Five Reformation Solas
Time for the Protestant Reformation to continue?

The Protestant Reformation sought to reform Christian practice and belief, to restore it to the pure form and substance of the early biblical church. It is doubtful that any of the major reformers felt their work to be complete in their lifetimes, all implicitly or explicitly desiring that the work of reformation continue until all areas of faith and practice were renewed. The reformers, if able to see where the church is today, would likely be dismayed. In fact, within a generation or two of their day, the reformation had greatly stalled, solidifying many changes they had made and refusing to consider further. In other areas gains of the reformation have been rolled back, with professed Protestant churches readopting elements of tradition or Roman Catholic belief and ritual. Non biblical hierarchies rule today's churches, complete with unquestionable Protestant popes. Church customs and rituals have been set on par with the word of God - mandatory for all "good" believers. The professional theologians assure the commoners that they alone possess proper interpretation of the word of God. History is repeating itself.

If the five principles of the Protestant Reformation are truly believed, the Reformation would continue. It must continue!2 It's time for Christians again to call for a new (or continued) Reformation where every practice of the church is open to Biblical scrutiny and change as needed. It's our prayer that we will see this in our lifetime - revival is built on the foundation of reformation. Using their Latin terms as headings, these are the five original Solas...

Sola Scriptura (authoritas Scripturae) -- by Scripture alone!

The Bible, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, are the complete and inspired Word of God. These fully attested books were entrusted to the future by the Jews (OT) and the apostolic church (NT), authenticated and recognized as God's authoritative word. While other Christian works may be beneficial and edifying to the church, they all must be judged by the standard of Scriptures. This applies to all inter-testament and post New Testament works including those commonly known as Gnostic gospels and pseudepigrapha.

Sola Scriptura teaches that the Bible, as God's Word to mankind, is accessible to all. Within, God has clearly expressed Himself and provided sufficient means for all readers (or hearers) to properly interpret His meaning and intent.1

Sola Scriptura is directly opposed to the Roman Catholic dogma that they are the authority by which additional books can be added to Scriptures. Using this claim, in the mid 16th century they added some of the apocryphal books to their official canon, including books with known gross historical errors.

Sola Scriptura is directly opposed to the Roman Catholic teaching that they alone are able to properly interpret Scriptures for the people. In effect they have added to and modified the clearly expressed message of the Bible through their claim that so-called sacred tradition - including church councils and papal magisterium - are necessary to understand Scriptures.

Sola Scriptura is directly opposed to the modern Protestant practice of elevating a theologian, pastor, teacher, or evangelist's words as being necessary to understand Scriptures. When the church is told that they cannot question the speaker, using Scriptures, solely because the speaker claims special status, education, or authority, it is a return to the error of Roman Catholicism.

Sola Scriptura is opposed to the Protestant practice of elevating traditional practices to the status of Scriptures. When the church takes traditional teaching, ritual, and items, and makes adherence to such a mark of being a "good Christian", it has in effect added to Scriptures. This is especially seen when a person is ostracized or condemned for believing or practicing otherwise. Scriptural challenge to the addition of such practices (or questioning of their absence from Scriptures) is typically met with extra-Biblical justification for their more recent adoption.

Until Sola Scriptura is believed and practiced, the Reformation with never continue. While another of the Solas (Sola Fide) appeared to be the primary cause of the Protestant Reformation, it's underlying, or primary cause rested in this Sola, as do all of the others.

Psalms 102:18 Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: (NIV)

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (NIV)

Mark 12:24 Jesus replied, "Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? (NIV)

Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (NIV)

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (NIV)

2 Peter 1:19-21 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (NIV)

Ephesians 2:19-20 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (NIV)

Solus Christus - In Christ Alone

Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man. As one who is fully God and fully man, He lived the perfect life mankind could not. Additionally, through His death, He provided the perfect sacrifice necessary to secure the salvation of all who will believe. In His resurrection He displayed His triumph over sin and death and with his ascension to the right hand of the Father, remains as our mediator, advocate, and High Priest, before the Father. No further sacrifice is necessary as Jesus completed once-for-all everything that was necessary. By God's grace, all believers have been made priests unto God (Revelation 1:6), now enabled to come before Him (Hebrews 4:16) and present our requests and offerings of praise and service (1 Peter 2:4-5).

Solus Christus is directly opposed to the Roman Catholic dogma that teaches people to seek assistance from Mary, saints, and priests, as additional or secondary mediators. No intercession of dead saints, or functioning of their renewed professional priesthood, is necessary, as in Christ alone we have access to the Father.

Solus Christus is opposed to the modern Protestant practice of elevating a pastor, evangelist, or teacher, to the de-facto status of priest, as if his prayers or intervention carried more weight with God.

1 Peter 3:18a For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (NIV)

Hebrews 7:24-28 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26 Such a high priest meets our need - one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever. (NIV)

Hebrews 9:11-12 When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. (NIV)

Hebrews 9:15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance - now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (NIV)

Hebrews 9:24-28 For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (NIV)

Hebrews 10:10-12 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. (NIV)

Romans 6:9-10 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. (NIV)

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, (NIV)

Luke 11:1-2 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." 2 He said to them, "When you pray, say: "'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. (NIV)

Matthew 6:9 "This, then, is how you should pray: "'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name... (NIV)

Sola Fide (fides salvifica) - by faith alone, or Solam Fidem - through faith alone.

Mankind's sinful state before God has no self-made remedy in whole or in part. Justification - a legal declaration of right standing before God - comes through faith only. Good works before or after coming to faith in Jesus Christ does nothing to attain or sustain our salvation which came through faith alone. Notwithstanding, good works are a result of saving faith. One statement of the Protestant Reformation stated it this way: "Faith alone saves, but faith is not alone." Another way to illustrate this is to show, in contrast, the Protestant formula versus the Roman Catholic. "Faith yields justification and good works" is far different than the Catholic "Faith and good works yield justification." Martin Luther was highly focused on this Sola, as the Roman Catholic error had become the norm of his day.3

Sola Fide opposes the Roman Catholic, Mormon, and Jehovah's Witnesses, teachings that good works are necessary to secure your salvation. The Mormon "scripture", found in 2 Nephi, which teaches that they are saved through faith "after all we can do", as with the Roman Catholic teaching, make salvation co-dependant on Christ plus another. It is through faith alone that Christ's completed work is applied to us.

Sola Fide opposes the all too common practice of Protestant Churches who express the belief that justification is by faith alone, but then teach (or illustrate by practice) that a person's salvation can be lost by what they do. This too makes their salvation co-dependant on Christ and themselves.

While the church should be focusing on encouraging one another to good works, with each professed believer being called to test their own actions to see if there is evidence that Christ is at work in their lives, all this must be seen as a result of saving faith. Until people get the order right, they will serve God out of fear and not out of love.

Ephesians 2:8-10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (NIV)

Romans 3:22-26 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished- 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (NIV)

Galatians 3:11, 14, 22 Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." ... 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. ... 22 But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. (NIV)

Romans 4:16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring - not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. (NIV)

Acts 15:7-9 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. (NIV)

John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (NIV)

James chapter 2 is not a contradiction to sola fide. The entire focus of that passage is that saving faith will always be accompanied by, or followed by, good works. Good works are a natural outflow of our faith. A faith that changes nothing is no real faith at all.

Sola Gratia - by grace alone

Salvation is all about God, who by His grace saves. This salvation is given by the choice of God, without God being in any way obligated to man or making choices based on some merit earned or inherit in man. This leaves salvation completely an unearned, unwarranted, gift of God. All teaching that any works, or any other condition, is necessary to obtain or complete your salvation opposes the Biblical teaching that salvation is by God's grace alone.

Sola Gratia opposes the Roman Catholic doctrine of merit, which teaches that man's good works are a necessary means of obtaining grace. The Roman Catholic Council of Trent said...

Canon XXXII. If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified...does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life- if so be, however, that he depart in grace,-and also an increase of glory: let him be anathema (The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, in Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 1919 edition)

Sola Gratia opposes the common belief that some people are, of their own ability or merit, able to chose to do right and seek God. While the following verse is generally acknowledged, it is negated through saying it applies to all, except those who do. If anyone can naturally do good and seek God, while another cannot, they are better than the other and have natural merit - and then it's no longer by grace alone.

Romans 3:10-12 As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (NIV)

Sola Gratia opposes the common, modern day, Protestant belief that places an "acceptable lifestyle" or specific actions as necessary for salvation. Anonymous surveys we have given across North America, in church settings, reflect this. When professed believers are asked what they would do if they knew they only had an hour to live, multitudes respond that they "would pray that God would forgive them and save them." Most felt that that one wrong action or thought, recently committed, could jeopardize their salvation. If my actions are necessary to keep it, it is not by grace alone.

Sola Gratia opposes the common, modern day, Protestant belief that places good works after a "salvation experience" as necessary for obtaining that salvation. In anonymous surveys we have given across North America, in church settings, we asked the question "If you were to die right now and God asked why He should let you into His heaven, what would you say?" Multitudes of professed believers responded with a variant of "I believed in your son Jesus Christ and I've tried to live a good life (or some other list of things they've done is placed after the "and", including praying, going to church, witnessing, was baptized, etc.). If my actions are necessary to have it, it is not by grace alone.

The old hymn "Rock of Ages", written by Augustus M. Toplady in 1776, expresses this well (see the second and third stanzas especially)...

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death, [originally "When my eye-strings break in death"]
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

Key references supporting Sola Gratia:

Ephesians 2:4-10 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (NIV)

Romans 9:16 It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. (NIV)

Romans 11:5-6 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. (NIV)

2 Timothy 1:9-10 who has saved us and called us to a holy life - not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (NIV)

Titus 3:3-7 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (NIV)

Soli Deo Gloria - to the glory of God alone

All glory is due to God alone, for every aspect of our salvation. Not only did He provide for a complete payment for our sins in His atonement on the cross of Calvary, He grants the faith which allows mankind to be saved by that atonement. It is He who enables us to overcome and to persevere and who will complete the salvation that is begun in us.

Soli Deo Gloria stands opposed to the Roman Catholic elevation of popes, saints, and priests, or their church and giving them any glory for what God is doing in the salvation of mankind.

Soli Deo Gloria stands opposed to the Protestant elevation of bishops, pastors, evangelists, musicians, or their church and giving them any glory for what God is doing in the salvation of mankind.

The created is never worthy of any glory - all of which is due to God alone. To take upon ourselves or to place any glory on man is to minimize what God has done and, in effect, to proclaim that man is somehow necessary for what God has done.

Isaiah 42:8 "I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols. (NIV)

Isaiah 48:11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another. (NIV)

Psalms 115:1-3 Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. 2 Why do the nations say, "Where is their God?" 3 Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. (NIV)

Revelation 4:9-11 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: 11 "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being." (NIV)

Romans 11:35-36 "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (NIV)

1 Corinthians 3:6-7 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (NIV)

Ephesians 3:20-21 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (NIV)

Philippians 4:20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (NIV)

1 Corinthians 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (NIV)

End Notes

1. The following excerpt shows how problems and divisions still arise among those who claim sola scriptura. Simply put, principles of Biblical Interpretation become exceedingly important.

The application of sola scriptura has often proved problematic. Does it allow the continuance of church practices not plainly forbidden by the Bible (as many of Luther's followers were inclined to argue), or should any practice without explicit biblical sanction be condemned (as some more radical Reformers believed)? Does the Bible speak clearly on every controversial issue, or might it sometimes appear ambiguous, even contradictory and vague as to detail? The history of Protestantism provides countless occasions when people of good will, agreeing on the principle of sola scriptura, have been unable to agree on its application in a particular instance.

The historian seeking to understand how an individual or group derives a particular theological position from a scriptural foundation must consider the principles of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) at work. Is the Bible understood as a series of propositional statements, all of roughly equal weight and any of which can be used as a "proof text" in support of a position? Is the text read contextually, in its original language, with an understanding of its historical and literary milieu? Does an understanding of certain critical texts inform the interpretation of all other texts (as their understanding of Jesus' statements about the kingdom of God did for adherents of the Social Gospel)? Positions based on the principle of sola scriptura have varied according to the hermeneutical principles utilized by interpreters and communities of faith. (from Dictionary of Christianity in America, edited by Daniel G. Reid, Robert D. Linder, Bruce L. Shelley and Harry S. Stout. © 1990 by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA; published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.)

2. The impact of believing and teaching the Biblical reformation solas is encompassed in the following quote:

The marginal notes of the Geneva Bible also served to liberate believers from the ignorance, heresy, and tyranny of the Middle Ages. Calvin, and the Reformers who followed in his footsteps, expounded the whole counsel of God concerning doctrines of Sola Scriptura -the Word of God alone, inspired and directional for our lives and culture; Sola Fide -faith alone as the only means of justification before God; Sola Christus-Christ alone as mankind's only mediator, lord, and king; Sola Gratia-grace alone as the only hope of salvation and sanctification; and Soli Deo Gloria-God alone, not king nor pope, to receive the glory He is due in heaven and on earth.

Today, these theological "marginalia" might seem rudimentary or innocuous, but when they were systematically taught from Scripture and applied to life, as was done in the commentary in the Geneva Bible, entire nations and societies were transformed. (Modern introduction to the Geneva Bible)

3. Some have claimed that Martin Luther added sola fide to Scriptures. In his German translation he did add the word "alone", though it did not expressly appear in the Greek or Latin translations. Was this improper? Not at all. A good translation must try to express, as well as possible, all the nuance and implication of the original language. Sometimes to do this extra words are required. Certainly his addition of the word in his translation of Romans is justified by the context and sense of the entire passage. Martin Luther's defense of so doing is as follows...

"In Romans iii, I know right well that the word solum was not in the Greek or Latin text...It is a fact that these four letters s-o-l-a are not there...At the same time...the sense of them is there and...the word belongs there if the translation is to be clear and strong. I wanted to speak German, not Latin or Greek, since I had undertaken to speak German in the translation...It is the way of the German language to add the word 'only,' in order that the word 'not' or 'no' may be more complete or clearer...I was not only relying on the nature of the languages and following that when, in Romans iii, I inserted the word solum, 'only,' but the text itself and the sense of St. Paul demanded it and forced it upon me. He is dealing, in that passage, with the main point of Christian doctrine, viz., that we are justified by faith in Christ, without any works of the law, and he cuts away all works so completely, as even to say that the works of the law, though it is God's law and His Word, do not help us to righteousness...But when works are so completely cut away, the meaning of it must be that faith alone justifies, and one who would speak plainly and clearly about this cutting away of all works, must say, 'Faith alone justifies us, and not works.' The matter itself, and not the nature of the language only, compels this translation...Paul's words are too strong; they endure no works, none at all; and if it is not a work, it must be by faith alone. How could it be such a fine, improving inoffensive doctrine, if people were taught that they might become righteous by works, beside faith? That would be as much as to say that it was not Christ's death alone that takes away our sins, but that our works, too, did something toward it; and it would be a fine honoring of Christ's death to say that our works helped it and could do that which He does, and that we were good and strong like Him. This is of the devil, who cannot leave the blood of Christ without abuse!" (Excerpt from The Gospel of the Reformation, Copyright © 1997 Christian Resources.)

Article by Brent MacDonald, Lion Tracks Ministries (c) 2008