Friday, August 8, 2014

Wycliffe's Downline--by Linden Malki

The history of the Church is studded with extraordinary people. One of the metaphors Jesus used for his followers was the Vine and its branches. The thing about vines is that they don't grow tall; they branch out and spread in amazing directions.

One twig on God's Vine was John Wycliffe, born in Yorkshire, England, in 1320. By 1376 he was a parish priest and a professor at Oxford University who was very concerned about the political and financial as well as spiritual corruption in the the monasteries and church establishment of his day. He was so  convinced of the fundamental  importance of the Scriptures, which were primarily available in Latin, that he and his students translated the entire Bible into the common English of his day--the ancestor of all later English Bibles. This got him in huge trouble with  the church officials, but he had powerful polical friends. His students and mentorees were known as Lollards, and not only did they spread Wycliffe's teaching and translations in England (often at great risk to themselves) but on the continent of Europe as well. Wycliffe's writings were translated into Czech by Jan Hus in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) who was also preaching about problems he saw in the established Church. Hus was officially excommunicated in 1409, and was called before a Church Council at Cologne. Germany, under a "safe conduct" granted by the King of Hungary and Germany. where he was tried and executed in 1415. This set off a rejection of the Roman Catholic church in Bohemia and Moravia, and several Hussite churches grew up; such as the "Unity of the Brethren", known as the Moravian Church, established in 1457, sixty years before Martin Luther. Their members were exiled and went underground by 1620, but they survived and still exist today, with congregations and missionaries around the world. The Moravians were a major influence in the early spiritual struggles of John and Charles Wesley in the 1730's. John Wesley went on to become a major preacher and evangelist in England and America, and his brother Charles, a great hymnwriter. They are the founders of the  Methodist movement, and  lifelong advocates of small groups.

I see a pattern here--three men, four hundred years apart. They were teachers and preachers who cared deeply about the Word of God and the condition of the Church. Wycliffe was influenced by a book by an Archbishop of his day on teachings of Paul and Augustine; Hus was influenced by the writings and followers of Wycliffe, Wesley was inspired by spiritual descendents of Hus at a pivotal point in his life and in turn has a lasting legacy of spiritual descendants. We see men who were not only students and teachers, but also touched by God as He shaped their lives and legacies.  And we owe the Bibles we have in our hands to one man centuries ago who dedicated his life to making the Word of God available in the language we read. 

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