A university has a universe to explore. Everything is fair game in the study of God’s world and God’s work. The Reformation, however, has taught Concordia to focus on what’s uniquely alone: the solas of Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone. Like three dimensions of a box, they give shape to the message of the great Solus—“Christ alone,” the only Savior. Without a full, rich confession of the solas, our understanding of Christ is cut short or lost altogether. Without them, a Concordia education will fall short of its goal that “Christ be first in everything.”
This article highlights the significance of the solas. Of course, this focus comes during this year of celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, but it is truly our enduring foundation and constant guide. Everything comes into focus when Christ is at its center; everything reaches its proper goal when we understand Christ to be its true end.
Rev. Charles Schulz
Assistant Professor of Theology
Randy Duncan (’88) is director of campus ministry and adjunct professor of theology at Concordia University Ann Arbor.
How do you determine what is true about God? How can you be right with God? Thesequestions plagued the soul of Martin Luther. The journey to find answers initially led him through the traditional spiritual landscape that the Catholic Church of his day provided; a landscape marked by popes, councils, works, and penance. A spiritually distraught and weary Luther finally found answers and solace in the authority of the Scriptures alone (sola scriptura).
I came to faith just prior to attending CUAA. The Scriptures came alive for me on this campus and here I surely began to know my Jesus, for He is the subject of the Scriptures! Christ died for my salvation so that I—and everyone else—might attain eternal life simply by faith in Him. My desire is to instill the same assurance within the students at Concordia by daily exposing them to the truth of God’s Word.
The Scriptures are God’s perfect Word; therefore, we don’t approach Scriptures with a highlighter in one hand and a Sharpie in the other. Although the Scriptures are historical books, we teach them for more than information; we teach God’s Word for transformation, for the Holy Spirit works through Scriptures! Luther said, “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” Therefore, sola scriptura means not only that Moses made it through the Red Sea but also that we can make it through Monday, and truly all of the way to heaven through Christ!
Rachel Bomberger (’02) is the new editor of The Lutheran Witness, the official magazine of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
Five hundred years ago, Western Christians faced daunting spiritual prospects. Death was a mundane reality in plague-wracked Europe, and life after death was a culture-wide obsession. Religion was everywhere, preaching that righteousness with God could only be obtained by doing all of the right things. Fast. Pray. Give. Abstain. Observe. Obey.
Within this context, the Reformation teaching on sola fide—“faith alone”—must have been like water in a parched land. Just believe in Christ’s death and resurrection? Trust in God’s promises? That’s all it takes to be saved? What an indescribable gift!
Today’s undergraduates can surely relate to the experience of late Medieval Christians. The stakes are high, and the pressure is enormous. Start a Google search with “college students and ...” and the autofill suggestions are revealing: “college students and stress,” “college students and depression,” “college students and mental health.” Anxiety, despair, substance abuse, and even suicide are all too commonplace on campuses these days.
For this reason, I’m especially grateful for the way in which sola fidepervaded my time at Concordia. Academic excellence was expected, but that expectation was always framed within a larger story. Every chapel service, every dorm devotion reinforced this truth: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works ...” (Ephesians 2:8–9).
I had to earn my grades at Concordia. But salvation? I knew that could never be earned. It was mine by faith. Faith alone. Sola fide.
Eric Ekong (‘09) is pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Jackson, Michigan, and serves on the LCMS Board of Directors.
Sola gratia—two words that sum up the majestic and mystical salvation we are granted. “Grace alone” was the focus of disagreement between the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church because of their blending of grace and merit-based works leading to salvation. While Martin Luther was never against works, he did not agree that they were some sort of reconciliation with God:
“Grace is freely given to the most undeserving and unworthy and is not obtained by any strenuous efforts, endeavors, or works ... not even by the efforts of the best and most honorable men ...” (What Luther Says, 1840).
Luther proclaimed, much like the Apostle Paul, that our works were a result of the gift of grace from God. This gift continues to display itself in the daily living out of our faith.
Each day in the parish and in life I am reminded that if this life were based on a journey to perfection before God we would fail miserably. Our good works or goodness to others that we often desire to present to God are filthy rags. It is at our most broken moments that we are reminded and comforted knowing that it is by “grace alone” that we are saved. This magnificent grace found in God’s Word and His blessed Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper provides us a lavishing flow of restoration, forgiveness, renewal, salvation, life, and victory. Sola gratia, the wonderful gift from God that transformed Luther and sparked the Reformation, continues to do the same for us today.