• Wayne Shelton

The 5 Solas of the Reformation

The 5 Solas of the Reformation may not be a term every Christian recognizes. Yet these foundational principles that came out of the Reformation dramatically impacted modern Christianity and our understanding of the proper place of Scripture, faith, grace, God, and Christ.


What are the 5 Solas of the Reformation?

The 5 Solas of the Reformation (“solas,” meaning, “alones”) are five principles foundational to the doctrine of salvation.

  • Sola Scriptura, or “God’s Word alone,” maintains that the Bible is the highest source of authority in a Christian’s life, the final court of appeal (though not the only authority: the Bible itself mentions governmental and other authorities).

  • Sola fide, or “faith alone,” affirms that justification—being made right with God—comes only through faith in Jesus.

  • Sola gratia, or “grace alone,” says sinners are saved as an unearned gift of God’s grace, “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

  • Sola Christo (“solus Christus”), or “Christ alone,” emphasizes the exclusivity of Jesus’ role in salvation: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

  • and Soli Deo gloria, or “to the glory of God alone,” says that the purpose of creation, salvation, and everything—including our goal as Christians—is the glory of God, “that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).

In this quote from Luther’s famous speech at the Diet of Worms (1521) after being asked to renounce his teachings, we see the sentiments of how sola Scriptura was the hinge that led to the other four “solas”:


“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; May God help me. Amen.”


Though it took some time, as J. V. Fesko says, for Luther’s actions and for these five principles “to ripple through history,” the 5 Solas of the Reformation eventually helped the Church recover her lost footing.


Since the 5 Solas are borne out of the Protestant Reformation, then it would not be surprising to know that, in many ways, they reflect the circumstances of the time period in which they were formulated. Each of the solas are a response to what the Reformers saw as problematic in the Roman Catholic church of their day.


Let’s take the example of sola scriptura (since this is the one we will look at this year) — the affirmation that the Scriptures are the highest and only infallible authority—is an obvious response to the Roman Catholic claim that the church (and church tradition) should be seen as equally authoritative as Scripture.


But here’s the thing. Some misunderstand the 5 Solas as merely a response to Roman Catholicism and nothing more. In other words, they are viewed as a time-bound, historically conditioned set of affirmations that are largely applicable to an era that is long gone.


Let me suggest that the 5 Solas are much more than a response to Catholicism. On the contrary, they are a response to the universal tendencies of fallen human hearts everywhere. Put differently, the 5 Solas are inherently counter-cultural. They run contrary to the average human intuition about the way life (and religion) ought to be. As Michael Kruger writes: “The solas basically argue against idolatry, legalism, humanism, pluralism, and pride. And those things need to be battled in every generation.”


Again, consider Sola Scriptura. As noted, sola scriptura obviously was designed to counter Roman Catholic claims about church tradition. But it is also, and perhaps more fundamentally, pushing back against the universal human tendency to replace God’s authority with human authority. One might say that all of redemptive history is marked by humans swapping God out for mere creaturely authorities (Rom. 1:21-23). To sum up, sola scriptura fights against idolatry.


I hope you can join us this week as we join our hearts together to worship the Lord of glory. This is ‘Reformation Sunday’ and this year we will focus on the glorious truth of sola scriptura – Scripture alone. This week we have a special guest preacher leading us in thinking about the beauty and sufficiency of Scripture. Help me welcome to our church this Sunday Rev. Anton Ivanov, assistant pastor at Third Presbyterian Church. As some of you recall, Anton is a young man from Russia who immigrated to the States and met the Lord Jesus Christ. Anton is married to Dasha, who is from Ukraine (She met Christ through the gospel efforts of our presbytery a number of years ago). They both have much family in Russia and Ukraine and covet your prayers.


In Christ’s Love,

Pastor Wayne


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