Semper Reformada: The Five Solas for Evangelicalism Today
The purpose of this site is to comment on and call for the ongoing reformation of the discipleship culture of the evangelical Church. Today, on Reformation Day, I am reflecting on the five solas for the Reformation.
This is also an entry in Tim Challies’ 3rd Annual Reformation Day Symposium, and at his site, you will find many other thoughts and reflections on Reformation Day from other great bloggers.
Evangelicalism is at a crisis point.
The number of large churches is increasing, but the number of professing Christians is decreasing. And is it any wonder, when the ministry and proclamation of so many of our churches is only marginally Christian?
By some statistics, young adults are dropping out of the Church at a rate of 70%. And the ones who stick around are burnt out on both the legalistic fundamentalism of their grandparents and the licentious modernism of their parents. In limbo between a graceless gospel and a therapeutic gospel, this generation suffers from evangelicalism fatigue.
The REVEAL survey and others have revealed there is a staggering discipleship vacuum in the Church.
The Church is divided between those whose passion is reserved for political power and prestige and those whose passion is reserved for popularity and personality.
The opportunity before is awesome. The Church is God’s plan for the world, God’s only venue for the proclamation and embodiment of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Pluralistic, pessimistic, problematic—lukewarm and loving it—Western culture and the churches that capitulate to it are as much like Jesus’ day as any time before us. This means the time is ripe for the impact of the gospel.
All is not lost. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us and he has anointed us to preach good news to the captives. Both outside the Church and in, the gospel is now most scandalous, which makes this the perfect time to continue pressing lovingly but boldly for the ongoing reformation of the discipleship culture of our churches.
And on this Reformation Day 2008, we may continue this pressure by calling for a fresh embrace of the Five Solas—the five treasures—handed down to us by the Reformation.
We are suffering from the practical disrespect of God’s written revelation. It has become, at best, a guidebook. Our pastors use it like it’s Bartlett’s. Our communities don’t drink deeply from it; indeed, we hardly read it. We don’t know it.
It is time now, and the tide is turning even in unexpected places, for a return to word-centered preaching and sermon-centric worship gatherings. It is time to preach Christ in the Bible, the sufficiency of both Scripture and the Christ of Scripture, and to preach it as authoritative over our opinions, our alliterations, our cutesy stories, our polls, and our personalities.
It’s time to put down Who Moved My Cheesy Parachute? and Your Best Idolatry Now and pick up the Bible (for extended periods of time). Our churches are starving for the revelation and the authority of Scripture.
We hear a lot about grace in our churches but most of them have little to no idea what they’re talking about. Grace is not being nice, nor is it “not being judgmental.”
Grace is for sin, and so if we’re not talking about sin, we’re not really talking about grace.
If we’re talking about seven steps to success, we’re not talking about grace.
If we’re overloading on application, we’re not talking about grace.
If we’re not talking about the sufficiency of Christ, we’re not talking about grace.
It is time to ditch the self-help and the motivational pick-me-ups that is really just made over works salvation—legalism in blue jeans—and embrace the scandalous message of salvation by grace alone.
From one corner of the evangelical Church to the other, we are preoccupied with whose Christianity is bigger, better, and badder. I show you my spirituality by my conference Calvinism. You show me yours by your social justice initiatives. But we are all baptized into one faith, and anything we add to Jesus for our comprehension of salvation diminishes our faith and makes us idolaters.
Our flesh cries out for works; we are all legalists at heart. We are constantly tempted to trust our productivity and our propaganda as self-justification, when Scripture bids us return to the self-reducing, God-exalting truth that we are justified by faith.
The only worthy object of our faith, God’s only Son, is noticeably marginalized or even absent from many of our churches. We’ve traded in his way, his truth, and his life for his suggestions, his quotes, and his style. I received e-mails last spring from some churchgoers who didn’t even hear about his death-conquering resurrection on Easter Sunday.
We must repent of having Jesus as our role model and return to beholding him as, the author of Hebrews says, “the radiance of God’s glory.”
Christ is all that matters. Living is Christ. Dying is Christ. One day God will put all things in subjection to Christ. Every knee will bow and tongue will confess that he is Lord over all.
Surely we ought to be embarrassed at what little honor we show him even in our so-called “worship” services.
This problem only means that the call to discipleship to Christ is even more radical than we realized. It is more uniting and more divisive than we knew.
But it is still as necessary as when we first believed. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith; surely he deserves a reorienting of our hearts around his all-surpassing awesomeness.
Soli Deo Gloria
As we are starving for the revelation of God in Scripture, we are starving for God’s revelation period. We are starving for the glory of God.
Habakkuk tells us that one day the glory of God will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea, and Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that someday God will be “all in all.” The glory of God is the end game. It is the climax of the story. It is the point of human existence.
What in the world are we doing offering anything less in our discipleship and our worship gatherings than awe-filled enjoyment of the glory of God?
We must repent of seeking our own glory, of pursuing the glorification of our own cleverness, our own innovation, our own knowledge, our own talents, and our own efforts.
We must decrease; he must increase. This is a tall order for the evangelical Church, but with God all things are possible.
We can reform, and we will. It may take trial and trouble. Or it may take revival. Or both. But evangelicalism must repent of its self-idolatry and return to its first love. We can begin that journey by reclaiming the five solas of the reforming Church and dedicating ourselves to them.