Category Archives: Protestant Reformation

Soli Deo Gloria

Dear hijas,

Dr J.I. Packer, a British-born Canadian Christian theologian, considered one of the most influential evangelicals in North America, and author of the book ‘Knowing God’, which I read back in the late 70’s or early 80’s  had this to say about the five sola’s:

Justification by faith, by grace, by Christ, through Scripture, to the glory of God was to the Protestant Reformers a single topic, just like an fugue with multiple voices is a single piece. Salvation, said the Reformers, is by faith (man’s total trust) only, without our being obliged to work for it; it is by grace (God’s free favor) only, without our having to earn or deserve it first; it is by Christ the God-man only, without there being need or room for any other mediatoral agent, whether priest, saint, or virgin; it is by Scripture only, without regard to such unbiblical and unfounded extras as the doctrines of purgatory and of pilgrimages, the relic-cult and papal indulgences as devices for shortening one’s stay there; and praise for salvation is due to God only, without any credit for his acceptance of us being taken to ourselves. (http://www.the-highway.com/Justification_Packer.html)

So as we come to this last sola, soli Deo gloria, (to the glory of God alone) what do we as Protestants mean? We’re speaking about the sovereignty of God over every aspect of the believer’s life; that all of life is to be lived under the Lordship of Christ. Every activity of the Christian is to be sanctified unto the glory of God. There are no separate areas of ‘work’ and ‘church’ where doing and being are not to be directed to the glory of God.  Everything that is done is for God’s glory to the exclusion of humankind’s self-glorification and pride. As Christians we are to be motivated and inspired by God’s glory and not our own. Our ‘work’, whether carpenter, nurse, teaching assistant, sales, taxi cab driver, you name it, is sacred and holy just as much is the minister, missionary, youth ministry, seminarian, or Sunday school teacher. There is no division of ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’; all was seen as sacred unto the Lord (1 Cor. 10:31, Rom 11:36).

The Westminster Larger Catechism in it’s very first question:

Q. What is the chief and highest end of man?

A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy Him forever.

Let me close with this quote from Rev. Chuck De Groat, which sums up our look into the five sola’s of the Reformation:

GLORY TO GOD ALONE. The battle cry of the Reformation. In many ways, every other doctrine and every other slogan falls under this majestic truth. It embodies the many books, the many personalities, and the many changes that came from one of the darkest, and brightest, moments of history.

Yes, it was dark. The church had become infested with man-centered theology, economic corruption, abuse and scandal. Want forgiveness? Donate some money. Want answers? Don’t ask God, ask your local priest. Want peace in your life? You’ll never have it – life is a constant chess match with a wrathful and judgmental God. Many were frustrated.

And then there was light. His name was Martin Luther, a monk, a priest, and a university professor disenchanted with the corruption within the church. His response was ninety-five theses, or “statements of concern,” about the unbiblical practices within the Roman Catholic Church. For instance, thesis number 7: “The pope himself cannot remit guilt, but only declare and confirm that it has been remitted by God.” Luther was concerned with the increasing power of the pope and the priesthood. Thesis 28 expands on this: “It is certainly possible that when the money clinks in the bottom of the chest avarice and greed increase; but when the church offers intercession, all depends in the will of God.” Luther was concerned about the increasing corruption of greed. Thesis 37 declares: “Any true Christian whatsoever, living or dead, participates in all the benefits of Christ and the Church; and this participation is granted to him by God without letters of indulgence.” Luther’s point. It is God that saves, and not man. Salvation cannot be sold, nor can it be earned by purchasing indulgences (letters declaring a person forgiven for contributing money). It is a gift of God alone, by faith alone (sola fide), all to the glory of God (soli Deo gloria).

But Luther was, by no means, the only light of the Reformation. He embodied the feeling of many that the Roman Catholic Church had strayed far from the original message of Scripture. Luther and the other Reformers called for change within the Church. Their point and purpose was not to split, to break away, or to start a new movement. It was always to reform what already existed in the Roman Catholic Church.

But it soon became clear that the Church would not cooperate. Not all within the hierarchy of the Church opposed reformation, but the ones that really counted did. Putting God’s word back in to the hands of the laymen, committing to justification by grace alone (sola gratia), and affirming the centrality of God’s glory would take away from the very thing they were attempting to achieve, the Church’s glory: big buildings, beautiful cathedrals, the kinds of places we like to visit on tours of Europe today. The Church had fallen victim to the age-old sins of pride, greed, empire building, and human glory – all things that would rob God of the Glory he deserved and desired, and rob man of the opportunity to trust fully in God’s goodness and grace. (http://old.thirdmill.org/newfiles/chu_degroat/CH.Degroat.SDG.html)

Vaya con Dios mis hijas,

Dear ol’ Dad

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Sola Fide

Dear hijas,

Continuing in our discussion of the five ‘sola’s’, we come to “Sola Fide“, by Faith Alone. What do Protestants mean when they state that salvation is by faith (man’s total trust) only (alone), without our being obliged to work for it? The key question here is “What must I do to be saved’? The answer: ‘…confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and you shall be saved’ (Rom. 10:9). And how do you do that? By faith alone.

The doctrine of sola fide or “by faith alone” asserts God’s pardon for guilty sinners is granted to and received through faith, conceived as excluding all “works”, alone. All humanity, it is asserted, is fallen and sinful, under the curse of God, and incapable of saving itself from God’s wrath and curse. But God, on the basis of the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ alone (solus Christus), grants sinners judicial pardon, or justification, which is received solely through faith. Faith is seen as passive, merely receiving Christ and all his benefits, among which benefits are the active and passive righteousness of Jesus Christ. Christ’s righteousness, (according to the Reformers), is imputed (or attributed) by God to the believing sinner (as opposed to infused or imparted in Roman Catholic doctrine), so that the divine verdict and pardon of the believing sinner is based not upon anything in the sinner, nor even faith itself, but upon Jesus Christ and his righteousness alone, which are received through faith alone. Justification is by faith alone and is distinguished from the other graces of salvation. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sola_fide)

Historic Protestantism (both Lutheran and Reformed) has held to sola-fide justification in opposition to Roman Catholicism especially, but also in opposition to significant aspects of Eastern Orthodoxy. Protestants exclude all human works (except the works of Jesus Christ, which form the basis of justification) from the legal verdict / pardon of justification. In the General Council of Trent the Catholic Church stated in canon XIV on justification that “If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema (excommunicated).” Thus, “faith alone” is foundational to Protestantism, and distinguishes it from other Christian denominations (including Catholicism). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sola_fide)

So, where Rome had taught a piecemeal salvation, to be gained by stages through working a sacramental treadmill, the Reformers now proclaimed a unitary salvation, to be received in its entirety here and now by self-abandoning faith in God’s promise, and in the God and the Christ of that promise, as set forth in the pages of the Bible. Thus the rediscovery of the gospel brought a rediscovery of evangelism, the task of summoning non-believers to faith. Rome had said, God’s grace is great, for through Christ’s cross and his Church, salvation is possible for all who will work and suffer for it; so come to church, and toil! But the Reformers said, God’s grace is greater, for through Christ’s cross and his Spirit, salvation, full and free, with its unlimited guarantee of eternal joy, is given once and forever to all who believe; so come to Christ, and trust and take!(http://www.the-highway.com/Justification_Packer.html)

No doctrine is more important to evangelical theology than the doctrine of justification by faith alone–the Reformation principle of sola fide. Martin Luther rightly said that the church stands or falls on this one doctrine. Historic evangelicalism has therefore always treated justification by faith as a central biblical distinctive–if not the single most important doctrine to get right. This is the doctrine that makes authentic Christianity distinct from every other religion. Christianity is the religion of divine accomplishment–with the emphasis always on Christ’s finished work. All others are religions of human achievement. They become preoccupied, inevitably, with the sinner’s own efforts to be holy. Abandon the doctrine of justification by faith and you cannot honestly claim to be evangelical.  (http://www.gty.org/resources/Articles/A192/Jesus-Perspective-on-Sola-Fide?q=Jesus++Perspective+on+Sola+Fide)

Can you see where the Catholic teaching of the sinner’s need to work the Sacraments dutifully, their belief that the Church has the keys to the treasure chest of ‘merit’ for the sinner, and the sinner’s need for ‘faith’ and ‘acts of penance’ come in conflict with Scripture?

Vaya con Dios mis hijas,

Dear ol’ Dad

Eating and Drinking the Flesh and Blood of Deity

Dear hijas,

“He who eats My flesh, and drinks my blood has eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6: 54-55).

What do these verses mean? Ah, well, the answer, is another main difference between Protestants and Catholics. In fact, a whole system of worshipping the host (the wafer in communion) and the Cup (the wine) has built up around ‘one’ interpretation of these verses in John. It’s good to be reminded of this below though:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourselves an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship (bow down to) them or serve  them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…” (Ex. 20:2-5).  [Commandments 1&2]

“God is spirit; and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

From the Council of Trent (1545-1563), an ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church, whose main object was the definitive determination of the doctrines of the Church in answer to the heresies of the Protestants, Session XIII on Canons on the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, came this:

Canon 1. If anyone denies that in the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist are contained truly, really and substantially the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ, but says that He is in it only as in a sign, or figure or force, let him be anathema.

Canon 2. If anyone says that in the sacred and, holy sacrament of the Eucharist the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denies that wonderful and singular change of the whole substance of the bread into the body and the whole substance of the wine into the blood, the appearances only of bread and wine remaining, which change the Catholic Church most aptly calls transubstantiation, let him be anathema.

Transubstantiation is a complete theological statement and doctrine within Roman Catholicism. ‘This is the body and blood of Christ’ means that when you eat the host and drink the cup in the Eucharist (communion) you are ‘actually’, and ‘really’ eating Christ’s body and drinking His blood; the priest’s liturgy and blessing has actually changed the elements of grain and grapes into the physical flesh and blood of Jesus.

Of course your mouth, nose, and eyes are telling you they’re just bread and wine, you wouldn’t know from your senses that you were eating human flesh and drinking human blood, but in fact, indeed, you are! The priest as the only one having authority from God to pronounce the blessing which changes the elements into flesh and blood has pronounced it so!

Does this really matter though? Is this really such a big difference between Protestants and Catholics? We’ll see why in how the Catholic Church conducts the Mass. Stay tuned.

Vaya con Dios mis hijas,

Dear ol’ Dad

Solus Christus

Dear hijas,

For what is the significance of the sola, Chirst Alone, as we look at the differences between Protestants and Catholics?

For Protestants, we are talking about the idea that Christ is the only mediator between God and man, and that salvation comes through no other (1 Tim. 2:5); that we are saved by the merits of Christ Alone, and come to God through Christ Alone. The Westminster Confession of Faith states:

It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and man, the Prophet, Priest, and King, the Head and Saviour of His Church, the Heir of all things, and Judge of the world: unto whom He did from all eternity give a people, to be His seed, and to be by Him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified (WCF 7.1).

The Catholic Church teaches that we are saved by the merits of Christ and the saints, and that we approach God through Christ, the saints, and Mary, who all pray and intercede for us.  In the Church of the Middle Ages before the Reformation, the minister was seen as having a special relationship with God, as he mediated God’s grace and forgiveness through the sacraments.  The idea was that there were no sacraments in the church except by the service of priests ordained by apostolic succession under the authority of the Pope. The sola of Christ Alone, however,  rejects this principle of “sacerdotalism”.

We have to remember that this reaction was against the teaching, as the Reformers saw it, of something else needed to approach God and by those who denied that they needed the Roman Catholic Church to know God or to be reconciled to him. In the centuries preceding the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church had effectively placed itself between believers and God. They taught that Jesus’ death had produced ‘merit’, and that He had entrusted the keys to that treasure chest of merit, to the Church. The role of the Church was then to distribute that merit to the faithful.

Our response should be the same as the Reformers, ‘No, Christ Alone’. We don’t need ‘The Church’  for us to know God or to be reconciled to Him; it is in Christ alone that we are saved and are able to approach God. We don’t need ‘another’ mediator, Christ Alone is sufficient. Don’t get me wrong, fellowship with other believers is vitally important, and is commanded in Scripture (see Heb. 10:25, Acts 2:42). Attending a congregation of believers and ‘going to Church’ on a most regular basis should not by any means be neglected, for it is there that we are taught the Word, take part in the Sacraments, and join in corporate worship and prayer. It is not ‘the Church’ however by which we receive our merit.

This is a big difference is it not? The difference on how we approach God is set in stark contrast between the two camps.

Vaya con Dios mis hijas,

Dear ol’ Dad

Sola Scriptura

Dear hijas,

In keeping with this series on the differences between Protestants and Catholics then, let’s focus on this first sola, sola scriptura, or Scripture Alone. What is meant to be conveyed by this Latin phrase? We have to remember that these five sola’s are a summary of basic theological beliefs and emerged as a reaction to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church at the time. The five sola’s state five fundamental beliefs; strengths which the Reformers through their writings believed to be essentials of Christian life and practice. Implicitly rejecting or countering the teachings of the then-dominant Roman Catholic Church, of which the Reformers claimed had usurped divine attributes or qualities for the Church and its hierarchy ( especially its head, the Pope), all five sola’s need to be considered. We need also remember that these differences remain, and are just as important today as they were when they were first formulated.

So, what are Protestants protesting anyway?

One of the fundamental differences has to do with how we look at Scripture. The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) Chapter 1.2 says concerning all the books of the Old and New Testament:

‘All (of) which are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life.’

The issue is the sufficiency and authority of Scripture; that Scripture alone is the standard by which all Christian thought and behavior should be measured; that it alone is the sole source of God’s special revelation to mankind.

The WCF further states (Chap. 1.4):

‘The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not on the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God’ (See 1 John 5:9, 1 Thess. 2:13, 2 Tim. 3:16 and 2 Pet. 1: 19-21).

Catholics, on the other hand, reject the doctrine of sola scriptura, and don’t believe that Scripture alone is sufficient. They teach that both Scripture and Roman Catholic tradition are equally binding upon the Christian. Their insistence that both Scripture and sacred tradition are equal in authority undermine the sufficiency, authority, and completeness of Scripture. Their belief, for example, that the Pope as the Vicar of Christ (a vicar is an ‘earthly representative of God or Christ’), can speak ex cathedra (literally, ‘from the chair’) means that in matters of faith and practice when the Pope speaks on these issues, his teachings are infallible and binding upon all Christians. It is called the doctrine of  ‘Papal Infalliblity’ in Roman Catholicism, the “chair” referred to is not a literal chair, but refers metaphorically to the Pope’s position, or office, as the official teacher of Catholic doctrine.

Can you see a problem here? What happens if the Pope is wrong, or if one Pope 500 years ago said one thing, and the current Pope says something completely contrary? Which Pope is one to believe? There is an intrinsic confusion that arises from vesting authority (the authority of interpreting Scripture as infallible and binding upon all Christians) in one person or office. The Protestant Reformers saw this as a huge problem.

In contrast, Protestants believe that spiritual power and authority does not rest in the hands of a mere man or of his office, but in the very Word of God itself, to wit, sola scriptura. While Catholicism teaches that only the Catholic Church can properly, rightly, and correctly interpret Scripture, Protestants believe that Scripture itself teaches that God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all born-again believers, enabling each of us to understand the message of Scripture (see John 16: 13-14, John 14:16-17, 14:26, 1 John 2: 20, 27). Protestants acknowledge the Scriptural doctrine of the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2: 5, 9), enabling all believers to trust the Holy Spirit for guidance in reading, interpreting, and applying Scripture for themselves.

Many, I dare say, have said that the view of Scripture is at the root of many, if not all, of the differences between Protestants and Catholics.

With love, I remain,

Dear ol’ Dad

Vaya con Dios mis hijas

The Five Sola’s coming out of the Protestant Reformation

Dear hijas,

I am going to do a short series on the differences between Protestants and Catholics within the Christian system of thought. This first post on the five sola’s (sola in Latin means ‘alone’) bears study, for it is within these five sola’s that we see the ‘why’ of the Protestant Reformation and its reaction to the established Roman Catholicism of its time. It is within these sola’s that we see some of the key differences. I’ll list them briefly here and we’ll take a more detailed look in future posts:

1) Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)

Q. How do we know what we must believe?

A. Scripture alone

‘For in it (the gospel. And where do we find the gospel? In Scripture) the righteousness of God is revealed…'(Rom. 1:17).

‘All Scripture is inspired by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work’ (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

2) Solo Christo or Solus Christus (Christ Alone)

Q. How do we know God?

A. In Christ alone.

‘For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord…'(2 Cor. 4:5)

3) Sola gratia (Grace Alone)

Q. How are we to be reconciled to God, made righteous?

A. By grace alone.

‘…being justified as a gift by His grace…'(Rom. 3:24)

‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast’ (Eph. 2:8-9).

4) Sola fide (Faith Alone)

Q. What must I do to be saved?

A. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ by faith alone.

‘For what does the Scripture say? ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness’ (Rom 4:3-5).

5) soli Deo gloria (to the glory of God alone)

Q. What is the grand outcome of God’s plan?

A. To bring glory to God, and to Him alone.

‘…yet, with respect to the promise of God, he (Abraham) did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God’ (Rom. 4:20).

‘…and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Phil. 2:11).

(Credit for the questions and answers concerning the five sola’s is taken from Pastor Dan Phillips, sermon preached at Copperfield Bible Church, Houston, TX, Oct. 27, 2012).

With love, I remain,

Dear ol’ Dad

Vaya con Dios mis hijas