Big Questions

How do the Five Solas of the Reformation shape the beliefs of the modern church?

Posted July 25, 2023

by Trenton Berchtold

In the 16th century, leaders like John Calvin and Martin Luther started the Reformation, according to Middle Tennessee State University. This movement marked the beginning of modern traditions that make up the belief systems and organized practices of Christianity today. During the Reformation, many different Christian leaders across a number of varied positions in the organized religion began creating their own unique denominations.

In doing so, they took the first steps in setting themselves apart from the Roman Catholic Church. One of the core tenets of the Reformation was the Five Solas. In Latin, they are: Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia and Soli Deo Gloria.

Calvary Chapel is one of the most prominent churches in the nation, and I will be using their belief statement to demonstrate the modern significance of each of the Five Solas.

Sola Scriptura

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The first of the Five Solas is Sola Scriptura, or Scripture alone. Sola Scriptura is “the freedom of Scripture to rule as God's word for the church, disentangled from papal and ecclesiastical magisterium, and tradition,” according to Joel Settecase, president of The Think Institute.

Scripture is directly delivered from God, so anything it decrees takes precedence over anything else — including what an institutional church decrees — because of the divine origin of its contents. In doing so, Sola Scriptura recognizes the only method of discovering God’s word is to read the Scripture itself.

The prevalence of Sola Scriptura is evident in many modern churches’ belief statements. For example, Calvary Chapel’s belief statement says, “We believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant and authoritative Word of God.”

Solus Christus

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The second of the Five Solas is Solus Christus, or Christ alone. Solus Christus affirms our sins were paid for by Christ — Him alone, according to D. Blair Smith, an assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, in an article for the Ligonier Ministries.

Thus, Solus Christus means all the works, traditions and practices of man are meaningless when it comes to “earning” salvation or righteousness. No amount of striving can achieve what Christ has already accomplished. Christ has already forgiven the sin of mankind. His sacrifice was the only pardon l of humanity’s sins, directly from Christ’s divine power.

The prevalence of Sola Christus is evident in many modern churches’ belief statements. For example, “He was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, lived a sinless life (for He was without sin), died a substitutionary death for all mankind,” says Calvary Chapel’s belief statement.

Sola Fide

The third of the Five Solas is Sola Fide, or faith alone. Sola Fide asserts faith in Christ is how a believer receives God’s forgiveness, said Matthew Barrett, a professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in an article for The Gospel Coalition.

Through His sacrifice and the fervor with which He has displayed His faith — His devotion to the Father — Christ forgave us of our sins.

The prevalence of Sola Fide is evident in many modern churches’ belief statements. For example, “We believe the Holy Spirit regenerate, indwells and seals believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that He empowers them to live as His witnesses,” says Calvary Chapel.

Sola Gratia

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The fourth of the Five Solas is Sola Gratia, or grace alone. Sola Gratia is the belief that “our salvation is by grace and by grace alone” and grace is “not limited to our justification, but spans all of salvation from start to finish,” said Barrett. This concept explains that grace from God extends to all His subjects, regardless of their actions.

As a result, grace invalidates not only common church practices of the time such as indulgences and confessions, but also invalidates any human behavior that could subvert God’s agenda of forgiveness. This further gives the final authority on forgiveness to God himself, rather than to the leaders of the Catholic Church that this authority had belonged to previously.

The prevalence of Sola Gratia is evident in many modern churches’ belief statements. For example, “That salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Him,” Calvary Chapel states.


Soli Deo Gloria


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The fifth and final of the Five Solas is Soli Deo Gloria, or glory to God alone. This belief is “the idea that it is God and God alone who is to receive the glory for the wonders of His work of creation and of redemption,” according to R.C. Sproul, founder of the Ligonier Ministries.

This Sola serves as a final conclusion to the Five Solas. By affirming that all glory belongs to Christ, Soli Deo Gloria grounds the other Solas — establishing their divine sovereignty.

The prevalence of Soli Deo Gloria is evident in many modern churches’ belief statements. For example, “We believe that all things were created by Him and for Him,” according to Calvary Chapel.

Conclusion

The Five Solas were the first step toward the dispersion of Christianity. Before the Reformation, the primary authority in Christianity was the Catholic Church. After this movement began, different beliefs about Christianity had taken root in their respective denominations. However, the Catholic Church held a firm grip on its legitimacy in that their authority had been decreed as having come from God himself.

In order to give their new denominations a form of legitimacy, the Reformation leaders created the Solas to gain this same legitimacy through the scripture, Christ, and holy righteousness without having to go through the established religious authorities of the time. The Five Solas were central to the creation of so many of today’s denominations and the reason they continue to thrive.