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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Haddon Robinson on the Sufficiency of Scripture

As food is relevant to hunger, water relevant to thirst, and air relevant to life, the Scriptures are relevant to our most fundamental needs…When we address men and women imprisoned in confusion, hopelessness, dread, and despair, we have nothing to offer them but the Scriptures. But ultimately they are enough.

(Haddon Robinson, “The Relevance of Expository Preaching,” in Scott M. Gibson ed, Preaching to a Sifting Culture [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2004], 93).

Ramblings on Sola Scriptura and Church Music

I’ve read some material recently that critiques the apparent disconnect between the affirmation of Sola Scriptura and its sufficiency for Christian living on the one hand and the dependency of extra biblical material when it comes to the formation and application of one’s philosophy of music on the other hand. 

The topic of church music has been on my mind over the last several weeks which is why these pieces caught my attention.  Discussions about church music are ubiquitous.  Frankly, I’m not usually all that interested in following them.  These discussions tend to generate more heat than light; very little sharpening takes place.  I think it comes down to this.  If you read church music philosophies from one conservative evangelical church to another there will be very few, if any, major differences.  The difference from one congregation to another is how the philosophy is applied.  A music philosophy is like a fence within which certain music may run freely.  However, the particular music that is welcomed into the fold is really what comprises the difference(s).   

Some time ago I was discussing this issue with my former pastor, a man for whom I have great respect and admiration.  He mentioned the importance of an exegetically driven music philosophy.  Some may think this is extraordinarily difficult because of the dearth of information about music in the Bible (though music itself is found throughout the Bible).  One of the articles I read recently was written by Chris Anderson.  He argues that in fact we do have a very helpful music guide in the divinely inspired hymnal, the Psalms.  Moreover, he also addresses the problem I initially mentioned: the relationship between Sola Scriptura and church music.  Chris observes,

However, we who champion the centrality of the Scripture in Christian worship are, I fear, a bit careless about actually making them our “only rule of our faith and practice” when it comes to music discussions. I think we get a bit squishy in our commitment to “Sola Scriptura” when we address worship. Even respected expositors are noticeably less exegetical when addressing music than when addressing other issues.

Chris then footnotes a quote from John Frame who similarly contends,

These aesthetic and historical criteria are often used in place of Scripture, leading to the condemnations of practices that Scripture permits and commanding of practices that Scripture does not command. That, too, in my judgment, violates the principle of sola Scriptura, the sufficiency of Scripture (John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, 237–38).

Scott Aniol posted a review of his book Worship in Song (WiS) on his Religious Affections blog yesterday.  The review was written by Ken Brown and published in the Detroit Baptist Theological Journal.  Brown appears to fairly assess the book’s strengths and weaknesses (I have not read WiS myself).  The pertinent weakness Brown mentions is the tension between the sufficiency of Scripture and extra-biblical data.  Brown says,

WiS does have some weaknesses as well. While Aniol clearly wants to help us make God-honoring choices for music and worship based on biblical sufficiency and authority, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, for him, our choices in this area are not only informed by extra biblical data, but they are sometimes dependent on such data. In the chapter on “Beauty and Glory,” Aniol says, “This leads us back to the important question, ‘How can we discern what is beautiful?’ I think Mortimer Adler’s answer is biblically acceptable, ‘The judgment about the beauty of an object in terms of its admirability for intrinsic excellence or perfection is the judgment of an expert, with special knowledge and skill in judging specimens of a certain kind’” (p. 119). And, following a presentation of much very helpful information that stimulates thinking in these areas, it nevertheless appears that what we need to know is out of our reach: “It would be nice if music were a black and white issue with a clear line distinguishing bad music from good music. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. We must affirm, however, that this is the case in the mind of God.  In His mind there is a line” (p. 138). Although the preceding chapters contain much profitable material regarding biblical sufficiency and authority, and many direct citations of Scripture, yet at the crucial point of practical application many will still be left to wonder how the quotations above (and others like them) can be squared with these words from the very first page: “The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture…contains all the words of God we need…for obeying him perfectly.”

Another observation from Brown’s analysis is Aniol’s approving citation of Adler,

The judgment about the beauty of an object in terms of its admirability for intrinsic excellence or perfection is the judgment of an expert, with special knowledge and skill in judging specimens of a certain kind (emphasis mine). 

The average reader is left with the impression that one cannot judge the acceptability of music without extensive training in the realm of aesthetics.  Incidentally, employing a citation like this is why the label “elitist” (wrongly or rightly) is applied to those who embrace this approach to judging church music.     

My question basically boils down to this: Is the Bible truly sufficient for all matters, including judging church music?  If it is, do we undermine our claims of being “biblical” when we look to aesthetic and historic disciplines to assess church music?  It seems problematic to me to claim that Scripture is sufficient to evaluate church music with one side of our mouth and then cite extra-biblical support with the other.