Troubling thoughts from the pre-reformation still alive and well in the Protestant Church

Posted: February 5, 2015 in Authority, Blog Posts, Disobedience, Obedience, Submission
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John Wycliffe and William Tyndale were undoubtedly two of the most important and influential persons to live within the last 500 years.

John Wycliffe

John Wycliffe, as you may know, was an influential dissident in the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th century. Wycliffe caught the attention of many other dissidents who collectively became known as “Lollards“. Lollardy (the word describing a loosely defined set of these dissident beliefs) was a pre-cursor to the Protestant Reformation.


According to wikipedia “The Lollards had no central belief system and no official doctrine. Lollardy neither had nor proposed any singular authority. The movement associated itself with many ideas, but individual Lollards did not necessarily have to agree with every tenet.”

It was a commonly held belief among Lollards that the office of priest was both entirely unnecessary and downright evil. Furthermore, many Lollards rejected the concept of an institutional church in favor for fellowships that met in homes or elsewhere to personally investigate and/or discuss the Scriptures which were just becoming available in common tongues. In a nutshell, the Lollards were non-conformists and stood against many traditions and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Perhaps chief among the Lollard’s influencers, John Wycliffe was altogether a very threatening figure to the institutional church.

Wycliffe went on to translate the Latin Vulgate scriptures into the English. This was deeply troubling to the institutional church of the day, so much so that they eventually put Wycliffe to death. Even after his remains rested for 40 years in the grave, some in the institution were still so enraged with Wycliffe and what he ignited in the minds of many, that a group of monks exhumed his bones and utterly destroyed them! Apparently being put to death was inadequate punishment to these “men of God”.

In response to Wycliffe, the Lollards, and those with similar ideas, the institutional church tightened their grip on the systems that were coming under attack through these new ideologies. In 1401, King Henry IV passed De Heretico Comburendo which essentially gave definition to heresy and provided the legal grounds for burning heretics (those ‘guilty’ of the crime of heresy) at the stake. According to Wikipedia,De Heretico Comburendo “… recited in its preamble that it was directed against a certain new sectwho thought damnably of the sacraments and usurped the office of preaching.” It empowered the bishops to arrest, imprison, and examine offenders and to hand over to the secular authorities such as had relapsed or refused to abjure. The condemned were to be burnt “in an high place” before the people.”.

Did you catch that? In a nutshell, this made the questioning the office of preaching or the sacraments of the institution punishable by death! This sounds closer to some other modern religious ideologies I can think of.

So here we see an institutional trait at work – protecting what is perceived to be under their dominion and control, and fiercely protecting this – even to the point of burning those at the stake who were in opposition. In fact, it became illegal by punishment of death to own an unlicensed copy of the English scriptures. What was it that the Roman Church was afraid of?

Thomas Arundel and the Constitutions against the Lollards

in 1407, Thomas Arundel – Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, presided over a synod that produced Constitutions against the Lollards and Wycliffe.  These were a “line in the sand” response to the non-conformist ideas of the Lollards and also spelled out the religious and legal consequences that would accompany those who continued with their ‘disobedience’ of thought.

When reading Arundel’s Constitutions, one cannot help but notice how many ideas, values, and attitudes that existed in the Roman Catholic Church are still alive and well in many of today’s protestant churches. Though a little bit long, I would encourage the reader to read them fully and ask yourself if any of these same attitudes are still pervasive even in the Protestant institutional church.

Here are a few ideas one finds conveyed in Arundel’s Constitutions that I routinely witness in the Institutional Church.

  • About the institution
    • Belief that the clergy and institutional system were the “key-keepers” of eternal life and death and vice-regent of the true God.
    • Belief that God has given them the rights to a celestial empire.
    • Believe the institution is due obedience.
    • Belief that tradition of predecessors validates these practices.
    • No on can question the determinations of the institution.
      • Neither in public formats, or even in private conversations, even without disclaimer!
    • No on can question the authority of those who teach the institution’s teachings.
  • About the clergy
    • Belief that the clergy were in-place by divine appointment.
    • Belief that the clergy had spiritual superiority over the lay person.
    • Belief in hierarchical authority.
    • Belief that a single head (other than Christ) keeps people unified.
    • Believe that the clergy should rule the people and have right to inflict penalties for disobedience.
    • Belief that the clergy and institutional system was beyond challenge.
  •  About the layperson
    • Belief that public and private discourse that is critical of, or against the Church should not be allowed and should be punished.
    • Belief that the layperson was unfit to learn or understand some truths and that it was the responsibility of the institution to decide what was and was not necessary to know.
    • Belief that those who disagree are false teachers acting under demonic influence and are indeed truly motivated by a desire to cause schisms and the weakening of others faiths.
  • About the Jews
    • Belief that the Jewish people were wicked, or other anti-Semitic views.
    • Belief that the Jewish people were on par with Pagans
  • About opposition
    • was damaging and injurious to the institution.
    • should result in punishment, including the forfeiture of property and even possibly death.
    • should result in those holding such ideas being cut off from the church and those within the church.
    • Labelling the act of calling into question any teaching of the church as ‘heresy’.
      • Those who do so should be excommunicated
      • Should have their goods seized and possibly even death
      • Should not be absolved except at the point of death
    • Someone teaching against the Church cannot be restored without publicly acknowledging all the Institution’s teaching as being from God and a full and public recanting before the widest possible public audience.
      • Believes geographical/community areas to be territories of those in leadership in the institution
  • About preaching and teaching
    • Belief that those not otherwise approved by the institutional clergy system can preach the word of God without prior approval of the institution of both the teacher and the content they teach..
    • Belief that these people be qualified by their manners and education
    • That someone can be disallowed and later restored to teach by the institution
    • Belief that no person should preach content unauthorized by the church.
    • Those who can preach, should preach the content of the institution and at a schedule determined by the institution.
      • Those who violate any of the ideas of qualified preaching should be excommunicated.
      • Those who do so (and fellowship with those) should be considered heretics. (punishable by burning at the stake by the way)
      • Belief that preaching belongs to an authorized, privileged, subset who are sent by the institutional leaders.
      • Preaching should mostly consist of telling people of the sins most common among them
      • People are best suited to hear such peaching, nothing else
    • Those who undertake to teach people literacy must not dare take on the role of teaching Church matters or theology, nor scripture, unless sanctioned and qualified.
  • About Repentance
    • Emphasis on that repentance toward the Church, not toward Christ
  • About Ideas
    • The educational systems belonging to the church must approve any new ideas before they can be taught.
    • These educational systems must have at least one or more representatives who themselves are under the discretion of the institution.
    • No one should read anything that institution does not approve of, or risk being excommunicated
      • Those who do so are to be seen as heretics and in error.
  • About Scripture
    • No one can translate scripture on their own, it must be done so and explained by the institution
      • Those who do so are to be seen as heretics and in error.
  • About Lollards
    • That they and their ideas (opposition to the above) are damnable.
    • That they deserve death for having their ideas and distributing them.

Now… am I saying that your average institutional church has all these attributes? Of course not. However, try challenging some of the beliefs and practices held dearly by such institutions and you may find yourself surprised by the similarities to the ideas expressed in Ardundel’s Constitutions.

William Tyndale

Fast forward to the 15th century and an English Scholar named William Tyndale. Tyndale is most notably known for being the first to translate the New Testament from the original Greek into the common English vernacular. Tyndale’s translation was taken as a direct attack on the hegemony and control of the Catholic church and would eventually cost Tyndale his life when we would later be strangled and then burned at the stake. Apparently it was important to make sure these reformers were definitely and absolutely dead.

Though there were many disagreements with Tyndale within the Roman church, I want to share what are perhaps among the most important.

  1. Tyndale’s translation translated the Greek word presbuteros as ‘elder’ rather than ‘priest’.
  2. Tyndale’s translation translated the Greek word ekklesia as ‘congregation’ rather than ‘church’.
  3. Tyndale’s translation translated the Greek word metanoeo as ‘repent’ rather than ‘do penance’.
  4. Tyndale’s translation translated the Greek word exomologeo as ‘acknowledge or admit’ rather than ‘confess’.
  5. Tyndale’s translation translated the Greek word agape as ‘love’ rather than ‘charity’.

In a nutshell, Tyndale was unveiling some very key ideas about the New Covenant that had been shielded from anyone but those with access and the education to know otherwise. He also uncovered the many ways that the Institutional Church of Rome had been controlling and misleading the common people in order to prosper and benefit.

Tyndale and the King James Bible

Not many years after Tyndale’s death, King James VI commissioned and English translation of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures into English. Ironically, the majority of the translation work was based on Tyndale’s (and followers) translations. Interesting to note KJ VI gave fifteen edicts about this newly commissioned work, one of which I find very interesting…

According to Wikipedia:

“James gave the translators instructions intended to guarantee that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its belief in an ordained clergy.”

This is visible in the 1611 version of the King James Bible.

You see, Tyndale (as mentioned above) had rightly translated the Greek word ekklesia as “congregation” and/or “assembly”, however the word “church” – a word that is etymologically different than “assembly” was favored by the Church of England (and also KJ IV) because it validated the hierarchical structures already in place. A condition for obtaining the permission to create the KJV bible (the authorized english translation) was that these concepts and words be maintained in their institutional forms. Ummm… does that not sit well with anyone else?

Despite being martyred for their ideas and being acknowledged by most protestants as being of great value to Christianity, countless protestants still use and promote systems of authority and hierarchy that were firmly opposed by the reformers to the point of being martyred for their beliefs.  Friends, this should not be so.

I contend that a large portion of the Church in North America is presently headed right back into systems of practice and belief that are akin to those firmly resisted by many of the early reformers – many at great cost to their life or liberty.

Perhaps then we would do well to re-evaluate the ideas and concerns of the reformers?

  1. athomas4355 says:

    Wow. Nothing is new under the sun. Things change, but underneath, the current is the same; satan discouraging people’s freedom in Christ. Keeping people in bondage of some sort, but it is subtle. Awaken, Sleepers…


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