Summary: I had never heard of the 5 Solas of the Reformation Movement till this last year. They are the founding principles of that movement and they're pretty good stuff... but we don't teach them. Why don't we?
500 ago, on October 31st, a very special thing took place in Church history. A Catholic priest named Martin nailed a challenge to the Catholic Church on a Church door Wittenberg, Germany. It was called the “95 Theses” (or 95 criticisms) of the Roman Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences - which were essentially legal papers that “sold forgiveness”. The Catholic church taught that people who bought these papers were assured that they would not suffer for their sins in a fictitious place called Purgatory. Purgatory was a place where “good Catholics” had to go to work off the guilt of sins they already been forgiven of.
Luther rejected that false teaching and the Church became so angry with him that they intended to have him executed … but they just couldn’t get it done. But Luther wasn’t the first to challenge Catholic teachings.
ILLUS: About 200 yrs before Martin Luther, a Catholic priest in England named John Wycliffe had the audacity to declare that the pope and the church were second in authority to Scripture (That’s something the Catholic Church denies. They believe that they wrote the Bible, therefore they have authority interpret it or alter it as they see fit); he denied that the church had the authority to sell forgiveness (indulgences) and he began a translation of the Bible into English. This English translation wasn’t finished until after he died a natural death 64, but the Catholic Church wasn’t pleased that he was doing that. They condemned Wycliffe with these words:
"By this translation, the Scriptures have become vulgar, and they are more available to lay, and even to women who can read, than they were to learned scholars, who have a high intelligence. So the pearl of the gospel is scattered and trodden underfoot by swine."
For this reason the followers of Wycliffe’s teachings were often designated by Catholic officials as "Bible men". Bible men… there’s an insult for you. About 30 yrs. later, Catholic officials dug up Wycliffe’s body, burned his remains, and scattered his ashes over the river Swift to show their disdain for his efforts.
ILLUS: About 30 years after Wycliffe died, a man named John Hus also rejected indulgences and taught that we don’t have to pay for or work off our sins (essentially what Luther did 100 years later). The Church arrested him and burned him to death at the stake for his teachings.
These were brave men who faced the threat of death because they stood up for Scripture, but it was only when Martin Luther came along that things began to change. From the 1500s on, about 250 other brave men stepped up to join him, and they began what we call the REFORMATION MOVEMENT. They built their theology around something they eventually called the “5 Solas”. The 5 Solas were doctrines that they believed would be the 5 foundational truths of their belief system.
Sola means “Alone” or “Only”.
Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority.
Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King.
Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.
One Reformation Scholar said this about these 5 solas:
“Without these five confessional statements – Scripture alone, Christ alone, Grace alone, Faith alone, and Glory to God alone – we do not have a true church, and certainly not one that will survive for very long. For how can any church be a true and faithful church if it does not stand for Scripture alone, is not committed to a biblical gospel, and does not exist for God’s glory? A church without these convictions has ceased to be a true church, whatever else it may be.” (James Montgomery Boice “Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace”, published by Crossway Books in 2001)
Now, that’s quite an endorsement of the 5 Solas. He was saying that if you don’t embrace these 5 statements you don’t have much of a church. And I have to agree - this all seems to be some pretty good stuff. But until the past year and a half I had never heard of the 5 Solas of the reformation movement (it was only because of the hoopla surrounding this being the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses). How many of you have ever heard of these 5 Solas? (Only 2 or 3 people in each service raised their hands). That’s interesting. But there’s probably a very good reason you haven’t heard of these before… but we’ll talk about that in a few minutes.
First I want us to look at these Solas one at a time: