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Pastoral Letter - 13 Aug 17                                        

Dear Calvarians,        

 

The event that sparked off the fires of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation and the ensuing spiritual revival was the nailing of the 95 Theses by an Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther. On 31st October 1517, he nailed the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle. The theses, written in Latin, were propositions for debate among theologians of the day.

 

Here are a few of the 95 theses:

#2.       This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests. (Meaning: Repentance is not conferred by external rites such as confession and mass.) 

#10      Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory. (Meaning: There is no purgatory.) 

#11.     This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown while the bishops slept. (Meaning: Purgatory is a false doctrine.) 

#21      Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope's indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved (Meaning: Indulgences are notices endorsed by the pope to absolve the people of their sins. Indulgences, like purgatory, is a false doctrine.) 

#27      They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory]. (Meaning: Purgatory and indulgences are false doctrines.) 

#35      They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia. (Meaning: (The Bible does not teach that indulgences can cover a multitude of sins.) 

#36.     Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon. (Meaning: Indulgence is not necessary for forgiveness of sins.)

#37      Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon. (Meaning: Salvation is by the grace of Christ.) 

Coming out of the Reformation were issues concerning the Bible and its doctrines. These were encapsulated in five rallying cries. They are: 

.   Sola Scriptura - The Scriptures alone are the standard for our faith and life. No other book, no other philosophy, and no other man - not even the Pope - is the authority of over what we believe and how we live. 

How did the authority of Holy Scripture become a burning issue in the Reformation? It did not come about because a group of theologians decided one day to make a declaration on Sola Scriptura. No! It was the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit upon a monk struggling with the question - "How shall I, a sinful man, find acceptance with a holy and a just God?" 

This monk - Martin Luther - being a professor of theology knew very well the teaching of the Church of Rome. As he looked for an authority to resolve that issue, he was told that the authority resided in the Church, and the Church was the only true interpreter of the Holy Scripture. In other words, what the Church say about Scripture is authoritative. As Luther struggled to find the answer, there were the bishops who told him, "The Church is the guardian of truth. And the popes and bishops are the official mouthpiece of truth." 

So it was out of these burning religious struggles that Luther came to the conviction that it was the Scriptures alone to which a man must look for answers to the questions of life. 

At Diet of Worms, Luther made that famous declaration: "Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot deny. I will not recant; for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me." 

That is the meaning Sola Scriptura! By Scriptures Alone! 

.   Solus Christus - By Christ's work alone are we saved. There is no other work, no other sacrifice, no other deed, no amount of self-deprivation (fasting and flagellation), no other name, no second mediatrix by which a man can be saved. There is only one "Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1Tim. 2:5). 

.   Sola Gratia - Salvation by grace alone. This means that salvation is not by man's effort, or his discipline, or by his own merits. Salvation is only gained through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we call this grace. 

By grace alone! There is no redeeming quality in man himself that would qualify him to be saved. Again, here was Luther struggling to find the answer to the question:
"How shall I find peace for my sins?" 

The answer from the Church at Rome was indulgences, penance, rituals, and sacraments. You had to be in the right place doing the right thing, having the hands of the right man upon you. 

But Paul says that "the just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:17). Luther realised that this righteousness of God came not by the works of man, but by God Himself. God provides that righteousness for us by the sacrificial death of His Son. Thus, it was no longer Christ plus the sacraments or Christ through the sacraments, Christ plus penance, but it is by grace alone. 

.   Sola Fide - Justification by faith alone. There is no other means by which a man may acquire righteousness; he cannot pay for it; he cannot earn it; it can only be attained by faith in Jesus Christ. 

Luther's tormented conscience found no peace in doing all that his church told him to do - whether it is in fasting or flagellation. But it is in laying hold on what Christ has done that Luther found forgiveness for the sins. So it is with us. Sola Fide - by faith alone. 

.   Soli Deo Gloria - For the Glory of God alone. Worship cannot be given to any other - not to Mary, not to a saint, only to God. This gives us the purpose of life. What is the ambition of the Reformation? Is it to please God or is it to please men? Why is it that we do what we do? 

Is our happiness and joy found in God or in someone or something else? Is our worship designed for man or for God? Is God's glory or our self-fulfillment the goal of our lives? Do we see God's grace as the only basis for our salvation, or are we still seeking some of the credit for ourselves? 

These questions reveal a man-centeredness in the evangelical churches and the general witness of our day.

 So we have the five solas - Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Soli Deo Gloria. I venture to say that most evangelicals would have no problems affirming these truths. Yet by just taking a broad sweeping look of the evangelical landscape, I wonder if we really know what these solas mean, and what impact they ought to have upon our faith and life.

 

God willing, over the next couple of weeks, we will examine the meaning of the word "sola" as used in the context of Protestant Reformation to flesh out its definition and the implications. Then we will follow up by looking at the five solas of the Reformation as a whole from the perspective of the 21st century Protestant church, and examine if we are still holding on the truths that were given us by the 16th century Reformers.

 

Lovingly in Christ,

Pastor Isaac

 

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