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Volume 9, Issue 4: Whole Counsel

Remembering the Solas

Ben Merkle

Christians who are concerned for the well being of the Church will readily agree that the modern Church has strayed and is in need of some sort of reformation (notice that this is a reformation with a small r). When this reformation, however, takes the shape of a Reformed movement (now a capital R), it will be characterized no longer by an ambiguous yearning for the good old days, but a defined debate over doctrinal issues. In the latter case, unanimous agreement becomes more difficult to get. Yet both the Reformed movement of today and its counterpart of the sixteenth century address what is needed to reform our Church. Now, if we claim to be reforming the Church, then we must constantly ask ourselves "What does it mean to be Reformed?"

The early Reformers gave us five points for evaluating our Church. These were the five solas. The first of these being sola scriptura, or Scripture alone. In the midst of an increasingly unchecked Papal authority and a Bible that was unavailable to the lower classes, it is easy to see how the sixteenth century was in need of a call to anchor itself again in the Word of God. Our modern church, however, does not see that we are in the same boat. We have created a culture that sees regular Bible study as a pain and not a blessing. We refuse to put effort into our Bible study, insisting on having our Bible studies livened up to entertain us. Instead of regularly reading our Bibles, we take a quick read of the uninspired, inspirational paragraph of our daily devotion book. Our Bibles are marketed by adding footnotes and short stories that are supposed to make the Bible relevant to today's youth, the working mother, or nicotine patch users. Our eschatologies are shaped more by tabloids and TV, than by the study of Scripture. We are bored of our Bibles and truly need to reform our view of Scripture. What a joy it should be to read the Word of our Lord.
The next sola is solus Christus, Christ alone. In recent years the good news of Christ's death has been significantly tampered with. Although the tampering is often well-meaning, it is a destruction of the gospel all the same. The new gospel is not that Christ died to pay the price for our sins, but that He died on the cross in order to give us more meaningful relationships. Life just isn't fulfilling as is, but with the help of Jesus things just seem a lot rosier. If we are preaching a gospel that doesn't teach Christ's death for our sins, we obviously aren't really preaching the gospel. And, if we aren't preaching the gospel, then how can we even feign surprise at the poor state that our Church is in? We need to reform our gospel message.
Next is sola gratia, grace alone. It is by God's grace alone that we are brought to a saving knowledge of Him. Yet, we are continually apologizing for what our God looks like to non-Christians. We try to dress our Lord up to make Him more appealing in the hopes that we might woo an unsuspecting pagan into the kingdom without him ever noticing where he is going. The Bible continually describes the nonbeliever as a God-hater, an enemy of the Lord's, and under His judgment. Why, then, are we distressed when they don't like the looks of our God? If a non-Christian is not frightened by the God we worship, then the God we worship is not the God of the Bible. It is by God's grace alone that anyone comes to a saving knowledge of Him. We are to preach His gospel as it is, not to give Him a make-over.
The fourth sola is sola fide, faith alone. Again, like sola scriptura, we can see the immense need for this sola in the sixteenth-century Church. A works-oriented salvation had become the norm and needed to be rooted out by the Reformation. Salvation by faith alone flew in the face of many in the sixteenth century. Yet, salvation truly by faith alone, and apart from any work or effort of its recipient, still flies in the face of the majority of Christians today. Faith is now redefined so that it becomes a work of the person, not the work of God. As long as we insist on finding the grounds of our salvation within ourselves, we have not submitted to salvation by faith alone and are in desperate need of Reformation.
The last of the five solas is Soli Deo Gloria, to the glory of God alone. Everything a Christian does should be done completely to God's glory. Yet, we have flipped this completely upside down, especially in our worship. Instead of going to worship to glorify God, we often go to glorify ourselves. We require as much fanfare and excitement as possible in order to keep our attention, making the entire service focused on ourselves. Then, when we get ourselves as worked up as possible, we hope that God might take notice of us and somehow feel vicariously glorified. Glorifying God is giving glory to God, not getting ourselves worked up and slipping Christian phrases in, hoping that God will feel the excitement that we've manufactured for our own benefit.
As we consider the issues that the Church has continually muddled, it is interesting to note that our doctrines have not undergone a random decay. The truths we have muddled are crucial to our faith, and are the same ones that have been muddled many times before. It is no accident that we continue to stumble at these points, but it is because they are so crucial that we continue to stumble there. Because of this, it is important to have an historical perspective to our faith. We should be standing on the shoulders of those who went before us, not running to catch up with them.

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