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.

A Man Rules

(© Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D.)

I keep hearing liberal politicians complain that Christians want the USA to be a theocracy. Christians oblige them by denying such; we want our little turf inside our churches and Christian schools. You liberals can have the rest. It is always easy to answer when the mic is not in front of you, but here is what I would like to say.

We already have a theocracy, and it is ruled by one dictator, a Man, the King of kings. He will judge every action that He disapproves, especially those actions that are egregious against the Ten Commandments.

But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. (Matt. 12:36 NKJ)

From the Holy Scriptures we see that Jesus warned us of His coming judgment:

25 “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, 27 and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.” (Jn. 5:24 NKJ)

Rebelliously, too many Christians today think that the Lord Jesus’s Kingship will only come after His Second Coming; and though He will judge then, His sovereignty has always been in the sense of deity. But as a glorified Man, He is NOW ruling over the world. What do we make of Matthew 28:18-20:

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying,

 

18 All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.      (statement)

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,                       (two commands: GO and MAKE DISCIPLES. Here is what they are to do: baptize and teach)

baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

      20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you;

and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.   (statement)

 

This is Trinitarian theology in baptism and growing in grace by giving our the word.

This is another Joshua, for here as there, the LORD commissions His men to go in to conquer the land, except in Joshua the land was limited but here it includes “heaven and earth.” As in Genesis the Triune God created “the heavens and the earth” and gave man dominion over it. Now the new resurrected, ascended Lord, is over all things, and He has given charge to His people to take the “land.” This means not only is that Man over all things, but we, as His vice-regents, are also over all things. We conquer by the Gospel, by the two edge sword coming out of His mouth, and thus also coming out of ours.

Moreover, we see from this Matthew 28 passage that the Church is being built by making disciples, and baptizing and disciplining them. This Church is a kingdom now all over the world, literally in every country, and growing by the power of Jesus’ Gospel and the omnipotence of the Triune God.

What did Peter say in the first Christian sermon?

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36 NKJ)

Now we are to follow what the Lord God said to Abraham when He told him that everywhere he stepped, that property belonged to him and to his seed. As St. Paul said:

And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. AMEN.  (Rom. 16:20 NKJ)

 

If Satan is crushed under His feet, we, along with the Son of God, do the same:

And I will put enmity           between you and the woman,

And                                            between your seed and her Seed;

 

He shall                                   bruise your head,

And you shall                         bruise His heel.” (Gen. 3:15 NKJ)

 

If these things are true—and they are!—we have a theocracy under His Sovereign Majesty, the Man, King Jesus. Our weapons are the gospel and our lives spent in His service.

And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb

and by the word of their testimony,

and they did not love their lives to the death. (Rev. 12:11 NKJ)

AMEN.