By Pastor Stephen Hess –
I once heard a pastor say that there are certain beliefs within the Christian faith that are “bullet beliefs.” Bullet beliefs are doctrines that are so important that you would be willing to take a bullet to defend them. These doctrines are so non-negotiable that you would give up your life before giving up these beliefs. To put it another way, bullet beliefs are doctrines that are so foundational to Christianity that without them the entire Christian faith would collapse.
But this brings up an important question: How do we determine our bullet beliefs? What are those doctrines that are absolutely essential and provide the foundation for our faith? One way of answering that is to look back at our roots in history. 2017 is a significant year because it marks the 500th anniversary of the event that ignited the protestant Reformation. It was in 1517 that a monk named Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany and started a movement that shaped the foundations of Protestant churches for centuries to come.
When Martin Luther served as a monk in the Roman Catholic Church during the 1500s he began to be disillusioned with the corruption and false teaching that he saw within the walls of the church. One area of corruption that particularly troubled Luther was the selling of “indulgences.” An indulgence was a pardon for sin that was given to particular individuals by the church for performing specific acts of piety. This was troubling enough, but as time went by the church even went so far as to sell indulgences to people in order to make money. Essentially “repentance” could be purchase for a price.
Luther was shocked by some of these practices and on October 31, 1517 he nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg, outlining some of the errors of the church. This ignited a firestorm, and eventually Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church and put on trial for his supposedly “heretical” views. During his trial, he refused to recant and he stood firm for what he knew was the truth of God’s Word. Clearly Luther knew what his bullet beliefs were, and was willing to go to his death to defend them.
Luther and the other Reformers such as John Calvin started a movement of Protestant churches that continues to this day. The theology of the Reformers has sometimes been summarized by five theological truths called the “five solas.” Sola is a Latin word which means “alone” and each one of these five doctrines contains this word. They are as follows: 1) Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) – The Bible is the sole and final authority in all matters of life and godliness. 2) Sola Gratia (grace alone) – Salvation is a gift by God’s grace alone; it is not our own doing. 3) Sola Fide (faith alone) – Salvation is received by faith alone; it is not the result of works or merit. 4) Solus Christus (Christ alone) – Christ is the only mediator between God and sinful humanity, and thus he is the only way to be saved. 5) Soli Deo Gloria (the glory of God alone) – All of life is lived for the glory of God, and his glory alone.
In many ways, these “five solas” form the foundation of our theology as Evangelical Presbyterians today. That is why as we begin 2017—the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation—we are going to be doing a sermon series on the five solas. Starting on January 8 we will be taking a look at these important doctrines and where they can be found in the Scriptures. What I think you will see is that these doctrines are just as relevant and important today as they were 500 years ago. These are some of our “bullet beliefs.” They are not our only essential beliefs, but they are some of the key pillars that provide the foundation for our faith. Therefore as we seek to preserve that which is most important, this is a wonderful place to start.