Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Following Wycliffe's Example


"We study the Bible because it is the whole counsel of God."

John Wycliffe lived during the 1300s and could be considered the original Reformer. He rejected some of the core teachings of the Roman Catholic Church from a perspective that appealed to the Bible alone as his authority. He believed that God's book in the hands of God's people was a goal of paramount importance. Writing for Tabletalk Magazine, Stephen Nichols has done a great job summarizing Wycliffe's life and influence:

In 1378, Wycliffe wrote On the Truth of Sacred Scripture. Here we see the beginnings of the doctrine so crucial to the Reformation: sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). In this work, Wycliffe makes the case that all Christians have a right to the Word of God in their own language. Wycliffe so believed in this principle that he devoted his later years to translating the Latin Vulgate text into Middle English. He was joined by others, such as Nicholas of Hereford and John Purvey. These labors culminated in what would come to be Wycliffe's crowning achievement—the Wycliffe Bible.

The Wycliffe Bible consisted of hand-copied manuscripts—hundreds of them. They were put into service by Wycliffe’s troupe of pastors, the so-called poor priests. They had very little to their name, and they likely were not all that impressive looking. A friend of Wycliffe once described him as having a “spare, ill, emaciated frame.” His poor priests likely fared no better. But they had copies of the Bible.

These preachers came to be called Lollards. Soon that term was expanded to apply to those who followed Wycliffe’s teachings. The Lollards grew and grew. “Every second man that you meet,” the saying went, “is a Lollard.”

Lollard is a Dutch word meaning “to mumble“ or “to murmur.“ Since Wycliffe’s followers were preaching and reading the Bible in English, not in Latin, they were derided as mumblers and murmurers. But they weren’t mumbling. They were speaking the truth. The Lollards even had their Wittenberg Door moment, nailing a petition to the doors of Parliament’s Westminster Hall in 1395. The Lollards extended Wycliffe's influence well beyond his lifetime, and even on into the British Reformation of the sixteenth century.

While attending church on December 28, 1384, Wycliffe suffered a severe stroke, his second. He died two days later. Post tenebras lux—“after darkness, light”—is the slogan representing the Reformation at Calvin’s Geneva. The sun did rise in the Reformation of the sixteenth century, and the light of the gospel chased the darkness away. But we can all be grateful for the pioneering efforts of the fourteenth century Oxford scholar John Wycliffe, the Morning Star of the Reformation.

May we cherish Scripture the same way Wycliffe and his troupe of pastors did!

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