Biblical Fidelity Illustrated in John Wycliffe
Dr. John E. Greever
It is true that each faithful Christian today stands on the shoulders of faithful Christians of yesterday. In a strategic and fundamental way, faithful servants of Christ who come before us pave the way for us to know and pass along the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And added to this, biblical fidelity (faithfulness to the Scriptures and the message of Christ and the gospel presented in the Scriptures) is the means by which we are faithful to God. The two go together; faithfulness to God and faithfulness to the teaching of the Scriptures go hand-in-hand.
This is supremely seen in the lives of the Reformers and those who followed after them. And this is specifically seen in the life of one who was a precursor to the Reformation, John Wycliffe (ca 1330-1384).
J. H. Merle d ‘Aubigne called Wycliffe the “First Reformer of Christendom”, even though he lived almost two hundred years before the official starting of the Reformation. Wycliffe’s ministry and impact was so powerful that the Reformation would probably not have happened when and how it did without Wycliffe. This is why Wycliffe is called the “Morning Star of the Reformation.” Steven Lawson says of Wycliffe, “Wycliffe was an English scholar and theologian who did more to change the course of his nation’s history than perhaps any other person.”
What did Wycliffe do to make such an impact? The historian d ‘Aubigne explains, “Wycliffe’s ministry had followed a progressive course. At first he attacked the papacy; next he preached the gospel to the poor; he could take one more step and put the people in permanent possession of the Word of God.” And that is what Wycliffe did: he translated the Bible into the language of the people. “Above all, he loved the Bible, he understood it and desired to communicate this treasure to others (Merle d ‘Aubigne).” Wycliffe was opposed, rejected, despised, and persecuted for his convictions and his beliefs. But Wycliffe continued his work in gospel preaching and Bible translation and teaching, because he believed in the value of these things.
Why is Bible translation and Bible teaching so important? Lawson states, “Wherever there is an increased knowledge of biblical truth, the doctrines of grace are soon to follow. That is to say, the more people are immersed in the Bible, the more likely they are to grasp the awe-inspiring profundities of God’s sovereignty in salvation.”
What can we learn from Wycliffe concerning biblical fidelity and why this is important in our own day?
- We need to realize that being faithful to the Scriptures means that we must be faithful to the teaching and redemptive interpretation of the Scriptures centering on Christ and the gospel. Faithfulness to the Scriptures means being faithful to the metanarrative of the Scriptures, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Bible and the gospel go together.
- By faithful interpretation and teaching of the Scriptures, we participate in the work of redemption in the lives of people by God’s grace through the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit. The faithful maintenance and faithful proclamation of the Scriptures are means by which God accomplishes His redemptive work in the lives of others. People are saved, Christians grow spiritually, and the church of Jesus Christ is built through fidelity to the Scriptures.
- Biblical fidelity requires that we be textual in our approach to preaching, teaching, and ministry, and it means that we teach the next generation to do the same; thus, fidelity to the Scriptures ensures that the truth of God centered in Christ and the gospel continues for generations to come. As Christians, we want to faithfully serve the kingdom of God in our generation so that the next generation receives the true gospel of Christ. Faithfulness to the Scriptures assures this.
- Biblical fidelity enables the church to fulfill its God given calling to be prophetic to each generation. By being faithful to the text and meaning of Scripture, the church serves to bring God’s revelation to the culture and society of each generation. Without this prophetic voice of the church, the collective conscience of each generation will lack the sharp edge of spiritual and moral awareness.
John Wycliffe, and others like him, serves as model for us in our own day. Let us not be swayed by the trends of the era in which we live; rather, let us seek to single-mindedly giving ourselves to be faithful to the Scriptures in our Christian lives, beliefs, and churches. May our legacy be that we were faithful to God by being faithful to His Scriptures!