Five hundred years ago this year the Lord used a friar named Martin Luther to transform the world. Luther wrestled with the same basic questions that all human beings face: How do we know what God has done to save us? How do we know what God expects of us? How do we gain access to God’s grace? How can we be sure that our sins are forgiven and that we are saved?
Martin Luther’s revolutionary answers to these questions can be summed up by the three solas: Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone. As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation with this issue of the Concordian, three members of the Concordia University Wisconsin family explain the meaning of these three solas and apply them to our lives. They will point us, of course, to salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. To God alone be the glory!
Rev. Dr. Ron Mudge
Rouse Associate Professor of Pre-seminary Studies
Brian German (’07) is assistant professor of theology at Concordia University Wisconsin and director of the Concordia Bible Institute (www.concordiabible.org), a servant institute of CUW. He graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary in 2010.
Perhaps the most widely known sola of the Reformation is sola scriptura— “Scripture alone.” When Martin Luther saw that the Pope and councils of the Roman Catholic Church were being elevated to a status equal, or even superior, to the Word of God, he and other reformers argued against this with the language of sola scriptura—the belief that Scripture alone holds the ultimate authority in the Christian Church. While traditions and councils can lead astray, Scripture cannot err, and, therefore, has the final say in one’s faith and practice. As Luther put it, “Scripture alone is the true lord and master of all writings and doctrine on earth.”
I take great delight as a faculty member in how sola scriptura continues to impact the Concordia community. The university’s core curriculum, for example, is designed for students to learn early in their programs about the content of Scripture (the Bible), what Scripture teaches about God and humanity (The Christian Faith), and how Scripture remains foundational in a particular facet of Christianity (a religion elective). I also marvel at the Lord’s work among us when students share with me how Scripture gives them a greater knowledge of self, strengthens their faith, and relates to their everyday lives far more than they had imagined. While many years have passed since the 16th century, the Word of the Lord as the ultimate authority for our faith and life endures forever.
Jessica Bordeleau (’00) works as a freelance ministry consultant, author, and media producer, and coordinates Lutheran Youth Fellowship for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. She graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in 2003 with a Master of Arts in systematic theology.
“How do we get to Heaven?” This question has come up over and over again as I’ve served in youth ministry.
The majority of answers I’ve heard from children and teens point to the idea that “being good” is the key. They’ve learned that performing and achieving gains acceptance from others. They apply that same concept to their relationship with God. The struggle to earn His approval and be justified to Him through hard work leads to a stressful frenzy of busyness or apathetic retreat. It’s incredible to see the hope that lights their faces as we open Scripture and read about God’s free gift of salvation given through faith in Christ.
The truth of sola fide—“faith alone”—is just as relevant and essential today as it was in 1537 when Martin Luther wrote: “… it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us. As St. Paul says, ‘For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law’ (Romans 3:28).” At a time when the church looked to good deeds in order to earn a place in Heaven, reformers like Luther clung to Scripture’s focus on faith in Christ.
The drive to earn approval isn’t unique to teens. We all fight the battle to work hard enough and be good enough. That struggle ends in Jesus. The salvation and forgiveness He earned though His death and resurrection is applied to us through faith. Take a sigh of relief; we are justified in Christ through faith alone!
Todd Liefer (’07) is an associate pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas. He graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in 2011.
Our world demands perfection. Typos have no place in ad campaigns. The accuracy of a doctor’s diagnosis could be the difference between life and death. Anyone want to fly with a pilot who’s “usually pretty good”? Not a chance. God demands perfection, too. At least that’s how Luther felt. The fear of purgatory drove him to the confessional booth regularly to confess his many sins—one by one—or he would face eternal consequences. But salvation had already been given to him as a result of God’s favor in Christ.
For Luther, everything changed with the phrase sola gratia—“grace alone.” Scripture showed Luther that salvation was a gift from Jesus, the perfect Son of God. Jesus freely gives grace—that is, forgiveness and eternal life—to all who believe in Him. No longer did Luther wonder if he’d earned his way into God’s Kingdom. Salvation had already been given to him.
As a parish pastor, I don’t expect the people in my congregation to be perfect (and vice versa!). Instead, I want my church to be what I saw at Concordia: a community that inspires its people to live sola gratia. What a blessing to walk beside faculty and peers who challenged me to live like Christ and who shared forgiveness with me when I failed to do so. God’s grace changes communities. I saw that at Concordia, and I see it in my congregation today. As a group of imperfect people, it’s always a joy to gather and hear that our sin is no match for the grace of God.
Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in the fall 2017 issue of Concordian, the official magazine of Concordia University Wisconsin. View a PDF version of the magazine here. Concordian magazines hit mailboxes the first week of October. If you are not on our mailing list, but are interested in receiving a free copy, call 734-995-7317.
— Kali Thiel is director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at email@example.com or 262-243-2149.
If this story has inspired you, why not explore how you can help further Concordia's mission through giving.