An Introduction to the Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation
As many of you may know, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, one of the most significant events in the history of the church. Though the Reformation still continues on today, we should often take a look back and reflect upon the importance of this event, and give thanks to God for the recovery of several key doctrines which serve as tenets of Reformation theology. God often uses large events and movements to showcase his power and to strengthen the church, and the Reformation is no different. The Protestant church would not be where it is today without the Reformation. Why 1517?
We date the Protestant Reformation to 1517 because this was the year that Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses to the castle door at Wittenberg, Germany. This event is a great starting point to the Reformation, though there were several events leading up to that day, even dating back a couple centuries (See the lives of John Wycliffe, Peter Waldo, and Jan Hus.) Luther was a German Catholic monk with enough personality for ten men. He was often coarse in language and attitude and has the reputation for being a handful. Pope Leo X, when condemning Luther in 1520, referred to Luther as a “wild boar.” Luther noticed the problems with the Catholic system of selling indulgences and the overreach of the Catholic church. As he read the Bible, he began to boldly believe Christians are justified by faith ALONE – Sola Fide – an important Protestant doctrine. Luther came to write that justification by faith alone is the article on which the church rises and falls. Naturally, Luther was at odds with the Roman Catholic church, which believes that men are justified by faith AND the church. In this we see the importance of the word “alone.”
From the theological rediscoveries of Martin Luther came countless other Reformers, most notably John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Thomas Cranmer, Martin Bucer, John Knox, Philipp Melanchthon, and others. Many historic confessions of faith were birthed out of the Protestant Reformation, including the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), The Belgic Confession (1566), and the Canons of Dort (1619). Many of these confessions, along with others, work as a guideline for many Protestant Statements of Faith today. Our Protestant theology comes mostly from the confessions of the Reformation.
There were some theological inconsistencies among the hundreds of Reformers, but they all agreed upon 5 tenets, or pillars, which have become known as the Five Solas of the Reformation. Each of the Solas was rediscovered, as it were, during the Protestant Reformation. The rest of this series will highlight each one of these Solas individually. The Solas are an attempt to quickly define the faith and sum up the full salvation doctrine of Protestantism. The word “sola” literally translated from Latin means “alone.” These terms are firm and non-negotiable. The Five Solas are Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (the Glory of God Alone).
Why are the Solas Still Necessary?
I would argue that the Solas are of utmost importance to evangelical churches even today, 500 years after the Protestant Reformation. Here are five reasons why the Solas must remain at the forefront of our theology today:
- Doctrinal Clarity. The Solas provide important doctrinal clarity in terms of soteriology, the theology of salvation. The Solas affirm that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and that comes according to Scripture alone to the glory of God alone. We must not lose sight of these.
- Ecclesiastical Unity. The Solas can bring unity between churches that disagree on secondary and tertiary issues. This can result in cooperation between churches for the sake of the gospel.
- Continual Reformation. The Solas show us the need for continual reformation in church life today. If we familiarize ourselves with these basic tenets of salvation, we can spot error in our ways and bring about reform.
- Necessary Division. The Solas show us when we need to divide from false teachers. If we recognize a teacher or church that is adding to or taking away from these Solas, we know that division is needed. Division is worth it, if it means getting the gospel right.
- Joy in our Salvation. The Solas lead to joy in our salvation. We know that we are justified by faith alone through the grace of God by the sacrifice of Jesus, and it is not of our own doing. The Solas remove the pressure and weight of a works-based righteousness. We can truly rejoice in our salvation by realizing and believing the biblical doctrine of salvation.
Each one of these central tenets of the doctrine of salvation holds much significance in the Protestant theology. I hope you’ll grow in your appreciation for the doctrines of the Reformation and give thanks to God for willing the Protestant Reformation to happen.