John Wycliffe

by Jennifer Shin

Even before Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, there was another man who opposed the Roman Catholic Church and challenged its teaching and its authority – John Wycliffe. Wycliffe is considered to be the main precursor of the Reformation and is thus called “The Morning Star of the Reformation.” It was through his own Bible studies that he first began to question the teachings and traditions of the Catholic Church.

Wycliffe challenged several views that were held by the Catholic Church including transubstantiation – the idea that there is a change of substance from the bread and wine to the actual body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist – and also submitted the view of the priesthood of all true believers. But the foundation of his desire for reform in the Roman Catholic Church laid in the authority of Scripture. He believed in the sole and absolute authority of Scripture in the life of the Church but much of what he saw in the Church was Papal supremacy. The papacy did not adhere to the will of God according to Holy Scripture. Wycliffe stated, “Holy Scripture is the highest authority for every Christian and the standard of faith and of all human perfection.”

Because he believed the Word of God to be the absolute and only authority for the Christian, he also believed that the Bible needed to be made available to all men. At the time, England only possessed Bibles in Latin Vulgate. Church services were conducted in a language the people could not understand. Complete Bibles were only found in monasteries, college halls, the largest abbeys, and in the homes of the elite. Wycliffe thus conducted a translation of the entire Bible into the English vernacular from the Latin Vulgate. Though parts of Scripture were already translated into English prior to his involvement, Wycliffe was the first to oversee the process of translating the entirety of Scripture and to produce the first fully translated English Bible.

Many opposed the idea of the “average man” having a Bible in his hands and attacked Wycliffe and those who shared his vision, stating that those who could read English “did not know enough theology to understand the Bible.” The Church also took action and burned the English Bible wherever they found it.

The Bible was hard to obtain, even after it was translated into English, because of its monetary value. One Bible cost as much as two hogs, which fed an entire family for a year. It’s quite unfortunate to see how the majority of the copies of Scripture today are sitting on our bookshelves, full of truth, yet unable to transform our lives – not because it is powerless, but because we do not care to know what God says. We would rather choose to be swayed by the influences of the world and live under its authority, rather than allow God to govern our lives through His Word.

“Above everything else Wycliffe placed the Word of God, which was to him a beacon and a shining light in a world of gross spiritual darkness.” There is no greater authority than God, Himself. And knowing what this world is like and how it so easily manipulates us and tells us how to live, we ought to be constantly running to His Word for wisdom and protection from its ways.

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The Beacon is the monthly newsletter for Lighthouse Bible Church in San Diego, California. It covers a variety of subjects including LBC events, church history, current events from a Christan perspective, ministry profiles, and messages from our pastors and elders. To join the Beacon ministry, please contact Stephen Rodgers.

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