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The “Five Solas,” Then and Now

By Robert E. Cranston, MD, MA (Ethics) | December 14, 2017

by Robert E. Cranston, MD, MA (Ethics)

October 31, 1517 is often identified as the birthdate of the Protestant Reformation. On this date Martin Luther purportedly nailed his “95 Theses” to the cathedral door in Wittenberg, Germany. Actually, as Eric Metaxas tells us in Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, it may well have been the church custodians at several of the Wittenberg churches who pasted the information on their front doors, not Luther himself, and not with a hammer and nails. As Wittenberg was a university town, Metaxas notes the posting was likely intended as a general notice, inviting all comers to debate with Luther, academic-style, the merits of his theses. Of course, as we know, his ideas soon spread far beyond Wittenberg and his original scholarly intentions.

Luther became the most famous reformer, but he was only one of many who were desperately trying to right the Roman Catholic Church. He particularly focused on the authority of Scripture and concepts of purgatory, paid indulgences, papal bulls and papal authority.

In a blog entitled “The Five Solas—Points from the Past that Should Matter to You,” Justin Holcomb summarizes the reformers’ most important points:

  1. Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority.
  2. Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
  3. Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
  4. Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior and King.
  5. Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone. 

For many Christians today, these five truths appear self-evident and beyond question as truths all believers affirm. Yet, in subtle ways, perversions of each of these appear frequently and in many places today. Half-truths are more dangerous than flagrant lies, and many of these lies affect bioethical questions that affect us in healthcare today. As healthcare professionals facing tough ethical issues with our patients, all five soli help form our worldview, but the two which perhaps most strikingly affect the way we practice may be Sola Scriptura and Soli Deo Gloria.

We quote Scripture as our ultimate authority, but how many Christians read their Bibles assiduously, seeking daily guidance from it and holding fast to its teachings? Many social evils are committed by Christians in the name of tolerance and love, in direct contradiction of Scripture. 

For instance, CMDA has a public policy statement on same-sex “marriage.” A number of notable Christian entertainers, pastors and even whole denominations now fully support same-sex unions in the name of love and tolerance. But Scripture speaks squarely against homosexual behavior. In our own strength, we may not be able to directly alter attractions, but God can help us live within the boundaries He has established. As Christian healthcare professionals, we are to love those we serve, but loving others is not the same as agreeing with their positions or affirming their life-style choices. If we are asked to medically support patient choices in areas that directly collide with Scripture, we must remain faithful to our scriptural mores. 

Gender identity is another example. Do we support hormonal supplementation to help people live in agreement with their felt gender identity? Do we condone and support sex change surgery for the same reasons? Or do we stand firm, loving the patient, but refusing to assist patients in pursuing ungodly desires?

All “wisdom” should be measured against Scripture first. If it fails this measure, it fails. As we examine new medical options for our patients, do we weigh the potential outcomes of medical decisions against Scriptural principles, or do we forge ahead with technological therapies before thoughtfully considering the justifications for and the likely outcomes of specific medical options? Abortion, euthanasia, reproductive technologies and recent developments in the use of sex robots for no-strings-attached erotic gratification—as opposed to real-life relationships with real people—are all based on principles that can be examined in light of Scripture. It doesn’t matter who supports non-biblical choices—if the options don’t measure up to Scripture, we have no business pursuing them. Some form of utilitarian argument is typically used to attack Scriptural authority, and we must be ever mindful of this.

God’s Glory    
Soli Deo Gloria may be our toughest daily question. Who can rightly judge their own intentions in any given act? Our motives are usually mixed. When we do good, loving and righteous acts, are we doing them to assure ourselves that we are good people? Are we doing them to impress others with our compassion? Or are we doing them because our chief aim is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever?” (Shorter Westminster Catechism).

This question certainly applies to many areas of modern medical ethics. Does human cloning, three-parent embryos, surrogate pregnancy or physician-assisted suicide glorify God or self? Much transpiring in modern healthcare aims at the satisfaction of the individual, patient or family’s desires without reference to the God who made us. Individual autonomy should not trump sound reason and Scriptural mandate.

Numerous examples of research malfeasance have been exposed in recent days. Integrity in medical research is frequently compromised in efforts to be the first explorer into new scientific and ethical terrain. Routine medical decisions made on a more frequent basis may be to God’s glory or our own. Do our treatment choices, our billing practices, our choice of partners and our time commitments outside of work serve to reflect God’s glory or satisfy our own wants and desires? 

Why do we do what we do? Are we healthcare professionals seeking to glorify God, based on His call and His sustaining grace, or do financial stability, respect from others and attempts to bolster our own sense of personal worth drive our decisions and actions? 

Satan fell from heaven due to his pride. Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden when they fell for Satan’s lie, that by disobeying God she would become like God. Eve’s motivation seems to have been a desire to advance and promote her and her husband’s status, as opposed to obeying and glorifying God. On a daily basis, we are tempted to elevate ourselves, versus honoring and glorifying God. 

Guided by the Holy Spirit and applying Scripture, we must examine our motivation and decisions to see if our choices align with Scripture and are made to glorify God. The rallying cries of the Reformation still direct us today, not only in our spiritual lives, but in all aspects of who and whose we are, including the way we handle personal choices and difficult medical ethical issues.

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