Beyond the Five Solas
Before resuming our study of Galatians, it is important that we consider recent events in Moscow and around the country in the light of God’s Word. The Lord has been very kind to us thus far, but part of our responsibility is to understand His kindness. He has given us the great privilege of holding a contested field of battle, but part of our duty lies in understanding what has just recently transpired, and understanding it in all wisdom.
1Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. 2For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him (2 Cor. 11:1-4).
42And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers . . . 46And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved (Acts 2: 42, 46-47).
THE GOSPEL IS NOT OVER-ENGINEERED
Consider what we learn in these passages. Paul sarcastically notes that adultery and treachery are complicated, but fidelity is simple. The serpent came to Eve in all subtlety, and this is contrasted with the “simplicity that is in Christ.” Other Christs, other gospels, other spirits are easy enough to put up with (in this fallen world), but they are complicated. Rationalizations are always tangled, and sin breeds rationalization. But true simplicity does what the early Christians did. They accept what the apostles taught, period, they fellowship with one another, period, they take the Lord’s Supper together, period, and they pray together, period. This brings the glorious result—gladness and simplicity of heart, praise to God and favor from outsiders. And God uses this to bring salvation to those who are being saved.
WHAT IS AT ISSUE?
One of the obvious concerns that we should have before us is whether all the controversies that the Lord has brought to us over the course of the last two years have anything in common. And the answer is yes, they do. In fact, at bottom they are all really the same controversy. Whenever the Spirit moves in the history of the church, He does so in a way that sweeps away all our carnal complications, and restores that primitive and apostolic sense of gladness and simplicity of heart. But often the slogans of a previous period of simplicity have been transformed (in the hands of trained professionals) into something that only a scribe could love.
The five solas
The title of this message is Beyond the Five Solas. Initially some might worry that this entails an abandonment of the glorious revival that we call the Reformation. Nothing could be further from the truth. But it is an abandonment of much of jargon that has grown up around the solas. Over against the errors of so many false religionists, we still affirm what the solas originally meant. Salvation is by Christ alone (solus Christus), not by Christ and some creaturely help. Salvation is by grace alone (sola gratia) and not some mixture of grace and merit. Salvation is received through faith alone (sola fide) and not some mixture of faith and works. We understand all this through ultimate reliance on Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) and not through some combination of the Word of God and the words of men. And all this comes together to glorify God alone for all that He has done (soli Deo gloria).
AN INSIDIOUS ROT
But all glorious confessions of faith can be attacked in two ways. One is the assault from without (persecution), but the other is corruption from within. In the grip of Enlightenment individualism, pietism, sentimentalism, and so forth, in our day the meaning of the solas has been turned side from their earlier and more glorious meaning. Now they are solo Christus (just me and Jesus), solo gratia (narrow, sectarian grace), solo fide (when I “prayed the prayer”), solo Scriptura (just me and my Bible), and solo Deo gloria (God gets all the glory for saving me, and maybe somebody else). Now please realize that the word solo here constitutes a bad macaronic pun, and not a serious attempt at matching gender, number, and case.
THE FIVE TOTAS
Our answer to such things must be simple, and not complicated. The claims of Jesus Christ, Lord of heaven and earth, are necessarily and always total, never partial. The solo tendency always tends to restrict the work of God to just a part of reality, and this makes the rest of reality incomprehensible—and obviously complicated (with great “subtlety” required). To this we reply with totus Christus (all Christ and all His people), tota gratia (to be a creature is grace, to be saved is more grace), tota fide (we are saved by faith from first to last), tota Scriptura (we do not pit the Old Testament against the New, or law against grace), and toti Deo gloria (all the glory for all things goes to God). God save us from partialism.
SHORT CATECHISM FOR LITTLE SAINTS
We tend to think about salvation in merely individual terms. But this is dangerous.
How did God preach the gospel to Abraham?
It did it by promising Abraham that I would believe.
How did God save you?
He saved me together with all the Church, the Lord’s body.