5 Solas

Who's In Charge of the Church?

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Who's in charge of the church? Who's in authority over the church? The pastor? A bishop? A priest? Elders? A board of directors or deacons? The pope?

The correct answer—the biblical one—is none of the above. Jesus Christ alone is the founder and Head of the church—the Body of Christ.

However, the New Testament speaks of priests and pastors and bishops. Are certain people given special places of authority over people within the church? Well, yes and no.

Body ministry

A characteristic of the early church, and almost every period of revival since then, could be termed organic leadership. This would include leaders who either break away from existing institutional leadership, or rise up in spite of or in defiance of the institutional leadership.

This was true of the Neo-Pentecostal movement at the turn of the 20th century. It was also true at the beginning of the Jesus People Movement in the mid-sixties into the early seventies.

Along with fresh new leaders, many believers were empowered to step up and serve within the church in various ways, which became known and described as body ministry. People within the Body of Christ—the church community—were empowered to do ministry or service.

This was an important principle of the Protestant Reformation, a reforming of the church back to its biblical foundations based on the 5 Solas. What we call body ministry now was known as the priesthood of all believers.

Do you want to see revival?

The 5 Solas provide the bedrock of theology for the church—the Body of Christ—to function as Jesus intended. What does this look like in action?

The early chapters of Acts provides some good insights, and later in the book of Acts when new people groups were reached with the gospel and new churches were established.

When I hear believers say they want to "see revival," I wonder what they mean or expect. What is seen in the book of Acts is taking place in many parts of the world now. However, there is a caveat.

A fresh work of God produces new leadership, but these new leaders need equipping.

This is why Paul spent a year in Antioch (Acts 11:26), a year and a half in Corinth (Acts 18:11), and two years in Ephesus (Acts 19:10) teaching the believers, while reaching out with the gospel in surrounding areas.

The need for equipping

New leaders and believers are empowered by the Holy Spirit for the ministry God calls them to do, but they need the example and guidance of more experienced leaders.

By the same token, those of us with experience often need the influence of the fresh new life and vision of young leaders.

The Holy Spirit gave the apostle Paul vision for this need of equipping God's people for the work of the ministry in Ephesians 4:11-16. In that text, Paul outlines why leaders are needed for a healthy church body (community)—

...to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4:12-13 NIV)

This is not a New Testament concept. It's always been God's design for His people to be a kingdom of priests (Exo 19:5-6). But Israel chose to reject this by telling Moses they didn't want to hear from God directly (Exo 20:19).

The church, the community of God's people, can't afford to make this same mistake.

If you want to see revival, a continuous equipping of God's people and young leaders needs to take place. Not just in America (or wherever you are), but throughout the world.

This is a huge need in many nations where God is already moving in a fresh way.

A priesthood of all believers

It was never God's intention for there to be a formal distinction between God's people and their leaders. The terms clergy and laity are not found in the Bible, they're manmade.

The basis for a formal priesthood or leadership is never seen in the New Testament, except to explain the distinction between the Old and New Covenants (Testaments).

This is made clear in the book of Hebrews, especially in chapters 7–10. Even when Jesus is called our High Priest, it's in a different sense than the priesthood of Israel (Heb 8:6).

A clear, biblical view of the priesthood of all believers is found in the first epistle of Peter—

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9)

This is also echoed in the book of Revelation (Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6).

All believers don't have the same calling, gift, or role within the Body of Christ, but one thing is clear—Jesus is in charge of His church.

The 5 Solas and the priesthood of all believers

So, how do the 5 Solas factor into this principle of the priesthood of all believers? Here's my own brief summary—

  1. Soli Deo Gloria— the primary purpose of the church is to glorify God as His living testimony on earth, as the Body of Christ (Acts 1:8; 1 Pet 2:9)
  2. Solus Christus— there is only one mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5) and Jesus, alone, is the Head of the Body of Christ (Col 1:18)
  3. Solo Gratia— it is only by the grace of God that we're included into the church and how we are to serve the Lord in whatever way He gifts and calls us (Rom 12:3-8)
  4. Solo Fide— the church is not an institution, but an organism—a living body of believers—who are to begin and continue in faith (Gal 3:1-3)
  5. Sola Scriptura— the Scriptures (the Bible) are the sole basis of authority for all matters of faith, and this includes how the church is to function as the Body of Christ (John 6:63; 8:31-32; 17:17; Eph 4:11-16)

Don't give up on the church

As said before, God's intention is for all believers to be involved in the church as part of a community under the direction of the Holy Spirit and the leaders God raises up.

Do people within a church need to submit to recognized leaders? Yes, as long as the leadership doesn't violate the essence of these 5 Solas and become abusive and overbearing.

If you've experienced some form of abusive leadership connected to church, then I encourage you to not give up on the church. Seek out a community of believers and leaders who genuinely and humbly honor the Lord, and the truths of these 5 Solas.

Sure there are failures and problems, but the Body of Christ is what Jesus established. When things are not right, He will bring reform and revival.

If you love Jesus, be ready for what He wants to do on earth, and ready for His return. The time is short and there are billions who still need to hear God's story of redemption.


A Journey of Faith

Quoting a truth is easier than living it out in real life. Putting truth on a plaque or poster is nice, but it doesn't change a person's life.

Memorization of Scripture is good for retention, but it won't produce transformation in a person's life on its own. What we know in our minds doesn't automatically bring change in our hearts or our self-will.

Truth doesn't bring transformation until it's transferred from thought into action, which requires an active, personal faith.

Hunkering Down!

Sometimes our plans get interrupted by life, and sometimes it's a weather interruption. Because we live so close to the coast (5 blocks from the beach), we evacuated to our son's home inland a ways.

We did our best to set things in order and get as much off the ground as we could, but how do you prepare for 100+ miles/hour winds and the potential of several feet of storm surge?

I'm writing this while we've got power, so we'll see how our home fares in the next few days as hurricane Matthew spins through our area.

A Human Flaw

I was a praise and worship leader for four decades. I suppose I could still lead, but my role in life and ministry is different now.

I miss that role at times, especially when I see leaders overly concerned with their performance and presentation of the music. It grieves me when I see this for that shouldn't be their focus.

It's easy to see that American culture exalts good performance and entertainers. But this is more of a human flaw than a cultural one.

An Unimaginable Gift

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"I can't believe I won!" As the winners shriek with surprise and jump up and down with joy, some of us watch it all with skepticism, while others may wonder, "Why can't this happen to me?"

I'm talking about those ads showing sweepstakes winners, and even those more sedate, even secretive lucky lottery winners.

This scenario is somewhat representative of a spiritual truth often met with skepticism or qualifications.

Hard to accept

One of the more puzzling paradoxes within the Christian faith is the response of people to the grace of God—God's unearned kindness, forgiveness, acceptance, and approval.

Many people have a hard time accepting the truth of Sola Gratiaby grace alone—because it seems "too good to be true." Granted, some people get it right away and are thrilled beyond belief. Others however, accept it, but later doubt their own worthiness to fully embrace it.

Then there are those who claim to believe in God's grace, but have a plethora of reasons why others don't qualify for this unimaginable gift of acceptance and favor. These same responses to God's grace are seen throughout the gospels and epistles in the New Testament.

Seen it all before

The Pharisees, and later those called the Judaizers, play the role of the spoil sport and point out how grace goes too far. They challenged Jesus during His ministry on earth, especially when He healed people on the Sabbath (Luke 6:6-11).

Those in the margins of society—the sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and such—were delighted with God's gracious acceptance and favor they saw in Jesus (Luke 19:1-10).

The early church leaders also struggled with how far God's grace extended and who qualified to receive it. But in a sovereign way God revealed how far His grace reaches, when He poured out His Spirit on a Roman centurion and his household (Acts 10:45; 11:18; 15:6-11).

Then, the redemptive message of God's grace (the gospel) began to spread through non-Jewish (Gentile) people, as it did in Antioch (Acts 11:19-24).

The great shocker of all was the supernatural conversion of a radicalized rabbi (Acts 9:1-16). The radical rabbi Saul became the apostle Paul, who explained the theology of God's grace in Galatians, Romans, Colossians, and the book of Hebrews.

Though Paul vehemently stood against the truth of God's grace, he became the great teacher of the Gentiles, who explained the grace of God better than anyone since Jesus.

Why we struggle with grace

I'm thankful for my first pastor, Chuck Smith at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, back in the early 70's. I didn't have preconceived notions or teaching about grace, so I accepted what I read in God's Word and how it was confirmed by Pastor Chuck's teaching.

I don't remember if he said this exactly, but his attitude was that he'd rather err on the side of grace than legalism or judgment.

Over the years, I've watched people struggle with the simple but powerful truth of God's grace. We all do, even though we believe in it. There's a myriad of reasons why, but here's some that come to mind.

  • It seems to good to be true— human skepticism, even to the point of cynicism fueled by the world around us, is the biggest reason. It all started back in the garden when the first humans believed a lie rather than trust their Creator (Gen 3:1-7).
  • Looking for exceptions to the rule— this reason extends from the "too good to be true" attitude, but is characterized with "what ifs" and other limitations imagined or passed on by others, who contrive various scenarios where God's grace can't be applied.
  • Beyond the reach of God's grace— this is rooted in shame and the closed loop of unresolved guilt. Surely, we reason, there's some limit to God's grace, either because we've benefited from it so often or done something deemed so terrible.
  • Who qualifies to receive it— this includes various religious and moral hurdles church leaders and people contrive, similar to objections brought up to Jesus and the early church leaders (see earlier section).
  • You've gone too far— limits are put on how many times a person has appealed to God for His grace because of repeated failures. Also, the dreaded "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit" (Mark 3:28-30), which gets interpreted various ways according to a person's situation.

Here's what I've learned through the truth of Scripture in my own life of faith—

God's grace is greater than our failures, fears, doubts, and expectations of others.

Tying it all together

How do the first three foundational Solas work together?

  1. Grace and faith—Sola Gratia and Sola Fide– One of the clearest expressions of how grace and faith fit together is in Ephesians 2:8-9—For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
    • This should free a person from a performance-oriented Christian life, since personal effort (good works) is of no value for gaining favor with God.
    • Grace is the great equalizer when it comes to faith, and humility is the true evidence of experiencing God's grace.
  2. Faith and Scripture—Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura— Paul reminds believers that faith comes from hearing the truth of God's Word (Rom 10:17).
    • Genuine Christian faith needs to be grounded in the truth of the Scripture through the work and witness of God's Spirit (Gal 3:2-6).
  3. Grace and Scripture—Sola Gratia and Sola Scriptura— our understanding of God's grace needs to be grounded in the truth of God's Word, not human reason (dogmatic beliefs) or emotion (shame or guilt).
    • This is spelled out in many places, especially in the epistle of Romans— Romans 5:8-10; 12, 15, 18-21.

Don't complicate the simplicity of God's grace, and don't despise its simplicity. The depth of God's truth isn't complicated, it's simple.

When you begin to doubt the truth of Sola Gratia, I encourage you to read through the epistle of Galatians, especially chapters 3–5, also chapters 5–8 of Romans.

What exceptions or exclusions have you seen people make about God's grace?

How has God's grace overwhelmed your failures, fear, and unmet expectations?


This is the 5th in a series of posts to consider the 5 Solas of the Protestant Reformation. Here are the previous posts—

 

Why Do You Believe That?

God Won't Fit In a Box, Nor Will I

Sola Scriptura—A Simple View

Gateway to God's Heart

 

Understanding terms—

Many of the theological terms used by Christians become like a foreign language to nonbelievers. Believers need to understand these terms well enough to put them in their own words, or as I call it IYOW (In Your Own Words).

I've tried to give some simple clarification of terms in these posts, but I encourage you to make your own effort at understanding these terms so you can explain them IYOW to others.

If there's a specific theological term that proves hard to grasp, let me know. I'll at least point you in the right direction for an answer, if I can't help you with my own explanation.