5 Solas #4
Acts 4:1-12; Col. 2 (entire); Hebrews 7:23-8:2; 9:24-28
We’re continuing our short series on the solas of the Protestant Reformation.
5 key watchwords or slogans emerged during that time, that served as a galvanizing tool for those seeking reform in the Church.
Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, & Soli Deo Gloria
And these remain foundational to true Evanglicalism today. Though in all honesty, I find myself more and more hesitant to use the term Evangelical since in our time and culture, it seems to have been hi-jacked as a political tool rather than a sound, historical theological designation. We may need to re-think the name of our own assembly given how evangelical is heard by most ears today. But that is a topic for another time.
These 5 slogans not only crystalized the impetus behind the Reformation, they also present a coherent logic in how they hang together.
In Sola Scriptura, we saw the Reformers were calling the Church back to recognizing the Word of God as the final authority over what we are to believe and to practice, above every council, teaching or individual, even the Pope.
And it is in that Word of God that we come to the revelation that salvation is;
Sola Gratia, by grace alone as opposed to any personal merit or worthiness;
Sola Fide, by faith alone as opposed to any good works one might do no matter how noble or invented even by the Church;
And thus salvation is – Solus Christus, owing to Christ and His finished work on our behalf – alone.
He needs no help saving the souls of lost men. Salvation rests wholly in Him! That, as opposed to what the Church may think it needs to add to the equation.
This 4th point was absolutely essential as it struck at the very heart of what had gone so very wrong in the Church.
As an article in Ligonier Ministry’s TableTalk magazine notes: “The problem, then, was not the person of Christ. The problem was the work of Christ. The debate centered on the sacramental system Rome had constructed, a system in which the grace of Christ was mediated to the people through an elaborate system of priests and sacramental works. Through this sacramental system, the Roman church effectively controlled the Christian’s life from birth (baptism) to death (extreme unction) and even beyond (masses for the dead).”
In other words, the system the Church had created made the Church the sole dispenser of grace – without the Church’s mediation in addition to Christ’s work, you could not be saved.
What did that look like? Let me quote from the Catholic Catechism of today. Regarding the sacraments they say: “For the first of these is Baptism, the gate, as it were, to all the rest, by which we are born again unto Christ. The next is Confirmation, by virtue of which we grow up, and are strengthened in the grace of God…’ The third is the Eucharist, by which, as by a truly celestial food, our spirit is nurtured and sustained… Penance follows in the fourth place, by the aid of which health, which has been lost, is restored us, after we have received the wounds of sin. The fifth is Extreme Unction, by which the remains of sin are taken away, and the energies of the soul invigorated… The sixth is Orders, by which power is given to exercise perpetually in the church the public ministry of the sacraments, and to perform all the sacred functions. The last is matrimony…” Catholic Church, The Catechism of the Council of Trent, trans. Theodore Alois Buckley (London: George Routledge and Co., 1852), 149.
Here’s how that logic works: Since the Church alone could give holy orders to make priests, then only those under the authority of the Church could baptize – which they said the mere doing of causes the infant to be born again, regenerated; only they could bestow the Holy Spirit in confirmation; only they could turn the communion elements into the literal body and blood of Christ; only they could hear confession, forgive sin and offer penance; only they could rightly marry you and only they could give you last rites at death. And then beyond that, only they could give you indulgences to help you or others AFTER death.
And the Reformers were saying NO! This is all backwards. You are putting the Church in between Christ and His people.
Instead of it being Christ in His saving work who brings us into the Church by joining us to Himself, you’ve said it is the Church who alone has the power to bring us into Christ by first making us members of IT!
The church then became the mediator between God and man – when the Scripture said: 1 Timothy 2:5 “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”
And lest you think the Reformers were, or I am, distorting that – let me again cite current Roman Catholic Catechism: “All the sacraments are sacred links uniting the faithful with one another and binding them to Jesus Christ, and above all Baptism, the gate by which we enter into the Church.” Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 248.
More: “for as no one can gain admittance into a place without the aid of him to whom the keys have been committed, so we understand that no one can gain admission into heaven unless its gates be opened by the priests, to whose fidelity the Lord has confided its keys” Catholic Church, The Catechism of the Council of Trent, trans. Theodore Alois Buckley (London: George Routledge and Co., 1852), 281.
So the key issue here was this: The church rightly said that Jesus was the mediator between God and man, but it then interposed itself as the mediator between man and Jesus and then added more mediators.
Jesus’ said: John 14:6 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
And the Church said: true, BUT – “no one can gain admission into heaven unless its gates be opened by the priests, to whose fidelity the Lord has confided its keys”
Now what opened all of this up for Luther especially at the time was this entire practice of indulgences which we’ve looked at briefly before.
And the idea that the Church has at its disposal what is a called a “treasury of merit” – the good works Jesus AND of the saints, which it alone administrates and can mete out at will to the spiritual benefit of the dead.
Since no one could get to heaven unless bona fide priests opened the gates – even after death you were bound to the Church more than to Christ!
So what is this Treasury of merit? Again the Catechism – “1478 An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins.” Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 371.
Now there are 3 things sorely amiss here right off the bat.
- This is a total fiction. There is nothing at all to be found in God’s Word about anything remotely like this idea of a treasury of merits which is given to the Church to dispense as she sees fit. It simply does not exist.
- Since total obedience to God is only what should be the expected norm for creatures made in the image of God – no merit can possibly accrue from our good works. Remember Jesus’ words to the Disciples – and if there were ANY saints ever who might be laudable – it would be Peter and the rest: And Jesus says “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ” Luke 17:10
What treasury could be accrued from that?
3. At worst, it inverts Christ and the church, at best, it mixes Christ’s redemptive work with that of Mary and the other saints.
Once again Paul reminds us: 1 Tim. 2:5 “There is ONE mediator between God and man.”
So the NT record consistently records things like: 1 Corinthians 1:22–24 “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
What did they preach? Christ and Him crucified, not the Church and its supposed power or authority.
We preach Christ and Him crucified, and not the sacraments.
We preach Christ and Him crucified and not the supposed merits of the saints.
So when the Philippian Jailor asks “what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:31 Paul & Silas said: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” There were no 7 sacraments to point them to. Christ and Christ alone!
Acts 4:12 for “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Contrary to the council at Trent in its response to the Reformation where they codified as canon law: CANON IV. “If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; and that, without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification;-though all (the sacraments) are not indeed necessary for every individual; let him be anathema.”
As we’ve cited so many times in this series: Ephesians 2:8–10 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
“Not a result of works” – Neither yours, nor the Church’s nor the saint’s. We are saved by Jesus Christ Himself – it is Jesus who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit: Mark 1:8 “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
And by virtue of possessing the Spirit, makes us one with Christ and His Church: 1 Corinthians 12:13 “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
Ephesians 2:18–22 “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
The Church doesn’t do these things – it is wholly owing to the work of Christ Jesus – ALONE!
So that was the battle then, and except for those still struggling to exit the Romanist church, the specifics do not seem to apply that much today. Or do they?
I think we can clearly see how solus Christus is still as necessary as ever.
- Cults. Every cult, every religious group piggy-backing off of Christianity – Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnessism, The Way Int’l, Branch Davidians, British Israelism, Unification Church, Christian Scientism and a host of others – each one takes the very same tack as Romanism and interpose themselves between the individual and God. You must go through them to get to the REAL Jesus and the REAL salvation. They are the true dispensers of grace.
- Secularization of the Church. The framers of the Cambridge Declaration in 1996, men like R.C. Sproul, Alistair Begg, James Montgomery Boice, David Wells and others penned in seeking to recover the solas in our day are helpful here: Solus Christus: The Erosion of Christ-Centered Faith “As evangelical faith has become secularized, its interests have been blurred with those of the culture. The result is a loss of absolute values, permissive individualism, and a substitution of wholeness for holiness, recovery for repentance, intuition for truth, feeling for belief, chance for providence, and immediate gratification for enduring hope. Christ and his cross have moved from the center of our vision.”
Thesis 2: Solus Christus. We reaffirm that our salvation is accomplished by the mediatorial work of the historical Christ alone. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification and reconciliation to the Father.
We deny that the gospel is preached if Christ’s substitutionary work is not declared and faith in Christ and his work is not solicited.
Donald G. Bloesch, The Church: Sacraments, Worship, Ministry, Mission (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 290.
- False teachers in Christianity. I want to be careful but clear here as well – anyone who says that if you send them money or join their group, they will pray for you in some special way that you cannot for yourself or by virtue of your brothers and sisters in Christ – that they have some sort of spiritual hot line no one else has – are doing the very same thing. If you have to join their specific group, get their special teaching (beyond the plain Gospel of the Bible), buy their special book, go to their seminar where they will teach you spiritual secrets for a fee – run like the wind! They have sought like so many others to put themselves between you and Christ – when the Scripture gives us this absolute confidence:
Waxing in depth about the high priesthood of Christ, the writer to the Hebrews sums it up this way: Hebrews 7:25 “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
He – Jesus Christ. No one else.
Is able to save – This is HIS work, to seek and save the lost.
Save to the uttermost – To bring you to full completion by His salvific work, requiring no other intermediary. Justification, growth in Christ’s image, and glorification at the resurrection. He perfects His own.
Those who draw near to God THROUGH HIM – NOT through any other person or organization – it is through Christ we draw near to God.
He always lives to make intercession for us – What saint can possibly pray for us in some way Jesus cannot intercede for us before the throne of His Father? If Christ prays for me – ALL WILL BE WELL – if no one else in heaven or earth ever utters my name to God.
Christ our great intercessor!
Now what can anyone suppose to add to His great saving work without blasphemy?
Christian – you are complete in Him! Turn to Christ Jesus at every juncture. He WILL meet you there.
Unbeliever – He is all you need for salvation, forgiveness of sins, reconciliation to the Father and growth in your spiritual life. He alone could deal with sin, and it is He who gives the Spirit by which you can walk with Him in power and perpetual fellowship. Turn to Jesus today. He alone can save you from bondage to your present sin, and the wrath to come.
John Newton on Matt 22: Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ?”
1 WHAT think you of Christ? is the test,
To try both your state and your scheme;
You cannot be right in the rest,
Unless you think rightly of him.
As Jesus appears in your view,
As he is beloved or not;
So God is disposed to you,
And mercy or wrath are your lot.
2 Some take him a creature to be,
A man, or an angel at most:
Sure these have not feelings like me,
Nor know themselves wretched and lost.
So guilty, so helpless am I,
I durst not confide in his blood,
Nor on his protection rely,
Unless I were sure he is God.
3 Some call him Saviour, in word,
But mix their own works with his plan;
And hope he his help will afford,
When they have done all that they can:
If doings prove rather too light,
(A little, they own, they may fail),
They purpose to make up full weight,
By casting his name in the scale.
4 Some style him the pearl of great price,
And say he’s the fountain of joys;
Yet feed upon folly and vice,
And cleave to the world and its toys;
Like Judas, the Saviour they kiss,
And while they salute him, betray;
Ah! what will profession like this
Avail in his terrible day?
5 If ask’d, what of Jesus I think,
Though still my best thoughts are but poor,
I say, he’s my meat and my drink,
My life, and my strength, and my store;
My Shepherd, my Husband, my Friend,
My Saviour from sin and from thrall;
My hope from beginning to end,
My portion, my Lord, and my All.
John Newton and Richard Cecil, The Works of John Newton, vol. 3 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 403–404.