For Emmanuel Reformed Church (ERC) “Reformed” is our middle name. That means we consider ourselves descendents of the 16th & 17th century Protestant Reformers. Men such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, John Knox, and others who fought for the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
During that period, the Reformers came up with slogans, or “battle cries” if you will, that summarized all for which they were fighting. These slogans are known as The Five “Solas” of the Reformation. They are:
- Sola Scriptura — or “Scripture alone.” This means that in the church and the life of the believer, only Holy Scripture is the sole, infallible source of authority. The Roman Catholic Church taught that Scripture plus church tradition together were sources of authority in the church. But as Martin Luther so aptly put it, popes and councils may (and do) err. It is only the Word of God that carries the stamp of infallibility and inerrancy
- Sola Fide — or “Faith alone.” Here was the material cause of of the Protestant Reformation. It was this doctrine that divided the Reformers from Rome. “Faith alone” teaches that it is faith alone that is the means by which we justified before God. Rome, on the other hand, teaches that faith plus works (I.e., partaking of the sacraments, particularly penance) is what justifies one before God. In other words, for the Reformers, justification is a declaration made by God. For Rome, justification is a process that will not be complete in this lifetime
- Sola Gratia — or “Grace alone.” Along with Sola Fide, this teaches that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, which is what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8. Again, in contrast to the Roman Catholic Church, they teach that we are saved by grace, but not alone. It is through partaking of the sacraments of the church that one is made righteous. Again, this adds works to the grace of God
- Solus Christus — or “Christ alone.” The faith by which we are saved must be placed in Christ alone. Only Jesus Christ saves. Peter says in Acts 4:12, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” Any doctrine that says “Christ and...” is a perversion of the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. It is by His life and death that we are saved. His life because He lived in perfect accordance to the law of God, and it is this righteousness that is imputed (i.e., transferred) to us through faith. His death because by His death He fully atoned for the sins of those who would believe and appeased the wrath of God that our sins deserve.
- Soli Deo Gloria — “or to God’s glory alone.” All of this, our salvation, everything, is to redound to God’s glory, and God’s glory alone.
Another thing the Reformers left us with is a veritable treasure trove of confessional documents that serve as faithful summaries of what the Bible teaches. Three such documents serve as the subordinate standards in the RCUS and they are: The Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession of Faith, and the Canons of Dort (taken together they are known as the Three Forms of Unity).
One may question, “why does your church need subordinate standards if the Bible is your sole infallible source of authority?” This is a good question. The answer is simply this: The Bible is a big book. It is made up of 66 books written by 40+ authors over a timespan of 1,500+ years. No person knows perfectly everything the Bible teaches. Furthermore, the Bible is not written like a systematic theology textbook where one can look and see what the Bible teaches on the Trinity (for example). The Bible is a story of Redemptive History and it’s story unfolds organically and progressively across the pages of Holy Scripture. What our confessions do is summarize this teaching and categorize it.
Because these confessions were written by men, we acknowledge they are fallible, which is why they are subordinate standards for the church. But RCUS officers and churches are required to subscribe to these confessions and faithfully teach the system of doctrine they contain as a faithful summary of the Bible.
Click here to learn more about the Three Forms of Unity.