5 Solas (+2)
Introduction by Pastor David Lenz
October 31st marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Out of this era came five rallying cries that express foundational convictions of Protestant Christianity. They are known as the “five solas” (sola is Latin for “only” or “alone”): sola scriptura (“Scripture alone”), solus Christus (“Christ alone”), sola gratia (“grace alone”), sola fide (“faith alone”), and soli Dei Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”). To them we add two contemporary expressions, sola caritas (“love alone”) and sola ecclesia (“the church alone”). In our September and October worship, we will explore how the five solas (plus two) shape our belief and practice today.
Though Presbyterians draw our heritage from John Calvin, a later reformer, we are indebted to Martin Luther. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Or, at least, it marks 500 years since Martin Luther made his protest at the Wittenburg Cathedral. There had been reform movements before Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Cathedral door, but Luther’s voice was the one that was heard. Luther changed history big time.
We join with churches across the world in celebrating 500 years of Reformation. We celebrate because we are grateful for how God’s Spirit was at work in the sixteenth century, but also because God’s Spirit is at work in the twenty-first century, too! These are not just random declarations. They are biblical principles that have guided the church for half a millennium. Let’s take a look at how each of five solas (plus two) is expressed in our worship.
Sola Scriptura: Scripture Alone
This was a big one for Luther. He lived during an exciting and complex time in history. A middle class was emerging, and Gutenberg had just perfected the printing press. More people were reading the written word than ever before, but few people had access to Bibles in their language. Luther’s own life had been radically transformed by what he had read in the Bible. He wanted the church’s worship to be saturated with Scripture that people could understand.
How amazing it is that we have Bibles in every pew. They are in our homes and in our languages. One way that we are lifting up sola scriptura during this series is by incorporating the Psalms into worship. Calvin encouraged psalm singing in his church in Geneva. We will be singing Psalms as a way to let God’s word dwell in us richly and to recall our Reformed heritage.
Solus Christus: Christ Alone
The medieval church has quite a reputation. Not necessarily a good one. In fact we call this time the “dark ages” in part because it seemed like there was no light to be found during that time. This characterization isn’t totally fair. The Holy Spirit was still at work during the Middle Ages, but there was definitely a divide between the priests and the people. When people went to church they did not understand what was being said — they often couldn’t even see what the priest was doing. But Jesus changed Luther’s life, and he wanted more people to be able to experience the life-changing love of Jesus.
We hope that everything we do in worship is for the sake of Christ. We are “moved by Jesus.” A great example is the way our worship services flow on communion Sundays. Everything is centered around the sacrament of communion, where we are with Jesus in a special way. Through the physicality of bread and juice, we call to mind how Jesus is a real person who lived on earth and was touched and who ate and drank like us. We eat and drink together as a community and as a result of being nourished by Jesus, we are sent out to our neighborhoods, our schools, our jobs, our families, to work with Jesus to build his Kingdom.
Sola Gratia: Grace Alone
During this time, the church was building a headquarters in Rome. It was to be beautiful and breathtaking, which required an immense fundraising effort. To get the ordinary folks to contribute, the church started selling indulgences. Indulgences have a long and complicated history. They were pieces of paper marked with a seal that symbolized a person’s forgiveness from sins. They could be issued by the Pope, which meant they were extra important. Though officially, the church only ever accepted donations for indulgences, they were effectively accepting payment in exchange for forgiveness of the faithful.
This was not the kind of forgiveness Luther read about in the Bible. He knew that God’s forgiveness was free to all who sought it. Only Jesus can bring true forgiveness, and Jesus asks no payment. As we worship together this fall, we affirm that Jesus has moved us to receive the free gift of God’ grace. Our only hope is Jesus.
By Hilary Ritchie
Part two: Sola Fide, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Caritas, Sola Ecclesia (to be posted on October 2)