Forerunners of the Reformation
We know that in the 16th century God raised up Martin Luther to begin a profound and amazing biblical reformation of this church. But the reformers, themselves, looked back on the Middle Ages and asked the question: “What prepared for our work? Who anticipated something of our work? Who were forerunner’s of the Reformation?” And they looked back to a number of individuals probably most importantly to John Wycliffe who was once called the Morning Star of the Reformation. The sky was still dark but there was one bright star shining in the Middle Ages preparing for the coming of the Reformation. Since the Reformation, there been some who’ve attacked the idea of forerunners and it is an interesting and at least controversial sort of category.
There weren’t any theologians in the Middle Ages that completely shared the reformation point of view before the Reformation came. So are they really forerunners? There weren’t any who were calling for a complete change in the life of the church. So were there really forerunners? Some historians have said “Was the Reformation really inevitable from a human point of view? Might the Reformation not have happened? Might the Reformation have been stamped out? What does it mean to talk about a forerunner? But however controversial that concept is, I think it is still a useful one. I think we want to say as Protestants, I certainly want to say as Protestant, we are not a bunch of latter day Christians. That is, we don’t believe the church died out and had to be resurrected by the reformers. We believe that Christ fulfilled his promise that he would build his church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. What we see in the Middle Ages is indeed a time of growing superstition, of growing confusion, of a clouding of the gospel. But I don’t believe the gospel was ever stamped out. And when I think about forerunners of the Reformation, what I’m particularly thinking about is those who continue to bear a witness to a much more biblical Augustinian, grace-oriented understanding of the gospel.