A while back, the Sylvania College and Career group did a six week study on the Five Solas of the Reformation. In six weeks, the study was not, of course, exhaustive. Semesters have been taught on overviews of each one, and I’m not so arrogant to think we can discuss everything there is about Reformation theology in six weeks. The point of the study was to whet the appetite.
It’s a good thing to read theology and church history, and not just for knowledge. The more you know and understand about Christ and what He has done and is doing in the Church, the more you love Him, or should. Nothing makes for humble adoration of Christ like reflecting on how sinners are made right with a holy God.
Que Sola Sola?
When we think about the Reformation, we must recognize that the Reformation did not start with Martin Luther. There were many men who are now known as “pre-Reformers.” These were men who were given the privilege of reading the Bible for themselves because they were learned priests. In doing so, they saw inconsistencies between what the Roman Church taught and what the Scripture taught. However, it was Luther whom God used to fan an ember into a bonfire. This led to the greatest split ever in church history.
I think that many Protestants would be surprised today to hear that Roman Catholicism believed in the 16th century, and does today, that justification is by grace, through faith, because of Christ. Rome professed then and professes today that Scripture is inspired, infallible, and a rule for faith and practice.
What Rome does not believe is that we are made right with God by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. Rome taught then, and teaches today, that justification is by grace plus merit (yours or a saint’s, or both), through faith plus works.
Alone and Enough
In response, the Reformers had five main slogans, all using the word “Sola,” or some form of it, meaning “alone.” It was not simply enough to cry, “faith!”, “grace!”, “Christ!”, or “The glory of God!” The Roman Catholics would simply nod and say, “What’s the problem?”
However, with Scripture alone as the sure foundation, the Reformers staked their lives on the principle that justification is by grace alone, received through faith alone because of Christ alone to the glory of God alone.
It has been rightly said that justification by faith alone was the central issue of the 16th century controversy between Rome and the Reformers, but underneath that and supporting that was the “formal” issue, the structure in which the whole debate ensued. That issue was one of final authority – who or what speaks for God?
The Reformers responded with Scripture Alone – Sola Scriptura. We’ll take that up next.