By David Schnittger

This Tuesday, October 31, the Protestant Reformation will celebrate its 500th Anniversary. Traditionally, the beginning of the Reformation is pegged to the day that the priest and scholar Martin Luther approached the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany and nailed a piece of paper to it containing the 95 revolutionary opinions (and complaints) that would begin the Protestant Reformation. In these theses, Luther condemned the excesses and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, especially the papal practice of asking payment – called “indulgences” – for the forgiveness of sins.

This event set in motion a period of dramatic upheaval, violence, and schism within the “Christian community” that reverberates even today. As we look back over the last 500 years, it is acceptable, yea, mandatory that we as Bible-believing Christians ask the question, “was it worth it?” Was the Protestant martyrdom under Mary Queen of Scotts (Bloody Mary) worth it? Was the 30 years’ war between Catholics and Protestants worth it? Was the violence in Northern Ireland during the latter half of the 20th century worth it?

My answer is “definitely.” The theological issues that were championed by the Reformers are worth defending today. In sum, the Protestant Reformation, in its purest doctrinal form, represents the recovery of biblical Christianity that had been lost under Catholicism. Has the Protestant movement been doctrinally or practically flawless? Of course not. No movement involving humans ever is. But, in its essential doctrinal essence it is, by its very nature, a recovery movement.

Terry Johnson, in his excellent book, The Case for Traditional Protestantism (The Banner of Truth Trust, 2004), summarizes the doctrinal essentials which characterize “Traditional Protestantism.” By that, a distinction is being made between liberal aberrations and departures by groups calling themselves “Protestant.” On this 500th birthday of the Protestant Reformation, it is well worth the time to review these essentials, known as “the Solas of the Reformation.”

SOLA SCRIPTURA (“Scripture Only” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17) “Where can we go to find valid answers to life’s questions? Where can we go to find reliable, trustworthy, authoritative standards for faith and conduct? . . . The answer of historic Christianity is sola Scriptura, to ‘Scripture Alone’. God has spoken. He has not abandoned us. He has not left us to our own devices” (Johnson, 20).

SOLO CHRISTO (“Christ Alone” – John 14:6) “By solo Christo the Reformers meant, and we mean, three things: he is the only Saviour, his is the only Sacrifice, he is the only Mediator” (Johnson, 47).

SOLA FIDE (“Faith Alone” – Romans 3:21-4:9) “This conviction – sola fide – based upon solo Christo, was the principal cause of the sixteenth-century call to reform the church . . . Luther described it as the articulus stantis vel cadentis, ‘the article by which the church stands or falls’” (Johnson, 75, 76).

SOLA GRATIA (“Grace Alone” – Ephesians 2:8-9) “The Reformers said that, in addition to ‘faith alone’, we are saved ‘by grace alone’. The Reformers saw that to stop at ‘faith alone’ could have the effect of turning faith into a work. It would be an effortless work, but nevertheless a work, the exercising of which would earn salvation. Sola fide and solo Christo must rest upon the foundation of sola gratia (Johnson, 103).

SOLI DEO GLORIA (“For the Glory of God Alone” – Romans 11:33-36) “Does God have a single purpose for which we are to live? Is there a great goal or aim in life? As the apostle Paul draws his theology of redemption to a close in Romans 1-11, he is hardly able to restrain himself. He has developed at length all of the themes that we have discussed in this book…He erupts in praise (Romans 11:33-35). What is there left to do, he seems to say, but lift one’s voice in praise? Then he summarizes: ‘For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things’ (Rom. 11:36a)” (Johnson, 123).

Was the Protestant Reformation worth it? You bet it was! What is required of faithful believers in these end times is THE COURAGE TO BE PROTESTANT!