Why the Bible?

The Scriptures had long been considered the private property of the Church, which regulated which passages would be presented to the people and how those passages were to be interpreted. The invention of the printing press, one of the first usages of which was the production of the Bible (c. 1450), would gradually whet the taste of the common people and make the biblical text more available. As more people had better access to the Scriptures, challenges to the Church's interpretations would be sure to follow.

The Protestant vs. the Radical Reformation

As one studies the Protestant Reformation, it quickly becomes evident that the objections to the practices and policies of the Roman church were all rooted in the biblical text. It is also evident that defenders of the status quo refused to engage in biblical debate, relying on traditions that had developed over the many preceding centuries and the notion of Divine authority passed down through the political structure of the church. This same contrast between Bible and tradition/politics reached an even higher level in the "Radical Reformation" from which the house church movement can trace its roots. While Luther (Germany) and Zwingli (Switzerland) were content with the correction of such abuses as indulgences and aligned themselves politically to receive the support of the state, the radicals wanted to actually rediscover first century Christianity and determine how that might be practiced in contemporary culture in spite of the state. So they went deeper into the Bible, studying it in its original languages. This was an approach that came right out of the "humanism" advocated by Erasmus of Rotterdam and which first motivated Luther and Zwingli and then such radical reformers as Hübmaier, Sattler, and Grabel. That brand of humanism was the conviction that one would get closest to truth with a fresh study of the best recensions of the original ancient documents.

Translations of the Bible

While the printing press provided the technology for the distribution of the Bible, the fact that the church's Bible was written in Latin was another barrier to its access by the common people. John Wycliffe (1320-1384) was the first to translate the Bible into English, and created a great deal of controversy that led to his trial in 1377--but the matter did not really come to a head until the printing press was invented and William Tyndale started distributing English Bibles in relatively large numbers. The reaction from the establishment church culminated with the the exhumation and burning of Wycliffe's body 44 years after his death and the strangulation and burning of Tyndale in 1536. The battle was not really settled until 1611, well over two centuries after Wycliffe's bible, with the complete liberation of the whole text by King James.

The Greek New Testament

Of equal interest to theologians and historians was the recovery and printing of the Greek New Testament, mostly from ancients texts, by Erasmus in 1516. This, along with Erasmus' "humanist" approach, were essential ingredients to both the Protestant and the Radical reformations. Modern versions of the Greek (and Hebrew) original texts are vital tools modern scholars and theologians, who owe much to the work of such figures as Erasmus.


Certainly, all Christian denominations have their traditions. There is value in the continuity of these links to those who helped shape who we are today. But to give anything other than the biblical witness any authority in doctrines or practices is to assume that there are "secret" teachings from Jesus that the first century Christian witness did not record in the New Testament. Protestants have rejected such a notion with good reason. If you would like to examine this further, an excellent source is R. P. C. Hanson's seminal book Origen's Doctrine of Tradition, (London: S.P.C.K, 1954).

Charisphobia and Charismania

There are dangers in either Charisphobia or Charismania. The former risks a denial of God's continued working in the world through providence, miracles, and prayer, and tends to emphasize Scripture to the point of denying all spiritual experience. The latter places so much emphasis on the Holy Spirit and experience that clear teachings of Scripture are ignored (the quality of theology always tends to diminish during times of awakenings and revivals). The mature believer seeks an appropriate balance etween these two extremes.