The five “Solas” of the Reformation

Reformation Day, which is one of the most important events of the Protestant Reformation, is commemorated on the last Sunday of October. On October 31, 1517, a German monk, Martin Luther, posted 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, in objection to the Roman Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences to fund the building of the New St. Peter’s Basilica. What are indulgences? In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, an indulgence is a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins in purgatory (1). Luther, at that point, did not intend to start a reformation.  The posting of the 95 theses on the church then was a common way to announce his intention to have a public debate. However, one thing led to another, and before long, his ideas had spread throughout Europe and were picked up by hundreds of other reformers. Consequently, the reformation movement started and thousands broke off from the Roman Catholic Church, creating one of the world’s largest religious splits in history. The doctrines associated to the Reformation are the five “solas”: Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone).

Five hundred years have passed since Luther posted his theses on that fateful day. Is Reformation still relevant today for the Protestants? In a study conducted by Pew Research Center a few years ago (2), the results showed that many no longer agree with Luther. For instance, regarding “Sola Fide”, more than half of Protestants in America and Western Europe today say that good deeds and faith in God are needed to get to heaven. As for “Sola Scriptura”, many believe that, in addition to the Bible, Christians need guidance from church teachings and traditions.

They now believe that Catholics and Protestants are more similar than they are different. These statistics call to mind the warnings that Jesus and Paul gave about apostasy and falling away in the church in the last days (Matthew 24:10, 1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Thessalonians 2:3).

As we commemorate Reformation Day, let us be reminded that the movement was principally a positive one towards the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. If Hermon is to remain a true church of Jesus Christ, we should continue to commemorate Reformation every year as a witness of our faith and belief in the true Gospel. We need to be like the reformers who were willing to lay down their lives for the five “solas” because they believed the Gospel itself was at stake. Let us look again at the five “solas” as we commemorate Reformation Day this week. May this commemoration cause us not so much to celebrate the past only, but also help to renew us in our mission and ministry today.

Sola Scriptura is the teaching that the Bible is the only inerrant, inspired and authoritative word of God. It is the only source for Christian doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and is accessible to all. The Bible requires no interpretation outside of itself.

Solus Christus is the teaching that Christ is the only mediator between God and man, and that there is salvation through no other. Christ and Christ alone can save us. Christ became “flesh” (John 1:14) to represent humanity. Whereas we failed to keep the law and deserve death, Christ substituted for us and paid the ransom for our sins by dying on the cross (Matthew 20:28). The work of Christ is the only basis of justification in God’s sight.

Sola Fide is the teaching that justification is received by faith only, without any mixture of or need for good works. God declares us righteous not on the basis of something in us or our good works, but only on the basis of Christ’s righteousness imputed onto us which we receive by faith (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Sola Gratia is the teaching that salvation comes by divine grace or “unmerited favour” only, not as something merited by the sinner. Our election was based not on our will or effort but solely on God’s mercy (Romans 9:16). It is by His sovereign grace that we were chosen even before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).

Soli Deo Gloria is the teaching that all glory is to be due to God alone, since salvation is accomplished solely through His will and action. From beginning to end, Jesus is the author of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). God alone is to be glorified for His sovereign grace.

In Luther’s last moment, Justus Jonas, his friend, asked him, “Do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you have taught?” Luther replied, “Yes. We are beggars. This is true.” His last words show an unwavering conviction in the Gospel truth of Scripture alone, Christ alone, faith alone, grace alone, and to the Glory of God alone.

– Eld Sim Chow Meng