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A Dark Night And Two Morning Stars Part 1

Running to Win / Erwin Lutzer
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June 1, 2023 1:00 am

A Dark Night And Two Morning Stars Part 1

Running to Win / Erwin Lutzer

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June 1, 2023 1:00 am

The Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages had veered way off course into corruption and doctrinal error.  Before Luther, God was already raising up men to speak the truth. In this message, Pastor Lutzer introduces us to John Wycliffe. By making the Bible available to the common man, a much wider and more drastic reform would soon take place.

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Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. The Church of the Middle Ages had sunk way off course into corruption and doctrinal error. It took many heroes of the faith to set right the course of the ship.

One of these men was John Wycliffe, who was condemned as a heretic because he made the Bible available to the common man. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, today you begin a series on the Reformation then and now. Tell us why understanding the Reformation over 500 years ago matters today.

Dave, it matters hugely. You know, someone has well said that in the minds of many Christians, Church history began with the first Billy Graham Crusade. They don't understand that Church history, of course, has a long history, 2,000 years, but when we speak about the 16th century Reformation, we're talking about a rebirth of Christianity, a recovering of Christianity. And you're absolutely right in your intro when you emphasize that the Church at that time had become very corrupt, and the issues of the Reformation are still relevant.

We're going to be getting into some of those as I discuss the book on future broadcasts, but I have to comment on Woody Allen, who made the statement, history has to repeat itself because nobody was listening the first time. So what we discover as we look back to the Reformation is we discover truths that have relevance, conflicts that shed light on where we are today, very important. I've written a book entitled Rescuing the Gospel, the Story and the Significance of the Reformation, and we're making that book available to you, my friend, for a gift of any amount. Here's what you can do. Go to

That's, or call us at 1-888-218-9337. Ask for the book Rescuing the Gospel. I'm so glad that you have joined us for this study on the Reformation, this brief study of the 16th century Reformation. The impact of those events still affect us today, and that's why this should be of interest to us. It was Woody Allen who said, history repeats itself.

It has to because nobody listens the first time around. And in the very same way, we will discover that the Reformation raised issues and theological matters that are still being debated and that have a great impact even today. Our study is much more important than the question of whether or not we'll have a terrorist attack.

Much more important than this, because all of these headlines have to do with contemporary today issues. The issues that we are going to talk about are eternal issues. We're going to be discussing questions like, do only good people go to heaven? If so, what hope is there for those of us who aren't good, and how good do you actually have to be to go to heaven?

Is there anything more important than that? That's actually the heart of the Reformation in many respects. Is the Bible sufficient as a revelation from God, or should we also accept tradition and words of knowledge?

Is the Bible God's complete revelation? Do priests and pastors have special privileges before God that are not accessible to ordinary believers? What is the nature of the church? Should we have a regional church? Should we have a church that is composed only of the elect?

And what difference does it make as to how you answer that question? And then, when you participate in the Lord's Supper, what is its meaning, and is it important that we understand its meaning, and what are its implications? These are a few of the issues that really define and that were discussed in the Protestant Reformation. Now, many people think that the Reformation began in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the castle door in the church at Wittenberg. They think that was the day, and that's the time we celebrate the Reformation, but believe me that there were reform movements before Martin Luther, and those are the ones that we are going to talk about tonight. Now, this is not a diatribe against medieval religion. Anything that I tell you about the church today can be found in textbooks, whether Protestant or Catholic, because even Catholics admit that the church was in great need of reform.

For example, consider this scandal. Beginning in 1305 until 1377, that's a total of about 72 years, there were six successive popes, all of French origin, ruling from Avion in France. The papacy was not in Rome, and there were some countries like Italy and Germany that resented this deeply and did not pay the papacy as they were expected to, and so the popes were forced to gain revenue in other ways, many of which were corrupt.

Now, this period of time when the papacy was away from Rome is known as the Babylonian captivity of the church, because in the Old Testament the Babylonian captivity was 70 years, and this was approximately 71 to 72 years, and so it's called the period of the Babylonian captivity. But when at last in 1377 an Italian pope was elected and the papacy moved back to Rome, one of the popes of Avion did not resign, and so there were two popes ruling simultaneously. And when both popes were deposed by cardinals, a new pope was elected, the other two then refused to accept their decision, and you had three popes ruling simultaneously, each claiming to be the legitimate successor to Peter, each calling the other one Antichrist and selling indulgences to make enough money to fight the other two.

This went on for 36 years. Not until the Council of Constance in 1414 that we will be talking about in just a few moments did the three popes step down and room was made for a successor. This is known in church history as the Great Schism, because you have two popes and at times three, one ruling in Rome, the other ruling in France, and actually a third ruling also in France, and as a result of that the common people began to wonder whether the papacy was really of God. Now there were other abuses too. The clergy were tried by the tribunal of the church, not civil law. So you can imagine what happened and we see here in our own day when abuses take place, as long as the church dealt with abuses, they did not deal with these abuses very well.

Not until these abuses came to civil courts was there some justice. Well, in those days, you can imagine the church taking care of all of the problems with regard to the priests, and you can see the corruption that resulted when you have a group of cronies and that's actually the way in which it was understood and oftentimes worked out, they began to try their own, and the people knew that the priests were sometimes getting by with corruption of various kinds. Simony. Simony is the selling of spiritual positions for money. You remember in the book of Acts, Simon was a man who tried to buy the ability to do healings from Paul by giving him money, and Paul says your money perish with you. You cannot buy spiritual privileges with money, but it was happening all the time. You know, after the time of Constantine, the church became very wealthy and the church began to take in all kinds of lands and all kinds of money, and oftentimes it was because they were selling bishoprics and spiritual leadership was being auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Account after account after account shows these abuses. Now in the midst of all of these abuses, the parishioners were grateful that the church had decreed centuries earlier that the lifestyle of the priests did not affect the value of the sacraments. That actually goes back to Augustine. Augustine said that the sacraments have value even if performed by thieves and robbers. Just like today, that's a very important doctrine because when you think of the priests who have been guilty of abuse, the sacraments that they performed have complete validity so far as the church is concerned, and the people knew that, so from that standpoint, their eternal life was not in jeopardy, but they began to wonder. They began to wonder whether the priesthood was really from God, the papacy.

They began to see the corruption and they knew it was happening, and so their confidence in the church was being eroded, and it's in that context that I talk to you about two reformers, actually four, but the last two we shall cover very, very briefly. The first man I want to introduce you to is a man by the name of John Wycliffe. We all know about Wycliffe Bible translators and that ministry that translates the Bible into the different languages of the world. Wycliffe is of course named for John Wycliffe.

1330 to 1384. When I led a tour to the sites of the Reformation in Britain a few years ago, we visited St. Paul's Cathedral, beautiful cathedral, and of course it is a rebuilt cathedral. There was an even more ancient St. Paul's Cathedral, but when you come out of St. Paul's Cathedral, you can go to a statue called St. Paul of the Cross, and I took the tour group there because it is there that Bibles were burned.

In fact, there was an award for all the Bibles that were found, and if you found a Bible, you were rewarded, and it is there that bonfires were held, and I wanted to take the tour group there and show them where it happened. Well, the Bibles that were burned are ones that were translated by the followers of John Wycliffe. Wycliffe is sometimes referred to as the Morning Star of the Reformation, and we will be giving another Morning Star of the Reformation in just a few moments, but John Wycliffe was the earliest to speak about the abuses of the church in England. Born in 1330 in a little town called Lutterworth, England, entered Oxford, was trained to preach, was perhaps one of the greatest of the theologians in that day.

Now, he was alive during the time of the Babylonian captivity of the church and even lived to the Great Schism through most of it, when you have a number of popes ruling simultaneously, and he never took sides as to what pope was right, because in his mind, he wasn't under the authority of the pope anyway, so it didn't matter which one was considered to be the true pope, but he did hold to some very radical ideas. Just think about this for a moment. Wycliffe believed that only righteous people should rule, and if unrighteous people should rule, the people should take their money from them. Well, how in the world can that be practical?

Not very practical at all. In practice, he was much more realistic, but you see, he was writing at a time when there were all of these abuses, and so far as he was concerned, the clergy and the pope had so overstepped their boundaries. The church was so wealthy that it owned one third of the wealth in all of England.

One third of the land, I should say, in all of England, and yet it paid no taxes. So here you had politicians and even kings appealing to people like Wycliffe saying, give us some information on how we should handle this, and Wycliffe was producing that information and saying that we indeed should not be paying all these taxes in the church getting by with all of its corrupt clergy. Well, at any rate, he argued that obedience to the visible and often corrupt church leaders was not necessary. What mattered to God was the invisible church of the elect.

Now, here's the point, however. We do agree that his political ideas, semi-political ideas were very radical, but Wycliffe's greatest contribution of reform was to popularize the Bible. He believed that the common person should read the Bible. Now, in those days, the Bible was in Latin.

It was found only in churches. Few people could read. Priests were supposed to read the Bible and then translate it into the common language of the people and give them instruction, but for the most part, the mass was in Latin.

People had no idea what even was being said. Remember, at this point in medieval theology, the idea was this, that you didn't have to understand what the priest was saying because the ritual itself had value, whether you understood it or not. When I was in the great mosque in Istanbul, my guide, who was a devout Muslim, he repeats all kinds of prayers in Arabic, but of course he doesn't speak Arabic.

He lives in Turkey. And so I said, do you understand the prayers? And he said, no, I don't understand any of them.

But he said, I've learned them and I say them. And then he said, it is just like the Catholics who do not understand the mass. They do not understand what was said in Latin, but it doesn't matter because the ritual itself has value. What Wycliffe said is that the Bible should be in the hands of the common person. Now, his translation was not all that good because it was translated into English from the Latin and the Latin itself, its translation was not that great. But nevertheless, it was better than nothing and the people had the Bible in the common language and even though many of them couldn't read, some could and they began to read it to others. And the church was determined to put an end to what they believe to be something quite abhorrent, people reading the Bible on their own.

The argument was that if the common person does that, he's going to come up with all kinds of false ideas and to some extent that's true. But Wycliffe was saying, it's better that that happened and that the gospel be recovered, which was now overlaid by centuries of tradition, that the gospel be uncovered. And so he made the Bible available to the common man, parenthesis. Remember, this was before the printing press. This was before Gutenberg. Every single Bible had to be copied. It took 10 months for one person to copy the Bible and that was working early in the morning till late at night. Wycliffe had so many followers that hundreds and hundreds of copies were laboriously and individually made. Now, his disciples were known as Lollards.

We don't know the exact meaning of the term, but it probably means mumblers. This much we do know that it was a term of derision and they were fiercely, persistently and cruelly persecuted near Lambeth Palace in London. It's the London residents of the Archbishop of Canterbury. There was the Lollard Tower. It's called that because so many of the Lollards were imprisoned there. When I was in England, I wanted to go there very badly, but that part was closed. I always want to go where the martyrs were. I want to go where people died for the faith. When I was in Paris, I went to where Saint Bartholomew's massacre took place. I want to say this is where believers died. Well, we were able to get to some of the places where the persecutions took place, but of course now you have no idea that that's happening because they're filled with places are filled with expressways and parks and what have you.

But there was a time when there was so much blood spilled that areas of London became like mud because of the blood of the martyrs. Wycliffe, he taught his followers the following. He taught them how to live a life of sparse existence and to work, to support themselves. Secondly, he taught them how to preach and to refute what the priests were teaching.

Wycliffe was against transubstantiation, the idea that the wine and the bread, that their substance is transformed into the literal body and blood of Jesus. He was opposed to that, so he taught them how to refute the arguments of the church. He taught them how to reproduce what they had learned and how to make copies of the Bible.

The fact that 170 copies are still in existence today speaks to the fact that literally hundreds were made and even though they were being burned whenever they were being found, Wycliffe and his followers kept working at copying the scriptures for the common person. In fact, Wycliffe did such a good job of teaching them how to reproduce that 145 years after his death, lawlords were still in existence. He trained his followers how to die. They were taught how to be martyrs because so many of them were.

History has shown that there is real continuity between the lawlords and the Protestant Reformation. In giving people the Bible and stirring discontent with the papacy and the corruption of the church, seeds were sown for a much wider and drastic reform. Now he was condemned in 1377 by the Pope in a series of bulls, bulls that word means papal decrees, and he believed that the papacy was of human origin so it didn't concern him too much.

He is tried during this particular council there was an earthquake. Wycliffe interpreted it as a mark of divine displeasure. His enemies claimed that the land was breaking wind of his foul heresies. Wycliffe himself was slated to be killed but he collapsed while speaking and died in 1384 but 33 years after his death, after the Council of Constance that I'm going to tell you about in a moment, his bones were dug up because of the superstitious belief that if his bones were dug up and thrown away he would not be resurrected and the bones were destroyed and thrown into the Swift River.

But one historian said this, the Swift River flows into the Avon and the Avon eventually flows into the Severn which flows into the British Channel, the Bristol Channel rather, and then to the oceans of the world. Thus the rivers symbolize the fact that the teaching of Wycliffe and the Bible he popularized impacted the entire world. Why should we study church history? Well I have to tell you that one thing Wycliffe did is when he had new students he taught them how to die for the faith because so many of them were executed because they were translating the Bible, not just translating I should say that his students were actually copying the scriptures into English and that was forbidden. You and I oftentimes think that it's always been the way in which we experience it here in America.

That's why when we reach back into the annals of history we discover that it is filled with stories of heroism, sometimes also stories of cowardice, but always stories that kept moving the ball forward so to speak so that we have the privileges we have today. We're making available a special resource. I've written a book entitled Rescuing the Gospel, the Story and the Significance of the Reformation, the 16th century Reformation. You may think it does not have relevance to you, but it does.

Issues regarding church and state, issues regarding the nature of communion and we could go down an entire list. You and I are the product of those who have gone before us and we need to be able to understand their lives, their doctrines and why it is that they deserve our attention. For a gift of any amount this book can be yours. It's entitled Rescuing the Gospel, the Story and the Significance of the Reformation.

Here's what you can do. Go to That's or you can call us at 1-888-218-9337. Perhaps you know that I've had a special interest in the Reformation. I've led tours to the sites of the Reformation and I did that in order to help all of us put in context an event which changed the world and that's why we need to study it.

For a gift of any amount go to or call us at 1-888-218-9337. The title of the book Rescuing the Gospel, the Story and the Significance of the Reformation. You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60614. Running to Win is all about helping you understand God's roadmap for your race of life. Next time another key player in the early Reformation. Join us to learn about Jan Hus who died at the stake for challenging the corrupt medieval church in what is now the Czech Republic. Thanks for listening. For Pastor Erwin Lutzer, this is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-01 03:32:00 / 2023-06-01 03:40:22 / 8

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