Five Solas: the Significance of the word “ALONE”

I posted this on my FaceBook account:

THE FIVE SOLAS (we are justified)
by Holy Scripture alone
by faith alone
by grace alone
by Christ alone
Only to God’s glory alone

Each point emphasizes not only the necessity of the point but also its sufficiency:

Holy Scripture is not only necessary it is enough.

Faith is not only necessary it is enough.

Grace is not only necessary it is enough.

Christ is not only necessary He is enough .

God’s glory alone is necessary but His glory is enough.

This is a bare summary of evangelicalism, but there is much more in the Creeds, and especially the great doctrinal statements of the Reformation, such as the 39 Articles.

As Charles Spurgeon once said (paraphrase): “It is not the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ that does my soul good, it is Jesus who justifies my soul,” who is my anchor behind the veil. As important as doctrine is, it is not doctrine in the frontal lobe that saves me, abstractly considered, but the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. I REST IN HIM!

AFTER RECEIVING SOME CHALLENGING COMMENTS  on FaceBook from a former friend who left my denomination and went into Orthodoxy, Sam Seamans, I posted on FaceBook a long article in response to him. I guess it finally was posted, but it was long I got tired waiting for FaceBook to put it up, but here are my comments:

Sam, spoken like a true convert to Eastern Orthodoxy. The Greek word for “pillar” is a column that supports a superstructure, not a foundation. It is resting on a foundation (Louw-Nida lexicon; other lexicons). Jesus Christ is the foundation, the chief cornerstone, not us humans (Eph. 2:20). The church is built on Him, thus it is called the pillar, a column on a foundation. Irenaeus, (Against Heresies, 3.11.7-8) says from your passage (1 Tim. 3:15) that the “pillar and ground is the gospel”, which is what we hold. Moreover, the Greek word “ground” does not mean lying down on the floor with a superstructure, but church is here a solid defense against the confusion of myth” (TDNT).

To say “the CHURCH, NOT the Bible,” is the pillar and ground of truth,” are dangerous words. The holy scriptures AND the church complete one another; they are not in opposition as you suggest, though if they are in opposition, as in  the late Middle Ages, God sent a revival with the reformers to straighten up the mess with the Bible. Apparently you have not understood the five solas; they are not isolated but all hang together. Thus your comments assume that one can have faith or grace in isolation. Not so. If you knew the history of those points and what the reformers were saying, you would understand what we are saying. For example, the gospel was “according to the scriptures.” St. Paul explicitly states in 1 Cor. 15:3-4 that Christ died for our sins “according to the scriptures”, which at the time of his writing was the Old Testament. The New Testament built on that and so in both the OT and NT we could say the scriptures alone are sufficient. Other passages in Paul are 1 Cor. 10:1ff, 2 Tim. 3:16-17. It should be clear that at all times the Holy Scriptures were sufficient for salvation.

AS FOR THE FIVE SOLAS HANGING TOGETHER, it is from the Holy Scriptures that we are presented with the Christ, in whom we put our trust, relying on His grace, and seeking only His glory. These five points are like five links in a chain, not five isolated links scattered on the floor. As for NT coming before the church, there are several responses.

FIRST, the OT scriptures laid the foundation for the NT church, thus they already existed. Repeatedly, the Lord and the Apostles quoted the Old Testament, and through their preaching and writings, they brought the New Testament canon into existence, but always basing the New Testament on the OT. The Church did not invent the canonical books of the New Testament by some council, but as the books were written, the sheep recognized the voice of the Shepherd in those writings. Of course, the Church did formally recognize the canon, but only after they had been used for some time as scripture. So did the Church come before the New Testament books? Not really, as if it mattered, but they came together.

SECOND, unless you’re dispensational and make a bifurcation with two peoples of God, Israel then the Church, which I know you don’t, the NT people of God ARE the new Israel (Gal. 6:16; Eph. 2:11-22; etc), for the church, or the new Israel already existed.

I could add a THIRD reason: so what about the church allegedly coming first. Christ delivered the gospel to the apostles and expounded the OT scriptures to them to show that He was building on that foundation of the OT. (See Luke 24:44-48: “44 Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. 46 Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Lk. 24:43 NKJ).)

The apostles wrote down what He had revealed, which was in solidarity with the OT. The apostles recognized their own writings as Scripture as Paul said his writings were the Lord’s commands (1 Cor. 14:37), and Peter referred to Paul letters as “scripture” (2 Peter 3:15-16). So what time lag are you referring to from the time of the writings of the NT to the apostles? There was very little gap. What holy tradition are you speaking of that the NT allegedly came from? As for the proclamation that the Eastern Church did not need reforming, I would say our conversation says otherwise. As for the “innovations of the medieval scholastic period,” that is why we had a reformation. The medieval church had gone awry. The Eastern Church murdered its only bishop who tried to bring reformation to it. I would say Orthodoxy has stagnated over the centuries, the Roman Catholic Church has innovated, and Protestantism has validated its truth with the early fathers and the Holy Scriptures, as did Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, and most commentaries today go back to the fathers with vigor. But then Orthodoxy does not write commentaries, as you admitted to me, so I guess they would not know.

AS FOR THE CHURCH being the “pillar and ground” of the Bible, the passage you alluded to does NOT say that (1 Tim. 3:15), but it says the “pillar and ground of TRUTH”. My question to you is which church? Was it the western church, the eastern church, Marcion who tried to destroy the Bible but those who had the scriptures knew he was wrong? Which church is the infallible one? Also, if the early fathers are our interpretive guide, which ones? Is it Irenaeus, Chrysostom, Origen, the Cappadocian fathers, Augustine, which you guy reject, and which ones in the middle ages do you rely on, and why those? You should know that I agree with you about a strong church. I would even say that the fathers are our guide, but the only infallible guide is the Holy Scriptures. What will you put in its place, your holy tradition? You said to me recently that the fathers had a much better grasp on the Bible than we do today, which was an excuse for Orthodoxy not writing commentaries, but how in the world would you know that? But which tradition, from what time period, and who will interpret that to you? If only the early (and some Medieval) fathers can interpret the New Testament to us, who interprets the fathers to us? You are thereby saying that the fathers are self-interpreting to us, but that the Bible is not self-interpreting. In other words, the words of man are clearer than the words of God. That is a tough pill to swallow. We Protestants have many interpretations of the Bible, but most are united on the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Even those Protestants who will not say these in worship nevertheless believe them as seen in their doctrinal statements. We are united on these creeds with the Roman Catholic Church, but you are not, why? You reject all three of these creeds, at the least the Western versions, especially hating the filioque clause. Who is right, your small group of a few million members, perhaps even 100 million, or the rest of the Christianity world with about two billion members? I can document that Rome and especially Protestantism have grown by about a billion souls in the last 100 years, but what about Orthodoxy? Very little.  Now there is a holy (Protestant) tradition if there ever was one. And which Orthodox group is right? Don’t you have 14 jurisdictions, or is it 18? Likewise Rome has its various groups internally.

AS FOR THE FIVE SOLAS BEING BIBLICAL, look at these: Bible is sufficient for salvation and living (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and a shorthand way to say that is scripture alone. Faith apart from all human merit is sufficient for salvation (Rom. 4:1-8; Eph. 2:8-9), and a shorthand way to say that is faith alone. Or as one confession so beautifully put it, “We are justified by faith alone, but the faith that justifies is not alone, but ever accompanied by good works” (WCF). We are saved only by grace and only to God’s glory (Eph. 2:8-10), and a shorthand way to say that is we are saved by grace alone to God’s glory alone. We are saved only by Jesus, and a shorthand way to say that is we are saved by the Son of God alone.

In other words, as J. I. PACKER SO BEAUTIFULLY PUT IT (not an exact quote), “What we mean is that JESUS saves sinners. Jesus saves, we don’t. The only thing we can contribute to our salvation is our sins. Next, we that Jesus SAVES sinners, not that He is their cheer leader, not that He does His part and we finish (Contra. Phil. 1:6) what He began, not that we cooperate to earn grace  . He saves SINNERS, not the self-righteous, not those who think they are basically ok.” That is what we’re are getting at.

SAM, I did not want to tangle with you regarding your recent move into Orthodoxy. That is one of the reasons I asked for a private conversation with you when I found out about your move into Orthodoxy. We hung up from that meeting on good terms.I can see the newfound zeal you have for your new faith, but in my opinion you made a move without understanding the issues. You knew we talked, and I gave you the right hand of fellowship; therefore, I was surprised to see you go after my statements that I thought I was just blessing people with on FaceBook, but you called my hand, so I’ve responded. I hope this is not offensive, but I could not let people think there are no good answers to your questions. I think, however, that even though we disagree on some of the terms, how used, and the significance of the Church, etc., we can still give one another the right hand of fellowship. Your brother in Him. AMEN.

6 thoughts on “Five Solas: the Significance of the word “ALONE”

  1. Curtis+ I’ve been following your joust with Sam and the fellow I assume is his mentor with interest.  I’m staying out of it because I believe Sam is right about one thing: FB arguments never convinced anyone of anything (and I know you didn’t intend to provoke a firestorm but were compelled to respond).  Seems to me their position (though they never state it this way) rests on the assumption that the God who spake by the prophets would not, could not or simply did not infuse the apostles with equally inspired, inerrant and authoritative revelation.  If He did, no witness of any other source — including holy tradition, whatever that is — could rise to the level of the Scriptures, OT and NT.  Anyway, you’ve made the case for the solas very well and the Orthodox could use a reformation (or maybe just a formation). Ed+ Rev. Edward W. Fowler St. Michael’s Church Broken Arrow, Okla. 918.281.5451 stmichaelsrec.org

    • I agree with everything you say, including FB debates, which I usually stay away from, but this time it seemed I had to respond. Anyway, I don’t intend to say anything else. Good to hear from you.

  2. Very well said!

    From: Curtis Crenshaw’s Thoughts and Works To: franklevi@andrewrec.org Sent: Thursday, March 2, 2017 11:19 PM Subject: [New post] Five Solas: the Significance of the word “ALONE” #yiv3491055386 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv3491055386 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv3491055386 a.yiv3491055386primaryactionlink:link, #yiv3491055386 a.yiv3491055386primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv3491055386 a.yiv3491055386primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv3491055386 a.yiv3491055386primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv3491055386 WordPress.com | Curtis Crenshaw posted: “I posted this on my FaceBook account:THE FIVE SOLAS (we are justified)by Holy Scripture aloneby faith aloneby grace aloneby Christ aloneOnly to God’s glory aloneEach point emphasizes not only the necessity of the point but also its suf” | |

  3. Good letter showing firmness and yet christian love. Sam was the one who brought us into the REC and was our bishop for some time afterward until he moved into Orthodoxy.

    • O yeah; that’s right, Sam did bring y’all into the REC. Too bad that he has jumped so far so fast. We have too many people who do not understand Protestant Anglicanism, who think they do, and then make caricatures of us. The idea that we can’t say Christ is the ONLY way to God, as He specifically stated (John 14:6), is theologically dangerous. Why would one need anything else if He is sufficient?

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