The Five Solas of the Reformation

Sola Scriptura: The Scripture Alone

The doctrine that the Bible alone is the ultimate authority was the “Formal Principle” of the Reformation. In 1521 at the historic interrogation of Luther at the Diet of Worms, he declared his conscience to be captive to the Word of God saying, “Unless I am overcome with testimonies from Scripture or with evident reasons—for I believe neither the Pope nor the Councils, since they have often erred and contradicted one another—I am overcome by the Scripture texts which I have adduced, and my conscience is bound by God’s Word.” Similarly, the Belgic Confession stated, “We believe that holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein—Neither may we consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value those divine Scriptures nor ought we to consider custom or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God—Therefore, we reject with all our hearts whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule” (VII). Psalm 119:18; Psalm 138:2; 2 Tim 3:14-17.

Soli Deo Gloria: To God Alone Be the Glory

The Reformation reclaimed the Scriptural teaching of the sovereignty of God over every aspect of the believer’s life. God is to be glorified in all things, good and bad. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” This great and all consuming purpose was emphasized by those in the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to reform the church according to the Word of God. In contrast to the monastic division of life into sacred versus secular perpetuated by Roman Church, the reformers saw all of life to be lived under the Lordship of Christ. Every activity of the Christian is to be sanctified unto the glory of God. 1 Cor 10:31; 1 Pet 4:11; Rev 1:6; 2 Pet 3:1; Eph 3:21; Rev 7:12; Rom 11:36.

Solo Christo: Christ Alone

The Reformation called the church back to faith in Christ as the sole mediator between God and man. While the Roman church held that "there is a purgatory and that the souls there detained are helped by the intercessions of the faithful" and that "Saints are to be venerated and invoked;" that their relics are to be venerated"-the reformers taught that salvation was by Christ's work alone. As John Calvin said in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, "Christ stepped in, took the punishment upon himself and bore the judgment due to sinners. With his own blood he expiated the sins which made them enemies of God and thereby satisfied him…we look to Christ alone for divine favour and fatherly love!" Likewise the Heidelberg Catechism, Question 30 asks, "Do such then believe in Jesus the only Saviour who seek their salvation and happiness in saints, in themselves, or anywhere else? They do not; for though their they boast of him in words yet in deeds they deny Jesus the only deliverer and Saviour: for one of these two things must be true that either Jesus is not a complete Saviour or that they who by a true faith receive this Saviour must find all things in him necessary to their salvation." 1 Tim 2:5-6; Col 1:13-18.

Sola Gratia: By Grace Alone

A central cry of the Reformation was salvation by grace. Though the Roman church taught that Mass is a “sacrifice (which) is truly propitiatory” and that by the Mass “God…grant(s) us grace and the gift of penitence, remits our faults and even our enormous sins”…the reformers returned to the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us by grace through his atoning work. In contrast to the doctrines of self-merit taught by Rome, sola gratia and the accompanying doctrines of grace…total depravity, unconditional election, particular redemption, and perseverance of the saints…were preached by all the reformers throughout the Protestant movement. As the Baptist Confession of 1689 says, “Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are justified; and did, by the sacrifice of himself in the blood of the cross, undergoing in their stead the penalty due unto them, make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in their behalf…their justification is only of free grace, that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.” Eph 1:3-8

Sola Fide: By Faith Alone

The “Material Principle” of the Reformation was justification by faith alone. As the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “Faith thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.” The Genevan Confession likewise pointed out the necessity of those justified living by saying, “We confess that the entrance which we have to the great treasures and riches of the goodness of God that is vouchsafed us is by faith; inasmuch as, in certain confidence and assurance of heart, we believe in the promises of the gospel, and receive Jesus Christ as he is offered to us by the Father and described to us by the Word of God (Genevan 11). Gal 3:6-11.



Resource: Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D.