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The Struggle
Reflections on the Reformers

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John Wyclif (or Wycliffe) sending out his followers with hand-lettered New Testaments (original image)

Acts 10:34-43

From the Reformer

Be not youre herte afraied, ne drede it; ye bileuen in God, and bileue ye in me. In the hous of my fadir ben many dwellyngis; if ony thing lesse, Y hadde seid to you, for Y go to make redi to you a place. And if Y go, and make redi to you a place, eftsoones Y come, and Y schal take you to my silf, that where Y am, ye be. And whidur Y go, ye witen, and ye witen the weie. Thomas seith to hym, Lord, we witen not whidur thou goist, and hou moun we wite the weie? Jhesus seith to hym, Y am weie, treuthe, and lijf; no man cometh to the fadir, but bi me. If ye hadden knowe me, sotheli ye hadden knowe also my fadir; and aftirward ye schulen knowe hym, and ye han seyn hym. Filip seith to hym, Lord, schewe to vs the fadir, and it suffisith to vs.

—John Wyclif’s 14th century translation of John 14:1-8

Pulling It Together

Go ahead; try to read it again. Do not skim over it; read it aloud; struggle to pronounce the words and their meaning will come to you (especially of you have spent much time in the King James Bible, for it owes much to Wyclif’s text). Your struggle to understand the Medieval English of this 600-year old document is nothing compared to the struggle of Wyclif and his followers (the Lollards) to translate and publish it. It was a monumental effort in its day and met with disdain and reproach at nearly every turn. Wyclif and his followers must have known that not many of their hand-lettered copies of the New Testament would make it into the hands of the English people. Why? There were no machines, presses, duplicators, or copiers in the 14th century. Any copy had to be painstakingly reproduced by hand. So why did they work so hard and with such little thanks?

It may seem strange to modern churchgoers but, other than some history and moral lessons, the Bible was largely not taught in the churches of the 14th Century. The church was telling the people that salvation came through the church. John Wyclif, a post-medieval proto-reformer, read in the Bible that salvation comes through Christ alone. That Jesus is the way to God was kept from the eyes of the people, as though, if they did have one of Wyclif’s New Testaments, the John passage above had been smeared while the ink was still wet. Still, the passage was clear to those early proponents of reform in the church. They saw that salvation was not through the church and they wanted as many as could read to know (and share with others) that the gateway to God was through his Son alone.

More Reflections

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Of One Mind and Purpose is a six-session study examines the unique way in which the Bible describes being united in Christ. It explains how God’s Word can either divide people or bring them together in faith, showing how the relationship we have with one another in the Church comes through Christ alone.

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