More than a Church Protest: How the Five Solas Define Our Faith Today
This essay was submitted as part of Reformed Pinoy's Essay Writing Contest, written and submitted by Bro. Arius Raposas.
Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Soli Deo Gloria (God’s Glory Alone). If you asked the Christian reformers of the 16th century, they probably would have not explicitly summarized their beliefs in these Five Solas. Historically speaking, they would only be systematically organized as such later on. And thus, criticism on the Five Solas arises. Are they biblical? Do they faithfully reflect the Lord’s teachings? Can they be used as believers’ guides? Are they still suitable, or were they even so in the first place?
Yet when we ponder about how the Five Solas seem to insist on uniqueness – on being alone – are we not reminded of how the God of the Old Testament lifted a people up to make His name known? Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was arguably the first in recorded history to distinguish Himself from the other gods and goddesses as exclusively alone. And for that matter, exclusively aniconic (Exodus 20:4). There is no other God besides Him, so much so that He professed Himself as a jealous God (Exodus 34:14), and such faith stood in contrast with the rest of the world where millions of gods abound. Even among the people He chose, the Hebrews, there were doubts if the worship of Yahweh would actually last (Exodus 32:2-4). Looking at the strength of the nations around them, their unbelief lingered (1 Samuel 8:19-20), but the Lord is still with them (Micah 7:18-20). Yahweh’s Israel may have been small relative to the world powers – Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Macedon, Rome – but He has set them apart, and the testimonies of their God’s faithfulness were preserved. He has ensured through the shifting fortunes of space and time that His name will remain above all names (Philippians 2:9-11). In a similar vein, we may note of Gamaliel’s logic (Acts 5:34-39) that if such doctrine is of human origin, it would fail. For who would truly persist, suffer, or even die for a figment of human imagination? “It is well that time brings all to light,” once wrote Tertullian (The Apology, Chapter 7). While many gods have fallen into oblivion as history progressed, and some of those who once professed their faith had abandoned the way (1 Timothy 4:1), we have yet to see the Lord fail Gamaliel’s test.
Let us then look at the Five Solas. Some may argue they were useless to begin with, or if they did have purpose, it has already been served, and are therefore no longer relevant in this age. If we say the Reformation has ended already, then it would probably follow that such argument would hold water. However, we observe to this day that “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda.” That is, the church is reformed, and is always reforming. From Noah to Abraham, from Moses to Elijah, from Malachi to John the Baptist, the Lord has amply provided reformers to lead His people back to the safety of His aegis. Just as Yahweh demonstrated singularity as His defining trait to the people of old, we can perhaps find reason to believe the Five Solas have succinctly described the faith which He has graciously granted to us despite our flaws. From this perspective, there would be realization that in professing the Solas, humanity would no longer have to find solace in the refuge of other gods and goddesses. They were meant more than articulating protest inside the Christian establishment. Rather, they help us understand in so few words the majesty and the mystery of God in comparison with everything else, including those adhered to by people regarding themselves as irreligious. For if there is only one God (Mark 12:29), and He has sent for our salvation a single mediator (1 Timothy 2:5-6), then the Solas make sense. In addition, if that one Lord remains relevant to us today (Revelation 11:17), and has provided for us His Word as our guide for all seasons (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then the Solas would be relevant as well. Every aspect of the Solas depends on each other, as our values rely on Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11). For instance, faith and grace are seen together involved in salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). We say “alone” not because they are to be regarded as separate. What they tackle are different fields which, when taken together, point us to the same God (Acts 24:14-15). In sum, we say “alone” because they come from the Lord who reigns alone above the gods and the goddesses of the world (Psalm 82:1).
With these in consideration, we are confronted with another question: How then would the Five Solas apply to us? In the British sitcom Mind Your Language (1977-1979), the irreligious Chung Su-Lee made this point in defending her beliefs, “Firstly, it is necessary to make platform where intellectual thought could stand. When building house, it is necessary to make firm foundations.” It may have been used to lampoon those who are “dialectically verbose,” but in this sketch, one could also witness that you do not have to be Paul the Apostle or Augustine of Hippo to know that someday someone would try to break down the walls of what you believe as true, may it be about the divine or the mundane. It could be as simple as the color of water, or where the sun sets, but it could be as eternally significant as life after death, and Coming King’s judgment (John 5:22-27). The Five Solas, in our modern context far from the times of Martin Luther or John Calvin, would be more than mnemonics, slogans, or trivia to impress your family and friends with, but also a compass of our principles. In retrospect, a compass does not tell us everything we need to know for navigation. Little and compact as it is, such device would provide us little information about where we are headed and how exactly we would journey towards the destination. And yet, it helps. When we are aware of how the compass works, everything else follows. Jesus Himself had once simplified the many laws of His time (Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:29-31, Luke 10:27). If such a process would be beneficial for us to better understand the will of God, what then of the Five Solas? If another formula would arise in the future, then good, but let it always bring us to God.