(Continued from page 288)Protestants still use Luther's canon of the Bible instead of the rightful Catholic one?
You write: 'Some of Luthers' abuses have since been rectified by his spiritual descendants, but all Protestants, including Fundamentalists, still give assent today to Luthers' doings by using his canon of the Bible instead of the rightful Catholic one'.
TCE: We have already proven that the canon you claim to be true is a figment of your imagination and it is the Papal Roman Catholic Church that has embraced a false canon. The onus is on you to disprove us! This also applies to your claim that: 'contrary to popular Protestant belief, Luther was not the first to produce a Bible in the language of the people. At the time his Bible came out, there were already 17 different Catholic Church-approved Bibles in Luther's own German tongue alone, and those were in addition to dozens of others in other European languages.' We have shown that Papal Rome persecuted those who dared translate, distribute and teach from translated Bibles. The standard Bible of the Huguenots for hundreds of years was the translation of the Scriptures by the Waldensian scholar, Robert the Olivetan at the Collegium del Barba in Pra del Torno. Robert translated into French because, at that time and even extending to the present, this was largely the language of the Waldensian people, probably because of the assimilation of Albigenses and followers of Peter Waldo, their proximity to France and the hostility of Papal Rome to these Christians. Many early translations of the Scriptures into English were made, not from Greek or Hebrew but from Jerome's monumental work into Latin. For example, Wycliffe's translation of the Bible in the early 14th century, the first in Europe in a nearly thousand years, was based upon Jerome's Vulgate. We know that people, such as the German speaking Anabaptists, used German editions of the Scripture based on the Vulgate before Luther's September Bibel (completed 1534) came into existence. William Tyndale was the first to translate the Bible into English entirely from its original languages. The Froschauer or Zuericher Bibel (completed 1529) and a translation of the Prophets, by Haetzer and Deck, were popular in Germany before Luther completed his work - but the onus on you is to prove both that Papal Rome did not just prevent and restrict the translation from the Latin Vulgate - but actually encouraged this work as you infer. We can supply the evidence from the trials of the Anabaptists and the Protestant martyrs - where is your evidence?
Protestant-Fundamentalism began a hundred years ago?
You write: 'as a Fundamentalist, you like to keep a distance from Luther, but if it were not for him and others who followed in his footsteps, you would not have the belief system you have. Fundamentalism is only about a little over a hundred years old, and one of its main tenets is to revise History to try to show that its beliefs have existed since New Testament times. There is absolutely no proof for that. Until the late 1800's, all Protestants (and you are one, whether you admit it or not) acknowledged that their religions were born in the Middle Ages or later, and that the Catholic Church was the one initially founded by Jesus. It is only lately that Fundamentalists and some other denominations have tried to cover the fact that theirs is just 'another gospel' as condemned by Paul in Gal. 1:6-9'.
We can easily defend our beliefs from the Bible alone and all of the unique Papal Roman Catholic doctrines are equally easy to disprove as we will do shortly with your latter attempts to discredit the doctrines believed in by the groups we named in the first e-mail, and who existed long before Luther. You have ignored so many of the points we made that we challenge you now to answer just one of them, or do you admit again that you, and all of Papal Rome for that matter, is without 'the physical or mental capacity to ... reply'? The absolute proof you try and deny is in the Bible and for you to deny this is to 'prove too much', for admission that the heretical gospel of Papal Rome existed when the Biblical path of salvation was lost causes you to align yourself with the Mormons, Christadelphians and other cults who claim that 'the gates of hell' did prevail against the church - despite Christ's clear words in Matthew 16:18 that this would not occur!
Your attempt to simply dismiss the pre-Reformation heroes of Fundamentalists (Cathari, Waldensians, Lollards, Hussites, etc.) is utterly inadequate. To try and claim that they were nothing more than heretics whose 'gospels' originated in the Middle Ages, and therefore could not be the gospel spread by the apostles, is simply laughable. There were more than the Waldenses who followed the teaching of Peter Waldo, the Lollards who followed the teaching of John Wycliffe, and the Bohemians who followed the teaching of John Hus. We will examine some of the groups through history who give us reason to believe that the New Testament doctrine of justification by faith alone was implicitly, if not explicitly, held by many other pious souls throughout all the ages of Papal darkness. We will also consider the damage caused by genuine heresies which Papal Rome failed to deal with adequately.
The errors of 'autosoterism' ('self-salvation') came into the church through Pelagius, the late-fourth/early-fifth-century British monk who formally taught that men can save themselves, i.e. to say that: their native powers are such that men are capable of doing everything that God requires of them for salvation. Augustine (354-430), bishop of Hippo, vigorously resisted Pelagius̓ teachings with his own teachings on sin and grace, insisting that men are incapable of saving themselves and that all the powers essential to the saving of the soul must come from a gracious God. 'Augustinianism' triumphed formally, if not actually, over Pelagianism in A.D. 418 when Pelagianism was condemned at the Sixteenth Council of Carthage. Unfortunately, Augustine did not always hold consistently to this principle and one can find the doctrine both of salvation by grace through faith and the blurring of that vision by a salvation dispensed through the church and its sacraments (L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 559) in his work. The former may be found expressed, for example, in his Confessions when he writes: 'You converted me to yourself so that I no longer sought.. .any of this world̓s promises' (8:12), and again, 'By your gift I had come totally not to will what I had willed but to will what you willed' (9.1, emphasis supplied). Augustine clearly understood that his conversion was entirely the work of God̓s grace. But the latter view may also be found in his Confessions when he writes: 'I recognized the act of your will, and I gave praise to your name, rejoicing in faith. But this faith would not let me feel safe about my past sins, since your baptism had not yet come to remit them' (9.4). Augustine then declares that, after Ambrose baptized him, 'all anxiety as to our past life fled away' (9.6). As for justification, interpreting as he did the Latin verb justificare ('to justify') as justum facere ('to make righteous'), Augustine understood justifying righteousness as an internal righteousness, something that God works within us.
The Protestant Reformation came about as others recognised Augustine̓s doctrine of grace against his doctrine of the church, and thus began a revolt against seeing grace 'channelled' through the sacraments of church ordinances. The Reformation was an affirmation of Augustine̓s grasp of utter human lostness, bondage to sin, the indispensability of grace, and the glory of the gospel because of Him who brought the good news.
The post-apostolic church̓s soteriology (doctrine of salvation) was mangled by Rome over a period of time despite the occasional light imparted through men such as Augustine and certainly a large section of the Christian church moved away from the pristine Pauline teaching on salvation by pure grace and justification by faith alone. This eventually led to the encroachment of the Pelagian heresy, Semi-Pelagianism and Semi-Semi-Pelagianism, which found popular expression in the slogan of late medieval scholasticism, 'God will not deny his grace to those who do what lies within their power' a theological heresy which is still heard today or, more often, found in stores - 'God helps those who help themselves' - except it is now usually followed by 'We prosecute!' The accumulated errors gained formal expression in the sacerdotal system of Thomas Aquinas, which in turn finally became the hardened official position of the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent and continues to be the official position of the Papal Roman communion to the present day. Although 'Augustianism' triumphed formally, Pelagianism did not die with its condemnation at the Carthage Council in A.D. 418, but only went underground to reappear from time to time to haunt the church, as it does to this day.
There is evidence that there has always been an elect 'remnant' by grace who believed the true gospel. An illustrations of this remnant comes from Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury (1033-1109), who wrote a tract to console the dying who were very aware of their inability to answer the sin question through their own good works (q.v. Opera, Migne, 1:686-7):
Question: Do you believe that the Lord Jesus died for you? Answer: I believe it.
Question: Do you thank him for his passion and death? Answer: I do thank him.
Question: Do you believe that you cannot be saved except by his death? Answer: I believe it.
Anselm then addresses the dying man: 'Come then, while life remains in you, in his death alone place your whole trust; in nothing else place any trust; to his death commit yourself wholly; with this alone cover yourself wholly; and if the Lord your God wills to judge you, say: 'Lord, between your judgment and me I present the death of our Lord Jesus Christ; in no other way can I contend with you.̓ And if he shall say that you are a sinner, say: 'Lord, I interpose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my sins and you.̓ If he should say that you deserve condemnation, say: 'Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my evil deserts and you, and his merits I offer for those which I ought to have and have not.̓ If he says that he is angry with you, say: 'Lord, I oppose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between your wrath and me.̓ And when you have completed this, say again: 'Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and you.''
Was this view of the utter grace of God lost through the centuries and was Luther the first, or only, man who recognised this truth? Absolutely not!
John Staupitz (d. 1524), the vicar-general of the Augustinian Order for all Germany, one day asked the young Martin Luther: 'Why are you so sad, brother Martin?' 'Ah,' replied the young Luther, 'I do not know what will become of me... It is in vain that I make promises to God; sin is ever the stronger.' Staupitz replied:
O my friend, more than a thousand times have I sworn to our holy God to live piously, and I have never kept my vows. Now I swear no longer, for I know that I cannot keep my solemn promises. If God will not be merciful towards me for the love of Christ, and grant me a happy departure when I must quit this world, I shall never, with the aid of all my vows and all my good works, stand before him. I must perish.
Why do you torment yourself...? Look at the wounds of Jesus Christ, to the blood that he has shed for you; it is there that the grace of God will appear to you. Instead of torturing yourself on account of your sins, throw yourself into the Redeemer̓s arms. Trust in him - in the righteousness of his life - in the atonement of his death. Do not shrink back... Listen to the Son of God. He became man to give you the assurance of divine favor.' (J. H. Merle D̓Aubigne, The Lfe and Times of Martin Luther (Reprint; Chicago: Moody, 1978) 37-8.
While it is true that Papal Roman Catholics and the average Christian believe that evangelical history began with the Reformation, this is a matter of ignorance and not fact. The gospel did not begin with Luther, nor evangelicalism with the Reformation. Anabaptists and their precursors had been labouring, with others, for a Reformed church in every century from at least the fourth, when Constantine launched an un-Biblical and pagan Christianity upon the world. When, in the fifth century, the Roman Empire's brand of Christianity made the rejection of infant baptism a capital crime, these brave proto-Baptists were slaughtered, not in their thousands but in their millions. May God bless their hallowed memory, and the example they set in the struggle for a purer church. How seldom do they get even a mention today.
When the Reformation arrived, these Baptists praised God for it, and threw themselves into it with holy enthusiasm. But a shock awaited them for their participation was not welcome and some of the Reformers persecuted them fiercely, even to death. These godly people, Baptists and others, struggled to keep the faith of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ alive for a thousand years before the Reformation. Long before John Wycliffe and John Huss there were many, many more and all of them lived long before Luther. Wycliffe, was born in 1324 and actively opposed the Mendicant Friars. When he was about thirteen, Wycliffe became a student at Merton College at Oxford. Sadly, rather than studying the Scriptures, men then spent their time studying writers such as Aquinas and Duns Scotus. However there had been one godly man who had been a professor at Merton College. His name was Bradwardine and he was finishing his career at about the same time that the young Wycliffe was starting his. Bradwardine was ready to accept what God had revealed in His Word. He saw the path that others missed and taught the truth of the Gospel that God alone is able to save men from their sins by His sovereign grace and light began to dawn across Europe because of this great man. Robert Grosetete, Bishop of Lincoln, was another man who had seen the truth of the gospel of grace which proved such anathema to Papal Rome. While such men were used by God to assist in Wycliffe's further knowledge, yet his understanding of the Scriptures was further advanced than theirs, and he was quite prepared to disagree with them when he felt it was necessary. Above everything else Wycliffe placed the Word of God, which was to him a beacon and a shining light in a world of gross spiritual darkness (at this time there was no Bible written in English - it was only available in Latin.)
Some, including John Foxe, consider that Wycliffe was more responsible than Luther for the Reformation in England and that he has not received the recognition which it should have done. Without a knowledge of the work done by him and continued by his followers, the Lollards (itinerant preachers who he trained and sent throughout England to bring to the common people the Word of God and the message of salvation through Jesus Christ), we could not understand the English Reformation. Wycliffe's great strength was his adherence to the Scriptures. It was the faithful preaching and teaching from the Word of God which these men faithfully proclaimed which accomplished so much.
Wycliffe grew spiritually as he gained greater knowledge and understanding of what the Word of God was teaching. He came to see that the whole system of Rome was at variance with the Scriptures and exposed her errors, such as belief in transubstantiation. Foxe says that Wycliffe thought about how he was to approach this matter. He decided that it 'should be done by little and little.' Therefore he started with small issues and so opened for himself a way to deal with greater matters. Thus 'he came to touch the matters of the Sacraments, and other abuses of the Church.'
For his translation efforts and his Biblical views, Wycliffe was hounded mercilessly by the Roman authorities. By Wycliffe's day, 'it had become a crime for those who could read the Scriptures in their mother tongue to do so' (Armitage, A History of the Baptists, 1890, I, p. 314).
Wycliffe was forced to appear before the Catholic bishops in the first half of the year 1377, to whom he was to give an account of his doctrine. Wycliffe had declared the Scriptures 'to be the property of the people, and one which no party should be allowed to wrest from them' (Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, I, p. xlii). Wycliffe was protected from the wrath of the bishops at that time by the intervention of the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt. 'Failing in this attempt, the bishops now solicited the aid of the pope, Gregory XI. The desired aid was given in generous measure. In May, 1377, five bulls were issued, designed to weave the coils so effectually about Wycliffe that escape would be impossible, and calling upon the King, the royal princes, the Privy Council, the chief of the nobility, and the University of Oxford, to render their pious assistance in bringing the disturber to justice. …… Wycliffe indeed appeared before the pope's commissioners and commenced to explain and to justify his teachings. He had not proceeded far, however, when the conference was cut short by the interference of the government and the London populace in his behalf' (Henry Shelton, History of the Christian Church, II, 1895, pp. 409,10).
Wycliffe has left a record of what he thought of these Papal bulls by which he was labeled a heretic for translating the Word of God into English:
'You say it is heresy to speak of the Holy Scriptures in English. You call me a heretic because I have translated the Bible into the common tongue of the people. Do you know whom you blaspheme? Did not the Holy Ghost give the Word of God at first in the mother-tongue of the nations to whom it was addressed? Why do you speak against the Holy Ghost? You say that the Church of God is in danger from this book. How can that be? Is it not from the Bible only that we learn that God has set up such a society as a Church on the earth? Is it not the Bible that gives all her authority to the Church? Is it not from the Bible that we learn who is the Builder and Sovereign of the Church, what are the laws by which she is to be governed, and the rights and privileges of her members? Without the Bible, what charter has the Church to show for all these? It is you who place the Church in jeopardy by hiding the Divine warrant, the missive royal of her King, for the authority she wields and the faith she enjoins' (Fountain, John Wycliffe, pp. 45-47).
It is interesting to note, too, that old Wycliffe believed the Bible to be the Word of God without error from beginning to end. He testified:
'It is impossible for any part of the Holy Scriptures to be wrong. In Holy Scripture is all the truth; one part of Scripture explains another' (Fountain, p. 48).
In 1361 he was elected master of Balliol College and obtained the favour of John of Gaunt through the strength of his reply to the pope's (un-Scriptural!) claim for tribute and, in 1374, became Rector of Lutterworth. Wycliffe would have been cut off by the Roman Catholic authorities had he not, by divine intervention, been protected by certain powerful individuals. One of these was the Duke of Lancaster, who continued to be his shield for years but abandoned him in the end. In 1377, Papal bulls were sent to England which allowed the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy the opportunity to call Wycliffe before them. This was done at Lambeth Palace at St. Paul's in April, 1378. A large crowd gathered to see Wycliffe's appearance, and the bishops were very aware of the support he was being given. During the proceedings a message arrived from the queen mother (Queen Joan) the wife of Edward III (1360-76), and mother of the reigning king, Richard II, forbidding them to pass sentence on Wycliffe (Fountain, John Wycliffe, p. 33). This caused so much fear among the bishops and their supporters that they did not dare harm Wycliffe. He, however, made his position very clear in a lengthy written paper showing many of the errors of the papacy. He also pointed out the reforms which should be carried out if the Church was to be true to Christ and His commandments. Despite his enemies' hatred, God was his protection. During this time the pope wished to establish the Papal Inquisition in England. Wycliffe gave such wise advice to the government of his day that the pope was unable to do so. Even though English 'heretics' were persecuted by Papal Rome over the next 200 years, things would have been much worse without the witness for the Word of God from Wycliffe and his followers. Who knows how many thousands of innocent 'heretics' in Britain survived because of the work of God through a man who knew his Bible! In 1378 Pope Gregory XI, who had cast many Papal bulls against Wycliffe, died and the Great Schism began, during which there were two popes, who were too busy hurling curses and excommunicating one another to worry much about Wycliffe in England! Wycliffe recognised the spirit behind this system and openly declared that the whole Papal system was anti-Christian and the pope was the antichrist, the man of sin, 'who exalteth himself above ... God' (2 Thessalonians 2:4).
After the Peasant's Revolt of 1381, Wycliffe's old enemy, William Courtenay, became the Primate and, in 1382, called a synod to try to punish Wycliffe who had boldly proclaimed that the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation was false. He taught that the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper do not change substance and are merely symbolic of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Wycliffe's former protector, John Gaunt, refused to accept Wycliffe's denial of Rome's lynch pin doctrine. He warned Wycliffe to be silent about this, but Wycliffe refused, though he knew by his stand he would probably lose his protection from an earthly perspective. Gaunt withdrew his guardianship because of this and was expelled from his teaching position at Oxford at that time and was forced into exile, withdrawing to his parish of Lutterworth where he lived until his death. That same year the Chancellor 'issued a mandate forbidding some of Wycliffe's theses on the Lord's Supper to be taught in the University as being plainly heterodox. At the middle of the next year the archbishop sent orders to the University prohibiting attendance upon the preaching of Wycliffe' (Shelton, History of the Christian Church, II, p. 422). In 1381 'the English Parliament passed the first English statute against heresy, enjoining the arrest, trial and imprisonment of heretics' (Hassell, History of the Church of God, p. 459).
In May 1382, Wycliffe was called, at Courtenay's behest, before yet another synod of ecclesiastical authorities. The Blackfriars' Synod was held in the monastery of the same name in London but, when the 47 bishops and monks and religious doctors took their seats, a powerful earthquake shook the city. Huge stones fell out of castle walls and pinnacles toppled. 'Wycliffe called it a judgment of God and afterwards described the gathering as the 'Earthquake Council'' (Fountain, John Wycliffe, p. 39). The synod condemned Wycliffe, charging him specifically with 10 heresies and 16 errors. His writings were forbidden to be read in the land and the king gave authority to imprison those who believed the condemned doctrines. But the following year Wycliffe appealed to Parliament and he called for many changes in the way the Catholic Church was administered. He presented his reasons clearly and the Commons supported Wycliffe and, his trial over, he returned to his parish at Lutterworth and faithfully continued in the work to which God had called him. Wycliffe only lived another two years but was able to complete the translation of the Bible into English. Besides the work of translation he was enabled to develop, expound and publish his theological views as well as training and sending out his preachers. Despite these great tasks he acted as a true pastor to the congregation at Lutterworth.
Today we almost take for granted that we should be able to read God's Word in our own language, but in Wycliffe's day this was certainly not the situation. Until Wycliffe produced his translation, Jerome's Latin Vulgate was the only version of Scripture available for English people to read. Added to this was a prohibition on anyone other than the clergy reading the Scriptures. Wycliffe's work in making the Scriptures available to ordinary people was much opposed by Papal Rome and some years later the Church passed a decree which virtually prohibited the translation of God's Word.
Wycliffe correctly believed that the translation of the Bible was absolutely essential. People had to be able to read God's Word in a language they could understand. He believed that the Scriptures were inspired by God and every part was to be accepted without reserve. Even with the translation completed, there still remained the enormous task of publishing. Every word had to be hand-written because the printing press had not yet been invented. Even today, after more than 600 years, there are about one hundred and seventy hand written copies still available. This gives us some idea of the great number of people who worked at this task for the even greater number who wished to have their own copy of the Scriptures. It has been estimated that it would have cost a man six month's wages to pay for a copy of the New Testament! No wonder the truth of the gospel was hidden from so many people, for the clergy of Papal Rome certainly never presented its truth from their pulpits. Fortunately, as well as the work of translation, Wycliffe was diligent in sending out the Lollards. These men were not laymen, but students who had come to embrace the theology propounded by Wycliffe as well as his practical principles. They were ordained men but without benefices and they did not have a bishop's licence (the term Lollard predated Wycliffe and was in use both in England and Germany long before his time and, like the terms Waldenses and Paulicians, the term came to be used by Roman authorities to malign various groups of separatist Christians). Papal Rome complained bitterly and tried hard to stop them. They were easily recognised by their dress of a long reddish-coloured gown and with a staff in their hand, but without shoes. They also carried Wycliffe's Bible Translation, or, at least, a portion of it. They would preach in any place where there were people to listen. Wycliffe himself was considered by many to be the greatest preacher of his day. As in all his endeavours, he based his preaching on the Word of God. Wherever he spoke - at Lutterworth, Oxford, or in London - people listened. His sermons were full of Bible truth and he had great confidence in the effectiveness of the Word by the Spirit to bring people to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. While Luther made the truth of justification by faith clearer in his teachings, Wycliffe certainly held to this important doctrine. He came to see and to thoroughly believe, the doctrine of election and held to this doctrine as firmly as Calvin and, like Calvin, saw no contradiction between this doctrine and that of man's responsibility. He always maintained the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Mediator between God and man and it is interesting to note that Luther himself made use of a number of Wycliffe's writings in his own battles with the pope.
He was then summoned to appear before the Pontiff in Rome but he suffered his first stroke and was unable to go. In his reply to the pope he said, among other things, that Christ has 'taught me more obedience to God than to man.' Despite his physical weakness, he continued with his preaching. During the worship service on December 29, 1384 he suffered his third stroke and died two days later. Over forty years later, by the order of a Church Council, his body and bones were exhumed and publicly burnt. His ashes were cast into the Swift River near Lutterworth with the idea that he would no longer have any influence, but the reverse was true. His teaching lived on and the Church of Rome was not able to silence him. As Thomas Fuller wrote, 'And thus the ashes of Wycliffe are the emblem of his doctrine, which now is dispensed all the world over.'
The marriage of the godly Anne of Bohemia to Richard II of England led to spiritual links with Bohemia. Through the Queen's influence Wycliffe's works were taken to Bohemia where Jan Huss was greatly influenced by them. Jerome of Prague came to Oxford and he too came to embrace the doctrines promoted by Wycliffe and took his writings back to his own land. Thus Wycliffe's influence extended through Huss to Luther in Germany and then through Luther back to England. In the years after Wycliffe's death the work of the Lollards successfully continued despite severe periods of persecution. Today many Christian historians consider that this work continued to flourish and indeed was a major contributing factor to the way that the Reformation under Luther, Calvin and Knox proceeded in England and Scotland. Burrows said, in his book Wycliffe's Place in History:
'It is not too much to say that it saved the English Reformation from the extravagances and errors which naturally sprang from the comparative suddenness of the change elsewhere.'
John Wycliffe was a man truly used of God in his own generation. Indeed through his work of translating the Scriptures from Latin into the English language, his expounding the truths of God's Word, and in sending out his preachers to bring the truth to the ordinary people, he was greatly used of God to bring blessing to many who lived long after him. Consider some of Wycliffe's statements about the Bible:
'The authority of the Holy Scriptures infinitely surpasses any writing, how authentic soever it may appear, because the authority of Jesus Christ is infinitely above that of all mankind.'
'The authority of the Scriptures is independent on any other authority, and is preferable to every other writing, but especially to the books of the Church of Rome.'
'I am certain, indeed, from the Scriptures, that neither Antichrist, nor all his disciples, nay, nor all fiends, may really impugn any part of that volume as it regards the excellence of its doctrine. But in all these things it appears to me that the believing man should use this rule - If he soundly understands the Sacred Scripture, let him bless God; if he be deficient in such perception, let him labour for soundness of mind. Let him also dwell as a grammarian upon the letter, but be fully aware of imposing a sense upon Scripture which he doubts the Holy Spirit does not demand.'
'We ought to believe in the authority of no man unless he say the Word of God. It is impossible that any word or any deed of man should be of equal authority with Holy Scriptures. …… For the laws made by prelates are not to be received as matters of faith, nor are we to confide in their public instructions, nor in any of their words, but as they are founded in Holy Writ, since the Scriptures contain the whole truth.'
'That the New Testament is of full authority, and open to understanding of simple men, as to the points that are most needful to salvation. …… That men ought to desire only the truth and freedom of the holy Gospel, and to accept man's law and ordinances only in as much as they are grounded in Holy Scripture…… That if any man in earth, either angel of heaven teacheth us the contrary of holy Writ, or any thing against reason and charity, we should flee from him in that as from the foul fiend of hell, and hold us steadfastly to, life and death, the truth and freedom of the holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, and take us meekly men's sayings and laws, only in as much as they accord with holy Writ and good consciences, and no further, for life neither for death.'
About the year 1360 he began opposing the begging Friars and other Catholic clergy in his very powerful, plain-spoken fashion and dared to attack the Monastic order, two of which, the Dominican and Franciscan, ruled the Roman Catholic Church throughout Europe for nearly three centuries, with absolute and terrifying sway. This is what he said about these corrupt institutions:
'Friars draw children from Christ's religion into their private Order by hypocrisy, lies and stealing. …… And so they steal children from father and mother …… sometime such as should sustain their father and mother by the commandment of God; and thus they are blasphemers taken upon full counsel in doubtful things that are not expressly commanded nor forbidden in holy writ; since such counsel is appropriated to the Holy Ghost, and thus they are therefore cursed of God as the Pharisees were of Christ……
'Friars shew not to the people their great sins firmly as God biddeth, and namely to mighty men of the world; but flatter them or nourish them in sin.
'Also, Friars are thieves …… For without authority of God they make new religions of errors of sinful men' (John Lewis, The Life of Dr. John Wiclif, pp. 7,24,27).
He also taught that men had the right to interpret Scripture. 'Believers should ascertain for themselves what are the true matters of their faith, by having the Scriptures in a language which all may understand.' Wycliffe taught that the apostolic churches had only elders and deacons, 'and declared his conviction that all orders above these had been introduced by Caesarean pride' (Shelton, II, p. 415). Wycliffe was very bold against the pope, contending that 'it is blasphemy to call any head of the church, save Christ alone' (Thomas Crosby, History of the English Baptists, I, 1740, p. 7). Consider some other statements by Wycliffe on the subject of the papacy:
'It is supposed, and with much probability, that the Roman pontiff is the great Antichrist.'
'How than shall any sinful wretch, who knows not whether he be damned or saved, constrain men to believe that he is head of holy Church? Certainly, in such a case they must sometimes constrain men to believe that a devil of hell is head of holy Church, when the Bishop of Rome shall be a man damned for his sins' (Shelton, II, p. 415).
'Antichrist puts many thousand lives in danger for his own wretched life. Why, is he not a fiend stained foul with homicide who, though a priest, fights in such a cause?' (Eadie, History of the English Bible, I, pp. 46,47).
Catholic authorities Thomas Walden and Joseph Vicecomes charged Wycliffe with denying infant baptism, which would mean that he progressed all the way to an apostolic and Anabaptist position even in regard to the ordinances and many of his Lollard followers did just that. Walden, who wrote against the Wycliffites or Hussites in the early part of the 1400s, called Wycliffe 'one of the seven heads that came out of the bottomless pit, for denying infant baptism, that heresie of the Lollards, of whom he was so great a ringleader' (Danver's Treatise, p. 2, 287, cited by Joseph Ivimey, History of the English Baptists, 1811, I, p. 72). Another Catholic authority, Walsingham, identified Wycliffe with the 'cursed opinions of Berengarius' and said that 'his followers did deny baptism to infants' (Ivimey, I, p. 72). Berengarius lived in France in the 11th century and was charged by the Catholic authorities with such 'heresies' as denying transubstantiation and infant baptism. The Berengarians practiced believers baptism and were charged with being Anabaptists. The council held at Blackfriars in June 1382 to condemn Wycliffe brought many articles of accusation, including the charge 'that the children of believers might be saved without baptism' (Ivimey, I, p. 73). The Martyrs Mirror, first published in Dutch in 1660, also states that in 1370 Wycliffe issued an article 'declared to militate against infant baptism' (p. 322). Jacob Mehrning, in his History of Baptism, said that Wycliffe 'taught, among other things, that baptism is not necessary to the forgiveness of original sin; thereby sufficiently opposing, or, as H. Montanus says, rejecting, infant baptism, which is founded upon the forgiveness of original sin. On this account, forty-one years after his death, his bones, by order of the pope, were exhumed, burnt, and the ashes thrown into the water' (Mehrning, pp. 737,38). Thus it is obvious that John Wycliffe in the 14th century went much farther in his rejection of Catholic heresies than the Protestant Reformers of the 16th century and was related to those declared 'heretics' by Papal Rome in the 11th century!
It is also important to understand that there were Waldensian, or separatist Anabaptist Christians, in England during the days of Wycliffe. The Martyrs Mirror describes the persecution of 443 Waldenses in 1391. At least one of these told the Inquisitors that he had been a Waldensian for 30 years. That takes us back to 1361, when Wycliffe was only 37 years old and when he first began preaching against Catholic errors. 'From this it appears, writes a certain author, that the Saxon countries were full of Waldenses, that is, orthodox Christians …… before the time of Huss. For it can easily be computed, that when the 443 Waldenses were examined at once, there must have been an incomparably greater number who were not examined in regard to their faith, but concealed themselves, or took to flight, in order to escape the danger. And, truly, those who are noticed in the book, as having been examined, frequently mentioned very many others of their faith, who were not present' (Martyrs Mirror, p. 325).
Anglican historian Joseph Milner notes the possible connection between the Waldensians and John Wycliffe: 'The connection between France and England, during the whole reign of Edward III, was so great, that it is by no means improbable, that Wickliffe himself derived his first impressions of religion from [Raynard] Lollard [a Bible-believing Waldensian leader who was burned at the stake at Cologne]' (Milner, The History of the Church of Christ, 1819, III, p. 509). Baptist historian William Jones adds the following observations: 'Thomas Walden, who wrote against Wickliff, says, that the doctrine of Peter Waldo was conveyed from France into England - and that among others Wickliff received it. In this opinion he is joined by Alphonsus de Castro, who says that Wickliff only brought to light again the errors of the Waldenses. Cardinal Bellarmine, also, is pleased to say that 'Wickliff could add nothing to the heresy of the Waldenses'' (Jones, A History of the Christian Church, II, p. 91).
Joshua Thomas, in his History of the Welsh Baptists, gives the account of Baptists who lived in the 14th century in Olchon in Herefordshire, and he believes Wycliffe 'received much of his light in the gospel' from these separatist believers (Ivimey, I, pp. 65-67). Thus it is likely that Wycliffe was powerfully influenced, even directly instructed, in his Bible-believing views by separatist Baptist Christians then living in and about England. The men who are noted in church histories as key contenders for the faith in various eras did not live in a vacuum. They were influenced by faithful Bible-believing Christians who proceeded them and as well as by those who lived as their contemporaries.
In an earlier book titled Dialogus, which is cited by many historians, Wycliffe at least loosely accepted errors such as purgatory, adoration of angels, and the authority of the Roman church - all of which he later plainly denied. There is no doubt that Wycliffe rejected the error of baptismal regeneration, saying 'that baptism doth not confer, but only signify grace, which was given before.' Crosby makes this conclusion:
'But whether he denied infant-baptism, or not, it is certain he was the first reformer of any note, that spread those tenets among the English which tend to overthrow the practice of baptizing infants. And if he did not pursue the consequence of his own doctrines so far, yet many of his followers did, and were made Baptists by it. He taught, that no rule or ceremony ought to be received in the church, which is not plainly confirmed by the word of God: and therefore said, 'That wise men leave that as impertinent, which is not plainly expressed in Scripture.' …… Amongst the followers of this great man, both in Bohemia and England, we find many Baptists. …… As to the opinions that were held by these Lollards, or disciples of Wickliff, in England, 'tis agreed by all, that they denied the pope's supremacy, the worshipping of images, praying for the dead, and the like popish doctrines. Whether they rejected the baptism of infants or not, has been doubted by some; but that they generally did so, is more than probable, from what is left upon record concerning them' (Crosby, History of the English Baptists, I, pp. 11,12,13,23).
In a letter dated October 10, 1519, Erasmus gave this description of the Lollards in Bohemia:
'…… they own no other authority than the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament; they believe or own little or nothing of the sacraments of the church; such as come over to their sect, must every one be baptized anew in mere water……' (Crosby, I, pp. 14,15).
Erasmus described the Lollards as Anabaptists. This was almost 100 years before the insurrection at Munster (see later), which many modern historians erroneously point out as the origin of the Anabaptist movement. Frederick Nolan, who diligently pursued the history of the transmission of the Biblical text, says that the Lollards were disciples of the Waldenses (Nolan, Inquiry into the Integrity of the Received Text, 1815, p. xix, footnote 1). We read:
'Wycliffe's work as a translator brought upon him special hostility, for the idea of an English Bible filled the clergy with alarm and indignation. He knew, as he tells us, that the priests declared it to be 'heresy to speak of the Holy Scriptures in English' ...
... 'such a charge is a condemnation of the Holy Ghost, who first gave the Scriptures in tongues to the Apostles of Christ, to speak that word in all languages that were ordained of God under heaven'' (Eadie, History of the English Bible, I, p. 81).
One of Wycliffe's enemies, Knyghton, a canon of Leicester, complained that in translating the Scriptures into English and thus laying it 'open to the laity and to women who could read' Wycliffe was casting the Gospel pearl under the feet of swine. This was Rome's view of providing the common man with the Word of God.
Wycliffe died on December 31, 1384, and John Purvey, a friend who had lived with Wycliffe and been taught by him, completed a careful revision of the Wycliffe Bible in the years immediately following his death.
Another man who helped with the translation of the Wycliffe Bible was Nicholas de Hereford. Like Wycliffe, Hereford was denounced as a heretic by the Catholic Church. In May 1382, he was summoned to stand trial in London before the Synod of Preaching Friars, and in July he was excommunicated. He was afterward imprisoned in Rome, and later, imprisoned again in England. Unlike Wycliffe, Hereford did not remain faithful to the truth for which he was persecuted and recanted.
The groups termed Lollard, Waldenses, Paulicians, Hussites etc., were Bible believers who did not follow a man, nor were they organized into any kind of broad association. Many histories approach these Bible-believing 'sects' of bygone times as if they were slavishly dependent upon certain key leaders. That is not true. The churches and groups which have maintained the New Testament faith through the centuries from the time of the Apostles were helped oftentimes by strong leaders raised up by God, but they were not entirely dependent upon these men. We can tell this by the fact that the movement to follow the Word of God continued strongly even after Papal Rome had put the men they feared as leaders to the torch. This is, not surprisingly, because this was God's method of continuing His church which was originated by men of faith who lay down their lives in the example of their Lord, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 11:35-38):
[they] were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37 They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated-- 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
(Continued on page 290)