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The Three Solas of Lutheranism

I. The Confessions

A. Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone

Lutherans believe that God communicates to His people solely through the Word of God,
the Bible, and leave no room for personal revelation. They reject all attempts at
experiencing God outside of the means of grace , that is, the Word of God and the
sacraments. This includes the mysticism of Roman Catholicism and the ecstatic
experiences of the so-called enthusiasts.

“We believe, teach, and confess that the only rule and standard according to which at
once all dogmas and teachers should be esteemed and judged are nothing else than the
prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament, as it is written
(Ps. 119:105) “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” And St. Paul
(Gal.1:8): “Though an angel from heaven preach any other Gospel unto you, let him
accursed.” Other writings, of ancient or modern teachers, whatever reputation they may
have, should not be regarded as of equal authority with the Holy Scriptures, but should
altogether be subordinated to them, and should not be received other or further than as
witnesses, in what manner and what places, since the time of the apostles, the doctrine
of the prophets and apostles was preserved.” (FC, Epitome, Introduction, 1,2)

“For the Church has the command to appoint ministers, which should be most pleasing
to us, because we know that God approves this ministry, and is present in the ministry.
And it is of advantage so far as can be done, to adorn the ministry of the Word with
every kind of praise against fanatical men, who dream that the Holy Ghost is given not
through the Word, but because of certain preparations of their own, if they sit
unoccupied and silent in obscure places, waiting for illumination, as the enthusiasts
formerly taught, and the Anabaptists now teach. (Apology, Art. XIII: Number and Use of
the Sacraments, 12,13)

“And in those things which concern the spoken, outward Word, we must firmly hold that
God grants His Spirit or grace to no one, except through or woth the preceding outward
Word. Thereby we are protected against enthusiasts, i.e., spirits who boast that they
have the Sprirt without and before the Word, and accordingly judge Scripture or the
spoken Word, and explain and stretch it at their pleasure, as Muenzer did, and many still
do at the present day; they wish to be acute judges between the Spirit and the letter, and
yet knowing not what they say or propose. Because the Papacy also in nothing but
enthusiasm by which the Pope boasts that all laws exist in the shrine of his heart, and
whatever he decides and commands in his churches is spirit and law, even though it be
above and contrary to scripture and the spoken Word.” (Smalcald Articles, Art. X: Of
Ordination, 3,4)

“In a word, enthusiasm adheres in Adam and his children from the beginning to the end
of the world; its poison has been implanted and infused into them by the old dragon, and
is the origin, power and strength of all heresy, especially of that of the Papacy and Islam.
Therefore in regard to this we ought and must constantly maintain that God does not
wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the sacraments, and
that whatever without the Word and sacraments is extolled as spirit is the devil himself.”
(SA, Art. X: Of Ordination, 9,10)

B. Sola Gratia – Grace Alone

Lutherans believe that God saves His people by grace alone, that His undeserved love
comes to us not as a result of our deserving it but because He loves us, (1 Jn. 4:19) “we
love Him because He first loved us.” Any other method of salvation is excluded, not
matter how good and righteous it may seem to the world.

“But here we must know that this faith ought to be confident that God freely forgives us,
for the sake of Christ, for the sake of his own promise, not for the sake of our works,
contrition, confession or satisfactions. For if faith rely upon these works, it immediately
becomes uncertain, because the terrified conscience sees that these works are
unworthy.” (Apology, Art. VI: Confession and Satisfaction, 96)

“This doctrine concerning the inability and wickedness of our natural free will, and
concerning our conversion and regeneration, viz. that it is a work of God alone and not
of our powers, is impiously abused both by enthusiasts and by Epicureans; (FC, SD Art
IV: Free Will, 46)

C. Sola Fidei – Faith Alone

Lutherans believe that God saves His people by grace through the agency of faith. It is
faith which grasps, or trusts, the divine promises of salvation through the atoning,
substitutionary sacrifice and death of His Son Jesus Christ. There is therefore no other
road to heaven, no other god allowed to provide salvation. All other religions which deny
Jesus Christ as God, Lord, and Messiah, are false, and all other means to attain
holiness before God are futile. It is by faith alone that we are saved, not works.

“Also they teach, that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits or
works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith, when they believe that they
arer received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His
death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his
sight. Rom. 3 and 4.” (AC, Art.IV: Justification, 1-3)

“The particle alone offends some, although even Paul says (Rom. 3:28): ‘We conclude
that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the Law.’ Again (Eph. 2:8): ‘It is the
gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.’ Again (Rom. 3:24): ‘Being justified
freely.’ If the exclusive alone displeases, let them remove from Paul also the exclusives
‘freely,’ ‘not of works,’ ‘it is the gift,’ etc. For these also are exclusives. It is, however, the
opinion of merit that we exclude. We do not exclude the Word or sacraments, as the
adversaries falsely charge us. For we have said above that faith is conceived from the
Word, and we honor the ministry of the Word in the highest degree. Love also and works
ought to follow faith. Wherefore, they are not excluded so as not to follow, but
confidence in the merit of love or of works is excluded in justification.” (Apology, Art. IV:
Justification, 73,4)

“Thus, because faith, which freely receives the remission of sins, presents, against
God’s wrath, Christ as mediator and Propitiator, it does not present our merits or our
love. This faith is the true knowledge of Christ, and avails itself of the benefits of Christ
and regenerates hearts, and precedes the fulfilling of the Law. And of this faith, not a
syllable exists in the doctrine of our adversaries. Hence we find fault with the
adversaries, equally because they teach only the righteousness of the Law, and
because they do not teach only the righteousness of the Gospel, which proclaims the
righteousness of faith in Christ.” (Apology, Art.IV: Justification, 46,7)

II. The Three Solas and the Charismatic Movement in the Lutheran-Church
Missouri Synod

a. Historical Background

- the Neo-Pentecostal or charismatic movement began within the mainline Protestant

churches and the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1960’s
- by the mid-1960s neo-Pentecostal practices, such as speaking in tongues and
miraculous healing, were reported also by some pastors and congregations of the LCMS
- as a result, tensions and divisions followed in the synod as the movement spread
- by April 1968, 44 pastors in the LCMS met at Crystal City, MO who had embraced the
charismatic movement
- by May 1971, at a meeting held at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, over 200 pastors
were present claiming to have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit
- at the direction of the of the 1969 synodical convention in Denver, the Commission on
theology and Church relations (CTCR) undertook a comprehensive study of the
charismatic movement “with special emphasis on its exegetical aspects and theological
- the results were published in a January 1972 Report of the Commission titled “The
Charismatic Movement and Lutheran Theology”
- another document was published in 1977 entitled “The Lutheran Church and the
Charismatic Movement”
- at the 1977 convention in Dallas, the Synod clarified its position regarding charismatic
teaching in Resolution 3-10A and identified, and warned the church’s congregations
against “certain doctrines held and taught by some individuals and groups in the
charismatic movement” which “are mere human opinion not clearly taught in Holy
Scripture and therefore contrary to the Holy Scriptures, and therefore dangerous to the
salvation of men to teach”
- these are the doctrines listed:

1. That God desires every Christian, following Baptism, to have a ‘second

experience’ such as the ‘baptism with the Spirit’

2. That the so-called ‘gifts of the Spirit’ are external signs by which we can
assure ourselves that we have faith, are living in God’s grace, or have the
Spirit of God.

3. That God promises every Christian such gifts as speaking in tongues, healing,
discerning of spirits, and prophecy and that God has given such a promise as
a part of the ‘full’ or ‘complete Gospel’.

4. That a ‘conversion experience,’ ‘baptism with the Spirit,’ or other inner religious
experience is necessary for, or should be urged upon, Christians in order that
they may be certain either of having faith and salvation or of the indwelling of
God’s Spirit.

5. That a Christian who has not had such an experience either has an incomplete
faith, is unconverted and is still living under the rule of sin, or has only
accepted Christ as his Savior but not as his Lord.

6. That the sanctification of the Christian is incomplete unless he possesses the

gift of speaking in tongues.

7. That God promises healing and health to every Christian in this life and that, if
such healing doers not occur, it is due to a lack of faith.

8. That God gives guidance and leadership to the church today through visions
and dreams of direct prophecy.

- in response to this resolution, which Rev. Jungkuntz, a professor at Valparaiso at the

time, said the following:

1. All the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit – those referred to in the New
Testament in the technical Pauline sense as charismata (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:4,31) or
pneumatika (1 Cor. 12:1; 14:1) – are still promised and available to believers and are
operative in parts of the Christian Church today. This specifically includes the Spirit’s
extraordinary gifts such as speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy,
gifts, of healing, and the working of miracles, which were granted certain Christians in
the days of the apostles.

2. The extraordinary gifts in particular should be sought by all of God’s people

through prayer.

3. These gifts are to be especially valued, because the believer’s possession and
use of them represent the fulfillment of the promises of God’s Word (regarding the
bestowal of these gifts) on which the believer’s faith has relied, bring him a personal
experience of God’s gracious presence, and all of this, in turn, confirms his faith.

4. With faith confirmed in this way, he is enabled to triumph increasingly over sin
and empowered to serve God and his brethren in renewed dedication. Through the
believer’s own spiritual growth and that fostered in his brethren, the needed renewal in
the church occurs. The use of the extraordinary gifts is both an expression of the
believer’s sanctification and that which is particularly promotive of his sanctification.

- in 1988 24 persons of charismatic inclination, most of them LCMS pastors, decied to go

on the offensive, founded an organization they named “Renewal in Missouri” (aka, RIM),
publishing a magazine, intending to bring about a renewal which “will bring about
dynamic worship, vibrant faith, and bold witness” in the church
- in the June 1988 edition of the Lutheran Witness, Dr. Ralph Bohlmann commented,
“For us to enjoy the renewal of the Holy Spirit, we must give preeminence to Word and

Sacraments in all we do, for these are the very instruments or means by which god gives
His life-giving Spirit and power.

III. Scripture and the Charismatic Movement

- the purpose of the work of the Holy Spirit is to point to the person and work of Jesus
Christ, not himself

Jn. 14:29 - “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

Jn. 15:26 - “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the
Spirit of truth who goes from the Father, he will testify about me;”

Jn. 16:13 – “ But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth. He
will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is
yet to come.”

- the Lutheran Church does not deny the ability of God to do anything He wants, the
problem arises in the interpretation, whether these so-called gifts of the Spirit are
actually from God

2 Cor. 11:13,14 – For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as
apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.

- the problem here is with the emphasis of the charismatic theology which places undue
emphasis on the believers experiences for the certainty of truth and less on the objective
statements of Scripture and the use and significance of the Sacraments Baptism and the
Lord’s Supper

- the Scriptures speak clearly on the over-emphasis of the spiritual gifts

John 4:48 – Jesus therefore said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not

- Jesus warns the Church against being deceived by signs and wonders which will
appear in the last days to lead Christians astray

Mt. 16:4 - “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and
wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect”

- the Bible states that even such signs as casting out devils, prophesying, and other
mighty works, though they be done in Jesus’ name, do not in themselves guarantee that
they are God-pleasing

Mt. 7:21-23 – Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of
heaven, but he who does the will of my Father Who is in heaven. On that day many will
say to me, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your
name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I
never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers’”

- Luke reports the words of our Lord on the issue:

Lk. 10:17-20 – The seventy returned with joy saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject
to us in your name!’ And He said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.
Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the
power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that
the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’”

- The apostle echoes the Lord’s Word when speaking to the church at Corinth, which
was experiences inner discord because of certain factions advocating the prominence of
the “gifts”

1 Cor. 14:18-20 – I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the
church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand
words in a tongue. Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in
your thinking be adults.

IV. The Charismatic Movement and the three Solas

a. Scripture alone

- the emphasis on the charismatic gifts ultimately reduces the believers dependence on
the Word of God, since he feels he can experience the will and wisdom of God without
the need to read the Scriptures
- in fact, studying the Word can seem to be a detriment to the ‘spirit-filled’ believer since
the goal is to experience the Spirit without means (Calvinism)
- the inference is made by many charismatics that the Word of God is not enough, they
want more, they want personal experience, they want God to prove himself to them

- as a result of this dependence on personal revelation and feeling there also comes
about a reduction of the importance of doctrinal distinctions, and unionism is practiced
even more since the only criteria for shared public worship is whether the participants
have had the necessary experiences of the Spirit

Luther – We must not judge by what we feel or by what we see before us. The Word
must be followed, and we must firmly hold that these truths are to be believed, not
experienced; for to believe is not to experience. Not indeed that what we believe is never
experienced but that faith is to precede experience. And the Word must be believed
even when we feel and experience what differs from the Word. Therefore when in
calamities our hearts think that God is angry with us, does not care for us but hates us,
faith is nevertheless convinced that God harbors neither wrath not hatred nor
vindictiveness against us nor imputes our guilt… To this conclusion I have come, not by
way of my feelings or my present circumstances but through the Word, which says that
the mercy of the Lord is over me and all who believe, that His wrath is over all who do
not believe. Therefore I shall overcome my thoughts by the Word and shall write this
promise in my heart, that after I have come to faith in Jesus Christ and do not doubt that
my sins are forgiven me through His blood, I shall not be put to shame though all my
senses and my experience speak a different language. Within myself I feel the wrath of

God; the devil vents on me his hatred and the world its extreme fury. But the Holy Spirit
tells no lies. He bids me hope; for “with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is
plenteous redemption.” (Ps. 130:7)

b. Grace alone

- the main concern in speaking of grace alone in connection with the charismatic
movement is that there is a certain danger on basing the certainty of one’s salvation on
the possession of the “gifts of the Spirit” rather than on the clear promises of the
Scripture concerning Christ’s atoning work on the cross
- the “gifts” become the reason for certainty, not God’s promises, undermining the faith
which holds to this promise
- any substitution for Christ in the picture of salvation must be rejected or our own
salvation could be lost
- the struggle to receive the gifts and the subsequent attaining of the gifts become a
work which is viewed as a reward
- since the gifts are viewed as evidence of faith, the faith looks to the presence of the so-
called gifts rather than on the promises of God given in the Word of God

Eph. 2:8,9 – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from
yourselves, it is the gift of God – not of works, so that no one can boast.

- the CTCR states its concerns

Lutherans are deeply concerned, therefore, when ‘baptism with the Holy Spirit’ is
considered to be a second experience beyond the sacrament of Baptism and where it is
said to grant powers and blessings that are not given through the Word and Sacraments.
Such a view denies the full benefits of Baptism. Only Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and
the use of God’s Word are external means. By these alone the Holy Spirit has chosen to
work among us in grace. Prayer, for example, is not a means of grace but a proper
response to God’s grace as offered in the sacrament of baptism. Our Lutheran
Confessions state that Baptism grants to the believer “the grace, Spirit, and power to
suppress the old man so that the new may come forth and grow strong.” (LC IV, 76)

The frequent charismatic emphasis that only those who are properly disposed to
receive the baptism of the Spirit through an attitude of expectancy, openness, and
searching will acvtually receive it, as well as attempts to train people to receive such gifts
of the Spriit as peaking in tongues, may actually cultivate the notion that man’s effort in
some way is essential for the reception of God’s free gifts. In his Epistle to the Galatians,
St. Paul emphatically states that the Christians in galatia had received the Spirit not by
the works of the Law but by hearing with faith:

Gal.3:5 – Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you
observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

c. Faith alone

- CTCR document

Lutherans are also concerned when speaking in tongues is described as a spiritual gift
which imparts to the one using it a keener realization of his sins, a deeper and more
constant awareness of the spirit’s indwelling presence, a stronger faith, the ability to pray
at a deeper level, an awakened interest and a deeper hunger to study the bible, and a
new freedom to witness to others what Jesus means to him. Such a view raises the
experience of speaking in tongues to the level of a means of grace and attributes to it
functions which can be performed only by the Gospel and the sacraments.

Luther – “The light of nature and the light of grace cannot be friends. Human nature
wants to feel and to be certain before it believes. Faith wants to believe before it feels.
This is the reason why human nature goes no farther than it can see by its own light. But
grace steps out cheerfully into the darkness, follows the bare Word and Scripture, no
matter what matters appear to be like; whether human nature thinks them to be right or
wrong, grace clings to the Word.”

2 Cor. 5:7 – We live by faith, and not by sight.

Heb. 11:1 – Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not

V. Conclusions

- although we cannot limit the activity of God or dictate to Him how He would
communicate with His people, we must at the same time hold fast to the clear
statements of Scripture and also those of the Lutheran tradition when dealing with the
charismatic movement
- we must ask ourselves the question whether it builds up the Church of Christ or tears it
apart, whether the beliefs of those who wish to follow this movement conform to the
clear statements of Scripture read in their own context
- for those who feel the need to experience God immediately we must warn of the
dangers of such needs, since there is only one way to experience God in this life,
through the person of Jesus Christ and His Word and sacraments, these are the only
means by which our God promises to come to us, and all other experiences must be
weighed by this standard
- we must also take warning of the Scriptures statements about the deceiving power of
our own sinful flesh and the Devil, who can appear as a angel of light; the principle here
is that not everything that is real is truth, only the Scriptures can show us how true our
experiences are
- if our experiences contradict a clear statement of Scripture they must be rejected, no
matter how real or beneficial they may seem
- the ultimate goal of the devil is to undermine our faith and thereby damn our souls, the
Lutheran Solas help us keep our faith anchored to the person and work of Jesus Christ
- may God grant that we take his warning and teachings to heart
- to God be the glory amen