The Dawn of Reformation
by Burk Parsons
It is one thing to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but it is another to believe, or trust, the Bible as the Word of God. We’re called not only to believe in God and His Word but to believe God—to trust God—and His Word. Throughout history, the visible church has always professed her belief that the Bible is God’s Word. Yet, a cursory study of church history reveals that many popes, priests, and parishioners neglected to read the Bible themselves, and many didn’t believe, or trust, the Bible as the final, authoritative Word of God.
Such widespread unbelief didn’t happen all at once, but gradually. As men gained political and ecclesiastical power throughout the medieval period, they established themselves as the only authoritative interpreters of God’s Word and, eventually, albeit inevitably, as authoritative equals with God’s Word. As a result, God’s Word was deemed superfluous, chained to the pulpit, and recited solely in Latin, ensuring that common, uneducated (poor and powerless) Christians could never access God’s Word for themselves and, therefore, never question the authority of the powerful elite. Nevertheless, men cannot silence God’s Word, nor can they contain the Holy Spirit or extinguish the power of the gospel. God’s truth will always shine, however dark the age.
The light of the sixteenth-century Reformation was the reflection of the light of the Word of God as our final, infallible authority. The great Reformation slogan, post tenebras, lux (“after darkness, light”), captured the heart of the Reformation—the light of God’s Word and the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world. This light of the gospel that shone brilliantly in Wittenberg and Geneva and throughout Europe in the sixteenth century had been steadily shining throughout all of history through the faithful remnant of those whom God had raised up to proclaim His Word and His gospel to His people.
We can trace the dawn of the Reformation back through the centuries, from John Hus in the fifteenth century to John Wycliffe in the fourteenth century to Peter Waldo in the twelfth century. Waldo preached the authority of Scripture and worked diligently for a common translation of the Bible and its use among all people; for the ability of all Christians, not just the clergy, to teach the gospel to their children; and for the right of all men to obey God and His Word as their final, infallible authority for all of faith and life. By God’s grace, he strove to live all of life coram Deo, looking to God’s Word as the lamp to his feet and the light to his path, a path that led to excommunication but, eventually, to reformation.