Last year at this time, we were, along with Lutherans and other Christians the world over, in the midst of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Reformation 500 and Luther’s image were plastered on posters, banners, and church bulletins. Now that the anniversary year has passed, we may wonder, “Now what?” We asked the same question at the Kansas District Adult Education Committee, which I chair. In fact, that was our idea for an ongoing theme: “Reformation 501: Now What?” (with the number changing each year).
For the first year, Year 501, the emphasis is on catechesis in the home, the passing on of the Faith from generation to generation, “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household” (Luther, Small Catechism). If parents are to be their children’s catechists, teachers of the Faith of Christ for their children, that requires that the parents know the Faith themselves. The parents must constantly be students of the Catechism. Truly, in some sense every Christian is to be a lifelong catechumen, a learner of the Faith. The Evangelist St. Luke says that this was the purpose for writing his Gospel account, “that you might know with certainty the things [or words] of which you have been catechized” (Lk 1:4).
We use the “Five Solas” (often just the first three) as a quick thumbnail of the themes and teachings of Luther and the Reformers: sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), and soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone). We repeat them; but, do we really adhere to them? Do we truly seek the glory of God, that His will be done, or do we seek glory for ourselves and our will to be done? I once heard a “pragmatic” philosophy expressed as something like, “Believe that God is there, but act like He’s not, and that it all depends on you.” Against that outlook, Luther commented, “While I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philipp [Melanchthon] and [Nikolaus von] Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.”
Sometimes the third Sola is shortened to “Word Alone.” Jesus says, “The Spirit is the Lifegiver; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life” (Jn 6:63). “Flesh”—ordinary humanity—proves weak and prone to succumb to sin and its desires. Christ and His Word alone accomplish all. Christ and His Word alone cleanse and justify and quicken fleshly us, to declare us saints, holy before God. Christ and His Word alone unite the Church in one. Yet in His written Word, the eternal, almighty Word Incarnate also catechizes His holy people to honor “especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5:17)—not worthy in and of themselves, but as stewards of that holy Eternal Word of life, which (Who) encompasses all that the Solas declare, the whole Faith of Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria,