The “Five Solas” of the Reformation: What Do You Believe?

What are the great principles that guide historically Protestant, Evangelical Christianity? They can be summarized by considering the “five solas,” five Latin phrases, that define the very heart of the 16th century Reformation.

Five hundred years after the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, the place of the Gospel in the church is just as tenuous as ever. Every generation must diligently seek to recover the Gospel anew, lest it be lost in a sea of religiosity, theology “fads,” and the indifference of hearts calloused towards the Truth. The first three “solas” were watchwords of the 16th century, and the last two “solas” have been adopted over time.

What do you believe?

Sola Scripture: Scripture alone is the final authority, in all matters of Christian faith and practice. The Western medieval church tended to rely on church leaders and councils, that sometimes obscured the teaching of Scripture. Folks like the German Reformer, Martin Luther, have placed the Bible, and the Bible alone, at the fountainhead of all spiritual authority, over against human traditions. Church tradition does play a role in our understanding of the Bible, but it should never cancel out the Bible itself.

Sola Fide: Salvation is experienced through faith, and faith alone, and not through works. Yet as John Calvin, the 16th century French/Swiss Reformer, is said by some to have remarked, “Faith alone justifies, and yet the faith that justifies is never alone.” Good works will always accompany genuine faith in Christ.

Sola Gratia: By “grace alone” we are saved. The Western medieval church, over a period of centuries, was drawn to the idea that while salvation is indeed through grace, that grace could only be mediated through the sacraments of the institutional church. The 16th century Reformers contended that while the sacraments, instituted by Christ are indeed important, the church, as an institution, does not control the means by which people receive the grace of God. The Gospel is bigger than that.

Sola Christus: Christ is the sole mediator between humans and God. Martin Luther championed the idea of the “priesthood of all believers,” that human beings can have direct access to God, through Christ, without having to pass through a human, priestly go-between.

Sola Deo Gloria: When it comes to salvation, who gets the glory? Does God alone receive it, or does human effort dilute the praise that belongs solely to God? The Reformation endeavored to see that God, and God alone, is supremely honored.

My Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox friends might prod and question some, if not all, of the “five solas.” But the discussion is an important one for all Christians to have.

Are these “five solas” hallmarks in your life? Do they define for you, the basic theological principles supporting the truth of the Gospel? What do you believe?

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

3 responses to “The “Five Solas” of the Reformation: What Do You Believe?

  • Ken Petzinger

    Where does repentance enter into these sola’s?: Luke 24.45-47, Acts 2.37-38, etc. Is repentance a missing element?


    • Clarke Morledge

      Ken: I am just trying to put myself into Martin Luther’s shoes, if he were asked this same question.

      The medieval church taught “doing penance,” as opposed to “repentance,” was the responsibility of the believer. But Luther did not find “doing penance” in Bible. Instead, he found “repentance” to be the correct response of the believer to the Gospel call. Therefore, the call to repentance would fall under the idea of sola scriptura.

      We are to believe and do that which is described in Scripture, as opposed to following, the traditions of men.

      I think this is how Luther would respond. But knowing him, he would probably use some more “colorful” and vibrant language to get the point across 🙂


  • Ken Petzinger

    Good response, Clarke; I thought of that too. Repentance, not penance, as you have said in class. I can’t quarrel with Luther over this, but I am somewhat concerned that in our modern times, Luther’s idea of “fide” has so little definition that it is often misused.. “Salvation is by faith, right? I’m sure not going to get tangled up, as Luther initially was, in doing my own righteousness.”

    Luther lived in a very different time when there was a much more intense cultural consciousness of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. We largely live with a diametrically opposite cultural consciousness. “We’re actually pretty good, aren’t we?”

    But if my true “fide”, my true confession, is “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9) then I am not Lord. So I have to start my spiritual life with repentance from a past of making myself Lord; and I need to repent continually when I return to going my own way.

    Luther clearly understood that repentance is implicit in faith; I’m not sure the modern mind does.


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