A few weeks ago, we saw that John Wycliffe stood against the Roman Catholic teaching on Transubstantiation, and that he violated church policy by translating the Latin Vulgate Bible into English (thus diminishing papal authority). Wycliffe didn’t effect the powerful changes that the 16th Century Reformers would bring slightly more than 100 years after his death, but he certainly signaled a beginning to the movement that would eventually restore Biblical Christianity to the world.
Amid our thankfulness for John Wycliffe and those who came after him, we need to recognize the role of discernment in their refutation of Catholic dogmas. These men weren’t purely malcontents. Admittedly, Wycliffe had been denied a post that he wanted, and this disappointment undoubtedly colored his attitude toward church leadership (a proper rendering of history demands that we report facts that we would prefer to sweep under the rug), but I believe any bitterness he might have initially felt gave way to genuine conviction that the Church violated Scripture in both doctrine and practice.
Wycliffe had the educational advantage of being able to read Latin, which in turn enabled him to read the Bible for himself. In doing so, he saw discrepancies between what Scripture taught and what Rome said and did. In other words, as he read God’s Word, the Holy Spirit gave him discernment to see that the Roman system deviated from the Bible’s teachings. As Wycliffe grew in his knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, he questioned transubstantiation, Indulgences, church involvement in town government and the opulent lifestyles of popes, cardinals and bishops. He also came to believe that salvation comes through faith alone rather than through the sacraments.
As you’d probably expect, Wycliffe’s discernment came, not from mystical hunches like present-day Charismatics claim to have nor from a desire to appear superior to Rome, but from a conviction that the Bible held greater authority than Roman Catholic tradition. And there you have my point.
Scripture brings real discernment.
In studying the Reformation, then, we can witness discernment in action. The Reformers, even with all their imperfections and sins (such as Luther’s anti-semeticism), model a commitment to judge things through the lens of Scripture instead of unquestioning reliance on tradition and papal proclamations. 21st Century believers can, should and absolutely must imitate Wycliffe in trusting Scripture to inform our theology.