How are the Five Solas Applicable to us Today?
This essay won 2nd place in Reformed Pinoy's Essay Writing Contest, written and submitted by Bro. Daniel Gaad.
Introduction: Battle Cries and Battle Grounds
People shout for a myriad of reasons. They can shout for joy, scream for fear, yell for help, or howl for sorrow. There are as many motives for shouting as there are as many terms as possible that can be used to describe it. But one particular kind of shouting is a battle cry. It is a word, or a phrase shouted by soldiers as they march into battle to stir up emotions and to terrify the opposing army. Battle cries are symbolic of the ideals that an army expresses as they promote a certain cause.
In church history, the Five Solas refer to five Latin phrases that served as battle cries during the 16th century Protestant Reformation. In those times, the Roman Catholic Church and their unbiblical traditions controlled much of the religious and political landscape of Europe. Their abuse of spiritual authority reached its peak when, in order to raise funds for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Leo X commissioned a Dominican monk to sell indulgences.¹ Such practice became widespread until on the 31st of October 1517, an Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther condemned this false gospel system by posting his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The battle ground was set. This sparked the movement of protests against the Roman Catholic Church and paved the way to recovering biblical truth about salvation and reforming the church in light of what the Bible really says.
The ideals of this Protestant Reformation can be summarized by the Five Solas:
1) sola Scriptura(scripture alone) 2) sola gratia(God’s grace alone) 3) sola fide (faith alone) 4) solus Christus(Christ alone) 5) soli deo Gloria (God’sglory alone)
In the time of the Reformation, the battle was fought in the grounds of salvation and the state of man’s eternal soul. Sola scriptura upheld that the Bible alone is the sole authority for the church’s doctrine and life. This stood in contrast to what Rome taught, that human tradition determines faith and obedience, resulting in the mass sale of indulgences. Scripture is clear that salvation is not found in human efforts but as a result of God’s grace alone (sola gratia). Salvation is received, not by any religious ceremonies nor any human good works but through faith alone (sola fide) in its sole object, Jesus Christ. This means that salvation is made possible only because of Christ (solus Christus) and his full and perfect sacrifice for sin, and that not a person nor an institution can add anything to his sufficient work to merit redemption. Glory then, is to be given only to God alone (soli deo Gloria) for the arrangement, accomplishment, and application of salvation.
A New Battleground
Though issues regarding salvation is, and remains to be relevant in the Christian life, there is a new battleground today where the faithfulness of believers are tested. If questions on soteriology are the main concern of the Reformation, questions on ecclesiology should be one of the main concerns of the 21st century church. Soteriology and ecclesiology are inter-dependent and linked with each other. Christians are not saved to be independent pilgrims only but also to be part of Christ’s body on earth (Acts 2:41; 1 Cor 12:12-13). Christians are saved by God’s grace alone, but they are not saved to be alone, rather they must seek to build up, edify, and minister to one another in the context of a local church body (Eph 4:13-16).
Hence, I can say with conviction that the next area where the battlecries of the Reformation must be applied is in the church. In an age marked by autonomy and pragmatism, Christians should keep the Five Solas inherited from the Reformation as signposts that keep them from swerving off the truths that God has revealed. Christians should now be mindful on how to apply these solas as protections of biblical truth about the tasks of the church and a way of preserving the church from deadly compromise with the world. The church’s worship, preaching, missions, prayers, and future directions should be shaped by the old battle cries of the Reformation.
a) Soli deo Gloria and Church Worship The Apostle Peter is explicit in linking salvation to a Christian’s exaltation and proclamation of God’s praises. 1 Peter 4:4-5 states:
4 As you come to him, a livingstone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house,to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.²
A connection is made from Christians being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer worship that is acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. A few verses later, Peter makes the same point:
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.³
The very reason why believers are called together in a church is so that they can proclaim the excellencies of God who called them out of darkness into light. There is no question then about the centrality of the worship of God in the life and responsibility of the church.
However, in modern times, the idea of worship has been reduced into a man-centered stirring of emotions through musical repetitions. How common is it to see and hear of similarities between a rock concert or a music festival to a typical Christian church worship service? How far has the church fallen from the standard of Scripture! We are saved ultimately for God’s glory alone therefore the worship that we offer must be exalting to Him alone because he has made salvation possible; and not focusing on the performance of a worship team nor the induced emotions of worship leaders in a worship service. To glorify God is to take the attention off of man but focus it solely on God.
What naturally comes out of this is a principle that should regulate how churches should order their worship. Since giving glory to God is the supreme goal of corporate worship, He alone has the prerogative to determine the terms of coming into his presence to worship. If churches are to glorify God in their corporate gatherings, they must do away with any human innovation that is not explicitly set by the Scriptures. Churches must seek to truly worship and glorify God through centering on the proclamation of His Word through its praying, reading, singing, and ultimately preaching.
b) Solus Christus and Church Preaching
If God-glorifying worship is centered on the preaching of the Bible, what should guide preachers in their task of proclamation? While Christ himself testified that the message of the Bible points to him (Luke 24:27), too many preachers today come into the pulpit weekly with messages supposedly coming from the Bible that only resemble motivational and inspirational talks, focusing on human solutions to human problems. Therefore, there is a necessity to recover a Christ-centered perspective on preaching.
Apostolic preaching is Christ-centered preaching. The early church was founded on the account of Peter preaching Christ on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:22-24). The apostles continued in preaching Christ even in the face of persecutions (Acts 5:42). Paul’s message is that of Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23), and faith comes from hearing the preached Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Biblical preaching in the New Testament is all about proclaiming the person and work of Christ and its implications in the life of the believer. If Jesus Christ is the sum and substance of the gospel, he should also be the sum and substance of true preaching. If salvation is bought by his perfect and finished work, preaching should then be focused on him alone. Preaching should not be concerned on man-centered promises of a better life but Christ and cross-centered guarantee of spiritual life. Charles Spurgeon has this to say about preaching Christ:
Of all, I would wish to say this is the sum; my brethren, preach Christ, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme. The world needs still to be told of its Savior, and of the way to reach him… We are not called to proclaim philosophy and metaphysics, but the simple gospel. Man’s fall, his need of a new birth, his forgiveness through an atonement, and salvation as the result of faith, these are our battle-ax and weapons of war⁴
c) Sola Gratia and Church Evangelism
Before Christ ascended into heaven, he left a command to the apostles known as the Great Commission:
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee,to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold,I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ⁵
This command to preach the gospel to all nations became the foundation for doing evangelism. Christians use this as a proof text for spreading and propagating the faith that was once delivered to all the saints. However,there is one neglected characteristic to this commission that often leads to misunderstanding the church’s work and that is discipleship. The call is simply to make disciples and not just to “share” the gospel to people who, in time, may or may not follow Christ.
A disciple is simply a learner or a follower. In the New Testament, the term is technically applied for the followers of Jesus Christ. Eventually, it became tantamount to those who believe and confess Christ’s Lordship. But what is notable about being a disciple is that disciples do not seek out Jesus; rather, they answer when He calls them⁶. This finds its basis on the calling of the twelve apostles. They all come from diverse backgrounds, but they are called into a relationship to Christ. God’s grace in their call is instrumental in making them disciples of Jesus Christ.
In pursuing the church’s task of missions and evangelism, believers must consider the condition and goal of discipleship in the propagation of the faith. The prerequisite for engaging in church evangelism is discipling and the purpose of church evangelism is to make disciples. Therefore, the principal factor in the church’s engagement with evangelizing the lost is not the methods of sharing but God’s grace! How often the church forgets this. Most evangelistic programs today rely too heavily on thinking through the right tools and effective techniques of bringing people into church yet all believers who engage in the work of evangelism and missions must first go back and recognize that it is the grace of God in calling the lost that makes disciples and not unique and novel methods.
d) Sola Fide and Church Prayer
Drawing on the issue of the modern church’s overreliance on worldly strategies to gain new converts, it reveals another area of concern, one that is a necessary and a logical conclusion to dependence on secular means: faithlessness that manifests itself in prayerlessness. When the church fails to grasp the importance of God’s grace, it leads them to think and believe that there are a lot of things that they can do without God’s help.
Prayer is the life of a Christian, and by extension, the life of the church. It portrays their reliance on God to uphold their life and ministry. Without prayer, there is no oxygen that flows through the church’s lungs leaving it suffocated from lack of God’s sustaining grace. But even though prayer is necessary, it does not come naturally. A constant remembrance of one’s inability to live outside of God’s grace as well as the recollection of God’s gracious past actions is required to be pressed upon the church’s heart to always be in prayer and communion with her Lord.
Just as salvation is received through faith in Christ, prayers are also offered through faith in the name of Christ. If Christians affirm that a person can come as righteous before God through faith, it only logically follows that prayer as an act of coming before God is a test of a church’s faith.
A prayerless church or even a church that does not think of prayer as crucial to their ministry is a church that not only has neglected God’s clear instruction in Scripture to constantly be in prayer (Luke 18:1; Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:17) but also has abandoned her faith to God. Churches must stop and think of how much time they devote to prayers. Is prayer an essential part of the church’s ministry? Is the contemplation of God’s attributes and actions present in the congregational prayers during a worship service? Are there appointed times when the church will meet to pray for church concerns? Churches today would do well if they rediscover their faith in God through prayer.
e) Sola Scriptura and Church Reformation The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, though began with issues regarding salvation, eventually turned out to become a battle of authority: who has the power to dictate what the church must or must not believe? The prevailing thought of the day ceded that authority to the Pope and the traditions of Rome. Their words became the fundamental doctrine that all churches and all people should uphold and believe. Yet the Reformers thought otherwise. They recognized God’s authority in His written Word, placing back the Bible as the sole authority in a believer’s life despite standing in contrast against the backdrop of centuries-old traditions.
Asserting that God’s Word is authoritative against any human traditions sparked the long-awaited Reformation against the Roman Catholic church. Had this doctrine not been recovered, the church will still be in darkness and believers will not be free to practice the freedom that the Bible gives. Therefore, any compromise in the church’s commitment to the primacy of the Bible is a step towards a downward spiral that results to the body’s self-destruction.
In many churches today, secular philosophies and ideologies take the same place as Scripture. Church ministry is guided by modern trends rather than by biblical standards; church leadership and government follow worldly models of being charismatic, appealing, and practical, instead of holiness and faithfulness; and Christian living is shaped by emotions in place of abiding with divine truth. No wonder that many churches are weakened by shallow believers!
If the church is the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim 3:15), recovering the preeminence of Scripture’s place in the life of the church is a must. Strong churches are borne by a strong commitment to the teachings of Scripture as laid out through historic doctrines such as the Five Solas. The church must take seriously the Apostle Paul’s affirmation that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Tim 3:16) by making it the only standard upon which they can compare their doctrine and deeds. As no Christians can be perfect in this life, no churches can be perfect in this age as well. Therefore, a constant evaluation of a church’s life against the standard set by the Scripture is crucial for the church’s continuity.
Conclusion: Old BattleCries for Continuing Battles Ahead
It was on the 15th of November, one hundred twenty-seven years ago that the Filipino propaganda movement’s main publishing arm, the “La Solidaridad”, stopped its publication due to insufficiency of funds.⁷ In Philippine history, this movement is instrumental in bringing the abuses of Spanish colonial rule to light and the championing of democratic ideals. Although the publication ceased, it was 40 years later, on the same date of November 15th that the Philippine commonwealth was inaugurated.⁸ Though now under American colonial influence, the fight that was begun by the propagandists in Spain was, in a sense, fulfilled in that for the first time in Philippine history, a Filipino occupied Malacañang which represents the seat of power in the country.
The old battle cry of freedom from colonizers survived and was taken seriously even though people and institutions rose and fell through the years of the revolution. As a result,the fight was eventually won, and the goal of liberty was achieved. A very telling lesson here can be learned that a movement must be strengthened and so driven by its foundational historical beliefs and reasons for existence for it to come out strong and ready to face the continuing battles that are ahead.
As Filipino Christians in our day and age are faced with many divisions within the church and worldly philosophies creeping in from the outside, we must then go back to our historical foundations and reason of existence summarized by the old battlecries of the Five Solas to inform our church life and govern the way things are done and situations are dealt with.
The call of Sola Scriptura should provoke the church to conform to God’s standards in its task of worship that ultimately glorifies God, preaching that rightly exalts Christ, mission work anchored on God’s grace, zeal in prayer rooted in faith and holiness arising from a heart of love. In the time when the church is more essential than ever, there is a pressing need to recover the Five Solas of the Reformation and apply that to the life of the church where it should always be central.
¹ https://www.worldhistory.org/Johann_Tetzel/ ² The Holy Bible: EnglishStandard Version(1 Pe 2:4–5).(2016). Crossway Bibles. ³ The Holy Bible: EnglishStandard Version(1 Pe 2:9). (2016). CrosswayBibles. ⁴ Spurgeon, C.H. (2010). Lectures to my Students. Hendrickson Publishers. 79.
⁵ The Holy Bible: EnglishStandard Version(Mt 28:16–20). (2016).Crossway Bibles. ⁶ Nässelqvist, D. (2016). Disciple. In J. D. Barry,D. Bomar, D. R. Brown,R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, L. Wentz, E. Ritzema, & W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Lexham Press.
⁷ The La Solidaridad stoppedpublication November 15, 1895 (kahimyang.com)
⁸ Commonwealth of the Philippines was inaugurated November15, 1935 (kahimyang.com)