Dear Brethren,

The Great Protestant Reformation began on 31 October 1517. Since then, 493 years have passed and a lot of things have changed for Protestant churches today. Many Christians today no longer know why we are called “Protestants.” And when asked if they know who Martin Luther the Reformer is, many will reply quite confidently that they know: “He is the American civil rights activist who was assassinated in 1968” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). Another sad fact is that most Christians remember 31 October as Halloween Day only. This lack of knowledge of the Great Protestant Reformation shows the pathetic state of misinformation that is plaguing many modern Christians. Errors which have already been condemned by the reformers are not only repeated, and today these heresies are being paraded as truth. Today there are many who call Jesus, “Lord,” but know not what sin is, and what they are being saved from.

This is one of the reasons why it is important for us to remember annually the great work of God in the 16th Century Protestant Reformation so that we may be warned against apostasy and be encouraged to seek the “old paths” (Jer 6:16) and to walk in it. The key doctrinal features of the Reformation is best summarised in five Latin watchwords: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solo Christo and Soli Deo Gloria.

Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)

As it may be said that the seed of the Reformation first began to germinate as Martin Luther began to read the Bible in the original languages, so it may also be said that the Reformation began to bloom fully as Martin Luther uttered those immortal words at the Diet of Worms in April 1521:

Unless I am convinced by testimonies of the Scripture or by clear arguments that I am in error—for popes and councils have often erred and contradicted themselves—I cannot withdraw, for I am subject to Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the Word of God.… Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise. So help me God.

What Luther verbalised that day was but an eloquent expression of the most foundational principle of the Reformation. The Reformation was indeed wholly founded on the Word of God only: Sola Scriptura! All the Reformers, like Luther, rejected the doctrines of tradition, councils and popes, wherever they contradicted canonical Scripture. Scripture alone is the perfect and sufficient and final authority for all matters of faith and life. Thus, the Reformation rejected many unbiblical Roman Catholic doctrines, such as Purgatory, Worship of Mary and Transubstantiation.

Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)

All the Reformers believed that sinners are justified (declared righteous by God) and saved wholly by grace through faith (Eph 2: 8-9). The Reformers unanimously agreed that man is totally depraved, and that apart from that grace of God all would be lost. Works do not earn us any merit toward our salvation at all. We are saved only by the grace of God: Sola Gratia! This high view of God, and our indebtedness to Him, form the basis of the Christian life of the believer under the Reformation umbrella.

Sola Fide (Faith Alone)

The words that had the most impact on Martin Luther’s salvation were: “The just shall live by faith” (Rom 1:17; Hab 2:4; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38). It was after a full realisation of the meaning of these words that Luther began to repudiate the Romish doctrine that both works and faith are necessary for our salvation. If man is totally depraved, how could any work be sufficient to merit his salvation? Even our righteous deeds are filthy rags in the sight of God (Isa 64:6)! But the just shall live by faith! We may be saved only because Christ lived a perfectly righteous life on our behalf, and then suffered and died in our place for our sin. Our faith does not save us, though it is an instrumental means of our salvation. It is a gift of God by which we are united to Christ. Works do not serve this purpose. Thus the Reformers insisted that we are saved by faith alone: sola fide! However, the Reformers were always careful to teach that good works follow true regeneration. This is the biblical teaching.

Solo Christo (Christ Alone)

Sola Gratia brings humility and gratitude; Sola Fide removes dependence on works; and Sola Scriptura put away unbiblical traditions. Solo Christo is a very important reformation principle which was especially developed by John Calvin, who says: “Christ is the beginning, middle, and end – that it is from Him that all things must be sought – that nothing is, or can be found, apart from Him”. The Reformers, moreover, taught that there is only one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2:5). Therefore salvation is not to be found through the Church. Man must go directly to God through Christ. The priests do not qualify to be mediators, neither do Mary and departed saints, and neither do angels: Solo Christo, Christ alone is the Mediator.

Calvin, furthermore, teaches that Christ is our Mediator according to a threefold office of Prophet, Priest and King. As our Prophet, He reveals God’s will for our salvation; as Priest, He is both our propitiation and our intercessor; and as King, He is our redeemer, defender and ruler. The Lord Jesus Christ, in other words, is not merely a historical figure, but our all in all. We should live as did the Apostle Paul: ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain’ (Phil 1:21).

Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)

Soli Deo Gloria – glory to God alone, – was a principle that had been overtaken by the pomp and power of the papacy and of the Roman Church prior to the Reformation. It was because the Reformers saw that glory must be ascribed to God alone and that God must be glorified according to His self-revelation and the means He has instituted, that they cared not to please men (Gal 1:10) as they sought to bring the Church back to biblical purity. We may say that it was the principle of Soli Deo Gloria that drove the Reformers on in their work.


The motto of the Reformers was:

Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever.

May we never forget the mighty work of God in the 16th century Reformation and also learn from the lives of the Reformers and the motto they live by. In this 21st century, we face the same issue of apostasy in the churches and deny of the truth of God’s Word.  Will you and I bear the same spirit of the Reformers to earnestly contend for the faith and fight the good fight of faith for our Lord Jesus Christ?

Elder John Leong