An Introduction to the Solas
note: this post is an introduction to a series of five more that will be posted in subsequent weeks, subscribe or check back to follow along.
Churches are like trees. They have different roots finding nourishment from a number of different sources. They branch out to supply shade or fruit in different directions. All of this is good.
Our own church here in Bismarck is no different. But one of the thickest and deepest roots we have goes back 500 years to the reformation that we celebrated this week. Our congregation comes from a variety of backgrounds, and many of us still consider ourselves to be in some way big C “Catholic.” So It is important that we understand this reformation thing correctly.
The original dudes we call the reformers were guys like Martin Luther and John Calvin who considered themselves to be Catholic. They had no desire to abandon the church they loved. They desired … well… to reform her.
See, 500 years ago the thing we know of today as the Roman Catholic Church had kinda begun to lose the point of some things. As Lord Acton famously pointed out, power tends to corrupt. And the church had immense political power and had become a bit corrupted. (Take note of this white American Protestants, it’s important).
The Church was doing things like selling tickets to heaven, setting up a person as holding equal authority as God, and preventing God’s people from reading his word. These were things that certain guys had a real problem with. These were the sorts of things that these guys wanted to change.
On Sunday we watched this video at church and I think it stresses the really important thing that these guys did.
The Five Solas sit at the heart of this “reformation” that is now 500 years old.
Grace Alone by Faith Alone in Christ Alone as he is revealed in Scripture Alone all for the Glory of God Alone.
It is telling that in looking for this video I actually found another one that stressed only four, leaving out the glory of God alone. We will bring that up later on in this series.
These five things exclude other things that we, the people of God want to add to the important stuff.
Good things like service, good actions, giving, servant leadership, and today even the use of sexuality. We may at different times and seasons try to elevate some of these things to a higher importance than they should have.
We want to do this because frankly, we like to have a human sized measuring stick. What we really want is to measure up. We want to create a standard by which we might judge ourselves and others. We want to establish fences that clearly mark those who are in and those who are out.
The great thing about these five “Solas” is that they leave us all out.
As an individual, I struggle every day with the “Glory of God alone,” because most of what I do is driven by a desire for my own glory. As a church leader, it can be tempting to add service to the church to “faith alone” because I want people to serve in the church. As a guy who wants to be nice to people who disagree with me about Jesus, I may want to drop “Christ alone” because that feels too exclusionary to my good friends who don’t agree with that. Or I may just want to do what some are doing and redefine the word “Christ” as a little broader than Jesus Christ the historical man.
As a preacher I may want to address certain things that I believe the church needs to hear, but God’s word does not address. This is why I generally preach directly through books of the Bible. No one needs to hear what I think from the pulpit, they need to hear what God says in his word.
These five “solas” are important because they position humanity in the right place before their maker. They are important because they keep us all humble. They are important because they maintain the correct tension that no one is above another within the kingdom, we are all brothers and sisters before the King of kings.
There are two important groups I want to address as it pertains to the reformation. The first are either what we may call “hard line protestants” who believe that there can be no salvation within the Roman Catholic Church. Some of you guys grew up within the fold of the Catholic Church and have since rejected it, and some of you were never in it and cannot imagine you would ever want to be. The second group are those who still mostly identify as Catholic, but may attend worship services at our church or another protestant church.
Here is what I want you both to know.
Our church calls itself “reformed” in part because we hold to the same creeds and confessions that these reformers created, held to, and taught. But we also maintain the same hope and tradition. We desire unity within the body of Christ. It should not delight us that the people of God are separated. Whether you are Eastern Orthodox (the eastern church and the western church split a few hundred years before the western church shattered) Roman Catholic, or one of the many protestant denominations it is important that we note that Christ is one. His body on earth is one as well.
The way we have divided ourselves is in some ways important. There are a variety of differences of opinion that need to be sorted out. But in other ways it is a bit tragic. Our ultimate hope is that we will be one again. Whether you eat communion, the eucharist, or the Lord’s supper this is considered one meal that the people of God are eating and drinking together across the planet under a variety of confessions. Whether this meal is considered transubstantiation, consubstantiation, memorialism, or whatever – it is a meal that we share with Christ and look forward to eating with each other one day.
In the meantime the best we can do is try to understand one another, and hold to the five solas. These things will help us to remain humble. These things will keep us from thinking we are better than one another, and importantly, these things will help us to merge together as one. Stressing the Solas will ensure that we hear what God tells his people not what God has told you or me.
Stressing the Solas will help us to maintain unity around what is important even while we try to sort out our differences in a spirit of humility because … well, “grace alone.”