellis mentions that “many of the indigenous peoples whom the missionaries encountered already had a sense of the divine and a belief in a higher power….” Somehow, God gets through to whom He desires.
It is unfortunate that so many churches fail miserably in teaching even the fundamentals of Christianity. Many concentrate on contemporary topics such as social justice issues or pick and choose biblical passages as supposed support for their weak sermonettes for christianettes. Subsequent to the Reformation, not only were the Five Solas known and understood by believers, but summaries of Christian principles, such as the Westminster Catechism, were also employed to instruct believers in the various truths of the bible.
If nothing more, the Five Solas; “We believe in salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, and for the glory of God alone” is a superb foundation for understanding and declaring the principle tenets of the Christian faith.