The Five Solas
- The Bible Alone (Sola Scriptura) - As Bible believing Christians, we believe that the Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament is the only rule for our faith and practice. Churches which speak beyond or against the Word are not to be recognized as true churches of Christ. We confess the full inspiration, inerrancy of the original manuscripts, and sufficiency of the Bible. We believe that Scripture has given us all we need to know about God and Salvation, and that it, itself, teaches itself to be the final revelation from God (John 16:13; 2 Timothy 3:16), so that the Christian may be “complete and thoroughly equipped” (2 Timothy 3:17). The Bible alone is the final authority, the settler of all disputes and controversies, and the only source which may bind the conscience. All man-made traditions which contradict the Bible are to be done away with, and all other traditions which do not appear in Scripture (such as whether to use a piano or a guitar in worship) are to be kept in their proper context, and never used to bind the conscience of the saint. It is the task of the pastor, when delivering the Word, to take on the roll of a “herald” (Greek “kerux”, translated “preacher”). As a herald, our job is to clearly deliver the message of the King, without adding to it, taking away from it, or diminishing its authority through seeking to entertain and win approval from man.
- Grace Alone (Sola Gratia) - We gladly confess that Salvation is completely a work of Grace, and is a gift freely given to the elect believer. It is not a result of good works, but is given to us freely, because of the Sovereign will and goodness of God. This means that even though we believers are distinct from the world, we are no better than unbelievers in and of ourselves. Every human is equally in need of the saving grace of God- and therefore, no Christians should look down on others, or have a boastful spirit. Just as the Calvinist, John Newton famously wrote: “Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved- how precious did that Grace appear, the hour I first believed!” We seek to enjoy the grace of God not only “the hour we first believe”, but also all through life, for that same “grace will lead us home!”
- Faith Alone (Soli Fide) - Related to “Grace Alone”, this reformation cry rejects the idea that our good works (or the good works of others) contribute in some way to our salvation. We do believe that every Christian is a new creature, created in Christ Jesus unto good works (Ephesians 2:9-10), but even these works do not merit salvation. Instead, they are the overflow of our living faith. A tree is not made alive by its fruit, but its fruit does help demonstrate that it is, indeed, alive (John 15:1-5). In the same way, we are justified and made alive to God by Grace alone through faith alone, and part of the proof that this has happened is our changed life.
- Christ Alone (Solus Christus) - Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation (John 14:6). Apart from belief in Him and in His saving work, all mankind stands under condemnation by God for their sins (John 3:18). Christ Jesus shed His blood on the cross as a complete and total payment for the sins of His people (John 19:30, Hebrews 2:16-17). Consequently, He (and He ALONE) is able to save “to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, for he lives always to make intercession for the transgressors” (Hebrews 7:25). These and other verses teach that Jesus both completed our salvation, and that we must not seek to draw near to God through praying to anyone else, including Mary or dead Christians, for Jesus ALONE is the “one mediator between God and Man” (1 Timothy 2:5). Therefore, we gladly look to Christ alone for salvation, as He is offered to us in the Gospel!
- To the Glory of God Alone (Soli Deo Gloria) - Lazarus got no credit for being raised from the dead- Jesus did. A baby takes no part in being born- the parents do (John 1:13). The Creation gets no credit for being created- God does. Indeed, every time salvation is described in Scripture via illustration, GOD is the actor, and man is the recipient of God’s grace. At the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church taught that the credit, or glory for salvation belonged partly to God, partly to Mary and the saints, and partly to the convert. To the contrary, Biblically speaking all glory goes to God, as is shown everywhere in Scripture. We therefore give ALL glory to God, and refuse to boast as though we had something to do with our salvation. We did not seek God (Romans 3:11) or choose God (John 15:16; Ephesians 1:4-5), but He chose us, and we, being made alive, responded to His grace through faith in Christ. We delight, therefore, to give Him ALL the credit for saving us. Jesus taught that we have exactly as much credit for our salvation as the dead have in their physical resurrection: “As the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, so the Son gives life to whomever He will” (John 5:21).
To these we would add that one of the principles of the Reformation itself was that the Church should not rest on the past, but should rather be “always reforming” (Ecclesia semper reformanda est). Therefore, we strive to learn from the past, while striving always to found our faith on the Word of Christ alone.
As a Reformed Church, we did not throw out the need to be connected to other churches when our forefathers left the Roman Catholic communion and became Protestants. Part of what it means to be “Reformed” is to have a reformed Ecclesiology (doctrine of the Church), which continues to embrace the way the Church has always looked, since Christ founded it (see Acts 15:1-30 and 1 Corinthians 11:16 for examples of how the wider Church met and directed each congregation to one standard, and worked together, with mutual accountability, to accomplish the work of the Gospel). We believe that this is still the practice of the Church today. We do not believe that the Lord Jesus ever wanted every congregation to go its own way and fend for itself, but rather, each church is to be TRULY accountable to other churches, not in a hierarchical sense, but in a sense of mutual accountability.
Therefore, from the time of the Reformation (and before), all of the ministers in our denomination have been rightly ordained through the laying on of hands of the Presbytery (1 Timothy 4:14). The Greek word for “Presbytery” in this verse (sometimes translated “council of elders”) is “presbuterion”, where we get our name, Presbyterian. Thus, while each minister should have a strong internal call from God to the ministry, no pastor should exalt himself and take on the work of the ministry until 1 Timothy 4:14 can be fulfilled, as has always been the case in the congregations of Christ. Once the laying on of hands occurs, the whole, wider church (the Presbytery) is responsible for the actions of any given minister and congregation, which is why the Bible warns pastors, like Timothy, “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thus share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin” (1 Timothy 5:22).
Embracing this principle today (of not ordaining men hastily), each minister of the gospel undergoes an extensive period of testing, under the oversight of his brother pastors in the Presbytery, during which his aptitude for ministry, together with his knowledge of the Word of God, is evaluated. In this way, the wider Church helps to guard the sheep from falling into the hands of wolves or false teachers, who are always their own standard and final authority. In this way, even pastors can “submit to those who are keeping watch for their souls as those who will have to give an account” (Hebrews 13:17).