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John Wycliffe and the Lollards

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The Lollards were a pre Reformation group who followed John Wycliffe. John Wycliffe (1320-1384) was a theologian and early proponent of reform in the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th century. He initiated the first translation of the Bible into the English language and is considered the main precursor of the Protestant Reformation. The Lollards urged the development of Bible studies, taught reliance on the Holy Spirit as a guide, and encouraged their members to reach their own decisions on matters of faith rather than accepting ecclesiastical opinions and dogmas. Due to immense wealth and power of the Church during the Middle Ages, John Wycliffe taught that the state had the right to take the property of any clergymen who had become corrupt. He sent out followers called “poor preachers”, who went around the country spreading his views. His overall concern was to see the church imitate the life of Christ more clearly, with a life of a poverty and simplicity. Later he also taught that God’s true Church consists of God’s chosen people and that there was no need of a priest for mediation between them and God.

In an article that I recently read, it was noted that Wycliffe and his followers believed the Church to be the totality of those who are predestined to blessedness, including the Church triumphant in heaven and the Church militant or men on earth. The article also noted that No one who is eternally lost can have any part in the Church and that the Church, whose head is Jesus Christ (not a pope), is one universal church with no salvation outside of it. After Wycliffe’s death, the Lollards increased in number and in the 16th century they merged with the Protestants. ( www.anabaptistnetwork.com/book/export/html/28. The Lollards. Stuart MurrayWilliams.). This group rejected superstition, doctrines such as transubstantiation, (transubstantiation was regarded as a recent and perverted development contrary to the teachings of the orthodox creeds), purgatory and practices such as praying for the dead. They viewed pilgrimages as money-making schemes for the priests and simple rational explanations were accepted by them, rather than elements of mystery and symbolism. Lollards rejected the distinction between clergy and laity, this same distinction was crucial in the established churches of their time.

They rejected the authority of the Pope and the Church as an institution and replaced it with the authority of the Bible, interpreted within their communities. They valued marriage but some taught that no priestly involvement was needed to witness a marriage. They called for repentance, discipleship, simplicity of life and concern for the poor. On some issues there was diversity of opinion such as the issue of tithes, where as some taught that tithing was not supported in the New Testament and therefore; should not be practiced; others held that tithing was voluntary and should not be paid to unworthy priests. Some were against swearing oaths, claiming that they were contrary to the teaching of Jesus; others believed that swearing an oath was to be avoided, only acceptable in the case of saving lives. Unlike the teachings of the priests, the Lollard leaders traveled place to place to share the gospel and start new groups. Their mission-mindedness was not just for preachers but was the duty of all the group members.

This every-member evangelism was what the Lollard movement relied upon to increase its numbers. There are three principles that we can learn from this group that carry over to missions today. 1. Live a life of repentance, which is to live out the mind of Christ. The discipline of repentance in our daily lives is a summary of the Gospel’s impact and regeneration upon us so we make a life change in Christ. This life change is what others see, and we must daily ask ourselves if others see the love of Christ in us. Our true repentance will in turn, show the manifestation and fruit of His Truth and Salvation. This is the purpose of every Christian and a must when ministering to the lost world. 2. Keeping the discipleship of others as the focus of missions. Making disciples of others, as Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:18-20, is what missions is all about. Jesus trained a handful of ordinary people to live out his example in being a discipler, as he established God’s kingdom. He trained those who followed him by involving himself in intimate conversations and by befriending the lost.

He taught them practical principles of the kingdom by including them in his daily life. He commissioned those who followed him to go and make disciples of all nations by teaching others in the same way they had been taught. This group used the same tactics in increasing their members (The Holy Bible, New King James Version). 3. Living a life of simplicity is another principle that we can learn from this group. Simplicity is a spiritual discipline that helps us to keep our focus on Jesus Christ and our mission. Simplicity of life combined with a concern for the poor, was no doubt one of this groups’ most successful tools. To life a life of simplicity requires the believer to change how he uses his time and how he looks at all God has blessed him with. The simple life is not just about changing how we live with our possessions but also how we form and put to use, our relationships, our bodies, minds, emotions and our spirits, in order to glorify our humble Savior, to the world we are trying to reach. Simplifying our lives makes room for God to move.


www.anabaptistnetwork.com/book/export/html/28. Stuart Murray Williams. The Lollards. The Holy Bible, New King James Version. Copyright © 1982. Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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