Calvary Road Baptist Church


Tomorrow is October 31st, what most Americans refer to as Halloween. Why has Halloween become so popular? Besides the marketing push to generate profits for businesses, Halloween is said by some who study such things to have become the preferred holiday for secularists, those who do not really believe in God, or who believe in God but who do not engage much in what is called “organized religion.” Holidays for Christians would be Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, with July 4th being the patriot’s holiday. The issue with Halloween that Christians have (those Christians who have an issue with Halloween), has to do with its pagan origins, its trivializing of the serious issues of death, demons, and seducing spirits, and the various dangers that kids are frequently exposed to when trick-or-treating.

What has been lost to most churchgoing people is the other event that could be observed and should be celebrated on October 31st, Reformation Day:

 In 1516–17, Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar and papal commissioner for indulgences, was sent to Germany by the Roman Catholic Church to raise money to rebuild St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.[1] Roman Catholic theology stated that faith alone, whether fiduciary or dogmatic, cannot justify man;[2] and that only such faith as is active in charity and good works (fides caritate formata) can justify man.[3] The benefits of good works could be obtained by donating money to the church.


On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther wrote to Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, protesting the sale of indulgences. He enclosed in his letter a copy of his “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” which came to be known as The 95 Theses. Hans Hillerbrand writes that Luther had no intention of confronting the church, but saw his disputation as a scholarly objection to church practices, and the tone of the writing is accordingly “searching, rather than doctrinaire.”4 Hillerbrand writes that there is nevertheless an undercurrent of challenge in several of the theses, particularly in Thesis 86, which asks: “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?”[4]


Luther objected to a saying attributed to Johann Tetzel that “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory [also attested as ‘into heaven’] springs.”[5] He insisted that, since forgiveness was God’s alone to grant, those who claimed that indulgences absolved buyers from all punishments and granted them salvation were in error. Christians, he said, must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances.


According to Philipp Melanchthon, writing in 1546, Luther “wrote theses on indulgences and posted them on the church of All Saints on 31 October 1517”, an event now seen as sparking the Protestant Reformation.[6]


The 95 Theses were quickly translated from Latin into German, printed, and widely copied, making the controversy one of the first in history to be aided by the printing press.[7] Within two weeks, copies of the theses had spread throughout Germany; within two months throughout Europe. In modern vernacular, it went viral.


Luther’s writings circulated widely, reaching France, England, and Italy as early as 1519. Students responded by thronging to Wittenberg to hear Luther speak.

 What did the Protestant Reformation bequeath to us? Though I am a Baptist and am convinced our movement is as old as Christianity itself, and though there is ample evidence of God-fearing Christians of our persuasion in and around Luther at the time the Reformation took place, there can be no doubt that certain Bible doctrines were clarified in the minds of the general public during the Reformation and by the Reformers rather than by Baptists. I am not suggesting Baptists did not embrace these truths, but to my knowledge, it was not Baptists who had the platform to hold up these truths to public scrutiny at that time.

Back to the question. What did the Protestant Reformation bequeath to us? What are termed the five pillars of the Reformation; Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Soli Deo Gloria.


Sola Scriptura is Latin for “Only Scripture.”

“Many critics of the Reformation have attempted to portray it as the invitation to individualism, as people discover for themselves from the Bible what they will and will not believe. ‘Never mind the church. Away with creeds and the church’s teaching office! We have the Bible and that’s enough.’ But this was not the reformers’ doctrine of sola Scriptura--only Scripture. Luther said of individualistic approaches to the Bible, ‘That would mean that each man would go to hell in his own way.’”[8]

Granted, as a result of the Protestant Reformation there are many these days who embrace a cavalier, devil may care, Lone Ranger, no one tells me what to do, I can handle this myself, approach to God’s Word and matters of sin, salvation, and Christian service. However, this is an overreaction stemming from a loosening of Rome’s stifling grip on Europeans. Sola Scriptura simply means that God’s Word is our only infallible guide in matters of faith and practice. This is precisely what the Bible teaches and therefore what Baptists believe.

Consider the lost man who becomes concerned about the state of his soul. Does Sola Scriptura mean that he is best served when the problem is approached by him alone with a Bible in his hand? No, it does not. Sola Scriptura means that the Bible alone provides the direction and wisdom for addressing this man’s spiritual needs.

What does the Bible show? A number of things. Let me mention just a few: The Bible first shows the importance of the Bible in addressing spiritual matters. Psalm 119.105 reads, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” James 1.16-19 also speaks to this issue of God’s Word, while going somewhat farther:

 16     Do not err, my beloved brethren.

17     Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

18     Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

19     Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.

Do not be mistaken. God gives perfect gifts. God uses Bible truth to impart spiritual life to the lost. Romans 6.23 declares that eternal life is God’s gift. James, however, warns every man to be swift to hear. What James shows fits in perfectly with Paul’s letters. In Ephesians 4.8 and 11, we are told that Christ gave gifts to the church; apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. As well, in Romans 10, we are told that saving faith is imparted through preachers who are sent. No wonder James warned readers to be swift to hear. I could go on and on, but if the Bible is our only rule of faith and practice, then the sinner will attend to the gospel preaching of preachers sent by churches. The gift who is a preacher is the means of imparting the gift that is faith (Ephesians 2.8), that is the means of imparting the gift of eternal life. God gives a gift to give a gift to give the gift of eternal life through Christ. Thus, through preaching, sinners will be imparted the faith necessary to respond to the gospel message to be saved. Those same individuals who are converted in this way will then faithfully attend church (Hebrews 10.25), and will be equipped for Christian service by the same gifted men Christ gave to the churches.

Did the Protestant Reformation result in some adopting a go it alone philosophy? Most certainly. However, such a philosophy is quite at odds with the message of the Bible, which shows the lost to be incompetent with respect to tending to their own spiritual needs. The Bible shows what the saving message is, as well as how that message is brought to bear in a sinner’s life. Sola Scriptura, the Bible alone.


 Solus Christus is Latin for Christ alone.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the priests of Rome have a special relationship with God, and actually have the authority of God to forgive sins when they are hearing confession. As well, the Roman Catholic Church has a fixation on the Virgin Mary, insisting not only that she was immaculately conceived (despite her own claim of needing a Savior, and despite the scriptural record of her giving a sacrifice for her own sins), but also holding her up as a mediatrix between God and sinners who sinners can approach to obtain the forgiveness of sins.[9]

The Reformers would respond to this assertion by pointing out at least four things with respect to the Lord Jesus Christ in scripture: First, He was born of the Virgin Mary, who did not after His birth remain a virgin. There can be no doubt that Mary was a virgin when the Holy Ghost overshadowed her, throughout her pregnancy with Christ, and culminating with His birth in Bethlehem. However, there can also be no doubt that her marriage to Joseph was a typical one, in that she bore children by her husband, as Matthew 13.55-56, recording the comments of those in Nazareth who had known Jesus all His life, shows us:

 55     Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?

56     And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?

 Second, the Lord Jesus Christ pointedly declared Himself to be the only Mediator between God and men, in John 14.6: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Third, the Apostle Paul was inspired of the Holy Spirit to insist that Jesus was the only Mediator between God and men, in First Timothy 2.5: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Finally, Jesus remains our sole advocate with God to this very day, First John 2.1: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

Solus Christus, only Christ, is not advanced for the purpose of in any way denigrating God the Father or the precious Holy Spirit. Rather, it is recognition that the Triune Godhead sent the Second Person, Jesus Christ, to become a man, to take upon Himself the sins of mankind, and to offer Himself for sins. God the Father was never clothed in human flesh, nor was the Holy Spirit. Only Jesus shed His blood an atonement for our sins. That is why Paul wrote, in Colossians 1.18, that Jesus “is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”


 Sola Gratia is Latin for grace alone.

 Michael Horton writes,

 The reason we must stay with the Scriptures is because it is the only place where we are told that we are saved by the unprovoked and undeserved acceptance of God. In “The Sound of Music,” Maria (Julie Andrews), bewildered by the captain’s sudden attraction to her, rhapsodizes, “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could. So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.” Deep down, human nature is convinced that there is a way for us to save ourselves. We may indeed require divine assistance. Perhaps God will have to show us the way, or even send a messenger to lead us back, but we can actually follow the plan and pull it off.


The Law is in us by nature. We were born with a conscience that tells us that we are condemned by that Law, but our reason concludes immediately that the answer to that self-condemnation is to do better next time. But the Gospel is not in nature. It is not lodged somewhere in our heart, our mind, our will, or our emotions. It is an announcement that comes to us as foolishness and our first response, like that of Sarah, is to laugh. The story is told of a man who fell off a cliff, but on his way down managed to grab a branch. He broke his fall and saved his life, but before long he realized that he could not pull himself back up onto the ledge. Finally, he called out, “Is there anyone up there who can help me?” To his surprise, a voice boomed back, “I am here and I can help you, but first you’re going to have to let go of that branch.” Thinking for a moment about his options, the man looked back up and shot back, “Is there anyone else up there who can help me?” We are looking for someone to save us by helping us save ourselves. But the Law tells us that even our best works are like filthy rags; the Gospel tells us that it is something in God and his character (kindness, goodness, mercy, compassion) and not something in us (a good will, a decision, an act, an open heart, etc.) that saves us.


Many in the medieval church believed that God saved by grace, but they also believed that their own free will and cooperation with grace was “their part” in salvation. The popular medieval phrase was, “God will not deny his grace to those who do what they can.” Today’s version, of course, is, “God helps those who help themselves.” Over half the evangelicals surveyed thought this was a direct biblical quotation and 84% thought that it was a biblical idea, that percentage rising with church attendance at evangelical churches.


On the eve of the Reformation a number of church leaders, including bishops and archbishops, had been complaining of creeping Pelagianism (a heresy that denies original sin and the absolute need for grace). Nevertheless, that heresy was never tolerated in its full expression. However, today it is tolerated and even promoted in liberal Protestantism generally, and even in many evangelical circles.


In Pelagianism, Adam’s sin is not imputed to us, nor is Christ’s righteousness. Adam is a bad example, not the representative in whom we stand guilty. Similarly, Christ is a good example, not the representative in whom we stand righteous. How much of our preaching centers on following Christ--as important as that is--rather than on his person and work? How often do we hear about his work in us compared to his work for us?


Charles Finney, the revivalist of the last century, is a patron saint for most evangelicals. And yet, he denied original sin, the substitutionary atonement, justification, and the need for regeneration by the Holy Spirit. In short, Finney was a Pelagian. This belief in human nature, so prominent in the Enlightenment, wrecked the evangelical doctrine of grace among the older evangelical Protestant denominations (now called “mainline”), and we see where that has taken them. And yet, conservative evangelicals are heading down the same path and have had this human-centered, works-centered emphasis for some time.


The statistics bear us out here, unfortunately, and again the leaders help substantiate the error. Norman Geisler writes, “God would save all men if he could. He will save the greatest number actually achievable without violating their free will.”[10]

 What is grace, really? Though the implications of grace are profound, the word is very simple and straightforward. The Greek word cariV means favor, and it is completely undeserved. Here is how we know:

First, grace is undeserved favor because the best you can do to win God’s favor is still nasty to God. Isaiah 64.5 best illustrates what many passages in God’s Word verify: “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” On the best day of your life your prayers, your devotions, your gifts, your service, your good deeds, your kind attention to the needs of the underprivileged, your help for the needy, or anything else you might say or do to win God’s favor, will be looked upon by God as nasty and dirty.

As well, grace has to be undeserved favor because the sinner is best described as dead, unwilling, and incompetent. Ephesians 2.1 is Paul’s commentary on sinners’ condition: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. Romans 3.11 speaks to a sinner’s willingness: “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” Romans 5.6 speaks to a sinner’s strength: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” Because a sinner is dead, because a sinner is unwilling to seek after God, because a sinner is unable to seek after God, no sinner deserves salvation or can of himself obtain salvation. All that remains for a sinner’s salvation is God’s grace, and salvation by grace is what the Bible with clarity proclaims.[11]

Of all the religious systems and faiths found in the world, there exists only two real options; salvation by grace alone, and salvation by some mixture of grace and good deeds. Only scripture shows that only Christ provides salvation only by grace, making Bible Christianity different from all other religions in the world, and different even from forms of religion that falsely represent themselves as Christianity.


 Sola Fide is Latin for faith alone.

 If the Bible is the only foundation of truth, Jesus Christ is the only mediator/savior, and grace is the only method, by what means does a sinner become a Christian? By what means does one get Jesus as his Savior? By what means can one who is damned in his sins be saved from his sins? By what means can one who is unrighteous obtain the standing before God of a righteous person?

This fourth sola, Sola Fide, recognizes that the only means by which these things I have mentioned are accomplished is faith: I once sat on an ordination committee called by a pastor to ordain two young men to the gospel ministry. When it came my turn to ask questions, I asked only one question, which was objected to by another man sitting on the committee with me: “Is faith the instrumental means of salvation or the instrumental cause of salvation?” The difference between faith being the instrumental means of salvation and being the instrumental cause of salvation is the difference between eternal life and eternal death. If faith is the cause of salvation, then Jesus saves a sinner because he believes in Jesus, which makes faith meritorious, and makes faith some kind of work. However, if faith is the means of salvation, Jesus does not then save you because you believe, but by means of your belief.

Does Jesus save a sinner because of his faith in Christ? Absolutely not. Grace, undeserved favor, is why Jesus saves, with faith being the how. Michael Horton again:

 The reformers said that it is not enough to say that we are saved by grace alone, for even many medieval scholars held that view, including Luther’s own mentor. Rome viewed grace more as a substance than as an attitude of favor on God’s part. In other words, grace was like water poured into the soul. It assisted the believer in his growth toward salvation. The purpose of grace was to transform a sinner into a saint, a bad person into a good person, a rebel into an obedient son or daughter.


The reformers searched the Scriptures and found a missing ingredient in the medieval notion of grace. To be sure, there were many passages that spoke of grace transforming us and conforming us to the image of Christ. But there were other passages, too, that used a Greek word that meant “to declare righteous,” not “to make righteous.” The problem was, the Latin Bible everyone was using mistranslated the former and combined the two Greek words into one. Erasmus and other Renaissance humanists “laid the egg that Luther hatched” by cleaning up the translation mistakes.[12]

 Thus, this thing we call justification is by faith, and being by means of faith it is therefore an event and not a process. If salvation were by works, it would be a process, taking time. However, while conviction can take time, reflection can take time, and striving can take time, justification is an event that occurs in an instant, the instant a sinner believes in Jesus. We see this in the case of Abraham, in Genesis 15.6, who “believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” We see this with David, Psalm 32.3, who wrote, “Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity.”

 According to Scripture, God declares a person righteous before that person actually begins to become righteous. Therefore, the declaration is not in response to any spiritual or moral advances within the individual, but is an imputation of the perfect righteousness that God immediately requires of everyone who is united to Christ by faith alone. When a person trusts Christ, that very moment he or she is clothed in his perfect holiness, so that even though the believer is still sinful, he or she is judged by God as blameless.[13]

 A final comment may clarify your thinking about faith, as well as works. Roman Catholicism sees salvation as the result of becoming better and better because of God’s favor in you and doing good works with accompanying faith. The sacraments of the Church are the means whereby grace is infused into a sinner who improves to the point of eventually becoming worthy of heaven, or so they say. Thus, they see salvation is being the result of something within a person, goodness in you because of the so-called infusion of grace. However, salvation in the Bible, the result of justification by faith, is shown to be the result of the outside-of-you work of Jesus on the cross. Justification is not what Jesus does to you, because of what is in you, but what Jesus did for you. That is why saving faith does not look inward, but outward and upward to Jesus. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith . . . at the right hand of the throne of God,” Hebrews 12.2.


 Soli Deo Gloria is Latin for to God alone be glory.

 Many historians look back to the Reformation and wonder at its far-reaching influences in transforming culture. The work ethic, public education, civic and economic betterment, a revival of music, the arts, and a sense of all life being related somehow to God and his glory: These effects cause historians to observe with a sense of irony how a theology of sin and grace, the sovereignty of God over the helplessness of human beings, and an emphasis on salvation by grace apart from works, could be the catalyst for such energetic moral transformation. The reformers did not set out to launch a political or moral campaign, but they proved that when we put the Gospel first and give voice to the Word, the effects inevitably follow.[14]

 Jesus summed it up best when He said, in Matthew 6.33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” In His famous Sermon on the Mount, He was prioritizing the concerns of His followers, showing them that their first concern should be God and His program. This reflects declarations made by the LORD through the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah 42.8 reads, “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.” As well, in Isaiah 48.11, we read, “I will not give my glory unto another.”

Considering the first four commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai, none of this surprises us, but seems only reasonable. Exodus 20.1-11 records the giving of them. Notice how they focus one’s attention on the name of God, the uniqueness of God, the honor of God, and His supremacy in the lives of His creatures:

 1      And God spake all these words, saying,

2      I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3      Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

4      Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

5      Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

6      And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

7      Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

8      Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

9      Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

10     But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

11     For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

 Looking back to Genesis 1.1 (“In the beginning God”), and to the final book of the Bible (“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created,” Revelation 4.11), we see that all is God, God’s Son, God’s plan, and God’s glory. In other words, it is not about you, or me. It is about God getting His way, not you or me getting our way. This is the final of the solas, Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone the glory.

 Much was not dealt with well by the Reformers. They did not deal well with baptism. They did not deal well with doctrines related to the church. However, when it came to the majesty and glory of God, and His dealings with His creatures about their sins, the Reformers did very well, indeed.

We begin with the Bible, our only rule of faith and practice. It is our only foundation of truth. We open the Bible and it directs us to Christ, the eternal Son of the living God, our only Mediator between God and men, and our only Savior. There is also Sola Gratia, our only method. Since God is all and has all, He needs nothing from us and we can do nothing to earn His favor. Thankfully, He is gracious, bestowing His favor, and most importantly His salvation, upon we who are undeserving. The means by which our salvation is accomplished in a gracious manner is faith, the only means at our disposal. Not surprisingly, God graciously gives faith through the preaching of His Word, and then gives eternal life through Christ. He gives faith that He might through faith give His Son. God does all of this, and Christians do everything in response to what God has done, so that God might be glorified.

These, then, are the five solas of the Protestant Reformation, highlighted by the Reformers, but always in God’s Word. We begin with the Bible, which tells us of Jesus, the Savior. From the Bible, we learn that God graciously saves sinners by His Son, Jesus, but that He only saves sinners by means of faith in Jesus. Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, with everything done by God and for God, Soli Deo Gloria, only for God’s glory.

This is high life. This is noble life. This is purposeful and fulfilling life. All else is selfish, pitiable, ungrateful, and in the end worthless. This is the life God calls His creatures to live, and this is the life I want to live, by God’s grace. The alternative is dust, degradation, and eventually destruction. No wonder the world was forever changed by the Protestant Reformation. We do well to remember it.

[1] “Johann Tetzel,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2007: “Tetzel’s experiences as a preacher of indulgences, especially between 1503 and 1510, led to his appointment as general commissioner by Albrecht, archbishop of Mainz, who, deeply in debt to pay for a large accumulation of benefices, had to contribute a considerable sum toward the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Albrecht obtained permission from Pope Leo X to conduct the sale of a special plenary indulgence (i.e., remission of the temporal punishment of sin), half of the proceeds of which Albrecht was to claim to pay the fees of his benefices. In effect, Tetzel became a salesman whose product was to cause a scandal in Germany that evolved into the greatest crisis (the Reformation) in the history of the Western church.”

[2] (Trent, l. c., can. xii: “Si quis dixerit, fidem justificantem nihil aliud esse quam fiduciam divinae misericordiae, peccata remittentis propter Christum, vel eam fiduciam solam esse, qua justificamur, a.s.”)

[3] (cf. Trent, Sess. VI, cap. iv, xiv)

[4] Hillerbrand, Hans J. “Martin Luther: Indulgences and salvation,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2007.

[5] Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand: a Life of Martin Luther. New York: Penguin, 1995, 60; Brecht, Martin. Martin Luther. tr. James L. Schaaf, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985–93, 1:182; Kittelson, James. Luther The Reformer. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishing House, 1986), 104.

[6] Brecht, 1:200–201.

[7] Junghans, Helmer. “Luther’s Wittenberg,” in McKim, Donald K. (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003, 26.

[8] Michael Horton, “Reformation Essentials - Five Pillars of the Reformation,” from an article that originally appeared in the Mar/Apr 1994 edition of Modern Reformation. 10/28/2011

[9] Luke 1.47; 2.39 refers to Leviticus 12.2-8

[10] Horton

[11] Romans 4.16; 5.15; 11.6; 1 Corinthians 10.30; Ephesians 2.5, 8

[12] Horton

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

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