Remembering the Reformation

Luther at Diet of WormsThe five solas are the pillars of the 16th century of the Reformation.  During this pivotal period in church history, a great movement swept over Europe led by courageous men in strategic places propagated by technology (i.e. the printing press).  These are “the doctrines that shook the world” as James Boice put it.  These men stood against the powerful institution of the Roman Catholic Church.  They sought to combat the excesses and errors of Catholic dogma.  The five solas remain essential to evangelical truth.  The reformers did not invent these pillars they recovered them.  I’m thankful they did.  I’ve listed the five solas along with an explanation taken from James Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace: Rediscovering the Doctrines that Shook the World (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2001).

  1. Sola Scriptura or Scripture alone.  This sola speaks to the authority and sufficiency of the sixty-six books of the Bible for the Christian (2 Timothy 3:16).  “In Martin Luther’s day, sola Scriptura had to do with the Bible being the sole and ultimate authority for Christians over against challenges to it from the traditions of the medieval church, church councils, and the pope.  Today, at least in the evangelical church, that is not our chief problem; we assert biblical authority.  Rather, our problem is in deciding whether the bible is sufficient for the church’s life and work” (Boice, 66).
  2. Solus Christus or Christ alone.  This sola affirms that Jesus has accomplished what is necessary for salvation apart from any work of our own (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 8:1-3; 1 Timothy 2:5).  Jesus will never stand next to a plus sign.  “Justification because of Christ alone (solus Christus) means that Jesus has done the necessary work of salvation utterly and completely, so that no merit of the saints, no work of ours performed either here or later in purgatory, can add to his completed work.  In fact, any attempt to add to Christ’s work is a perversion of the gospel and indeed is no gospel at all (Gal. 1:6-9)” (Boice, 88).  Compare this to the damnable error of the Catholic church which claims, “The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1129, emphasis added).  The footnote in this entry (#51), cites the Council of Trent (1547): DS 1604 which asserts “If anyone shall say that the Sacraments of the New Law are not necessary for salvation, but are superfluous, and that, although all are not necessary for every individual, without them or without the desire of them through faith alone men obtain from God the grace of justification: let him be anathema.”
  3. Sola gratia or faith alone (Galatians 2:21; Ephesians 2:5, 8). This sola establishes that whoever is saved is the undeserving recipient of a gift he/she did not merit.  “When the Reformers spoke about ‘grace alone’ (sola gratia), they were saying that sinners have no claim upon God, none at all; that God owes them nothing but punishment for their sins; and that, if he saves them in spite of their sins, which he does in the case of those who are being saved, it is only because it pleases him to do it and for no other reasons” (Boice, 107).
  4. Sola fide or faith alone.  This sola states that trust is the means whereby an individual receives the blessings offered in God’s saving promises (Romans 3:22, 26, 28; Galatians 2:16).  Faith is the hand that receives God’s gift of salvation, as it were.   “…faith is the channel by which justification comes to us or actually becomes ours.  Faith is not a good work.  It is necessary and essential.  But it is not a good work.  In fact, it is not a work at all.  It is God’s gift, as Paul makes clear in Ephesians 2:8-9: ‘It is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.’ But although it is only the channel by which we are justified, it is also the only channel.  This is what is meant by sola fide (‘faith alone’)” (Boice, 137).
  5. Soli Deo Gloria or Glory to God alone.  This sola declares that the saving work of God redounds to His glory (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 8:6).  “…each of the other solas lead to the last and final sola, which is ‘to God alone be the glory,’ the final point of Romans 11:36, which concludes with the words: ‘to him be the glory forever! Amen.’  When we ask why that should be, the first part of the verse is the answer.  It is because all things really are ‘from him and through him and to him’” (Boice, 158).

As we remember the reformation, I hope we cherish the five solas as they establish the centrality of the gospel.  However, I also hope that we not only celebrate the five solas but more importantly the Christ Who is the centrifuge from which the solas gravitate.  Reformation Day is more than an opportunity to affirm the five solas, it is also an occasion to renew our love for and commitment to Christ.

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Be Faithful Unto Death, Even in Times of Religious Liberty

History has a way of saying it like it is. The citation below is a historian’s reflection on a time of comfort for the Christians in Rome after intense persecution. The time of repose from severe Roman persecution lasted just over 40 years, from AD 260-303. The longer a church is free from times of purification the more likely it will become a frighteningly complacent, comfortable, and worldly church. May we be faithful unto death, even in times of religious liberty.

§23. Temporary Repose. A.D. 260-303.
During this long season of peace the church rose rapidly in numbers and outward prosperity. Large and even splendid houses of worship were erected in the chief cities, and provided with collections of sacred books and vessels of gold and silver for the administration of the sacraments. But in the same proportion discipline relaxed, quarrels, intrigues, and factions increased, and worldliness poured in like a flood.

Hence a new trial was a necessary and wholesome process of purification.
(Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 2:63)

The Long View of an Anathema

I was doing some research on Origen (c. 185-254) and his views.  It led me to review the ecumenical church councils.  The Second Council of Constantinople (the fifth ecumenical council), held in AD 553, issued 15 anathemas against Origen.  The third anathema was interesting to me in light of a recent news stories.  Here’s how the anathema reads,

If anyone shall say that the sun, the moon and the stars are also reasonable beings, and that they have only become what they are because they turned towards evil:  let him be anathema.

The Emperor Justinian issued an anathema in kind declaring (his sixth anathema),

If anyone says that the heaven, the sun, the moon, the stars, and the waters that are above heavens, have souls, and are reasonable beings, let him be anathema.

The reason these parallel anathemas struck me is because of the recent discussions about assigning rights to Mother Earth, led by The Pachamama Alliance, as if “she” were human.  This includes a proposal by the Bolivian President to create a “‘Mother Earth Ministry’ to promote the planet’s rights”.

Certainly seems to me that the anathemas pronounced by the Second Council of Constantinople had a long view; perhaps much longer than they, or we, ever imagined.

The Old New Atheism

The so-called new atheists (Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, et al.) are not very new after all.  They echo their philosophical forefathers such as the second century Greek philosopher and opponent of Christianity Celsus, whose thinking is summarized by the historian Philip Schaff, “In his view Christianity has no rational foundation at all, but is supported by the imaginary terrors of future punishment” (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 2:91).  Those who offer this contention against Christianity simply reveal they do not understand it.

A Historian on Christianity

Will Durant was a prominent historian and philosopher.  He and his wife Ariel were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1967 and the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977.  His life’s work is the eleven volume The Story of Civilization published between 1935 and 1975.  In it he writes

All in all, no more attractive religion has ever been presented to mankind.  It offered itself without restriction to all individuals, classes, and nations; it was not limited to one people, like Judaism, nor to the freemen of one state, like the official cults of Greece and Rome.  By making all men heirs of Christ’s victory over death, Christianity announced the basic equality of men, and made transiently trivial all differences of earthly degree.  To the miserable, maimed, bereaved, disheartened, and humiliated it brought the new virtue of compassion, and an ennobling dignity; it gave them the inspiring figure, story, and ethic of Christ; it brightened their lives with the hope of the coming Kingdom, and of endless happiness beyond the grave.  To even the greatest sinners it promised forgiveness, and their full acceptance into the community of the saved.  To minds harassed with the insoluble problems of origin and destiny, evil and suffering, it brought a system divinely revealed doctrine in which the simplest soul could find mental rest . . . Into the moral vacuum of dying paganism, into the coldness of Stoicism and the corruption of Epicureanism, into a world sick of brutality, cruelty, oppression, and sexual chaos, into a pacified empire that seemed no longer to need the masculine virtues or the gods of war, it brought new morality of brotherhood, kindliness, decency, and peace.

So molded to men’s wants, the new faith spread with fluid readiness.  Nearly every convert, with the ardor of a revolutionary, made himself an office of propaganda (Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, 602).