RSS Feed

The Five Solas

Ninety-Five Theses

The Five Solas consist of five Latin phrases which summarise the theological distinctives that emerged from the Protestant Reformation during the early sixteenth century. Each solaLatin: alone or only embodies a fundamental teaching principle. Collectively they were formulated to guard against any belief system which attempted to take glory from God, especially in relation to the involvement of man in salvation.

As we shall see, sola Scriptura and soli Deo gloria are the teachings that stand as the two unmovable bookends of the five Solas. The first being the source of authority and grounds by which the others are justified, and the latter being the litmus test of the extent to which we have embraced the others.

Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone)

Sola Scriptura teaches that the Bible is the only inspired and authoritative Word of God and remains the only true source of Christian doctrine. Furthermore it teaches that although we may benefit from having historical and cultural contexts explained it is through the work of the Holy Spirit that the Scriptures are accessible to everyone (John 15:2626   "When the Counselor{Greek Parakletos: Counselor, Helper, Advocate, Intercessor, and Comfortor.} has come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me.
). As the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God they will speak to us with greater authority than any extra-biblical interpretation (2 Timothy 3:15-1715   From infancy, you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus.
16   Every Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness,
17   that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Without embracing the full scope of sola Scriptura all other teachings are compromised. For example, the Roman Catholic Church view the Apostolic Tradition to be the bed-rock of their beliefs. Part of this doctrine teaches that the authority which was transferred from Christ to Peter has then been passed through the subsequent line of Popes, and the authority of the Pope is in union with his Bishops (called the Magisterium). Consequently, Scripture and its interpretation is the responsibility of Church; doctrines, called dogma, are formulated to help believers understand Scripture. Although dogma is not considered equal to Scripture, it has been declared authoritative and true and cannot be challenged. Hence doctrinal discussions and debates are not possible, as an appeal to dogma is considered to be the final word on a particular issue.

Sola fide (by faith alone), sola gratia (by grace alone), and solus Christus (Christ alone)

Martin Luther (the Augustinian monk who initiated the Reformation) declared the issue of "faith alone" to be the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae (doctrine by which the church stands or falls). Simply put it teaches that we are justified (made right with God) by faith alone.

However, there are many misunderstandings about the extent and meaning of sola fide and, as we shall see, there is an unavoidable overlap with sola gratia and solus Christus. All Christian traditions agree that it is by faith that we are made righteous, but the distinction made by sola fide exists around the means by which we are justified.

The Reformers taught that regeneration precedes faith. Jesus said to Nicodemus: "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (John 3:3) Unless God breathes new life into us we are both unwilling and unable to choose God (Romans 3:10-1210   As it is written, "There is no one righteous; no, not one.
11   There is no one who understands. There is no one who seeks after God.
12   They have all turned aside. They have together become unprofitable. There is no one who does good, no, not, so much as one."{Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20}
, Romans 5:88   But God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
, and Ephesians 2:55   even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
). As Jesus lived a sinless life and He fulfilled every aspect of the law, His death was a sufficient sacrifice and atonement for all of our sins (Colossians 1:13-1413   who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love;
14   in whom we have our redemption,{TR adds "through his blood,"} the forgiveness of our sins;
). Hence our faith should rest only in the life and death of Christ (solus Christus). But note the importance of our faith resting also in the life of Christ. For we not only receive forgiveness, but by His perfect life the righteousness of Christ is imputed (credited) to us (2 Corinthians 5:2121   For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
and Philippians 3:99   and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;
). Although our faith rests in Christ alone, the Reformers were often misunderstood. They always taught that our faith should never be alone; that is, good works will necessarily flow out of a new life in Christ. However, until we enter Heaven and our sanctification is complete, we will battle with sin. Luther described our earthly state as being simul justus et peccator (at the same time justified and sinner).

The Roman Catholic Church argued that to declare someone righteous whilst they are still a sinner is a legal fiction. Instead they teach that through the Sacrament of Baptism the grace of justification and sanctification is infused into the soul, making the receiver of baptism justified even before exercising his own faith. Baptism functions ex operere operato (by the works of the act) and is the necessary and efficient cause of justification. However, any deliberate act of sin will lose that justification. Through the Sacrament of Penance the sinner must work with God through faith to restore justification. If a believer should die before being set right, and has not committed a mortal sin (a grave violation of God's law which turns man away from God), then his soul will journey to purgatory. The body of believers in the Catholic Church will pray for departed souls that they may be purged of their sins, allowing them to be united with God in Heaven.

So in summary, Protestant theology teaches that "faith yields justification and good works" whereas Catholic theology teaches that "faith and good works yield justification".

The thrust of the central three Solas was seen as a vital teaching during the Reformation. In sola gratia we find that the basis of our salvation is initiated and completed by God; in sola fide and solus Christus we find that the means and merit of our salvation is achieved by faith (the means) in the life and death of Christ alone (whose merit).

Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)

Hence the Reformers saw soli Deo gloria as the culmination of the first four Solas. The Holy Scriptures are the only source of teaching for all Christian doctrine. It is through faith alone (without works) solely in Christ that we are saved. And all this was by the grace of God; we have no part in any of this and can boast in nothing (Ephesians 2:8-98   for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
9   not of works, that no one would boast.
). So we declare with cries of joy:

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen

Romans 11:36