Our history, confession, core values, and constitution
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A few unpretentious meetings, numbering between fifty and a little over two hundred, are not the stuff of headline news. And there were no reporters present at the meeting place of Antipas Reformed Baptist Church in Pretoria when believers from around southern Africa gathered together in the Spring of 2005 to establish a new association of churches. Yet, those who participated in these meetings believe that the formation of Sola 5 during 2005 signalled a historic year in the progress of God’s kingdom in southern Africa.
Learn More About Sola 5
Sola 5 is an association of God-centred evangelical churches bound together by a common confession of faith.
OUR CORE VALUES
Our fellowship is based on shared biblical values, which make Sola 5 a most distinct association of churches.
Our association is governed, spiritually, by the principles of Scripture and, organisationally, by a common constitution.
Why “Sola 5”?
We want to affirm our commitment to historic confessional Christianity by reasserting the vital notions of the authority of Scripture, Christ-centered faith, gospel grace, justifying faith, and God-centered living.
The fivefold Reformation creed of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone), Sola Fide (by faith alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone) summarises must drive the church again as they once did.
All five of these convictions are necessary in order to be faithful to what God has revealed. Hence our name, Sola 5.
Sola 5 takes its name from the historic five solas of the Protestant Reformation. Here is a brief summary of each.
A central cry of the Reformation was salvation by grace. Though the Roman Catholic Church taught that Mass is a “sacrifice [which] is truly propitiatory” and that by the Mass “God . . . grant[s] us grace and the gift of penitence, remits our faults and even our enormous sins,” the Reformers returned to the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. Our righteous standing before God is imputed to us by grace because of the work of Christ Jesus our Lord.
In contrast to the doctrines of self-merit taught by Rome, sola gratia and the accompanying doctrines of grace—total depravity, unconditional election, particular redemption, and perseverance of the saints—were preached by all the Reformers throughout the Protestant movement. As the Baptist Confession of 1689 says,
Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are justified; and did, by the sacrifice of himself in the blood of his cross, undergoing in their stead the penalty due unto them, make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in their behalf. . . . Their justification is only of free grace, that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.
The words sola gratia mean that human beings have no claim upon God. That is, God owes us nothing except just punishment for our many and very wilful sins. Therefore, if he does save sinners, which he does in the case of some but not all, it is only because it pleases him to do it. Indeed, apart from this grace and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit that flows from it, no one would be saved, since in our lost condition, human beings are not capable of winning, seeking out, or even cooperating with God’s grace. By insisting on “grace alone” the Reformers were denying that human methods, techniques, or strategies in themselves could ever bring anyone to faith. It is grace alone expressed through the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ, releasing us from our bondage to sin and raising us from death to spiritual life.
The “material principle” of the Reformation was justification by faith alone. As the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.”
The Genevan Confession likewise pointed out the necessity of those justified living by faith saying,
We confess that the entrance which we have to the great treasures and riches of the goodness of God that is vouchsafed us is by faith; inasmuch as, in certain confidence and assurance of heart, we believe in the promises of the gospel, and receive Jesus Christ as he is offered to us by the Father and described to us by the Word of God.
The Reformers never tired of saying that “justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone.” When put into theological shorthand the doctrine was expressed as “justification by faith alone,” the article by which the church stands or falls, according to Martin Luther. The Reformers called justification by faith Christianity’s “material principle” because it involves the very matter or substance of what a person must understand and believe to be saved. Justification is a declaration of God based on the work of Christ. It flows from God’s grace and it comes to the individual not by anything he or she might do but by “faith alone” (sola fide). We may state the full doctrine as: Justification is the act of God by which he declares sinners to be righteous because of Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.
The Reformation called the church back to faith in Christ as the sole mediator between God and man. While the Roman Catholic Church held that “there is a purgatory and that the souls there detained are helped by the intercessions of the faithful,” and that “saints are to be venerated and invoked” and “their relics are to be venerated,” the Reformers taught that salvation was by Christ’s work alone. As John Calvin said in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, “Christ stepped in, took the punishment upon himself and bore the judgment due to sinners. With his own blood he expiated the sins which made them enemies of God and thereby satisfied him. . . . We look to Christ alone for divine favour and fatherly love!”
Likewise the Heidelberg Catechism, asks, “Do such then believe in Jesus the only Saviour who seek their salvation and happiness in saints, in themselves, or anywhere else?” It answers, “They do not; for though they boast of him in words yet in deeds they deny Jesus the only deliverer and Saviour: for one of these two things must be true that either Jesus is not a complete Saviour or that they who by a true faith receive this Saviour must find all things in him necessary to their salvation.”
The church of the Middle Ages spoke about Christ. A church that failed to do that could hardly claim to be Christian. But the medieval church had added many human achievements to Christ’s work, so that it was no longer possible to say that salvation was entirely by Christ and his atonement. This was the most basic of all heresies, as the Reformers rightly perceived. It was the work of God plus our own righteousness. The Reformation motto solus Christus was formed to repudiate this error. It affirmed that salvation has been accomplished once for all by the mediatorial work of the historical Jesus Christ alone. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification, and any “gospel” that fails to acknowledge that or denies it is a false gospel that will save no one.
The doctrine that the Bible alone is the ultimate authority was the “formal principle” of the Reformation. In 1521 at the historic interrogation at the Diet of Worms, Luther declared his conscience to be captive to the Word of God saying, “Unless I am overcome with testimonies from Scripture or with evident reasons—for I believe neither the Pope nor the Councils, since they have often erred and contradicted one another—I am overcome by the Scripture texts which I have adduced, and my conscience is bound by God’s Word.”
Similarly, the Belgic Confession states,
We believe that [the] holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein. . . . Neither may we consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with those divine Scriptures nor ought we to consider custom or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God. . . . Therefore, we reject with all our hearts whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule.
When the Reformers used the words sola Scriptura they were expressing their concern for the Bible’s authority, and what they meant is that the Bible alone is our ultimate authority—not the Pope, not the church, not the traditions of the church or church councils, still less personal intimations or subjective feelings, but Scripture only. Other sources of authority may have an important role to play. Some are even established by God, such as the authority of church elders, the authority of the state, or the authority of parents over children. But Scripture alone is truly ultimate. Therefore, if any of these other authorities depart from Bible teaching, they are to be judged by the Bible and rejected.
Soli Deo Gloria
The Reformation reclaimed the Scriptural teaching of the sovereignty of God over every aspect of the believer’s life. All of life is to be lived to the glory of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” and answers, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” This great and all consuming purpose was emphasized by those in the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to reform the church according to the Word of God.
In contrast to the monastic division of life into sacred versus secular perpetuated by Roman Catholic Church, the Reformers saw all of life to be lived under the lordship of Christ. Every activity of the Christian is to be sanctified unto the glory of God.
Each of the great solas is summed up in the fifth Reformation motto: soli Deo gloria, meaning “to God alone be the glory.” It is what the apostle Paul expressed in Romans 11:36 when he wrote, “to him be the glory forever! Amen.” These words follow naturally from the preceding words, “For from him and through him and to him are all things” (v. 36), since it is because all things really are from God, and to God, that we say, “to God alone be the glory.”
Christians talk a lot about “the gospel.” The word “gospel” simply means good news, and the Christian gospel is the good news of what God has done for believing sinners in Jesus Christ. But it is news that demands a response—and news that is proclaimed in the face of a pressing problem.
To understand the good news of the gospel, we need to consider four basic truths.
God, the Creator
The first truth to consider is that God created us and we are accountable to him.
The Bible states it very plainly: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). This is the foundation of everything we know about God and humanity. If we get this wrong, we will get everything wrong. God created everything—including humans—and he therefore has the right to tell us how to live. You must understand that in order to understand the good news about Jesus.
The Bible describes God as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness … forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” At the same time, he is a God “who will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:6–7). The loving God of the Bible will not leave the guilty unpunished. To understand just how glorious and life-giving the gospel of Jesus Christ is, we have to understand that God is also holy and righteous. He is determined never to ignore or tolerate sin—including ours!
Man, the Sinner
The second truth to consider is that we have all sinned against a good and holy God, and are therefore destined for eternal destruction.
When God created the first human beings—Adam and Eve—he intended for them to live under his righteous rule in perfect joy, obeying him and living in fellowship with him. When Adam disobeyed God, that fellowship with God was broken. By their disobedience, Adam and Eve had declared rebellion against God. They had rejected his authority.
But Adam and Eve were not alone in sin-guilt. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). We often think of sin as little more than a violation of some heavenly traffic law—something over which God should not be too upset. That is a massive underestimation of the nature of sin. Sin is the rejection of God himself and his right to exercise authority over those to whom he gives life.
Once you understand sin in that light, you begin to understand why “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). This death is described as “eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9) and “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46). This final judgement follows biological death (Hebrews 9:27) and it is certain for all who do not embrace God’s solution to our sin problem.
Jesus, the Saviour
The third truth to consider is that God sent Jesus to die in the place of sinners to save them from their sin.
There is nothing that we can do to save ourselves from sin—but that is why Jesus Christ came to earth. Jesus is God’s anointed one—the one sent to reconcile man to God. He is the King that God had promised would come to set up an eternal kingdom.
Jesus’ mission was to make people into citizens of his eternal kingdom. He did so by dying in their place—taking upon himself the punishment for sin. As he died on a Roman cross, the awful weight of our sins fell on his shoulders. The sentence of death God had pronounced against rebellious sinners struck. Jesus died for those he came to save.
But the story doesn’t end there. The crucified King did not remain in the tomb; he rose from the dead. He is not just the King crucified, but the King resurrected! Jesus’ resurrection was God’s way of saying, “What Jesus claimed about who he is and what he came to do is true!”
Forgiveness, the Offer
The fourth truth to consider is that, because of who Jesus was and what he did, God now extends to humanity the offer of forgiveness of sin.
What does God expect us to do with the information that Jesus died in our place? He expects us to respond with repentance and faith.
To repent means to turn away from our rebellion against God. Repentance doesn’t mean an immediate end to our sinning. It does mean that we will never again live at peace with our sins.
Not only that, but we also turn to God in faith. Faith is reliance. It is a promise-based trust in the risen Jesus to save you from your sins.
Jesus “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
To be counted righteous before God, we need someone’s righteousness credited to us. That’s what happens when a person is saved by Jesus: All our sins are credited to him, who took the punishment for them, and his perfect righteousness is credited to us when we place our trust in what he has done for us.
Do you believe that you have rebelled against God and deserve his wrath? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died the death that you deserve for your sins? Do you believe that he rose from the grave and lives to stand in your place as your Substitute and Savior? If that is your heartfelt conviction, you can call upon him in repentance for the forgiveness of your sins.
A Word from the Steering Committee
Sola 5 is a unique configuration of likeminded churches in Southern Africa. The association spans a vast area: the Southern African subcontinent. Not every Southern African nation is yet represented. We would love to see future representatives from Angola and Lesotho.
By God’s grace we shall yet see the establishing of a greater and more effective church network, such as Sola 5 aims to be. We long to see the glorious gospel of God taking hold of our sub-continent in a greater and deeper way. We long to see God-centred churches making their Spirit-directed impact in the name of our King, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is our commission and commitment.
We are well aware of the fact that, for an association like this to exist and to continue, we need nothing less than the help of our God (Psalm 124:8). We are confident that our God is a prayer-answering God, and we have this hope that he will continue to sustain us as an association of churches, particularly as we petition him for the continued spreading of God-centred churches in Southern Africa.
This association of local churches has no life and no power apart from the input and commitment that local churches provide. The primary contribution of our churches, located at great distances from each other, will be prayer. The apostle Paul sets a biblical precedent for us when he prays for all the churches (e.g. Romans 1:8–10; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16–23; 3:14–19; etc.), and when he reminds the churches also to pray for the work of the gospel that other churches do (2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 6:18). This is no little work. It is not the least we can do. It is the very best we can do. It reaches the very heart of God, “for this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (John 5:14–15).
Such prayer also stirs up pleasant by-products. If we pray for one another, week after week, we do not only get to know all the churches, but we also begin to take a genuine interest in one another. Because of this we have seen some great partnerships develop as churches are planted together and as churches help one another to see that missionaries can be sent out.
With you in prayer,