Reformation Biographies (01): John Wycliffe

Date: 10/16/2011
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Reformation Biographies (01): John Wycliffe

Proverbs 4:18-19 - But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day. The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know over what they stumble.

In an old hymnal in Prague was found a woodcut. Wycliffe was striking a flint, John Huss was putting the sparks on the kindling and Luther was seen with a great fire. The Reformation fire was begun and kindled by men prior to the Reformation. In this short series I wanted to address biblical principles of God’s providential work through human lives, but illustrate those biblical truths with the biographies of Reformation figures.

The Reformation in England was preceded by the work of the proto-Reformer, John Wycliffe (1320s-1384), as well as the classical school of John Colet (1467-1519), and William Tyndale’s (1494-1546) translation of the NT. It was aided by the leadership of a shady prime minister, Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540) who ordered the “Englishe Byble to be placed in every church in the realm,” and the work of Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) to edit the Book of Common Worship under King Edward VI, and more. God moves in mysterious ways.

The circumstances of the late medieval Church which involved massive corruption created a hunger for ideas of religious freedom, free grace and a free church and free state. These seeds were planted in John Wycliffe’s day (mid 1300s). The Western (Roman) Church had lost of credibility with the Babylonian Captivity, when Pope Boniface VIII, had a controversy with Philip IV of France (1302). Boniface VIII proclaimed absolute papal authority, saying that it "is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman pontiff.” Philip hired thugs to have Boniface VIII imprisoned and beaten to death. Then Clement V commanded by Philip to move to France (1309-1377). Gregory XI moved the papacy back to Rome 1377 and died. Urban VI was elected/bad guy, then deposed as an apostate, elected Clement VII, then. Hence, this led to the Great Schism (1378-1417) with three popes all running around at the same time claiming the highest authority. These consequences had the effect of challenging the ideas of the absolute authority of the Church and especially the pope.

Wycliffe was the first theologian to call the popes, acting against the gospel, Antichrists. Though Wycliffe's doctrines were condemned in 1377 by Pope Gregory XI, his cause ultimately prevailed in England and his followers, called Lollards, emerged as English Protestants in the coming generations. There was thus an underground Reformation before the Reformation. There was a light prior to the Reformation light, a “Morning Star of the Reformation,” in the gospel teachings of Wycliffe. He translated the Bible into Chaucer’s English and taught that the light of the Scriptures should be placed into the common language of the people. Because he studied Scripture he taught salvation by faith and opposed transubstantiation (Roman Catholic view of the Eucharist).

Gregg Strawbridge Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more