Few Christians know church history. Five hundred years ago on Oct. 31, 1517, the Christian world was turned upside down by the Protestant Reformation. Most Christians have little knowledge of the Reformation. The Reformation is important to know and understand as a Christian. Martin Luther is considered by many to be the father of the Reformation. Luther wrote his Ninety-five Theses and nailed them to the door of the Wittenberg Castle in Germany. He wrote them in Latin and his students translated them into German and they were printed on the Guttenberg Printing Press and distributed all over Europe. The reformers were guided by the conviction the church of their day had drifted away from the essential teachings of Christianity, especially when it came to what the Bible taught about salvation. The Reformation, or being reformed, seeks to re-orient Christianity back to the original message of Jesus Christ. The work of the reformers may be summarized by five Latin phrases.
Sola Scriptura, or Scripture alone. This phrase means that the Bible alone is the Christian’s highest authority. The traditions of the church aren’t of greater authority than the scriptures. Sola Scriptura teaches you don’t need the teachings of the church fathers, tradition or the pope. There’s no other spiritual truth to be restored to man. Sola Scriptura means the Bible alone is the supreme authority in all spiritual matters. 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
Sola Fide, or Faith alone. This phrase means man is saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone. This is a main point of difference between reformers and Catholics as well as all other religions and spiritual teachings. Sola Fide says man is declared righteous or justified on the basis of faith and not by any works the person has done. The Bible teaches man isn’t saved by works but by faith in what God has done and God is the one who gives man that faith to believe. Real Christianity is distinct from every other religion in it’s centered around what God has accomplished through Christ’s death on the cross while religions are based upon what man does or doesn’t do. 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Sola Gratia, or Grace alone. This phrase means salvation is totally a gift of grace from God. The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourself, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” Grace alone is the acknowledgement salvation from the wrath of God is based on God’s grace and mercy and not on anything good in man. One reason so many want to reject this important doctrine is they don’t want to accept what the Bible clearly teaches about the basic condition of human nature since the fall of Adam. The Bible describes man’s condition in Jeremiah 17:9: “Our hearts are “deceitful” and “desperately wicked.”
Sola Christus, or Christ alone. You could say this phrase is Jesus plus nothing else. Christ’s work on the cross is fully sufficient to save people from their sins and bring them into eternal life with God the Father. The Catholic teaching is Jesus, plus the Mass, plus confession, and plus the sacraments. Sola Christus relies on the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
Sola Deo Gloria, or To the Glory of God alone. This last phrase of the reformers was to answer the question: “What is the goal or end of man’s salvation?” The answer to the question is the glory of God. All things are done for the glory of God and it’s God alone all glory belongs. The work of salvation is an act God performs alone — man has no active part in the process. In salvation all boasting is silenced. No one can claim any credit. Let us be thankful God raised up the reformers, and be thankful for how church history has shaped our past and present.
Ben Fleming is the pastor of Silver Hills Community Church.