Rev. Peter A. Brown
Dear Children of the Reformation,
As you’ve been hearing, we are about to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, which the Augustinian monk Martin Luther unwittingly launched when he posted his ninety-five theses (points for discussion) on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. The Reformers (Luther and his successors) emphasized three “solas” (or “solae” for Latin purists—it’s from the Latin word for “only” or “alone”), to which two more were added during the last century. They were the foundational theological principles of the Reformation. By way of review (or introduction, maybe?), here’s a summary of them*:
1. Sola Gratia (By Grace Alone)
This is the idea that salvation cannot be obtained through human effort (Ephesians 1:7). It is only by God’s grace (unmerited favor) that we can be forgiven and justified, so that our relationship with Him is restored. As Luther said, “Truly, then, we are saved by grace alone, without works or other merit.”
2. Sola Fide (Through Faith Alone)
This emphasizes that justification can only be received through faith. No good work or deed on our part will earn this gift; instead, we must put our faith in Christ as our only means of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). Putting the first two “solas” together: We are saved only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
3. Solus Christus (In Christ Alone)
God is gracious and loving, but also holy and just. In order for sinners to be justified, our sins must be accounted for. This was accomplished through the sinless life, sacrificial death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ’s atoning death is the only means by which we can obtain the forgiveness of our sins (John 14:6; Acts 4:11-12).
4. Soli Deo Gloria (To the Glory of God Alone)
All things, including the justification of sinners and the lives of believers, are created for the purpose of bringing glory to God (Revelation 4:11). As the Westminster Catechism famously expressed it, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
5. Sola Scriptura (Under the Authority of Scripture Alone)
The Bible is our ultimate authority for understanding God, salvation, and how we are to live. No Pope, Pastor, other spiritual leader, creed, or tradition has such authority. God’s Word is all-sufficient for teaching and correction (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
On those pillars the Protestant Reformation was built, and on them we continue to stand to this day. (Theology class is now dismissed.)
Happy Reformation Day!
(Rev.) Peter A. Brown
*adapted from an Internet article (http://reasonabletheology.org/the-five-solas-of-the-reformation/) by Clayton Kraby, a Pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Grand Forks, ND.