The Protestant Reformation sought to reform Christian practice and belief, to restore it to the pure form and substance of the early biblical church. It is doubtful that any of the major reformers felt their work to be complete in their lifetimes, all implicitly or explicitly desiring that the work of reformation continue until all areas of faith and practice were renewed. The reformers, if able to see where the church is today, would likely be dismayed. In fact, within a generation or two of their day, the reformation had greatly stalled, solidifying many changes they had made and refusing to consider further. In other areas gains of the reformation have been rolled back, with professed Protestant churches readopting elements of tradition or Roman Catholic belief and ritual. Non biblical hierarchies rule today's churches, complete with unquestionable Protestant popes. Church customs and rituals have been set on par with the word of God - mandatory for all "good" believers. The professional theologians assure the commoners that they alone possess proper interpretation of the word of God. History is repeating itself.
If the five principles of the Protestant Reformation are truly believed, the Reformation would continue. It must continue!2 It's time for Christians again to call for a new (or continued) Reformation where every practice of the church is open to Biblical scrutiny and change as needed. It's our prayer that we will see this in our lifetime - revival is built on the foundation of reformation. Using their Latin terms as headings, these are the five original Solas...
Sola Scriptura (authoritas Scripturae) -- by Scripture alone!
The Bible, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, are the complete and inspired Word of God. These fully attested books were entrusted to the future by the Jews (OT) and the apostolic church (NT), authenticated and recognized as God's authoritative word. While other Christian works may be beneficial and edifying to the church, they all must be judged by the standard of Scriptures. This applies to all inter-testament and post New Testament works including those commonly known as Gnostic gospels and pseudepigrapha.
Sola Scriptura teaches that the Bible, as God's Word to mankind, is accessible to all. Within, God has clearly expressed Himself and provided sufficient means for all readers (or hearers) to properly interpret His meaning and intent.1
Sola Scriptura is directly opposed to the Roman Catholic dogma that they are the authority by which additional books can be added to Scriptures. Using this claim, in the mid 16th century they added some of the apocryphal books to their official canon, including books with known gross historical errors.
Sola Scriptura is directly opposed to the Roman Catholic teaching that they alone are able to properly interpret Scriptures for the people. In effect they have added to and modified the clearly expressed message of the Bible through their claim that so-called sacred tradition - including church councils and papal magisterium - are necessary to understand Scriptures.
Sola Scriptura is directly opposed to the modern Protestant practice of elevating a theologian, pastor, teacher, or evangelist's words as being necessary to understand Scriptures. When the church is told that they cannot question the speaker, using Scriptures, solely because the speaker claims special status, education, or authority, it is a return to the error of Roman Catholicism.
Sola Scriptura is opposed to the Protestant practice of elevating traditional practices to the status of Scriptures. When the church takes traditional teaching, ritual, and items, and makes adherence to such a mark of being a "good Christian", it has in effect added to Scriptures. This is especially seen when a person is ostracized or condemned for believing or practicing otherwise. Scriptural challenge to the addition of such practices (or questioning of their absence from Scriptures) is typically met with extra-Biblical justification for their more recent adoption.
Until Sola Scriptura is believed and practiced, the Reformation with never continue. While another of the Solas (Sola Fide) appeared to be the primary cause of the Protestant Reformation, it's underlying, or primary cause rested in this Sola, as do all of the others.
Solus Christus - In Christ Alone
Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man. As one who is fully God and fully man, He lived the perfect life mankind could not. Additionally, through His death, He provided the perfect sacrifice necessary to secure the salvation of all who will believe. In His resurrection He displayed His triumph over sin and death and with his ascension to the right hand of the Father, remains as our mediator, advocate, and High Priest, before the Father. No further sacrifice is necessary as Jesus completed once-for-all everything that was necessary. By God's grace, all believers have been made priests unto God (Revelation 1:6), now enabled to come before Him (Hebrews 4:16) and present our requests and offerings of praise and service (1 Peter 2:4-5).
Solus Christus is directly opposed to the Roman Catholic dogma that teaches people to seek assistance from Mary, saints, and priests, as additional or secondary mediators. No intercession of dead saints, or functioning of their renewed professional priesthood, is necessary, as in Christ alone we have access to the Father.
Solus Christus is opposed to the modern Protestant practice of elevating a pastor, evangelist, or teacher, to the de-facto status of priest, as if his prayers or intervention carried more weight with God.
Sola Fide (fides salvifica) - by faith alone, or Solam Fidem - through faith alone.
Mankind's sinful state before God has no self-made remedy in whole or in part. Justification - a legal declaration of right standing before God - comes through faith only. Good works before or after coming to faith in Jesus Christ does nothing to attain or sustain our salvation which came through faith alone. Notwithstanding, good works are a result of saving faith. One statement of the Protestant Reformation stated it this way: "Faith alone saves, but faith is not alone." Another way to illustrate this is to show, in contrast, the Protestant formula versus the Roman Catholic. "Faith yields justification and good works" is far different than the Catholic "Faith and good works yield justification." Martin Luther was highly focused on this Sola, as the Roman Catholic error had become the norm of his day.3
Sola Fide opposes the Roman Catholic, Mormon, and Jehovah's Witnesses, teachings that good works are necessary to secure your salvation. The Mormon "scripture", found in 2 Nephi, which teaches that they are saved through faith "after all we can do", as with the Roman Catholic teaching, make salvation co-dependant on Christ plus another. It is through faith alone that Christ's completed work is applied to us.
Sola Fide opposes the all too common practice of Protestant Churches who express the belief that justification is by faith alone, but then teach (or illustrate by practice) that a person's salvation can be lost by what they do. This too makes their salvation co-dependant on Christ and themselves.
While the church should be focusing on encouraging one another to good works, with each professed believer being called to test their own actions to see if there is evidence that Christ is at work in their lives, all this must be seen as a result of saving faith. Until people get the order right, they will serve God out of fear and not out of love.
chapter 2 is not a contradiction to sola fide. The entire focus of
that passage is that saving faith will always be accompanied by, or
followed by, good works. Good works are a natural outflow of our
faith. A faith that changes nothing is no real faith at all.
Sola Gratia - by grace alone
Salvation is all about God, who by His grace saves. This salvation is given by the choice of God, without God being in any way obligated to man or making choices based on some merit earned or inherit in man. This leaves salvation completely an unearned, unwarranted, gift of God. All teaching that any works, or any other condition, is necessary to obtain or complete your salvation opposes the Biblical teaching that salvation is by God's grace alone.
Sola Gratia opposes the Roman Catholic doctrine of merit, which teaches that man's good works are a necessary means of obtaining grace. The Roman Catholic Council of Trent said...
Sola Gratia opposes the common belief that some people are, of their own ability or merit, able to chose to do right and seek God. While the following verse is generally acknowledged, it is negated through saying it applies to all, except those who do. If anyone can naturally do good and seek God, while another cannot, they are better than the other and have natural merit - and then it's no longer by grace alone.
Sola Gratia opposes the common, modern day, Protestant belief that places an "acceptable lifestyle" or specific actions as necessary for salvation. Anonymous surveys we have given across North America, in church settings, reflect this. When professed believers are asked what they would do if they knew they only had an hour to live, multitudes respond that they "would pray that God would forgive them and save them." Most felt that that one wrong action or thought, recently committed, could jeopardize their salvation. If my actions are necessary to keep it, it is not by grace alone.
Sola Gratia opposes the common, modern day, Protestant belief that places good works after a "salvation experience" as necessary for obtaining that salvation. In anonymous surveys we have given across North America, in church settings, we asked the question "If you were to die right now and God asked why He should let you into His heaven, what would you say?" Multitudes of professed believers responded with a variant of "I believed in your son Jesus Christ and I've tried to live a good life (or some other list of things they've done is placed after the "and", including praying, going to church, witnessing, was baptized, etc.). If my actions are necessary to have it, it is not by grace alone.
The old hymn "Rock of Ages", written by Augustus M. Toplady in 1776, expresses this well (see the second and third stanzas especially)...
Key references supporting Sola Gratia:
Soli Deo Gloria - to the glory of God alone
All glory is due to God alone, for every aspect of our salvation. Not only did He provide for a complete payment for our sins in His atonement on the cross of Calvary, He grants the faith which allows mankind to be saved by that atonement. It is He who enables us to overcome and to persevere and who will complete the salvation that is begun in us.
Soli Deo Gloria stands opposed to the Roman Catholic elevation of popes, saints, and priests, or their church and giving them any glory for what God is doing in the salvation of mankind.
Soli Deo Gloria stands opposed to the Protestant elevation of bishops, pastors, evangelists, musicians, or their church and giving them any glory for what God is doing in the salvation of mankind.
The created is never worthy of any glory - all of which is due to God alone. To take upon ourselves or to place any glory on man is to minimize what God has done and, in effect, to proclaim that man is somehow necessary for what God has done.
1. The following excerpt shows how problems and divisions still arise among those who claim sola scriptura. Simply put, principles of Biblical Interpretation become exceedingly important.
3. Some have claimed that Martin Luther added sola fide to Scriptures. In his German translation he did add the word "alone", though it did not expressly appear in the Greek or Latin translations. Was this improper? Not at all. A good translation must try to express, as well as possible, all the nuance and implication of the original language. Sometimes to do this extra words are required. Certainly his addition of the word in his translation of Romans is justified by the context and sense of the entire passage. Martin Luther's defense of so doing is as follows...
Article by Brent MacDonald, Lion Tracks Ministries (c) 2008