The end of this month marks the five hundredth year since the Reformation began when a German monk nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenburg Church.
That started a revelation that changed medieval Europe, not to mention countless millions who were freed from Catholicism and its practice of works-righteousness. The light of the Gospel shone worldwide freeing men and women from a thousand years of bondage.
What resulted from Luther’s revelation of the Gospel were five solas; five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged during the Reformation to summarize the Reformers’ theological convictions about the essentials of Christianity. In honor of that groundbreaking event, I am blogging on the theological import of each of those solas. And I am doing so, not merely as a lesson of history but in the conviction that the five Solas, which contain the essence of the Gospel, are needed as much today as they were five hundred years ago. Even among those who would call themselves Protestant today, there is a great need to visit these things once again.
By way of reminder, the five solas are: Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone), Sola Christus (Christ alone) and Sola Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone).
Arguably, Sola Scriptura was the most important one of the five in describing what Luther and the other Reformers discovered. They did not mean by this that people should read only Scripture; after all, Luther and the Reformers wrote numerous books themselves. Rather, they meant that Scripture alone was the ultimate authority for the faithful. They recognized that the Church had allowed Church dogma and tradition to become as important, if not more important than the Word of God itself. In fact, for many centuries prior to the Reformation, the faithful were not even allowed to read Scripture. Men like John Hus and John Wycliffe gave up their lives due to their assertion that the Scriptures alone were the rule of faith and practice for believers.
I can somewhat relate to that. Growing up in Judaism, I was never encouraged to read the Scriptures for myself. Judaism was replete with traditions and oral interpretations, but I had almost no exposure to the Word of God itself. I tell people to this day that it took becoming a believer in the Jewish Messiah Jesus to learn what it means to be a Jew! I can remember how groundbreaking my first time reading the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible or Old Testament) was. The same is true for many Catholics as well; Catholicism frowned on Catholics reading the Bible for themselves. Henceforth, most Catholics I grew up with were as biblically illiterate as I was, even though they believed in Jesus.
Luther recognized that every Church belief and practice had to be solidly based on Holy Scripture as Dr. Hans Wiersma points out: