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.

John Calvin was Wrong on Infant Baptism

Contemporary evangelicals continue to feel John Calvin’s theological influence.  This does not mean that some evangelicals do not have significant points of disagreement with parts of Calvin’s theology.  For instance, take Calvin’s teaching on infant baptism.  Baptists (and other credobaptists) vehemently disagree with Calvin (and other paedobaptists) on this point.  I encountered Calvin’s comments on Acts 8:12 in my sermon prep last week.

“But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12).

Calvin says,

Whereas baptism followed faith, it agreeth with Christ’s institution, as concerning strangers, (Mark xvi.47,) and those which were without.  For it was meet that they should be ingrafted into the body of the Church before they should receive the sign; but the Anabaptists are too foolish, whilst they endeavor to prove by these places that infants are not to be baptized.  Men and women could not be baptized without making confession of their faith; but they were admitted unto baptism upon this condition, that their families might be consecrated to God; for the covenant goeth thus: ‘I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed,’ (Gen. xvii.7.) (Calvin, Commentaries, 18:333; cf. 363).

Some brief observations from a Baptist:

  • The teaching of believing adults being baptized is sourced in Luke’s inspired writings, not Anabaptists.
  • The absence of explicit references to infants being baptized in the NT is sourced in the inspired authors and ultimately the Holy Spirit, not Anabaptists.
  • Calvin employs an OT covenant text to inform a NT church ordinance.   This is consistent with covenant theology but still a larger theological point of division.
  • Calvin affirms the practice of believer’s baptism for the first generation only.  Subsequent generations are “consecrated to God” by the baptized adult.  But why then does the infant truly need to be baptized?
  • Acts 8:12 would have been an ideal place for Luke to use terms that include children or infants, such as nepios or paidion.  Instead, he used “men” (andres) and “women” (gunaikes).

In short, it seems to me that John Calvin is speaking out of both sides of his mouth.  He is advocating for believer’s baptism on the one hand while undermining it by advocating infant baptism on the other.  Moreover, he identifies the rejection of infant baptism as “foolish” and attributes it to the Anabaptists.  The burden of proof rests on him and others who assert that infant baptism is a NT teaching when it is nowhere mentioned in the NT.  The good news is that John Calvin is quite clear on all of this now.

Grace Alone

One of the five pillars of the 16th century reformation was sola gratia.  It is a Latin term meaning, “grace alone.” 

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” (James Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace?, 107).

The pillars of the reformation, including sola gratia, were all rediscovered NT truths that had been lost in Catholic soteriology.  When we encounter the Johannine declaration about Jesus, “And from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16), we cannot help but magnify grace.  Paul called the Ephesian believers to rejoice in this stunning grace: “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6).  It is no wonder then that the reformers returned to sola gratia.  All the NT authors highlight grace.  For instance, the author of Hebrews, Peter, and John open or close their writings with grace: 

Hebrews 13:25, “Grace be with all of you”

1 Peter 1:2, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you”

2 Peter 1:2, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”

2 John 3, “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.”

Revelation 22:21, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”

Yet the Apostle Paul seems to take grace to the next level.  How?  The apostle who experienced the saving grace of God (1 Corinthians 3:10; 15:10) and suffered to proclaim the grace of God (Acts 20:24) begins and ends every one of his epistles with grace!

Romans

1:7, “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”

16:20, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

1 Corinthians

1:3, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

16:23, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.”

2 Corinthians

1:2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Galatians

1:3, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”

6:18, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.”

Ephesians

1:2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

6:24, “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.”

Philippians

1:2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

4:23, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

Colossians

1:2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”

4:18, “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains.  Grace be with you.”

1 Thessalonians

1:1, “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.”

5:28, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

2 Thessalonians

1:2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

3:18, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”

1 Timothy

1:2, “To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”

6:21, “for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.  Grace be with you.”

2 Timothy

1:2, “To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”

4:22, “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”

Titus

1:4, ‘To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”

3:15, “All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all.”

Philemon

3, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

25, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

It seems that “amazing grace” all too quickly becomes “boring grace,” as Boice put it.  In other words, grace is pedestrian for the believer amidst the daily grind.  But it need not remain that way.  For a moment, do this.  Remember who you were before the grace of God appeared in your life.  Recall the thoughts, words, and deeds that were a part of your daily routine.  Now think of the sinful bents in your life, unfettered by the grace of God and left to the passions of your flesh and the desires of your body and mind.  What thoughts would you allow to nest in your mind?  What words and volume would characterize your responses?  What fleshly desires would you indulge in?  If we forget what a totally depraved sinner looks like apart from the grace of God, grace ceases to be amazing.  When we remember who were before grace and who we are in Christ after grace, grace will become amazing once again!  It will lead to spontaneous praise like when the blind man who received his sight exclaimed in front of the Pharisees, “though I was blind, now I see!” (John 9:25).  It will also yield the good fruit of humility.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  As John Bradford (1510-1555), the English reformer and martyr, famously uttered while imprisoned when he saw a criminal on his way to execution, “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford” we too humbly say, as God’s grace keeps us from sin, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

So, be strengthened, Christian, by the life-giving, stunning grace of God!  2 Timothy 2:1, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”  Be holy, Christian, motivated by the redeeming, saving grace of God!  Titus 2:11-12, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, [12] training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”  The grace of God is nothing short of amazing—it saves, strengthens, and sanctifies!   

O may this strange, this matchless grace,
This Godlike miracle of love,
Fill the whole earth with grateful praise,
and all th’ angelic choirs above,
And all th’ angelic choirs above.

Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
(Samuel Davies, “Great God of Wonders”)