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Bible Literacy (2)

The name “Puritan” instantly became an insult. It is occasionally used that way today, as it conjures a rigid and inflexible religion. But the Puritans were rigid and censorious; and most of these caricatures are at least partly true. Beyond this, although they did not carry their investigations of God’s word far enough and they invested it with their own notions and teachings, they were at least in heart a “God fearing people who hoped to worship God with their whole lives, body and soul; and with a zeal and fervor that still lights up their journals, letters, and poetry some 300 years later.”

“In the early 18th century the young (preacher) Jonathan Edwards writes of being ‘wrapped and swallowed up in God.’ The Puritans wanted that fullness of life that made David dance before the ark.” America was born out of this idea and into a passionate spiritual explosion. That explosion was created and fueled by a single source: the King James Bible.” In time these spiritual awakenings actually brought thousands to a true knowledge of God’s plan and countless souls were saved. The intent of their daily walk and their vision of the future also was changed forever.

“The invention of printing in the mid-15th century, and the Protestant Reformation in the early 16th–whose central idea was that Scripture and not human theological doctrine must be decisive for Christianity–created an English Bible-reading craze. In the sixteenth century the Bible was “disputed, rhymed, sung, and jangled in every alehouse and tavern,” this according to Henry VIII – and he personally was not all that happy about it.” The Bible was viewed as a radical, subversive book by religious leaders, which is why it was suppressed by Catholicism in league with the monarchies under the guise of the Holy Roman Empire from 608 and onward throughout the rest of the Dark Ages.

“English Bible translations date back to medieval times. But translating the Bible into English was not a mere literary act. It was a controversial declaration.” Religious reformers saw the English Bible as nothing less than a direct connection between ordinary men and women and the Lord of Hosts.

“Translating the Scriptures into English was considered sacred work; and some were willing to die for it. They were opposed by such Roman Catholic stalwarts as Sir Thomas More, who expressed a widely held view when he proclaimed it a “pestilential heresy” to think that “we should believe nothing but plain Scripture.” These men should be noted for their dedication in attempting and finally successfully putting the word of God into the hands of common people. Do you see the hand of God at work in this with the favor of humanity held in his focus and securely within his gaze?

“The English Bible began with John Wycliffe’s hand copied work in the late 14th century.” Wycliffe preached the primacy of the Bible and worked tirelessly to produce copies of the Bible. When he died his English Bible was not yet complete, but the work he started continued and his hand-copied and hand distributed versions were eventually put forth. They were banned in 1408. The distributors, the Lollards (who had become and were branded as revolutionaries of a sort) were brutally suppressed. Many were burnt alive with Bibles hung around their necks.” While alive, “Wycliffe was convicted of heresy, killed, with his body later exhumed, burned, and his ashes scattered by the stalwarts of Catholicism.”

“In the early 16th century the next great English translator, William Tyndale, announced to a learned theologian that “ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the scripture than thou dost.” The English church, itself only a model after the Catholic Church, denounced him and he fled to the continent, where he was declared a heretic, arrested and then executed in 1536.

“Henry VIII then banned Tyndale’s translation for its alleged Protestant tendencies. He nonetheless brought Protestantism to England out his own purely selfish motives.” Lesser known reformers such as John Huss, amongst many others, could be added to this remarkable list.
“But from Henry’s time onward, the English Bible was an established fact of life.

“‘No greater moral change ever passed over a nation than passed over England during the years which parted the middle of the reign of Elizabeth,’ writes the historian John Richard Green in a famous passage written in 1874. ‘England became the people of a book, and that book was the Bible.’”

“Religious reformers, inspired by Protestants as well as the Bible itself, became dissatisfied with the Church of England–which was closely associated with the monarchy and deeply steeped in Catholicism. They found it too far removed from the Bible. They wanted biblical Christianity.”

This notion in time gave rise to the work of men and women who then attempted to closely align with the teachings of Christ, to eventually learn “to speak where the bible speaks and to be silent where it is silent” — People with names like Haldane, Campbell, Stone, Elias, O’Kelly, and many, many others both throughout Europe and in every corner of this then new and growing country.

“Common people called all of the reformers Puritans. Most were Congregationalist or Presbyterians but some were Anabaptists, Baptists, Quakers…” and by the time this country was founded some had learned to enough to eventually call themselves simply Christians or Disciples of Christ. “Yet a greater number never left the Church of England or came out of any of the others.”

Where, pray tell friends, is this kind of serious application and zeal today?

[This history primer is again in large part taken from an article by David Gelernter that originally appeared in the Weekly Standard with a few inserted comments. The form was presented as a single sermon.]