Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sola Kerfuffle

The newly-installed Vice Moderator of the PCUSA, Landon Whitsett, was recently quoted in an interview saying:
This has set off a kerfuffle of commentary at Presbyweb and on some of the PresbyBlogs.

For those who don't know, or don't remember, the Five Solas are five Latin phrases that summarize the theological distinctions between the Protestant Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church of the Reformation era.

The five Solas are:

Sola Scriptura (by scripture alone)
Sola fide (by faith alone)
Sola gratia (by grace alone)
Solus Christus (through Christ alone)
Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone)

I can't argue with Whitsett's observation although I deeply regret it. I mentioned it at dinner with some elders before our session meeting last night and had to explain the Solas to them. And our church would be described as evangelical, Bible-centered, and conservative. Yet we are not teaching the Solas-- or much theology at all--in our new member classes and our adult study groups. I am not familiar with our confirmation curriculum, so I can't speak about that.

I bet there are very few churches that are emphasizing the Solas or the basics of reform theology to their congregations. It's little wonder that the concept Sola Scriptura is "dead or rapidly dying" in the PCUSA as conflict over the authority and interpretation of the Bible threatens the unity of the church.

And it is little wonder that the PCUSA is rapidly diminishing as a result. When the church no longer upholds scripture as authoritative in matters of faith and life, it is like a ship in full sail but without rudder and compass, driven in whatever direction the cultural winds are blowing, our port of destination unknown.

This fall I'm charged with coordinating new elder training. This kerfuffle reminds me of the need to include a brief overview of reformed theological principles, including the solas.


Stushie said...

A loud AMEN! Jody. I'm beginning to think that some of our clergy forget why we are Reformed and perhaps have only read "The Reformation for Dummies" at seminary. And how they end up as vice moderators of the GA is really beyond me...

Robin said...

Not being particularly well grounded in Reformed theology when I began seminary, I gave a lot of attention to that aspect of my education. And I said to one of my professors one day, "How can there be FIVE solas? (Which, since I had been a high school teacher I was certainly familiar with, but the logic had always eluded me.) Isn't that a contradiction in terms?" His response was that as a Catholic priest, Luther was accustomed to embracing ambiguity and paradox.

Works for me. Always happily both-and. (That's the P as opposed to the J part, QG!)

Anonymous said...

Like QG, I think Whitsett was making an observation rather than advocating for the "death" of the solas. And like both of them, I think this is probably happening. Of course, we welcome some of the resulting changes (end of the acceptance of slavery, for example) and really struggle with some others. This makes me think about all the session devotionals I've heard that have been stories or poems with only tangential references to scripture...

QG, I think your idea of including this in elder training is spot on. Just a review of the Historic Principles from the beginning of the BoO would be a great beginning. Wonder how many people even know they are there????

Rev Kim said...

This Fall I wanted to do a sermon series on Reformed theology, ending on Reformation Sunday, and I've been thinking about how to tackle and organize such a monumental topic. You've just given me my way in. Thanks!

Reformed Catholic said...

Very well said, and thanks for the hat-tip ;)

Quotidian Grace said...

You made my day, Rev Kim! Let me know how your series goes.

jessi said...

Dear Robin,
I know they may sound like it, but the five solas aren't paradoxical or ambiguous at all♥ I think your seminary professor just wanted to give an easy answer.

They are explaining *different* aspects of salvation.

Who/what is the authority on knowing God and having salvation: Scripture alone. (We can't add/subtract from it.)

How do we come to have salvation:
Faith alone. (Faith, and not works.)

How does one acquire faith: Grace alone. (For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; *it is the gift of God* Eph 2:8)

What/who is the object of our faith: Christ alone!

Why: For God's glory alone.

→ → We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone! We know this by Scripture alone, and it is for God's glory alone! ← ←

Hope that helped a little!

Also, to anonymous, slavery has been unaccepted for awhile now. (At least where it is currently unaccepted. Sadly, there are possibly more slaves today than ever in history--so I guess it is actually more accepted now than ever!) What did you mean that not accepting slavery is a welcome result of the death of the five solas, or man believing we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone? How would one lead to the other?


jessi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jessi said...

To clarify, "for God's glory alone," only means that God's own glory is why he chose to create us and then save us!! It is nothing in us, but his love for us. It is not me being kind, so God grants me faith through grace. No, grace is unmerited!!! I did nothing. I wasn't nice, I was mean. I was God's enemy!! But it brings him glory to make beauty out of rubble. I was worthless. I did not earn his love. "He loved us while we were yet sinners!"
Since we have lost a lot of the history with the solas, and other truths discovered during the reformation, I thought I should explain the God's glory part. Not that it'd be wrong for God to be interested in glorifying himself--he is God--but that is not exactly what Glory alone means. It means that we bring glory to God when we come to him--but not because of we are these glorious creatures. Rather it's because it shows what God does with sinful man!!

Anonymous said...

Jessi - I was referring to the decline of "sola scriptura." Scripture obviously accepts the practice of slavery while providing encouragement for mutual respect. Just an example of something that is obviously a part of the culture that scripture does not denounce but that we now (usually) find unacceptable. And there are things discouraged by scripture that we embrace. Like women speaking in worship. ;)