The Reformation, usually referred to as the Protestant Reformation, was one of the greatest blessings God has given to his church. It was a blessing more than 500 years ago. It continues to be a blessing as the church continues to reform herself in accordance with the word of God.
The faithfulness of an Augustinian monk changed the church. Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on Oct. 31, 1517. The pope at that time sent a cleric to Germany to raise money for building St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The cleric’s name was Johann Tetzel. His message was summarized by the saying, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings the soul from Purgatory springs.”
Luther was outraged by the Roman Church’s program of connecting salvation to giving money. A few years later, the revealed doctrine of justification by faith alone became clear to Luther.
God caused Luther to see that the gospel revealed the perfect righteousness of God which God imputes to a sinner. He does so only by faith alone. (Romans 1:17; 3:28) The Latin term is sola fide. Luther said that when he understood the doctrine of sola fide it was as if the gates of paradise opened, and he walked through.
In addition, four more biblical doctrines were recovered from the Holy Scriptures. They are: sola gratia, by grace alone; solus Christus, by Christ alone; sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone and Soli Deo gloria, to God alone be glory. The Five Solas reflect God’s plan of redemption. They had been taught by the church until the Middle Ages. The Protestant reformers recovered these doctrines and taught them as the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3)
The second sola, sola gratia, means by grace alone. The Bible teaches that salvation is by God’s grace alone. All men are sinners, born dead in sin. We have inherited the sin nature of Adam. Genesis 6:5 and Romans 3:10-18 are two passages that teach man’s total bondage to sin. Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus makes this fact clear. Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Even the faith that Christians profess is a gift of God’s grace. Salvation from start to finish is solely by God’s grace.
The Protestant reformers did not come up with new or novel ideas. They did not offer an alternative perspective on salvation but declared and taught the plain truth of God’s word. The Reformation was a providential blessing from God through which the church recovered the truth which the magisterial church had hidden.
Yet there was a main issue that concerned the great reformers. It was authority. The Latin phrases solus Christus and sola Scriptura which mean respectively, by Christ alone and by Scripture alone, emphasize the rightful source of authority. The reformers asked the Scriptures, “Who has supreme authority the church or God?” Of course, we would all say that God has supreme authority. The Bible reveals that God is absolutely sovereign. The Bible also reveals that Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18) But the reformers saw that the Roman Church was usurping authority that belonged to God.
To state the issue of authority clearly, Christ is the king and head of his church. He exercises his kingship and lordship through his word, the Bible. The Bible is the ultimate authority of all matters pertaining to life and salvation.
Of course, there are many authorities over us. God established the church, civil government, and the family. All derive their authority from God’s word. His word, the Bible is the ultimate authority and Christ is the supreme king and ruler. Men possess a granted authority. When men usurp God’s authority, it is invalid.
The four solas described above reveal God’s means of redemption. Men are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone as God has revealed it by Scripture alone. The fifth sola describes God’s purpose for redemption. Soli Deo gloria, to God alone be glory. God’s own glory is his purpose. Everything is ordained by God for his glory. Isaiah 42:8 says, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” And Romans 11:36 says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Life is not about us; it is all for God. Soli Deo gloria!
The Rev. Lou Tiscione is the pastor of Weatherford Presbyterian Church.