Reformation: John Wycliffe (1320s-1384)

John Wycliffe is often called “the Morning Star of the Reformation.” The morning star refers to either the star Sirius or the planet Venus, and it shines the brightest in the dark moments just before dawn. This light foreshadows the rising of the greater light, the sun. Wycliffe is one of the first to begin shining the light of God’s Word in the dark corridors of the medieval church.

Wycliffe was an English clergyman who remained a puritan within the church. We know very little about his early life. As a seminary professor at Oxford, he was a gifted scholar and influential teacher. He also served as rector, or head of parish, in a Lincolnshire church. Because of his teaching duties at Oxford, he spent relatively little time teaching from the pulpit in his church.

Political Influence
As would be the case with later reformers, Wycliffe focused on doctrine, but the moral corruption of the church is what really drew his ire and opened his eyes to how bad things are. He was famous for attacking the luxurious and abusive lifestyles of church leaders. A particular point of contention was the question of divine right—who had the right to rule people? In this era, many believed that only the church should rule and that there was no place for the state, except under the authority of the church. So there was no separation of church and state. Wycliffe taught the radical idea that morally qualified secular rulers could also be used by God to govern and that in extreme cases, the state should be used to protect the church from wicked clergy.

Thus, church leaders hated Wycliffe, while the leaders of the state found him a rather convenient ally. Though the pope condemned Wycliffe’s teachings, and though the English church attempted to try him for heresy, the Duke of Lancaster interceded for Wycliffe and protected him from being tried and punished.

Theological Influence 
One side of Wycliffe’s influence is political, but his greater legacy is theological. Wycliffe espoused a radical idea—God’s Word is inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative. In other words, the Bible contains all that we need for salvation. We don’t need the pope, church tradition, or any human priest for salvation. Wycliffe’s theses didn’t become as famous as Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, but he had his own statements against the church: “There is one universal church, and outside of it there is no salvation. Its head is Christ. No pope may say that he is the head.” He saw the abuses and doctrinal error in the church and knew that the only way to bring the church back to center was to build on the Word of God.

Naturally, the church didn’t welcome Wycliffe’s teachings. In addition to his direct challenges to the pope, he also denied transubstantiation (the idea that the bread and wine in the supper become the literal body and blood of Jesus), that priests had the power to forgive and absolve sins, that purgatory existed, etc.

Though Wycliffe enjoyed the protection of powerful people initially, the pressure of the church continued to be brought to bear, and he and his followers experienced significant persecution at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church.

English Bible
Wycliffe penned a number of influential works that would bear fruit in the lives of later reformers, especially Jan Hus and Martin Luther. Yet his most influential work was The Wycliffe Bible. Because he believed in the authority of Scripture over the church, he believed it was important for people to be able to read and understand the Bible for themselves. In 1378 he wrote On the Truth of Sacred Scripture a treatise that is the seed of what later became sola Scriptura. It was here that he articulated the importance of having the Bible in the language of the people.

Because the Bible in the people’s language was so important to Wycliffe, he devoted much of the late years of his life to translating Jerome’s Latin Vulgate into English. His friends helped him with the translation, and this translation was then copied by hand for distribution. Hundreds of painstakingly hand-written copies of the Word were distributed by Wycliffe’s followers. Wycliffe’s company of followers became known as Lollards. “Lollard” is a Dutch word that means “to mumble.” Wycliffe and company were called this because they read the Bible in English, not Latin. His followers extended his influence well beyond his personal influence and lifetime, and his voice became an important one in the English Reformation of the 1500’s.

On December 28, 1384, Wycliffe suffered a severe stroke while worshiping in church. He died two days later. On May 4, 1415, decades after his death, the Council of Constance retroactively condemned Wycliffe as a heretic. The Catholic Church ordered his works burned and that his body be dug up and burned. Thirteen years later, in 1428, they dug up what was left of him and burned his remains. They finally got their heretic.


Reformation: Historical Context

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on a chapel door in Wittenberg, Germany. These statements quickly became infamous, but they were only one in a series of papers that would have been nailed to that and many another door of the era. Yet that moment marks the beginning of what we now call the Protestant Reformation. Like any other movement in history, there’s “the Reformation,” but there are also streams within the broader river of reformation. No Protestant church today reflects exactly what the Reformers thought, but we are who we are because of the Reformation and the reforms that came out of it.

The Reformation took place in a setting where culture, church, and state blended so seamlessly together that there are significant political, cultural, and global effects from the Reformation within the church.

Church Influence
For 1000 years, the church had waxed and waned in the Middle Ages. From sometime around the 400-500 until the 1500’s Europe was dominated by cycles in the church and in the general culture that echoed one another. This 1000-year period saw the rapid spread of the church from the cradle of Christianity around Israel throughout much of the world. 500 years after Christ, the church was the most dominant institution in the Western world. It’s religious influence blended into total domination of every facet of life. Rulers answered to popes and bishops, and the state lay largely under the thumb of the church. From 1000 until 1300, the church enjoyed unprecedented and unrepeated supremacy—in ways both good and bad.

For 200 years before Luther, however, the church had been enduring a breakdown. It was declining and disintegrating in almost every respect imaginable. Luther’s reforms were the result of hundreds of years of growing corruption. The church had sold its soul for influence, and it must pay. Church leaders tried to use church influence to govern the secular world.

Papal Reform
A number of popes tried to exercise reforms within the church, yet these reforms were often not biblically driven. Reforms focused on tradition and on increasing the influence of the church in society.

During this period, the corruption and confusion of the church increased, even placing the pope in Avignon, France, for about 75 years. For a time, France exercised by far the strongest influence on the church. The Roman Catholic Church then endured a time of division, the Great Schism, when there were three popes—one in Avignon, one in Rome, and one in Pisa. In the aftermath of this period, the Renaissance popes arose, and these popes functioned more like princes than clergy.

Growing Corruption
Many clergy took vows of poverty and chastity that they never intended to keep. In a church that required celibacy of priests, many got married. Nepotism was common, as children of popes were put into office (these clergy were sometimes called “papal nephews”). Families of clergy became almost like royal families, as priests, bishops, and popes practiced nepotism and gave their own kids the best positions.

Simony (the purchasing of a religious office) was a common practice. Simony takes its name from Simon the magician in Acts 8—a man who tried to purchase the power of the Spirit from the Apostles. Peter’s response? “May your silver perish with you!” The parish priest was often the most powerful person in a territory. The sale of indulgences was common practice as well.

Papal reforms were driven by a desire to increase the influence of the church in general and to bring the entire church into line under the authority of the pope. Thus, the bishop of Rome must be dominant over all other church figures. These efforts also attempted to enact reforms among the monastic orders.

Yet all of these “reforms” were driven primarily by tradition and dogma, rather than Scripture. As the Middle Ages drew to a close, the power of secular monarchs grew and gradually weakened the hold of the Roman Catholic Church over society. This growth in power of the secular state sets the stage for much of what followed.

Are We Listening?

As our nation is embroiled in yet another controversy that is sweeping the airwaves and social media, I’m reminded how little I know and how ill-qualified I am to speak winsomely and helpfully to the issues of the day.

Some words from James that seem especially appropriate for white Christians in this moment: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

Before jumping into the latest controversy take some time to ask (with a humble, open spirit) someone with a different skin color and perspective what they think about the protest. It’s possible that it doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Then consider engaging further in a loving, respectful conversation with an actual person, and leave the social media outrage to others.

“If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. … For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:3-5).

Principles for Wise Discipline

Wise discipline of children…

1. Knows and respects the child.
There’s no place for discipline that demeans children or serves as a vent for an adult’s frustration. All people are made in the image of God, and God commands parents to rear their children in a way that doesn’t provoke or frustrate children. Discipline serves God’s ends, not our own, and should lead children toward the loving embrace of God through the love and respect of their parents.

2. Sacrifices being liked for a moment to do what is best.
Most parents are willing to sacrifice themselves to save their children, but many parents refuse to tell their children “no” out of fear that their children won’t like them or might (gasp) be upset with them. The loving and direct application of God’s truth to a child’s life is worth your child’s disapproval.

3. Varies by age and situation.
Wise discipline is consistent but not rigid. If children never know what to expect, the lack of consistency will drive them crazy. But if parents never adapt to situations and individuals, they can press “a square peg” so hard into “a round hole” that they can do harm to the child.

4. Prepares hearts for the gospel when it’s done in love.
By bringing consequences in a temporary, yet tangible way, we model the holy anger of God against sin. By loving our children warmly, relationally, and unconditionally, we model the loving care of our Heavenly Father. Understanding the character of God helps children understand the necessity of the cross for dealing with the pain of sin and the love of the cross, as Christ died for our sin. Teaching children that there’s no pain in sinning cheapens the sacrifice of Christ.

What Are “The Wounds of a Friend”?

Proverbs 27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

1. The wounds of a friend come from a posture of humility.
If we have something difficult to say, it’s communicated best after we’ve dealt with the beam in our own eye. It’s hard to sense humility from someone who approaches us when we’re hurting, so we tend to lash out because of pain. But a true friend identifies with us in our pain, even when they’re telling us hard truths.

2. The wounds of a friend are best built on a foundation of relational trust.
The only way to build trust in a relationship is time and personal investment. Sometimes the threat is so great that you must speak, but if at all possible, wait to speak until you’ve loved faithfully and sacrificially.

3. The wounds of a friend are rooted in a desire to benefit another,  not fix something that irritates me.
We often tend to address what’s personally annoying, but a true friend is willing to cover irritations in love, while lovingly addressing patterns that are harmful to another person. A true friend bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things, when it’s a matter of personal irritation (1 Corinthians 13:7). When a matter threatens someone’s soul or personal wellbeing, a true friend attempts to restore in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1-2).

4. The wounds of a friend are the fruit of courageous love.
It’s hard to tell people something they don’t want to hear. Someone who humbly and lovingly opens your eyes to blind spots in your life is a loving and courageous friend, one worth hanging onto.

5. The wounds of a friend come with healing balm (even though they hurt).
Wounds hurt. There’s no way of getting around this. But because we’re approaching a friend in love, we also stick with our friend to help salve the wound, bind it, and help it heal.

Wisdom about Money

1. Remember that God owns everything.
Psalm 50:10-12 10 For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. … 12 … the world and its fullness are mine. God owns the world and everything in it. If God owns you and all of your stuff, it radically changes how you view what you “own.” The things you have are on loan from God. You’re a steward, not an owner. This leads to humility and should lead you to generosity, when you know that you should invest money as God himself would invest it.

2. Be content with what you have.
Hebrews 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” At the end of the day, your security comes from Christ, not from what you own. How do you know where your security lies? When things get tight, do you panic, or can you rest in Christ, knowing he’s with you at all times—he never leaves, never forsakes you.

3. Beware the seductive power of debt.
Proverbs 22:7 The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. While there’s such a thing as “good debt” in our economy, our culture is out-of-control when it comes to debt, and this affects every one of us. The power of more can grow to the point where you find that what you own ends up owning you. When it comes time to buy a house, a car, or clothes, remember that that beautiful object might own you in the end.

4. Be patient and disciplined.
Proverbs 13:11 Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it. There’s a strategy of investing called “dollar cost averaging”: rather than trying to play the market you should invest in regular, predictable amounts over time to discipline your investing, rather than reacting to the market. The Bible teaches the wisdom of patience and discipline. Hold off on impulse buys. Make a plan, then follow the plan. Sometimes you’ll lose or have unexpected expenses, but as you discipline yourself to live within your means, you’ll find that God blesses you.

5. Leverage your life and resources wisely for the kingdom of God.
Matthew 25:14-30 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. Jesus uses economic language in his parable of the talents to show how foolish it is not to take risks for the sake of the kingdom of God. The wisest financial investment you ever make is money leveraged for the sake of the gospel. In another parable, Jesus compares his kingdom to a hidden treasure (Matthew 13:14): The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. If you gain the world but lose your soul, what gain is that? Use your resources in a way that shows the radical nature of self-denial and gospel sacrifice, and you’ll find that in the end your investment is more than worth it.


One Church’s Response to White Supremacy in Charlottesville

Many of us are aware, while some possibly are not, that there were marches and protests by white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA, this weekend. Chants, flags, racist symbols, and violence shouted as loudly as the protestors themselves that white supremacy isn’t merely a figment of black America’s imagination. Today, I’d like to share some words regarding racial events that have increased in violence and visibility.

At times I haven’t known what to say. The truth is that I’m insecure about speaking into racial issues. My experience has taught me that people from all ends of the spectrum are upset—some because they think I talk about nothing but race and others because I don’t really know how to talk about it at all. And there’s some truth in that; I’ve made a muddle of it enough times to know I don’t really know. It’s easier to just be quiet. But I do know Jesus, I do believe the gospel, and it seems that the gospel is intersecting public life at this pressure point.

So I’d like to take a moment to speak for all of us here at Morning Star.

Scenes like the ones we saw this weekend grieve us. They should grieve all Christians. Men and women made in the image of God publicly and brazenly demeaning and attacking other men and women made in God’s image is a deeply disturbing, anti-Gospel image. Because we believe the gospel, we condemn racial sin of all sorts and the lie of white supremacy in particular. It is an abomination worthy of eternal punishment in hell. We hate it because God hates it. It doesn’t need to be soft-pedaled and shouldn’t be given any modicum of acceptance in Christian churches, and it’s not acceptable here.

God has blessed our congregation with a number of families and individuals of different ethnicities and skin colors. It’s one of the things I love about our church family. It’s like a little taste of heaven. But most of us don’t have the shared experience of being black in America. Because of this, it’s easy to be blind to much of the experience of people of color within America. So we should be humble in our response to these events. We must grieve with those who grieve and weep with those who weep. We must also condemn what God condemns. We must not allow our brothers and sisters of color to fight these battles on their own. There are some moments that aren’t clear. The events of this weekend were crystal clear.

God hates the fallacy of racial superiority. He hates racism enough that he poured out his anger on his own Son to punish the sin of racism and to redeem racist bigots who repent of their sin. Jesus shed his blood to unite all people—equally condemned before the justice of God and equally gloriously redeemed by the grace of God. Revelation 5:9-10: 9 And they sang a new song (to the Lamb), “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

So how do we respond to this weekend?

First, we declare that our unity is in Christ and that all people of all color are welcome and loved here. We eat of one body and drink of one cup. And to you who have been threatened by these events, know that it’s not you, it’s we—or more colloquially … us. We are one in Christ, we love you, and we stand with you.

Secondly, we deny that any human being is inherently superior to another, and we gladly affirm the dignity of all humans—whether we differentiate by race, mental ability, gender, age, or any other measure. Because all people are created in God’s image, all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. We gladly condemn racism in all its forms and white supremacy, in particular, including its most recent iteration in what’s become known as the “alt-right.”

Thirdly, we cry out to God for mercy. We pray for our nation, for our world, and for the return of Jesus. The only way that true, lasting righteousness will fully and finally reign in the world is for Jesus to come back and make it all right again, to make creation new.

So let’s take a moment now and pray for peace and pray for our gospel light to shine brightly in a world shrouded in darkness.

Will you pray with me?

“Father, our hearts were grieved this weekend as we saw what unfolded in Charlottesville, VA. We pray for your peace to reconcile divides that seem unbridgeable right now. And we ask for wisdom for the events of today. On the one hand we’re inadequate and small, yet on the other we want to love and serve those we know, those we can help. Root out the vestiges of superiority of all sorts that remain in our hearts, whether that relates to gender, race, religion, income level, or anything else. Have mercy on our nation, we pray. And give us courage to stand firm in the gospel even when the cost of discipleship seems near and dear. So we pray for wisdom and grace and courage and above all for peace. In the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, amen.”

Why You Should Study Proverbs

Wisdom in ProverbsIn a Christian world that has increasingly appreciated the necessity of seeing Christ at the center of all of life, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to fit the book of Proverbs. It can come off like a collection of Confucius-like sayings or moralistic advice.

So why should you study Proverbs?

Because life is hard.
Life is hard for everyone. Even when you know Jesus, there’s a challenge to living well in this world that can’t be captured in a few words. Christ is sufficient, but God graciously gives a Word that covers many nuanced topics––so many, in fact, that God’s Word is sufficient for all of life and godliness.

Because you need wisdom.
“Wisdom” may bring to mind a wizened older man sagely stroking his chin. Or a grandmotherly woman, seasoned by life and experience, rocking in a chair and dispensing good advice. But wisdom is a multi-faceted concept that defies a quick summary or an easy caricature. It’s more like an intuitive mechanical knowledge than a step-by-step owner’s manual.

To put it as simply as possible, wisdom is the skill of living well. It’s the ability to rise to any challenge and face it with Spirit-given skill. You might call it Spirit-empowered common sense.

Because all Scripture is good.
All Scripture is good and given to us for our benefit. So you won’t find a simple, one-size-fits-all solution for every problem, but as you dig into Proverbs, you can pray and ask God to give you the skill to live life well in a fallen world—that is, living with wisdom.

To dig a little deeper, you could start here.

The Next Right Thing

Jesus did amazing miracles and ministry throughout the gospels, as he reached out to hurting people on the fringes of society, yet he did this in the course of his ordinary responsibilities. There’s something profoundly encouraging about this. In Mark 5, Jesus experienced terrible rejection from those whom he loved dearly and had known his entire life. How did he respond? He went about among the villages teaching. He got up and did the next right thing.

Sometimes the evidence of gospel growth in our lives is simply doing the next right thing. It’s getting up in the morning and getting kids out the door to school. It’s spending a few quiet moments with the Lord when no one’s looking. There’s no fanfare, and there are no bells or whistles. It’s showing up to work on time and working faithfully, when there’s no one passing out ribbons for doing a good job. When we trust Jesus, not only does God credit Jesus’ amazing sinlessness to us, he credits his ordinary sinlessness to us as well. So let Jesus’ perfect faithfulness empower and motivate you for ordinary faithfulness this week—faithfulness to do the next right thing, whether you feel like it or not.

Politics & Relationships: A Plea for Reasonable Civility

We live in a day of increasing polarization that is affecting relationships within the church. The affect of social media on the unity of the Spirit within the body of Christ seems to have been detrimental (to say the least). So how should we think through political conversations online?

1. Trust that the world will not end if you fail to comment immediately on the urgent events of the day.
Patience is a virtue, and abstaining rather than commenting may be the wisest course of action.

2. Understand that politically conservative Christians and politically progressive Christians often believe opposite things but also believe that the issues of righteousness are so important that they must speak out.
It should move us to humility that Christians can disagree with one another so strongly and still be so convinced that they’re right. Christians can agree on big goals while disagreeing on the path toward those goals.

3. Adopt a tone of reasonable civility, rather than a provocative tone.
Posts are often intended to get a strong positive “rah-rah-rah” reaction from those who agree with us and a visceral negative response from those who disagree. Try to interact in a calmly, reasoned way. Think, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

4. Believe that the path to true change is the gospel.
Only as we’re changed from the inside out will the world change too. People who don’t know Christ may believe the only path to a better life is through political and cultural change. Those who know Christ believe that the path to social change is through the gospel first, and it must be our brightest light, even if we also believe in political and social change. It’s gospel first, gospel last, gospel always. 2 Corinthians 4:3 If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. Let’s not hide the gospel light (or make it distasteful) but make sure it shines brighter than anything else.

5. Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, especially in your local church.
Believe that the most important relationships that you have in life and the ones that you should value the most are the relationships in your spiritual family (a.k.a., local church). Do whatever it takes to protect those relationships and demonstrate love. If you struggle going to church because of what you read others saying, unplug. If you think you might be provoking others in a way that makes it difficult to maintain true unity in Christ, unplug.

6. Remember that it’s our visible love for each other that marks us as Jesus’ disciples.
Sometimes the only interaction that other people see is our interaction on social media. John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Let’s lead with our love and our unity in Christ.

Ephesians 4:1-3: 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.