In the tradition of Christianity, usually in the context of the Protestant Reformation, there are so-called five conditional principles. Using the Latin words, the overarching concept is Five Solae. Sola or solae means alone or only. So, there are only five things that are supposed to be the foundation of Christianity.
- Sola scriptura (Scripture alone)
- Sola fide (Faith alone)
- Sola gratia (Grace alone)
- Solus Christus (Christ alone)
- Soli Deo gloria (God’s glory alone)
“Scripture alone” is well-known for the reason that Protestant believers focus on the Bible alone as Words of God, which should be the ultimate basis for Christian faith; more important than any church traditions. Historically, we could go back to Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses. Protesting the sales of indulgence in the Catholic churches in the 16th century, he nailed this document on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517.
During those days when the authorities of the traditional churches are dominant, even harmful, his action was one of the reformative attempts. His intention was good. As a result, even another reformation effort emerged from the Catholic church itself. It was, however, also one of the triggers that the great division between Catholicism and Protestantism took place. It was one of the critical ones after the previous great division called Great Schism of 1504 between the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches.
In the Words of God, we can see the importance of the church’s authority. A church is ekklēsia (ἐκκλησία) in Greek. It means an assembly or gathering of the people who share the same Christian faith. It is also one of the essential teachings of Christianity. Jesus said Peter as follows.
Jesus told him: Simon, son of Jonah, you are blessed! You didn’t discover this on your own. It was shown to you by my Father in heaven. So I will call you Peter, which means “a rock.” On this rock I will build my church, and death itself will not have any power over it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and God in heaven will allow whatever you allow on earth. But he will not allow anything that you don’t allow.Matthew 16:17-19
So, even based on “scripture alone,” following the Words of God, we could acknowledge the authority of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. It is indeed a rock where Peter lived, died, and Jesus promised. It is very true.
It is, however, also true that no human organization in this world is perfect. Churches are not exceptional, either. These cannot be free from any human indulgences, other than the traditional, literal indulgences that Martin Luther criticized. His intention was good. However, this division and subsequently much more divisions had created a series of bloody, cruel conflicts and wars among churches and denominations. Numerous innocent people died only because of their self-righteous denominational wars.
Now, there are numerous churches everywhere. Technically, a small gathering of people with their Christian faith and their interpretations of the Words of God could be one church group. As a result, various churches everywhere proclaim their authority and authenticity. There are too much and too diverse churches everywhere. Ironically enough, an act of criticizing one church could create another church and another. It is a never-ending process of divisions.
“Scripture alone” is a tricky word. While the Words of God must be the fundamental basis of Christian faith, a tricky part is an interpretation. Even we can say that the historical variations of interpretations per se are the very traditions of Christian theology. There are also various manuscripts. It is not easy even among scholars to agree which manuscripts and their combinations could be appropriate.
There is also the issue of translation. For English translations alone, there are numerous versions. Currently, we have to face more than 2,000 English translations. Some are welcoming such diversity, and yet others are getting extreme insisting the authenticity of one specific translation. There is such a term as KJV Onlyism, claiming that King James Version alone is the only “correct” Bible translation, others are demonish. I love KJV, and yet it seems its hard-core approach is too much.
“Scripture alone” is one of the critical bases that all Christians agree. If, however, the part of “alone” becomes merely an act of self-righteousness, then, which is far from the original intention.
Other solae could be the same as well.
“Faith alone” is also one of the critical Christian theologies. It is not only Martin Luther’s interpretation. From the Apostel Paul to various early Church Fathers to medieval Church Doctors to modern theologians, indeed, it is one of the fundamental tenets. We can never save ourselves by our actionable efforts. Jesus Christ took away the sins of the world by his Crucifixion and Resurrection. What we could “do” is merely believing this Truth.
But we know that God accepts only those who have faith in Jesus Christ. No one can please God by simply obeying the Law. So we put our faith in Christ Jesus, and God accepted us because of our faith… It was the Law itself that killed me and freed me from its power, so that I could live for God. I have been nailed to the cross with Christ. I have died, but Christ lives in me. And I now live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me.Galatians 2:16,19-20
But again, we have to be mindful on the part of “alone” even in this “faith alone.” Moreover, all those others from “grace alone” to “Christ alone” to “God’s glory alone.” When we emphasize the part of “alone,” there is always the danger and risk of self-righteousness and self-indulgence. We tend to think that we are the only ones who could keep such aloneness, which is quite deceptive.
Deceptively, we believe we are the only ones who keep the scripture alone. We are the only ones who have faith alone in Jesus Christ. We are the only ones who receive God’s grace alone. We are the only ones whom Christ loved and saved alone. We are the only ones who are in God’s glory alone. And yet, others are not. And great divisions would go on and on.
“Division” is our bad fruit. When we realize that there are a lot of divisions around us, the first thing we have to do is our repentance, which means that we truly have to turn back to God and forget ourselves. We are still part of the bad tree producing a series of bad fruits. We are so sinful.
A good tree produces only good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. You can tell what a tree is like by the fruit it produces.Matthew 12:33
Then Jesus started preaching, “Turn back to God! The kingdom of heaven will soon be here.”Matthew 4:17
Then Jesus said to all the people: If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross each day and follow me. If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me, you will save it.Luke 9:23-24
On “faith alone,” we tend to forget our good fruit of action. “Faith alone” does not necessarily mean we don’t have to do anything. Indeed, we can never save ourselves by our actionable efforts and wills as Paul repeats in his letters. It is, however, also true that we need to produce our good fruits out of our faith alone. This way, the words of James can be wholly aligned with “faith alone.”
My friends, what good is it to say you have faith, when you don’t do anything to show that you really do have faith? Can that kind of faith save you? If you know someone who doesn’t have any clothes or food, you shouldn’t just say, “I hope all goes well for you. I hope you will be warm and have plenty to eat.” What good is it to say this, unless you do something to help? Faith that doesn’t lead us to do good deeds is all alone and dead!
You surely believe there is only one God. That’s fine. Even demons believe this, and it makes them shake with fear… You can now see that we please God by what we do and not only by what we believe… Anyone who doesn’t breathe is dead, and faith that doesn’t do anything is just as dead!James 2:14-17,19,24,26
Image by TeroVesalainen