Contend Earnestly: Introduction to the Five Solas of the Reformation

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Introduction to the Five Solas of the Reformation

As we start this interesting and thought provoking study, it is essential that we come to the Five Solas with some background of where they came. They do not stand alone without explanation nor are they understood without complete exegesis of the meaning behind them. Today we will look at where these Five Solas came from and glean a little from their meanings. We will look at the key men of the reformation, such as John Wyclif, John Hus and Martin Luther. We will look at the key doctrines of the reformation that made the Pope and his papacy stand on their heads.

What I will tell you is that this post is just to give us a better understanding of the forest before we look at each tree. What I mean by this is that if we are to look at the individual trees of the Solas we must first look at the overarching forest in the reformation, the men and the doctrines.

There will be some things concerning the Solas that might tear at your conscience, as they did mine the first time I looked into them about 10 years ago, and even more so as I have studied them ferociously for the past 3 years.

Key Men of the Reformation

Who is usually credited as the key to the protestant reformation? Martin Luther. The most overlooked man then must be John Wyclif, who is nicknamed as the Morning Star of the Reformation. D’Aubigne, a reformation historist, stated:

If Luther and Calvin were the fathers of the Reformation then Wyclif was its grandfather

We don’t know much of Wyclif, we don’t even know where or exactly when he was born although some think he was born in 1330. He received his doctorate from Oxford in 1372 and immediately was risen to the leading professor of Oxford.

The Key year for Wyclif was 1378, called the Great Schism, when one Pope tried to excommunicate another Pope and this led to Wyclif’s beliefs to shape the reformation that would not come for another 150 years.

In one sense Wyclif welcomed the Great Schism. The spectacle of two rival popes excommunicating each other seemed to him to be a confirmation for all to see of the spiritual bankruptcy of the office and the need to put something else in its place. As the schism continued however, Wyclif’s view hardened. He came to believe that the pope was Antichrist. He states: “Christ is truth the pope is the principle of falsehood. Christ lived in poverty, the pope labors for worldly magnificence. Christ refused temporal dominion, the pope seeks it.”

Church History in Plain Language, Pg. 226, 227

This meant that it was time for Wyclif to take action as he in turn became a protestant. Wyclif believed that the best way for the spreading of the Gospel was for it to be preached and what better way to preach than to be a priest.

Wyclif truly understood that the only way for one to be saved was through the preaching of the Word, as stated in Romans 10.

The problem, Wyclif said, was that the priests of his day were “found in taverns and hunting; and playing at their tables, instead of learning God’s law and preaching.”

So he decided to take action with what were called Lollards or “one who mumbles or mutters” as was given them the title by those who hated them, but in actuality Wyclif meant for them to be “poor priests.”

They were men trained usually by Wyclif himself to go to the villages and preach the Gospel. Instead of great robes and honor they were barefoot and dressed in robes made of wool, they went from village to village dependant on their fellow man for shelter and food. They carried with them a few pages of Wyclif’s bible and tracts that were made for their teaching. Many came to faith under this blue collar mission of Wyclif.

The word of God was brought to the lowly as Christ intended.

Wyclif ended up dying after multiple strokes at his home in Lutterworth in 1384. His followers were hunted down, were all expelled from Oxford or told to denounce their views. Wyclif’s teachings, thirty years later were dispelled as heresy and his books and papers were all burned along with his bones.

One of his biggest proponents was John Hus of Southern Bohemia (Czech Republic). He took Wyclif’s writings and continued to preach against the Pope and for the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. On the wall of Bethlehem Chapel, where Hus preached, it showed many images of the abuse of the pope. Such as:

The pope rode a horse; Christ walked barefoot. Jesus washed the disciples feet; the pope preferred to have his kissed.

Hus’ sermons were widely followed as he was very fiery in his zeal for the true church of Christ and for the true bride.

Because of this Rome rallied against him and brought false heresy charges against him for doctrines he never taught, he was thrown into prison in Constance before his day of execution he prayed this in his cell:
O most holy Christ, draw me, weak as I am, after Thyself, for if Thou dost not draw us we cannot follow Thee. Strengthen my spirit, that it may be willing. If the flesh is weak, let Thy grace precede us; come between and follow, for without Thee we cannot go for Thy sake to cruel death. Give me a fearless heart, a right faith, a firm hope, a perfect love, that for Thy sake I may lay down my life with patience and joy. Amen.
Hus refused to give in to save his life. He would not recant his actual teachings against the Pope or his false system. He stated, “I have said and I would not, for a chapel full of gold, recede from the truth.”

As he was finally taken to his burning in 1415 he knelt to pray and the marshal of the empire asked him if he would recant and save his life, this was Hus’ response:

God is my witness that the evidence against me is false. I have never thought nor preached except with the one intention of winning men, if possible, from their sins. In the truth of the gospel I have written, taught, and preached; today I will gladly die.
By the end of the 15th century the Papacy succeeded in crushing the works of Wyclif and Hus until the day of Luther: the man named the wild boar in the vineyard.

Martin Luther: born in 1483 to a miner he went to university to study to be a lawyer and finished his undergrad and master’s very quickly, but in 1505 everything changed. He was caught in a thunderstorm and a bolt of lightening knocked him to the ground and he called out to God saying, “St. Anne (God’s patroness of miners), save me! And I’ll become a monk.” He was spared and much to his parent’s discord, he kept his vow.

He quickly was risen to the chair of biblical studies at the newly opened Wittenberg University and was one that was very hard on himself and on his sin. When he was about to head his first Mass he stated:

I was utterly stupefied and terror-stricken. I thought to myself, “Who am I that I should lift up mine eyes or raise my hands to the divine majesty? For I am dust and ashes and full of sin, and I am speaking of the living, eternal and true God.

1515 is probably one of the biggest years of the protestant church for it was the year that Luther was studying Romans and came across Romans 1:17

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH."

Luther saw that it was God’s righteousness that was given to man by and through faith alone, not by the man’s merit. Let the journey begin.

In 1517 a man named John Tetzel came through Germany selling indulgences, which was a way for the Church of Rome to raise money; in this case it was for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Tetzel would use the phrase: “Once the coin into the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory heavenward springs.”

To Luther this was at least bad theology if not worse. He promptly wrote up his 95 theses and nailed it to the Wittenburg door on October 31st, 1517 and that day the spark that was soon to be spread called the Reformation started.

Earlier that year, in September, Luther would pen the lesser known 97 theses in which he calls for the church to return to its Augustinian theology instead of Aristotle’s. Luther states that Aristotle placed too much emphasis on reason and states that his influence caused the downfall of the Church’s theology, namely that man was good, and that man had the ability of his will to choose good, about freedom and merit.

This concept goes all the way back to Augustine’s fight against Pelagius in the early 5th century, where Pelagius contended that man was not born into sin, and therefore had a free will and could freely choose good.

Luther was quickly denounced of a man preaching “dangerous doctrines” and Luther, willing to accept a final answer from Rome, asked the Pope and the priests for Scriptural proof that he was wrong. This led Luther down the line of not only questioning the Pope’s power through indulgences and forgiving of sin but now into what we now know as Scripture alone.

In 1521 the pope declared Luther a heretic and excommunicated him and called him to the Diet (or assembly) of Worms and asked him to defend his writings, Luther explained:

My conscience is captive to the Word of God, I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither honest nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.

Luther was given 21 days until his arrest and death but was saved by the prince of Saxony and given a home at the Wartburg Castle where much of Luther’s translation of the New Testament from Latin into German.

Many of the German towns started to tear down the statues and other relics of the Roman Catholic church and Luther, in 1522, returned to Wittenburg and started the movement of Protestantism.

Luther was followed up by great men, namely Melanchthon, Zwingli and Calvin who took Luther’s thoughts of Justification by Faith alone to the next generation. In fact, Luther said of Calvin, “I might have entrusted the whole of this controversy to him from the beginning.”

Key Doctrines of the Reformation

Dominion or Lordship
The Roman Catholic church had much property and also much control during this time; Wyclif’s first book was one that called out those; not only laymen but also on the clergy of the church, that if they had sin in their lives that they too could be in contempt according to the government and should have their resources and land revoked and given back to the governing authorities. Basically this was the start of the doctrine that we are all priests in God’s eyes as stated in Rev 1, all are equal and there shall be the same ‘standards’ of the Pope and his papacy as there are to the peasants.

Two popes were serving at the same time and just added more “fuel to Wyclif’s fire”

The Church
Wyclif taught that the body of believers were Christ’s church and the only head was that of Christ and not the pope. Luther also stated that the church was not made up by those in Monastic society or one that involved the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church, but was only made up of those who God chose to elect where there was no bounds to the sex or stature.

The Eucharist and Transubstantiation (Accepted by RCC in 1215)
This belief that the bread and the wine actually become the body and blood of Christ was declared as a “blasphemous deceit” and a “veritable abomination of desolation in the holy places,” by John Wyclif.

In his lectures in 1381 Wyclif stated:

The consecrated host we see upon the altar, is neither Christ, nor any part of Him, but an effectual sign of Him; and that transubstantiation rests upon no scriptural ground.

Wyclif stood alone when he taught this new thought on the Eucharist. Although it took all the way to Zwingli to get the correct interpretation of the bread and the wine as mere representation, Wyclif and Luther started the pebble down the hill so to speak.

The Scriptures

Holy Scripture is the permanent authority for every Christian, and the rule of faith and of all human perfection, then it became of prime importance to have the scriptures in the language of the people. For as much as the bible contains Christ, that is all that is necessary for salvation, it is necessary for all men, nor for priests alone. It alone is the supreme law that is to rule Church, State, and Christian life, without human tradition and statutes.

John Wyclif

Wyclif and his fellow scholars translated Jerome’s Latin Vulgate in its’ entirety to the common language of the day, so that all could know Christ, not by Pope but by reading and hearing it in their language to be understood by all.

Neither the testimony of Augustine nor Jerome nor any other saint should be accepted except in so far as it was based upon Scripture. Christ’s law is best and enough, and the other laws men should not take, but as branches of God’s law.

Free Will vs Bondage of the Will (election of the saints)

Wyclif was a predestinarian, like Augustine and the early church fathers and of course the apostles themselves.

One’s election, according to Wyclif had nothing to do with whether or not they were a priest, pope or monk nor was it conditioned on whether or not they went to Mass, paid indulgences or penances or any other of the priesthood fallacies.

Wyclif anticipates Luther’s doctrine of Justification by Faith alone, God does not see classes or races of men or women, we are all equal. And we are all chosen by God’s grace and nothing to do with who we are or what we have done.

This was also led by Luther’s belief in Justification by Faith alone and in his writing of “The Bondage of the Will” Luther states this in his opening:

It is not irreligious, wasteful, or superficial, but essentially healthy and necessary, for a Christian to know whether or not his will has anything to do in matters pertaining to salvation. Indeed, let me tell you, this is the hinge on which our discussion turns, the crucial issue between us; our aim is, simply, to investigate what ability "free will" has, in what respect it is the subject of divine action and how it stands related to the grace of God.

Luther also states later in his life:

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “ As if indeed it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the Decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath. Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience.

He wondered how one could not hate a God who comes only with righteous demands that cannot be met. He came to a realization that when God, speaks of righteousness, he is not speaking of the righteousness that he demands, but when he speaks of righteousness in the gospel, he is speaking of the righteousness that he gives in Christ.


Anonymous said...

Dang, Seth. This is simply a great, well written introduction to the Reformation issues. Thanks. I may have to download a copy of this for my files. It would make a good intro for a Sundayschool class on the Reformation.

Seth McBee said...

Thanks for the encouragment...use whatever you will, just don't change stuff and yell "heretic!"


David Tarvin said...


Have a question on a post you left on another board. Do you have an email address? Thanks!

Omaha Catholic

Seth McBee said...

you can email me at

David Shaw said...


I have just recently become interested in Calvin and his five points. After my wife and I came home from having our son I decided to do some research on him. As I was catching up on my reading from your blog I came across exactly what I was looking for. I excited to continue to read/learn about Calvin from you. I pray that God will guide your teaching and that anyone who reads it will be edified by it.

David Shaw said...


I noticed that I put my previous comment on this post on the wrong post. I intended to put it on your post titled Conclusion to Refutation (of Dr. John Goetsch). My apologies if you were confused. Thanks again for you teaching on Calvin and his five points.

Seth McBee said...

no worries...I understand and glad that this blog can be used for a learning tool...hope it continues to be this way for you and others...

Soli Deo Gloria!

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