Five Solas. Five Speakers. Five hours. God Centered Life Ministries hosted “One Night Centered on God” at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, on March 17, 2017. One incredible night centered on hearing God’s truth proclaimed and responding in worship—not a normal Friday night and not a normal conference.
But why even have such an event? While focused on the Protestant Reformation during its 500th anniversary year, One Night Centered on God utilized the history of the Reformation as a way to remind and exhort believers to live in the present and future in ways that bring glory to God. But why did we need to be reminded of our purpose? What have we forgotten and how have we forgotten it?
“Do you hear the people sing?” Can you finish the song lyrics from one of the most popular songs written for the world famous, beloved musical Les Miserables?
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the songs of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!
I hear these words accompanied by the pounding drums and swell of the choir and orchestra and my fist involuntarily rises in defiance and my feet start marching. My heart responds with assent to this song’s message. This may as well be the theme song of all revolutions though it was written specifically about a failed revolutionary uprising in Paris in 1832. Indeed, this is an ancient song of man’s sin-plagued heart. It’s the same revolutionary song that Adam and Eve sang in the Garden of Eden when they “followed their heart” and revolted against God’s benevolent rule. When tomorrow came for them they were dead men walking—just like the doomed 800 insurgents left in the barricade in France. The liberty promised here is a siren’s call that leads to destruction. It is an illusory dream that no revolutionary has ever seen come to pass.
A different type of liberty is on offer in these song lyrics:
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing,
Were not the right man on our side,
The man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
From age to age the same,
And he must win the battle.
Martin Luther penned these lyrics in his hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, now known as the anthem of the Protestant Reformation. His lyrics echo the reformational antidote to revolution offered up by God himself in Genesis 3:15 when he provided hope through the promise of redemption to his now cursed image bearers. Do you see the vital difference between the two concepts?
Do you remember those old wire coat hangers? You know the kind that you could straighten out if you needed to roast marshmallows or unclog drains and then clean off and reuse if necessary? A reformation is like when you notice your coat hanger has been so bent and misshapen that you have to take it and carefully reshape the wiry mess into the original and useful form it once had. A revolution is when you decide the coat hanger is completely pointless, throw it out, and decide that henceforth no one will wear coats, so coat hangers are completely unnecessary. By no means is this analogy perfect, but it may help to identify the principal difference between reformation and revolution—remodeling and reconstruction versus demolition and destruction. We too often long for revolution instead of reformation, forgetting the consequences of both ideas.
500 years ago, Martin Luther along with many others saw the need for a reformation of Christ’s Church. He saw that specifically in five areas of doctrine and practice the Church was terribly misshapen and had moved far away from the gospel of Jesus Christ and the teaching of the early Church. These five tenants which have become spiritual battle cries are known in Latin as:
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.
While the rift in the Church that followed the men and women who implemented these truths may have felt revolutionary, and in fact did indeed cause blood to be shed in real warfare and martyrs to be slain, these truths were reformational in nature, not revolutionary. Truth can never be revolutionary or new; truth is eternal and fixed because it is authored by the Triune God who created the universe. But mankind can believe a lie for so long that when confronted with truth, it often appears new and revolutionary. Such was the case in the 1500’s in Europe.
Such may be the case today.
Though Jesus promised his disciple Peter that even the gates of hell shall not prevail against his Church, the Church is constantly being assailed with revolutionary truth claims or in other words—lies—and sometimes we fall for them. The overarching principle in a revolutionary truth claim is arrogance clothed in enlightened innovation. Many of these truth claims can often be understood as a direct attack against one or all of the Five Solas of the Reformation. When the Church accepts any aspects of the revolutionary “truths,” a reformational response is called for. This kind of reformational response to lies assailing the Church is one reason a night like One Night Centered on God is important and useful to help equip us with truth while centering our lives on God.
Attending and participating in this night was like drinking from a fire hydrant, but one benefit of drinking from a fire hydrant is that you and your mouth will never forget the experience. The Five Solas Bible teachers were Dr. Philip Ryken, President of Wheaton College (Scripture Alone); Dr. Josh Moody, Senior Pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL (Faith Alone); Dr. Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College (Grace Alone); Dr. Ajith Fernando, Teaching Director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka (Christ Alone); and Bryan Loritts, Lead Pastor of Abundant Life Church in Silicon Valley, California (Glory to God Alone). Keith and Kristyn Getty and Jon and Valerie Guerra led the over 700 participants in worshipful, responsive singing to the truths proclaimed by these speakers.
Here’s a quick summary of the messages given at One Night Centered on God, showing the vital importance of these reformational battle cries for the Church today. (To listen to these messages, click here.)
Scripture alone is the plumb line of truth. God has preserved his Word for saving power throughout all generations and will continue to do so no matter how many times man tries to have it destroyed. These words are inspired by the Holy Spirit and tell the story of salvation. In Jeremiah 36, Micaiah hears the word that God will judge sin, receives the word by showing fear of the Lord and repenting from his sin, and then obeys the word by desiring to share it with others. Even though King Jehoikim fails to receive Micaiah’s message and destroys the scroll containing God’s word, God preserves his word through his prophet Jeremiah. God will always preserve his word through every generation regardless of how many times man tries to have it destroyed. “Therefore, put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” We need to be like Micaiah!
According to Romans 1:16-17—the same verses that struck Martin Luther and spiritually awakened him—faith is not magic willpower, not simply a creedal faith that looks like words on a page that changes no one, and true faith is not a nominal faith. According to Scripture, faith is experiential and alive because we believe in the resurrected Christ. Faith is God-given grace alone by which we receive truth. Only when living faith is lived out will you see solutions to the issues plaguing modern culture. You are not good enough to have this faith, but you are bad enough to be taken over by the love of God. The size of your faith is in proportion to the size of your great God. The Apostle Paul is not ashamed of the gospel of God because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. The faithful will not be ashamed of the gospel, and will proclaim it with boldness.
To what extent do we need grace? Because it is impossible to live out true faith without grace, the answer to the question is “In every possible way!” Grace is the gift that follows faith or the gasoline in its engine. The difference between every religion under the sun and Christianity is man’s religion teaches that if I obey I will be accepted versus a relationship with God who declares me accepted and enables my obedience. Righteousness by works brings bondage while righteous by faith/grace brings joy. Grace abolishes merit. Grace is not opposed to effort, but it is opposed to earning. Legalists kill grace, so get rid of the legalists! If we misunderstand grace, we lose Christ himself. The apostle Paul had to give up religion in order to gain Christ. When he recognized his true status in Christ through the gift of grace through faith, he declared himself Christ’s bondservant. This is true liberty—willing submission to God’s sovereignty.
Christians must continue to affirm Christ alone in a pluralistic world. Jesus declared that He was the Truth, not just that he was teaching the truth. So when we talk about truth, we are talking about the man who declared He was God! Jesus made truth propositional and personal. Hindus claim that an absolute is unknowable. Christ made the absolute concrete in history. Christ in us is the hope of glory. May we reflect Jesus in the way we live our lives because people will only respond to lived out truth. 500 years ago, legalism threatened the church. 100 years ago, liberalism (license) threatened the church. Today, nationalism threatens the church because of the threat of terrorism. May the church never allow these threats to hinder us from proclaiming that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life to even our so-called enemies. He is the only way to the Father. True disciples of Christ must make disciples by proclaiming Christ alone!
Glory to God Alone:
Isaiah 42:1-9 is about the Lord’s chosen servant Jesus and helps us understand what glory means. God’s glory is who he is. It is his name. It is his nature and it is his function. And the function of God’s glory is Jesus who is the exact representation of the Father. God teaches us about himself in contrast to idols. The number one idol maker is the human heart. Pride is spiritual plagiarism as it requires stealing something without crediting the source. Humans are glory-hounds which is why we so often take God’s gift of glory as his image bearers and mar his glory by perpetuating or ignoring injustice in this earth. Three times in four verses, God declares that Jesus will establish justice in the earth. If Christ established justice on earth through his death and resurrection, then we must incarnate for others what Christ did for us. We must do justice on this earth in order to bring him the glory he deserves. Look for the marginalized, the disenfranchised, and the oppressed in your communities and countries. Then follow Christ’s example by disadvantaging yourself for the advantage of others. and only then share the gospel. God is most glorified when our orthodoxy matches our orthopraxy.
The siren call of the revolution is so often on repeat in human history perhaps because Christians neglect to faithfully live out the battle cries of biblical reformation. Spiritual and often physical revolution results in death. So “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever.” We have been given our marching orders! We know who wins the battle, so we march and sing a life-giving song that drowns out the death song. As Keith and Kristyn Getty led us in singing that night:
“Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds;
Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us—
Truths unchanged from the dawn of time
That will echo down through eternity.
And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises,
And by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us.
Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built
And the earth is filled with Your glory.”
Trisha Williams teaches history, literature and theology at Veritas Scholars Academy. She’s a member of College Church in Wheaton, IL and serves on the Culture Impact Committee. When not teaching you can find her hanging out with her thirty-eight nieces and nephews and enjoying a good cup of coffee.