Thursday, October 20, 2005

Leading Up to The Reformation: The Scriptures Alone

The Emerging Church is a movement which defies definition. One aspect of this Christian movement has been the casting off the bonds of tradition. More importantly, Christ in the Scriptures directs us away from the traditions of men to follow the living God when he said, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." Mark 7:8 (NIV) This generation may feel that it is the first to challenge authority. However, it could be argued that casting off tradition is the hallmark of the Protestant tradition. John Wycliffe is called “Morning Star of the Reformation” for his teachings against the traditions of men found in the Roman Catholic Church. Wycliffe taught the proper place of ecclesiastical authority, against transubstantiation, and the authority of the Scriptures.
John Wycliffe was born of Saxon extraction around the year A.D. 1324 in Wycliffe Manor in Yorkshire, England. He was both an academic at Oxford University and a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. He held several posts to include warden at Cantebury Hall (1365). Archbishop Simon Langham removed Wycliffe from his position at Cantebury Hall in order to give it to another. Wycliffe appealed the matter to the Pope Urban V. After nine years of considering the matter, another Pope, Gregory XI denied his appeal. His critics thought Wycliffe's reforms were motivated by these injustices. Wycliffe was appointed by the king to the church of Lutterworth (1374), a position he held the rest of his life.
John Wycliffe was enlisted in service to the King as chaplain to the court. On the official documents, he is listed as the second delegate to negotiate at Bruges against payment of tribute to the papacy. At Bruges Wycliffe began a long term association with John of Gaunt, who would later protect Wycliffe. He was not included in the second set of talks, presumably because of staunch positions.
Upon the return from Bruges, he began his career as a reformer. A central theme to many of his ideas revolve around the topic of authority. His position regarding ecclesiastical authority was that it was not an absolute power but derived from God as long as it was faithful to teaching of the Scriptures. This was in direct conflict with how the papacy exercised powers over the civil governments at the time. Not only did he attack the civil authority of the papacy, he chipped away at one of the papacy's sources of power, the sacraments, when he denied transubstantiation. This doctrine stated that the Eucharist became the actual body and blood of Christ. Wycliffe taught that the presence of Christ came as the members of the church believed in faith.
Wycliffe was not attempting merely to deride the authority of ecclesiastical structures. Wycliffe taught that Scripture was the only source of authority and it should be given to the common Christian. To put his beliefs into practice, he developed two innovations. First, he developed band of poor preachers to take the Scriptures to the common people. The poor preachers ministered to the poor whom Wycliffe considered to be neglected by the Friars. His band of preachers also took tracts developed by Wycliffe with them on their iterate preaching missions. Secondly, Wycliffe translated the Scriptures from the Latin Vulgate version into English. It was a word for word translation which stuck to the Latin word order even when normal English would not call for the same. He probably did this so that his translation would not be accused of failing to be faithful. His translation became of part of the English Christian heritage. He set in motion reforms not only in his home country but also in Bohemia when his student returned with the their notes and Wycliffe's radical ideas. Wycliffe is important for articulating that the Scriptures are the final authority instead of ecclesiastical structures.
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