The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation - Is it time for a new sola?

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Have you ever heard about these things called the "solas"?

In latin they are: Sola Fide; Sola Gratia; and Sola Scriptura (the three) and two others to make up (the five) Solus Christus; and Soli Deo gloria.

They are used today to summarize the emphases of the Reformation, which... if you haven't heard it will be 500 years tomorrow Martin Luther first pinned his 95 theses onto the door of All Saints Church. (It is interesting that the church was actually named "All Saints Church" this is the bigger theme that I am writing about). As I will soon be suggesting a new sola.

Woah, I know right!

I often thought it was Luther and those close to him who summarized their teachings as the five Solas. However, to my surprise, I just found out that it was only in the past century that modern theologians came up with these "solas." They decided that these adequetely summarized what happened during the Reformation, especially through Martin Luther's teachings. Some go with the three of them, others the five. It is a recent way of summing up this movement that reformed the church. 

But... a quick aside to flush out the details on what the solas are: Have you ever been confused by the use of the word "sola"?

My mind could never get over the seemingly illogical use of the latin "sola" translated as "alone" or "only" without the connected context. The reason is this: if it is faith alone... then that would seem to negate the use of scripture, grace, or Christ. When you put them into context they make a whole lot more sense. We should base our revelation of God in scripture alone over our traditions; that our salvation comes from our faith alone in Jesus over works; and further that it only through God's grace alone that we are given faith (and subsequently salvation) not at all because of our own merit. It is not that anyone of these by their own or "alone" is sufficient, they are vitally connected. 

Yet, even more I would say that the reformers were protesting against a society and system of power that was abusing their control. It was the unfortunate case that the Church had the power, and it was bringing glory (and more power) to itself, even though the catholic church's doctrine recognized that only God deserved the glory. So... I really like the final sola - "soli Deo gloria: To God be glory alone." And guess what! This one even makes sense logically on its own as a summary: God is the only one who deserves our glory.

Ok. Enough history. Now that we have established that these "solas" are summaries of a much greater picture. Let's focus on another Sola: "Sola Ens Eclessia". Translated: "Only Being the Church."

Don't look that one up. I just made it up. Sort of. 

Why do I think we need this new Sola?

Our society has seen some incredible shifts and changes over the past 100 years and I believe one of the greatest changes, and greatest dangers we now face, is that our lives are being reduced to mere consumption. We are facing church cannibalism. It is not that our doctrine has gotten so far off. It is that our entire society looks at everything through the lens of what it will give them.  I suppose this isn't so far off from the way that church officials in power in the middle ages saw their power as something they could consume. 

Now, as you read this your eyebrows might be furrowed, you may be scrutinizing the last few statements and say... "yeah, but..." Or, "come on, its always been that way..." or "its not that bad..." Or, "maybe some people, but not me, as much."

I get it. I'm not speaking in absolute terms here. Picture it on a spectrum of consumerism. You are a part of our culture and some days you land way over in the consumerist camp and other days you feel like you are living incredibly sacrificially and unselfishly. Can you at least say, "yeah, it's a struggle?"

So, let me give a more solid description, or picture, of what it means to live in this consumerist culture. Wikipedia calls it "a social and economic order and ideology that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts."

It started back in the 19th century when supply for products surpassed demand due to the new industrial processes, adequately named the industrial revolution. Suddenly all kinds of messages were being advertised so more products would be bought. This started a while ago, but in terms of history it hasn't been all too long ago, maybe 5 generations? Fast-forward to today and our high tech, digital, and virtual world is pushing out more messages than ever. Not to mention we are given products that are mindbogglingly well done. We can consume these things all day! We went from mostly creating as a people, to today, mostly consuming, even if we are working.

Stranger Things 2 is now out. How many of you “binge watched” the whole season already?

I grew up playing hours, upon hours, of the greatest-of-all-time video game:  Zelda -  Ocarina of Time. When I was seven years old, I played my game boy in bed, hiding it from my parents, well into the night. I often did this until I was so tired I fell asleep with it on. There was even a time that I could not beat a level in Super Mario, so I bashed the game-boy against my head and shattered the screen. It was the worst when the product could not be beat or if it was beaten too easily. As a kid, I often threw fits so that I could continue to consume and normally I got my way.

Today I spend hours and hours researching the latest and greatest technology. I want to know what it can do for my life and how it transforms my everyday living to be more enjoyable and easy. Our son is now also running around like a maniac these days. Can you guess what we did for the past few days? We put him in front of a movie called "Sing" (its playing in the background right now), he loves music! I’ve never seen him sit and focus on something for more than 20 minutes before. It was finally a time that I could get back to my consuming – whether it be reading the New York Times, watching ESPN, or researching something interesting, perhaps something that will make me better at being a pastor and understanding society. I get to consume it according to my appetite. It’s also a good thing that in the midst of my consuming that I get time with other people and to see other personalities so that I can get in my relational needs. If I did not have that, I would be an awefully lonely extravert.  I’m glad there are quite a few people that see their relationship with me as worth-while – and I them; it’s not easy when it is not mutually consumptive.  

I just painted a picture of my life in terms of how I was formed as a consumer and (perhaps a bit satirically) how I am an active participant in the system of consumerism. There are probably a lot of other behaviors I do because of this culture, yet that I am unaware of. Which is unfortunate because the unconscious motivations and behaviors are the most destructive.

Your life of consumption is different from mine. Perhaps, where you are at on the spectrum is more healthy, or perhaps you are controlled in different ways. The spirit of consumerism is everywhere, and I would venture to say that it has skewed the way we see the solas, especially soli Deo gloria. The world we live in is tilted for the mass to give glory to themselves. If you work and you earn it, you deserve it. However, grace and faith doesn’t quite work that way. It is completely unmerited, it is only by faith in the one who was completely God, completely man and completely good and worthy to stand in our place. 

Then we are called to consume Christ and grace – but without money. Oh, and by the way, when we consume the body and blood at the Lord’s table we do it as living sacrifices.

I once saw a sign on a church in our neighborhood that said, “The only issue with a living sacrifice is that they keep crawling off the altar.”



I can’t tell you what this church was attempting to say with their sign. I would say that if we are living sacrifices that we are out in the world living as God’s signs, foretastes and instruments. We are NOT called to just stay on the alter. We go back to it regularly for nutrients, but otherwise we are sent back into the world as the embodiment of the good news that the solas do well to summarize.

This is why I believe we need another sola. We are only able to live out the grace of Jesus, and continue to rely on God’s grace when we are practicing “being the church” in this incredible world. This emphasis is on how we respond to God’s grace. I am not saying that this “being the church” is our deliverance; rather it is the working out your salvation with fear and trembling - it is our proper response.

This is a call to not go to church, but to be the church. If we are only going to a community and donating money to them for the spiritual product, this is allowing the spirit of consumerism to deepen into the core of our identities. It’s time we find the church in our neighborhood, go door to door if you have to, or stop and actually talk to those walking by your house. If someone stops their car and says, “hey, where can I find the churches around here?” What if we said, “oh, yeah, ok, you might have to park your car and walk with me." And as you walk you go on to point out all of our neighbors who are living in community as the called out ones – who are practicing what it means for them to be built up into a spiritual household of God.

I can’t promise that this will be an easy journey. I can promise that God will give us what we need. However, this will mean a deep journey into who we are, what we are living for, how we deal with conflict, how we love each other, and how we are able to not view each other as merely a relational need. This is a call to deepen everything we do and re-envision what it means to be the church where live, work and play.

Martin Luther may have pinned the 95 theses to All Saints Church, but what if we didn't need massive buildings for us to live out the call to be the church?

If you want to have coffee to discuss this more. Would love to take you up on it!


Pastor Eric

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