Over a short series of articles, I am going to introduce five things I believe every Christian needs to know. This is not to say that one cannot be saved if from ignorance he does not know these, but that these five things are of foundational importance to the faith. One may be a Christian without knowing them, but one’s walk with Christ will be greatly enhanced by understanding, applying and treasuring them. To deny them, however, is to undermine the very bedrock of the faith.
If you have been a Christian for any length of time, and especially if you have been part of a Reformed tradition, you may well know of these five things. While their origin is the Bible, they were not formulated as doctrines until the time of the Protestant Reformation. This is often the way God has revealed truths about Himself. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity was not formulated until several hundred years after the death of Christ, though it was clearly revealted in the Bible all along. For the Reformers these five things defined what it meant to be a Protestant. The Roman Catholic Church could not and still cannot abide by these five things and has declared them to be anathema - false doctrines. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons along with other cultic groups cannot hold to them. These five things define Protestantism, even crossing the boundaries between Calvinism and Arminianism, and hence define a biblical view of the Christian faith. It is sad, then, that they are not better-known among believers. Very few churches today invest the time and effort to teach and defend these fundamental doctrines.
Yet whether we are aware of them or not, these five things continue to define us as Protestant even to this day. When we lose sight of and deny these distinctives, it could be argued that we are no longer Protestant at all, and hence are no longer a church that is truly grounded in the Scripture. These things tell us how we can know about God and define our relationship with Him and His relationship with us. These five things will enrich our walk with God, will ensure that we have a proper view of ourselves in relation to God, and ultimately impact every area of our lives. They are of critical importance to the Christian life.
Here are the five things, then, that every Christian needs to know:
You may also know these five distinctives as the five solas of the Reformation. The Reformers formulated five doctrines which defined their disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church. They defined these as Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone). Over time the emphases of these doctrines has changed. For example, at the time of the Reformation the emphasis on Scripture Alone was to defend against the Papal claims that the church was the ultimate authority in matters of life and faith. Later the emphasis changed so that the innerancy of Scripture became the focus of Protestant apologists. Today the emphasis has shifted again as we will see in our next article. But while the emphases may have changed, the doctrines themselves, being firmly rooted in the Bible, remain unwavering.
When I say that we need to know these five things, I do not merely mean that we need to have some knowledge of them, much as I may know that the capital of Ontario is Toronto or that George W. Bush is President of the United States. In the abstract, these five things will have little impact on my life. Instead I need to know them in a deep, personal, spiritual way, searching for them in the Scriptures and asking the Holy Spirit to help me apply them to my life. I need to regard them as foundational to my faith because they are foundationally important to God. When speaking of faith, the Reformers drew a distinction between ascientia, a Latin word which indicated mere mental assent to a fact, and fiducia, which involves trust, acceptance and giving oneself over. We need to have that sort of regard for these doctrines. Having been convinced that they are fully biblical, we need to give ourselves over to them.
Through this series I will introduce the five topics, provide their historical and contemporary contexts, show their biblical bases, and provide some ideas of how they can and should impact the lives of believers today.