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Our English Spiritual Ancestors

As our church is going through Paul’s Epistles together (currently in Galatians), we read about much of Paul’s hardships in getting the Gospel into new territories. We read that this life-and-death message is so important that it is worth risking all for the sake of others obtaining it, in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10,

“We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

When we pick up our English Bibles to even read what it took to get it to Paul’s original audience, we also take so much for granted that the Word of God has come into our own language through much sacrifice and cost! This was brought to my attention through a Chinese Christian man, who clearly recognized that following Christ was important enough to defy government authorities and meet “underground”. He said, regarding our English bibles, “The Bible also came into your culture. It was also a threat. Tell me, who are your heroic spiritual ancestors?” Do you have a clear idea of who these men were in your country? His challenge was, “Find out the story of how your Bible came to you, and you will discover your heroic spiritual ancestors.”

What a dramatic story is uncovered, full of spies, deaths and power politics! I learned about John Wycliffe, the first man to translate the Bible into English in the world of the 1300’s, when most clergy could not even recite the Ten Commandments. He formed a cadre of guerilla preachers to comb the country, with hand copied versions of the Bible, a book banned by Parliament. Wycliffe died of a stroke from the strain.

In the 1500’s, William Tyndale benefited from the invention of the printing press. He had to leave England to accomplish the task, never to return. At age twenty-nine in 1524, he settled in Cologne, and by 1526 was ready to smuggle 6000 copies of the Bible in English into Britain. The whole British naval fleet was put on alert, and boats were stopped and searched. First tens and then hundreds of the Bibles got through. The bishop of London tried another tack. He sought to buy the entire print run through an intermediary. His intention was to burn them all. Tyndale got wind of it, and approved the sale, saying, “Oh he will burn them. Well, I am the gladder, for I shall get the money from these books, and the whole world shall cry out upon the burning of God’s Word.” And so it was. He burned them, and Tyndale used the money to improve the translation and print more…at the church’s expense.

Tyndale was captured by assassins and then strangled and burned in August 1536 for “heresy.” His last words were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” This prayer was swiftly answered, and the English reformation was quickly fueled by a spate of translations. What a story it was, and what heroism from my spiritual ancestors! And it is just the beginning. We may find it almost strange today to hear about the lengths people would go to preserve the doctrines and traditions of Christianity in colonial America. Clearly these were life-and-death issues to them.

The Question that begs to be asked is, “Are the very scriptures that have been fought and sacrificed for, still of value in my life and in our society today?” If it is truly the Word of God, the means by which souls are brought the Gospel and ushered into an eternal reconciliation with God, is it not worth the same degree of sacrifice today? If so, will I play any part in ensuring that this Gospel gets to our generation and the next, and that others may also get the written Word of God in their own native languages?

Wycliffe Bible Translators (, true to their spiritual father’s name, continue the work today to bring the Bible into new territories, translating it into their native tongue. Bible distributors such as Gideons and International Bible Givers bring Bibles free of charge to places lacking, so that there is no excuse for not reading the Gospel! And the Word of God that I possess in my own language…do I seek after God’s Will by reading and cherishing the very Word that has been brought to me? This is literally a “life-and-death” issue!

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