July 9, 2020by Reverend Dan on July 9, 2020
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness.”
The three sola’s which originated the Reformation weren’t actually put together in a systematic way until the 20th century when two more were added (Solo Christo – Christ Alone and Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God Alone), but all three have their foundation in the 16th century movement. It’s important to understand that these three key beliefs don’t stand in contradiction to the Roman Catholic teachings, but rather in contradistinction. It’s the understanding and interpretation of them that differ. The movement’s three basic tenets were: Sola Scriptura (by scripture alone); Sola Fide (by faith alone); and Sola Gratia (by grace alone).
What Luther took issue with regarding Sola Scriptura was that the traditions, customs, creeds, and practices of the church had replaced the authority of scripture. He believed that since scripture is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God, it must always be the sole and final authority of faith. Luther said the Bible shares authority with no one and no thing, not even the pope, saying, “A simple layman armed with scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it.” It was the corruption of clergy in using scripture for material gain that was the impetus for Luther’s insistence on this issue.
Sola Fide says that good works are not a requisite or means to achieve salvation. It does not negate the need of good works; indeed, it says that good works are the evidence of salvation. Justification itself (being declared “just” by God), however, is received by faith alone. This doctrine says that believers are forgiven their sins not on the basis of the good works they have done, but by God’s free gift of grace.
Which leads to Sola Gratia. Once a person professes faith in God through the atoning work of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross, it is then that they receive the grace of God which forgives them of their sins. Nothing man can do can merit this grace. No work can achieve it for it is a gift, given freely.
The truth is, there are only semantic and interpretive differences between the Roman Catholic and Protestant beliefs on these three subjects. Both believe scripture is the ultimate authority; it is in the interpretation of scripture where the differences are seen. And both believe that grace is an unmerited gift of God given freely through faith. It is the relation of good works to salvation where the differences exist.
Martin Luther never wanted to leave the Roman Catholic church or the priesthood. He simply wanted reform in the hierarchy and authority of the church. The movement quickly became bigger than him, however. First, it was fueled by people like Calvin and Zwingli on the continent who expanded on his writings. Next, Henry VIII in England began to do the same thing the popes had done – misuse and abuse the church itself for personal reasons. (He wanted a divorce annulment from one of his wives and the pope wouldn’t grant it, so he started his own church, the Church of England). And finally, the widespread use of the new printing press where people could read scripture for themselves gave the movement a populist surge that could not be restrained.
It is always important to know how we arrived where we are. The people, ideas, and beliefs that fuel a movement can give us insight into why we do the things we do, and more importantly can help us from repeating the same mistakes. Instead of simply believing what has been passed down for generations without question (embedded theology), read the history of our faith in addition to reading your Bible. It is fascinating and illuminating, and most of all, it reminds us that we are part of a faith that has withstood the test of time and history. Thanks be to God for that history.
“Father, Thank you once again for the fathers of our faith, and our role in the history of the church. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.”