can solely sola suck?
Don't get me wrong. I'm so grateful to be living this side of the Reformation. I believe the sola-stuff with all that I am. I'll rest my life on its truthfulness. Sola Fide (by faith alone); Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone); Sola Christus (through Christ alone); Sola Gratia (by grace alone); Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone). This leads to life in all its fulness.
But is that it?! Do we just have a soak in the sola-stuff - and that is it?! I am uncomfortable with much of what has flooded my way in recent weeks from people all hyped-up about the Reformation. To make my point let me turn primarily not to Fide and Gratia, or even to Christus and Deo - but to Scriptura. Have a read of these bits from the New Testament:
For it is grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2.8-10)
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2.11-14)
Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2.10-12)Do you see what I see? I could go on and on with this one (and once did so) - as it can be found in so many places in the New Testament. My issue with soaking in the sola-stuff is 'what has happened to the 'good works' (Ephesians), the 'doing good' (Titus), and the 'good lives - good deeds' (1 Peter)? According to Scriptura this is the consequence of Fide and Gratia. This is the direction in which Christus and Deo drives us. But Reformation fans are often so good-works-adverse that they forget about this bit far too easily. Isn't the whole purpose of soaking in the sola-stuff to be so transformed by it that we get up, get dressed ('clothe yourself', as Paul expresses it) and walk out into our world and make a difference?
One of the transformational Stottian phrases from my teenage years comes to mind: 'we are justified by faith alone, but that faith must not itself remain alone'. See, Paul was right when he said, 'For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from what they do' (Romans 3.28) - but James is also right when he says exactly the opposite thing: 'You see that people are justified by what they do and not by faith alone' (James 2.24). How can this be? How can both be right? It is a matter of noting the context of their comments. Paul is dealing with what happens in the build-up to conversion ('nothing you do can help you'), while James is dealing with what happens after conversion ('what you do demonstrates whether your conversion is authentic or not').
500 years ago the church sucked because the truth of the sola-stuff had been forgotten. Today the church sucks for an alarming number of people (particularly younger generations where the church has been established for generations) because the consequence of the sola-stuff is forgotten. In the next 500 years the Fide and Gratia brigade need to be pressed by this faith and grace into living intriguing, holy and obedient public lives, bringing transformation right into the immorality and the amorality, the inequities and the iniquities with which they are surrounded - for the sake of Christus and for the glory of Deo. Scriptura demands it.