2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. We're commemorating the anniversary by highlighting its five rallying themes: Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura), Faith Alone (Sola Fide), Christ Alone (Solo Christo), Grace Alone (Sola Gratia), and Glory to God Alone (Soli Deo Gloria).
I sang with Elder Clinton Taylor in the gospel choir at Lawndale Christian Reformed Church in Chicago, Ill., as a fledgling leader. He had a pithy saying he’d repeat to anyone who asked how he was doing. In his deep baritone voice, Elder Taylor would reply, “Well, I never had it so good.” Like many African Americans who came from the South to northern industrial cities after World War II, Elder Taylor and his wife, Emma, came to Chicago to find a better way of life for their family. Lawndale was his home church, a church that joined him to fight for their covenant children to attend Timothy Christian School in the 1960s. Taylor believed that Christian discipleship meant giving God alone the glory, from the cradle to the grave.
Elder Taylor kept a full head of hair, along with a full salt-and-pepper beard. His hands were huge, with a couple of fingers bent by working hard at his job. However, his voice filled the gym that functioned as the sanctuary and found sweet communion in singing on Sundays.
Elder Mamie Bryant played the piano faithfully and always in the same key, no matter the song. With some coaxing from Bryant, Taylor had to sing “Coming Home.” His voice grew louder and his arms lifted a bit toward heaven. Standing next to him, I heard Taylor sing, “Coming home, coming home, nevermore to roam; open now thine arms of love; Lord, I’m coming home.” Taylor sang and believed his entire life was going somewhere, to someplace, to someone.
All roads of the Christian life lead toward home with God. Home isn’t home unless there’s someone at the door to meet you. The holy Word reminds Christians that life broke down in a garden, but the garden isn’t our future home (Sola Scriptura). The gift of faith is like a pair of miracle glasses that enable the sinner to see that Christ paid it all (Sola Fide). Master Jesus revealed our pitiful efforts to make something out of ourselves by ourselves (Solo Christo). Grace is the compass that keeps pointing us back to home in the world (Sola Gratia). Coming home is the twisting, bumpy road of mistakes, disappointments, deaths, scars, and ordinary epiphanies which signal that we were meant for so much more than this place. All the while, Jesus keeps calling us to give him the glory along the road toward our eternal home (Soli Deo Gloria).
The Reformation was the business of going back to dealing with the triune God as the exclusive object of our worship, living, and witness. The Heidelberg Catechism instructs us that our Lord requires our exclusive worship and that we are to “avoid and shun all idolatry, magic, superstitious rites or prayers to saints or other creatures” (Q&A 94).
The men and women of the Reformation risked their lives to go back to God alone. In his book My Only Comfort, the late Fred Klooster, my former theology professor, remarked that the Word alone “express(es) the wholeness and exclusiveness of the gospel.” In other words, the gospel reveals God’s glorifying presence in our work, our worship, our praying, and serving. It’s coming to understand that we never had it so good! Soli Deo Gloria.
Questions for Discussion
- What images and ideas are evoked when you hear the word “home”?
- What do you think it means to find ourselves “at home” with God? What might part of that experience be for us here and now?
- How do the Reformation’s themes of Scripture alone, Faith alone, Christ alone, Grace alone, and Glory to God alone help us in this spiritual journey toward home with God?
- In what ways might we inadvertently take glory away from God?