Once upon a time I entertained a first-class airline seat. The duration of the flight called for a scrumptious meal. Looking down I almost laughed out loud at the comical sight: a metal fork and spoon, and a plastic butter knife with no teeth. The steak filet won, hands down.
When churches chase clever marketing techniques, circuses, and BMX stunts to draw a crowd at the expense of compromising the gospel, they have abandoned the supreme authority of God’s word and are left wielding a pathetic, plastic butter knife with no teeth. The average church attender must demand the proper place of God’s word on the Lord’s Day for both worship, faith and practice. Pastors as well must take their directives from God’s word and wield the only authoritative weapon we have: The Holy Scriptures. Once upon a time, several centuries ago, the word of God was inaccessible among the common man. Unless one had the ability and skills to read or study Latin, the Bible was closed off and the truth of the gospel as well.
John Wycliffe, born in the 1330s, grew up in an age where the peddling of the gospel was commonplace. The good news of Jesus had become twisted and gnarled into a works-righteousness system, where the sinner (falsely taught) could possibly earn his way to heaven on his own good merit or by enough coinage given to the church. He witnessed firsthand the corruption within the papacy and among the clergy. The gospel of grace had been buried beneath the affairs of popes vying for power and amassing luxuriant wealth. He gained his Doctorate from Oxford in 1372 and sought to reform the Church by challenging the teaching of transubstantiation and papal authority.
Wycliffe believed reading Scripture was sufficient and authoritative to open men’s eyes to their great need of salvation in Christ. Burdened that the Bible was a sealed book to the common man, he and his associates translated the Latin Vulgate into common English, and traveled abroad teaching the Bible. This had never been done before! In Wycliffe’s day, the flow of information crawled at a snail’s pace. Books were still written by hand.
The common man gained immediate access to the English Bible in their own homes. Do we take this for granted? What freedom and joy to read the Bible and know that grace, pardon, righteousness, forgiveness, and peace with God are a free gift for those who believe (or depend upon or trust) in Jesus Christ alone as their Lord and Savior! What a liberating message of gospel hope that Christ ransoms sinners, no longer buried under the annals of time! Being united to Christ by faith alone, believers are empowered and indwelt by the Holy Spirit to pursue holiness and righteousness as new creations, motivated by God’s love, mercy and grace.
According to Scripture, Wycliffe viewed each man as equal before God. As leading professor of Oxford, he taught this radical idea, usurping the mediating role of the priest and rendering the sacrificial masses obsolete.1 The pope was bent upon eradicating his so-called heretical teachings, but Wycliffe died from a stroke in 1384.
Providentially, Wycliffe’s commitment to Biblical fidelity lived on in his tracts and books, heavily influencing John Huss from Bohemia, the modern-day Czech Republic. Serving as Rector at the University in Prague, Huss openly defended Wycliffe’s books and teachings. He, too, detested and spoke out against indulgences for the pardoning of sin, abuses in the papacy, and corruption within the Roman Catholic Church. Adopting his stance from Wycliffe, Huss believed that Christ is the true Head of the Church, and not the pope. The power and faithfulness of God’s word moved Huss to live out its teaching, that is, “To obey God rather than men.” Boldly, Huss preached the authority of Scripture in the common Bohemian tongue. Typically, preaching was conducted in Latin. He condemned the avarice of the popes (one in Avignon, France and one in Rome, Italy) in their fight for power and materialistic gain. The popularity attained by Huss was far and wide, both among the common folk and the nobility, especially his translating the Bible into the Czech language.
In a letter to Moravian Christians, he appeals to the Holy Scriptures as the highest authority—not Wycliffe, nor angels—echoing the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 1:8. Like Tyndale in the years to come, Huss was willing to align his beliefs according to the Scriptures. Huss recounts his defense, “The Council desired me to declare the falsity of all of my books and each article taken from them. I refused to do so, unless they should be proved false by Scripture.”2 Huss refused to flex or waver from Scripture’s authority and at the Council of Constance in 1415 A.D. was burned at the stake.
Like Huss and Wycliffe, William Tyndale possessed fiery zeal to put the truths of the Bible into the hands of ordinary men. For the first time ever in history, Tyndale translated the Greek New Testament into English in 1526 while in exile. The Gutenberg printing press, engineered in 1450, contributed to the mass dissemination of printed Bibles. Clandestinely, he smuggled Bibles into England so the average plowman could read it. By 1527, Tyndale’s English translation was banned by the Bishop of London. Less than a decade later, Tyndale was betrayed in Antwerp, the Netherlands, and later strangled and then burned at the stake in 1536. Tyndale’s famous last words, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes!” 3
Wycliffe, Huss and Tyndale remained steadfast to the authority of the word of God and their lives testified to Philippians 3:8 “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Do you drink deeply from the fountain of God’s word daily that is so readily available to you in multiple forms of media? Let us have the word of Christ richly dwelling within us to continually transform us into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Scripture alone to God’s glory alone.
Preachers must be heralding God’s word: 2 Timothy 4:1-2 “I [Paul] charge you [Timothy] in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” As prescribed by God’s word, the preaching of God’s authoritative word is the means whereby believers are exhorted and reproved or corrected in their thinking and their practice in the Christian life. As these countless men before us who shed their blood for the people to hear the word in their own native languages, we too must remain steadfast, faithfully proclaiming the whole counsel of God.
Dwell on Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Robby Clay has been serving Christ in Southwest Nebraska for the past six years as pastor of Imperial Bible Church. When there’s free time, his five kiddos keep him enthralled with local exploration, hiking and biking and an occasional chess game.