usually date the start of the Protestant Reformation to Martin Luther’s
publication of “95 Theses” posted on the door of the All Saints’ Church in
Wittenberg Germany on October 31, 1517. Its ending can be placed anywhere from
the 1555 Peace of Augsburg, which allowed for the coexistence of Catholicism
and Lutheranism in Germany, to the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the
Thirty Years’ War. The key ideas of the Reformation—a call to purify the church
and a belief that the Bible, not tradition, should be the sole source of
spiritual authority—were not themselves novel. However, Luther and the other
reformers became the first to skillfully use the power of the printing press to
give their ideas a wide audience.
Did You Know?
reformer was more adept than Martin Luther at using the power of the press to
spread his ideas. Between 1518 and 1525, Luther published more works than the
next 17 most prolific reformers combined.
Luther (1483-1546) was an Augustinian monk and university lecturer in
Wittenberg when he composed his “95 Theses,” which protested the pope’s sale of
reprieves from penance, or indulgences. Although he had hoped to spur renewal
from within the church, in 1521 he was summoned before the Diet of Worms and
excommunicated. Sheltered by Friedrich, elector of Saxony, Luther translated
the Bible into German and continued his output of vernacular pamphlets.
SWITZERLAND AND CALVINISM
Swiss Reformation began in 1519 with the sermons of Ulrich Zwingli, whose
teachings largely paralleled Luther’s. In 1541 John Calvin, a French Protestant
who had spent the previous decade in exile writing his “Institutes of the
Christian Religion,” was invited to settle in Geneva.
Geneva became a center for Protestant exiles, and his doctrines quickly spread
to Scotland, France, Transylvania and the Low Countries, where Dutch Calvinism
became a religious and economic force for the next 400 years.
ENGLAND AND THE “MIDDLE WAY”
England, the Reformation began with Henry VIII’s quest for a male heir. When
Pope Clement VII refused to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he
could remarry, the English king declared in 1534 that he alone should be the
final authority in matters relating to the English church. Henry dissolved
England’s monasteries to confiscate their wealth and worked to place the Bible
in the hands of the people. Beginning in 1536, every parish was required to
have a copy.
with the religious consequences of the Reformation came deep and lasting
political changes. Northern Europe’s new religious and political freedoms came
at a great cost, with decades of rebellions, wars and bloody persecutions. The
Thirty Years’ War alone may have cost Germany 40 percent of its population.
the Reformation’s positive repercussions can be seen in the intellectual and
cultural flourishing it inspired on all sides of the schism—in the strengthened
universities of Europe, church music of J.S. Bach, the baroque altarpieces of
Pieter Paul Rubens and even the capitalism of Dutch Calvinist merchants.
THE MAIN TENANTS
OF THE REFORMATION – THE FIVE “SOLAS”
“SOLAS” of the Protestant Reformation are a set of doctrines held by
theologians and churchmen to be central to that period of change in the western
Christian church. Each sola— from the Latin meaning “alone” or
“only”—represents a key belief held by the reformers of the 16th
century in contrast to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. The precise
number of SOLAS varies, but lists of three and five are common.
SOLAS were not systematically brought together until the 20th century. But sola
gratia and sola fide were used by the reformers themselves. For example, in
1554 Philip Melanchthon wrote, “sola gratia justificamus et sola fide
justificamur” (“only by grace do you justify, and only by faith are we
justified”). All the SOLAS show up in various writings by the Protestant
reformers, but they do not all appear in one place. In the earliest references
to the SOLAS, three were typically mentioned: Scripture over tradition, faith
over works, and grace over merit. Each of these pairs of terms is intended to
highlight how Protestant teaching differs from Roman Catholic teaching.
(“by Scripture alone”)
phrase, sola scriptura, or “by scripture alone,” asserts that the
Bible must determine church traditions and interpretations. All church
practices and doctrines must be in unity with the teachings of Scripture, the
divinely inspired Word of God. This principle asserts that the Bible is to be
interpreted through itself, with one passage of Scripture being useful in the
interpretation of other passages. It shows that the Bible is a unified system
of truth as well as the revelation of truth. The teachings and customs of the
church must align themselves with the Word of God; only then can they be
applied with any assurance of God’s approval and of their own trustworthiness.
(“by faith alone”)
two Latin words, sola fide, translated “by faith alone,” declare that
good works are not the means by which salvation is attained; neither are they
required nor accepted by God for granting salvation. Sola fide is the teaching
that justification (understood in Protestant theology as “being declared
just by God”) is received by faith alone, without the need for good works
on the part of the believing individual. Good works may be viewed as the
evidence of saving faith; they do not determine salvation.
Luther used the expression “simuljustusetpeccator” (“at the same time
justified and a sinner”). Justification is entirely the gracious
work of God. It is only as a justified person that one is enabled to do
anything that is acceptable (good or righteous) in the sight of God.
(“by grace alone”)
idea that a person’s merit is excluded from having any part in salvation is
expressed in the words, “by grace alone” (sola gratia). Salvation comes by
divine grace, God’s “unmerited favor,” and not as something offered, exchanged,
or sacrificed by the sinner. Salvation is a gift, an unearned blessing from God
for Christ’s sake.
or SOLO CHRISTO (“Christ alone” or “through Christ alone”)
expression, solus Christus, means “only Christ,” and indicates that
Christ is the exclusive mediator between God and man. In other words, there is
salvation through no other person, because no other person’s intervention or
intercession, whether pastor, rector, bishop, or Pope. The phrase is sometimes
rendered, solo Christo, since salvation is “by Christ alone.” This
SOLA of the Reformation rejects “sacerdotalism,” a term meaning that there are
no valid sacraments in the church without the services of a properly ordained
Protestant denominations understand the Bible to teach that there are only two
continuing ordinances in the Christian church, baptism and the Lord’s
Supper. Solus Christus does not deny the office of ministry in the
church, to which is committed the public proclamation of the gospel and the
administration of the sacraments. On the contrary, it affirms that Christ is
the only priest (the High Priest) of his church, and that no saving grace at
all is communicated to human beings except through him. His ministers (his
pastors and teachers along with any true Christian) are commissioned by him to
bring the light and life of salvation to the attention of saints and sinners,
but they are not the “administrators” of salvation in any other sense than
being messengers and “managers” of Biblical truth.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
(“glory to God alone”)
Deo gloria teaches that all glory is due to God alone, since salvation is
accomplished solely through his will and his action. The reformers believed
that human beings are not worthy of that glory.
Protestant reformers were convinced that certain teachings of the Bible were
necessary for a true understanding of the way of salvation. The Christian faith
stood in jeopardy of being overthrown unless these doctrines were taught with
precision, power, and persuasion. They continue to be upheld in true Bible
believing and teaching churches today and in many evangelical churches as well.
SOLA SCRIPTURA, the Bible alone is our final authority in every area of life
because it is the Word of God. SOLUS CHRISTUS, Christ alone, in his perfect
life and atoning death in the sinner’s place, is the basis for our acceptance
by God. SOLA GRATIA, the grace of God alone in Christ and not works of human
merit or effort is why God saves sinners. SOLA FIDE, faith alone is the means
by which sinners receive or appropriate this grace of God. SOLI DEO GLORIA, to
God alone belongs the glory for saving sinners and for everything else in this
life and the life to come.
is the Reformation on its last gasp? Not where the Gospel is prized and
preached. Not where a denial of justification by faith alone is known to
be a denial of the Gospel itself — and to be a heresy that has lasted far more
than 500 years. Today and until Jesus Christ comes again, true believers
in Christ must defend and proclaim until death the message of the Gospel of
grace built on Scripture alone that teaches eternal salvation is by grace
alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone!