What it Means to Be Reformed Part 1: The Solas of Salvation

What it Means to Be Reformed Part 1: The Solas of Salvation

A return to the centrality of Scripture and right soteriology is only the first step in letting Scripture shape every aspect of life and doctrine.  Just as individuals are progressively sanctified by the Holy Spirit, we should expect the Church as a whole to be progressively sanctified.  Semper reformanda means that even today the Church is in need of reforming.  I have pointed out various heresies that are official Catholic doctrine, but how many Protestants hold to similar doctrines?  

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

-Romans 1:16-17, ESV

I readily admit that Reformed theology is the perspective of my posts and theology page.  But what does it mean to be Reformed?  This is important for those who find themselves in a Reformed church since the doctrines and practices of churches that call themselves Reformed are actually quite varied.  But there are some distinctives that truly Reformed churches will have in common.  That will be our focus in this brief series.  This post will lay the foundation that all Reformed churches can agree on: soteriology (salvation).  Next time we will expand on this with Calvinism.  Then, we will discuss the importance of confessionalism and finally covenant theology.  This will all lead into the topic of covenant renewal worship, in which I will briefly explain why we do what we do on Sunday morning.

The Reformation Foundation

What does it mean to be Reformed?  Alistair Begg once defined it like this: “You start by reading your Bible, then you become biblical, then you’re Reformed”.  That is the essence of Reformed theology: studying Scripture and then letting Scripture dictate everything else.  But isn’t that just being biblical?  It certainly is, which means that all churches that are being biblical should be “Reformed”.  That so many are not indicates that few Christians know Scripture and fewer make Scripture the final authority over faith and life.  This is not to say that those who do not call themselves Reformed are not Christians or that they do not believe the Bible, but goes to show that the Church as a whole has a long way to go in being conformed to the image of Christ.  So why call it “Reformed”?  Essentially, getting back to obeying the Bible was the driving force behind the Protestant Reformation, so we are following in the footsteps of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, etc. Their emphasis was on salvation, so the Reformed view of salvation is one that most Christians can agree upon, even if they do not call themselves Reformed.  To understand this, we need some background on what led to the Reformation in the first place.

By the time Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, the Roman Catholic Church had strayed quite far from Scripture, and they have yet to recant.  As a result, the Roman Catholic Church cannot be considered a true church but heretical and apostate, having abandoned Scripture’s clear teaching on primary doctrines.  That is not to say there are no true Christians who are Catholics.  God can still work amidst much false teaching, so just because they were taught false doctrines does not mean the Holy Spirit cannot regenerate them.  So just as we should pray that Jews repent and embrace their Messiah, we should also pray that Catholics discover the true Christ and His salvation as Luther did.

How can I call the largest denomination in the world heretics and apostates?  Here is just a partial list of Catholic doctrines that directly contradict what is clearly taught in Scripture.  We have previously discussed their false doctrines about Marybaptism, and communion, but these are relatively minor when compared to their false doctrines regarding Scripture and salvation.  By the Sixteenth Century, they had exalted the pope and church tradition above Scripture and made salvation about works rather than faith.  Instead of trusting in Christ, salvation became about storing up merit, of which most were deficient but some (the saints) had a surplus.  Instead of Christ as the only mediator between God and man, the pope and all of the cardinals, bishops, and priests below him placed themselves in the mediatorial role along with Mary and the saints.  They then taught that after death comes Purgatory, which is a place of torment where people continue to pay for their sins.  All of this plays into their teaching on indulgence: transferring surplus merit from the saints to others so that they can escape Purgatory.  What set Luther over the edge was that Rome was actually selling indulgences.  All of this contradicts Scripture in several places, so it can only be described as heresy.  These heresies are not the result of Scriptural study but of corruption.  It can be argued that this began as soon as Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and peaked in Luther’s day when Rome was the only entity uniting the disparate peoples of Europe.  Rome had immense power during this time, and these doctrines enabled them to hold onto that power.  But Jesus promised that not even the gates of hell can prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18) and that He would destroy anyone who destroys His Church (1 Corinthians 3:17), so a return to Scripture was inevitable.  Starting with Luther then spreading throughout Europe, the Reformation took different forms in different places, but can be summed up in the Five Solas: sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), and soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone).[1]

Sola Scripture (Scripture Alone)

The first (and arguably most important) sola is sola Scriptura: Scripture alone is our highest authority, so the Reformation began with a return to the supremacy of Scripture.  The Bible stands alone as the Word of God, so only Scripture is perfect, infallible, and inerrant.  Only Scripture was inspired by God and contains everything we need for life and godliness.  Only Scripture is the ultimate source and standard for truth, so only Scripture can claim ultimate authority over what we believe and how we live.  This theme was woven throughout our discussion of submission in the church, workplace, communitymarriage, and parenting: no one has the authority to disobey Scripture or compel anyone else to disobey Scripture.  The Christian cannot participate in or endorse Pride Month activitiesuse pronouns clearly inconsistent with biologysupport or facilitate the murder of children in the womb, or many other things because Scripture forbids it—and we must obey God rather than man.  But in the same way the Christian cannot pray to Mary or the saints, try to earn salvation by works, go to any mediator other than Christ, or believe any of the other Catholic heresies because Scripture forbids that too.  Scripture alone is our highest authority, and we must reject anything that contradicts Scripture.

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