John Wycliffe: The Morning Star of the Reformation

October, 2017—This is the month where Christians around the world are commemorating 500 years since God used Martin Luther to start the Protestant Reformation. But Luther wasn’t the only one the Lord used to bring about this great gospel recovery.

The events of the Protestant Reformation were set into motion long before Luther nailed his “Ninety-Five Theses” to the doors of a church in Wittenberg, just as the legacy of these events continue on today, as well. I want us to consider John Wycliffe, who is often called “The Morning Star of the Reformation.”

A British theologian and Bible translator, Wycliffe was a forerunner to the Reformation over a century before those historic events would unfold. Wycliffe said, “Trust wholly in Christ; rely altogether on his sufferings; beware of seeking to be justified in any other way than by his righteousness.”

Wycliffe’s teachings and work translating the Bible into the language of the people would resonate heavily with the reformers long after his death in 1384, laying a foundation for Martin Luther to ignite the Protestant Reformation.

Dr. Carl Trueman is an ordained minister of the gospel, and professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Carl is also featured on the new documentary by Haven’s own Stephen McCaskell called Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer. In this audio clip, Dr. Trueman offers a perfect summary of who Wycliffe was, what he taught, and why Christians today should follow in his footsteps:

Even if you are not familiar with John Wycliffe, you may have heard of an organization that bears his name: Wycliffe Bible Translators. Even today, Wycliffe’s legacy of Bible translation is carried on—not just by Wycliffe Bible Translators, but by many other missionaries around the world.

Translating the Bible into a people group’s known language is the first step in any reformation or revival. Wycliffe said, “Englishmen learn Christ’s law best in English. Moses heard God’s law in his own tongue; so did Christ’s apostles.” And of course, he wasn’t just all about the law. Wycliffe said, “Preaching the Gospel is the best deed that man does here to his brethren.”

I think those of us in the English speaking world often take for granted the groundbreaking work of Wycliffe, and the work of others like William Tyndale (another English Bible translator in the 16th century). But we shouldn’t take this access to God’s Word for granted. Why? Because the Bible says faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. (Romans 10:17)

One of my colleagues, Dan Warne, shared a powerful story of how Bible translation and gospel proclamation—hallmarks of Wycliffe’s teaching that we heard about—have begun to impact the village where he grew up on the mission field, and it’s where his parents still serve today.

It all began with a man who spoke the Mayo Indian dialect in Mexico, dying of cancer. Dan’s father and a couple of Mayo Christians came from another village and began sharing the good news with him in his own language. When they left, they were able to leave a cassette recorder to playback a Mayo language translation of one of the New Testament gospels. (The Mayo people didn’t have the whole New Testament in their own language until just three years ago.)

Lying there on his burlap cot in an adobe room, the man listened and came to know the Lord. As cancer slowly took over his body, this man was filled with joy and peace in the face of death because he finally knew Jesus! Just as Wycliffe preached so many years ago, this man heard the gospel and wholly trusted in Christ to save him.

Though this man was old, both of his parents were still living at 98 and 100 years old. When they saw the peace their son experienced as he faced death, they asked through a translator how they could know this kind of peace, too. “We’re not so young ourselves” they said. And, little by little, the majority of that man’s family came to know the Lord through the simple power of hearing the Word of God and coming to Jesus by faith.

Isn’t that incredible? This story is a great illustration of John Wycliffe’s legacy today. Just as a Spanish Bible wouldn’t make sense to a Mayo speaker, Wycliffe knew that a Bible in Latin wouldn’t do the average Englishman any good.

Wycliffe also did it at a high risk to his own safety—the Church issued five edicts for his arrest. But he labored on, just as other Christians work throughout the world continue to translate God’s Word into every known language. And many of them do this despite the hostile and dangerous countries and contexts they work in.

The sacrifices made by Bible translators every day make the work they do that much more beautiful and significant. Because of this, I’d like to echo what Paul said in Romans 10 when quoting Isaiah: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

About the Author

As the leader of the Haven Ministries, Charles Morris is always thinking of ways to lead Christians and non-Christians to Christ—hence the familiar slogan, “Telling the great story … it’s all about Jesus.” A former secular journalist, Charles has worked for United Press International, and as a press secretary for two former U.S. senators. He and his wife, Janet, have authored several books, including Missing Jesus. Charles’ latest book is Fleeing ISIS, Finding Jesus: The Real Story of God At Work.

Most of the thoughts above are taken from broadcasts of Haven Today. Corum Hughes serves as the editor of this blog and coordinator for Haven’s social media content. A graduate of Moody Bible Institute, Corum lives in Boise, ID with his wife Molly.

Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer

Discover the story of the former monk who sparked the Reformation. Told through a seamless combination of live-action storytelling and artistic animation, Martin Luther’s daring life is presented in extensive detail while still making the film relevant, provocative, and accessible.
Produced and just released by Haven Ministry’s Stephen McCaskell, this highly acclaimed 90-minute documentary will transport you back to the definitive moments that impacted the Church today. It will challenge you to a bolder faith and a greater passion to see the saving truth of Christ go into the world. This documentary needs to be watched and shared with small groups and in churches.

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