The Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation
At the end of this month we will celebrate the 498th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation when we remember that on that first “Reformation Day” (October 31, 1517) Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg. He challenged the religious establishment to a debate about the facts of the gospel and the Christian life, appealing ultimately to the Scriptures as the sole infallible authority for the believer in matters of faith and practice.
We are continuing our look at the key distinctives of the Reformation, known as the Five Solas. What are the Five Solas? How do we relate to them today? How are we actively carrying on in the spirit of the reformation? Answering these questions will tell us where the reformation is today.
Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God Alone
God alone is worthy of worship and deserves, yes even rightly demands, that we glorify Him alone. When you see God in His glory, even if only with “eyes of faith”, you will glorify Him. He alone is worthy of glory and honor and praise.
1 Corinthians 6:20 – For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
1 Corinthians 10:31 – Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Matthew 5:16 – Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
- Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31), and to enjoy him for ever (Ps. 73:25-26).
- Q. What rule has God given to direct us how we may glorify him?
A. The Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (Eph. 2:20; 2 Tim. 3:16) is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify God and enjoy him (1 Jn. 1:3).
Glorifying God consists in four things: 1. Appreciation, 2. Adoration, 3. Affection, 4. Subjection.
- Appreciation. To glorify God is to set God highest in our thoughts, and to have a venerable esteem of him. ‘Thou, Lord, art most high for evermore.’ (Psa. 92:8). ‘Thou art exalted far above all gods.’ (Psa. 97:9). There is in God all that may draw forth both wonder and delight; there is a constellation of all beauties. We glorify God, when we are God-admirers; admire his attributes, which are the glistering beams by which the divine nature shines forth; his promises which are the charter of free grace, and the spiritual cabinet where the pearl of price is hid; the noble effects of his power and wisdom in making the world, which is called ‘the work of his fingers’ (Psa. 8:3). To glorify God is to have God-admiring thoughts; to esteem him most excellent, and search for diamonds in this rock only.
- Adoration. Glorifying God consists in adoration, or worship. ‘Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’ (Psa. 29:2). Divine worship must be such as God himself has appointed, else it is offering strange fire (Lev. 10:1). The Lord would have Moses make the tabernacle, ‘according to the pattern in the mount’ (Ex. 25:40). He must not leave out anything in the pattern, nor add to it. If God was so exact and curious about the place of worship, how exact will he be about the matter of his worship! Surely here everything must be according to the pattern prescribed in his word.
- Affection. This is part of the glory we give to God, who counts himself glorified when he is loved (Deut. 6:5). ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul.’ This love is exuberant, not a few drops, but a stream. It is superlative; we give God the best of our love, the cream of it. It is intense and ardent. True saints are seraphims, burning in holy love to God. Thus to love God is to glorify him. He who is the chief of our happiness has the chief of our affections.
- Subjection. This is when we dedicate ourselves to God, and stand ready dressed for his service. Thus the angels in heaven glorify him; they wait on his throne, and are ready to take a commission from him; therefore, they are represented by the cherubims with wings displayed, to show how swift they are in their obedience. We glorify God when we are devoted to his service; our head studies for him, our tongue pleads for him, and our hands relieve his members. The wise men that came to Christ did not only bow the knee to him, but presented him with gold and myrrh (Matt. 2:11). So we must not only bow the knee, give God worship, but bring presents of golden obedience. We glorify God when we stick at no service, when we fight under the banner of his gospel against an enemy, and say to him as David to King Saul, ‘Thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine’ (1 Sam. 17:32).
The Cambridge Declaration
Wherever in the church biblical authority has been lost, Christ has been displaced, the gospel has been distorted, or faith has been perverted, it has always been for one reason: our interests have displaced God’s and we are doing his work in our way. The loss of God’s centrality in the life of today’s church is common and lamentable. It is this loss that allows us to transform worship into entertainment, gospel preaching into marketing, believing into technique, being good into feeling good about ourselves, and faithfulness into being successful. As a result, God, Christ and the Bible have come to mean too little to us and rest too inconsequentially upon us.
God does not exist to satisfy human ambitions, cravings, the appetite for consumption, or our own private spiritual interests. We must focus on God in our worship, rather than the satisfaction of our personal needs. God is sovereign in worship; we are not. Our concern must be for God’s kingdom, not our own empires, popularity or success.
We reaffirm that because salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God, it is for God’s glory and that we must glorify him always. We must live our entire lives before the face of God, under the authority of God and for his glory alone.
We deny that we can properly glorify God if our worship is confused with entertainment, if we neglect either Law or Gospel in our preaching, or if self-improvement, self-esteem or self-fulfillment are allowed to become alternatives to the gospel.
The faithfulness of the evangelical church in the past contrasts sharply with its unfaithfulness in the present. Earlier in this century, evangelical churches sustained a remarkable missionary endeavor, and built many religious institutions to serve the cause of biblical truth and Christ’s kingdom. That was a time when Christian behavior and expectations were markedly different from those in the culture. Today they often are not. The evangelical world today is losing its biblical fidelity, moral compass and missionary zeal.
We repent of our worldliness. We have been influenced by the “gospels” of our secular culture, which are no gospels. We have weakened the church by our own lack of serious repentance, our blindness to the sins in ourselves which we see so clearly in others, and our inexcusable failure to adequately tell others about God’s saving work in Jesus Christ.
We also earnestly call back erring professing evangelicals who have deviated from God’s Word in the matters discussed in this Declaration. This includes those who declare that there is hope of eternal life apart from explicit faith in Jesus Christ, who claim that those who reject Christ in this life will be annihilated rather than endure the just judgment of God through eternal suffering, or who claim that evangelicals and Roman Catholics are one in Jesus Christ even where the biblical doctrine of justification is not believed.
The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals asks all Christians to give consideration to implementing this Declaration in the church’s worship, ministry, policies, life and evangelism. For Christ’s sake. Amen.
Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria – these are the Five Solas, the fruit of the Protestant Reformation. Indeed we see that the reformation today can be found as an ongoing reality in the lives of those who believe and live by these doctrines. The reformation is alive. It is not a finished work of the past. It is not merely an accomplishment of those great reformers and theologians of 500 years ago. It is present with us. It is here, in our midst, as we confess that the Scripture alone is our source of authority in all matters of faith and practice. In having a high view of Scripture we have a high view of God and understand that He has saved us by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. This He has done for His glory alone.
Where is the reformation today? Are you always reforming? Are you always striving to yield yourself as a living sacrifice to God, refusing to be conformed to this world but be transformed by renewing your mind in the Scriptures daily? Are you more and more like Jesus? Then you are always reforming.
This is your history, your heritage, sealed with the blood of the martyrs and delivered to you today. You can proclaim with the hymn writer,
“My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, even so, it is well with my soul.”
Take up your cross, having been crucified with Christ, and continue on, ever and always reforming until we see Jesus, for only then will the reformation be complete. Then we will be like Him to the everlasting glory of God. Amen.