Stories of the Reformation: The Pre-Reformers

This is part 1 of a series that I'm calling "Reformation Reflections". Each week I'd like to take a look at a group of individuals that played a part in the Protestant Reformation. There have been hundreds of books written about these individuals; so there will be a lot left unsaid, but each of them played a significant role in helping re-shape the church.


There are several "Pre-Reformers" that played a huge role in influencing the thoughts of reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, & many others. These men were proof that God always keeps His candles burning, even in the darkest of times.

John Wycliffe lived more than a hundred years before the Reformation, but his influence is still felt today through Wycliffe Bible Translators. His personal study of scripture lead him to conversion and he believed that everyone should have the opportunity to read the Bible in their native language. His teachings caught on and other's joined him in translating the Bible into English. It was a painstaking task since the movable type printing press still had not been invented. Every Bible was hand copied, but it was so important to Wycliffe and his followers that they made it their life's work to translate the scriptures to the common language of the day. Wycliffe's legacy was so powerful that even though he died of a stroke, the authorities later dug up his bones and burned them to make sure that everyone understood that he should be regarded as a heretic.

Peter Waldo was a wealthy business man who discovered the story in the Bible of the Rich Young Ruler who refused to sell his possessions and follow Jesus. Waldo was so gripped by conviction that he sold most of his worldly goods and started caring for the poor. He joined the Waldensian group and then became their leader. He used his remaining wealth to translate Bibles, preach the Gospel and help the poor. When the Protestant Reformation burst on the scene 300 years later, history tells us that the Waldensians joined the movement but I think that the movement really joined them.

Jon Hus (pronounced "Hoose" & Czech for "goose") was dramatically influenced by the writings of Wycliffe and stood up against the abuses of the Roman Catholic church and the idea that the pope had ultimate authority. For his teachings and writings he was eventually arrested and executed. He was stripped naked and made to wear a dunce cap with pictures of devils on it. He was so full of joy that he could die for the cause of Christ that he sang as he was being burned alive. His death motivated hundreds of people to boldly stand for their faith. When he received his death sentence he told his executioners, "You may roast the goose, but a hundred years from now a swan will arise whose singing you will not be able to silence". Exactly 102 years later Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis on the door of the Wittenberg church and he is still known as the singing swan today.

What would we have done in these men's shoes? Would you sell your wealth, like Waldo, for the spread of the gospel? Are you as committed as Wycliffe that everyone is able to hear God's word? Would you die a humiliating, painful death for your faith? God may not ask us to do everything that these men did, but He wants us to live with the same burning faith that they had.

Floyd Yutzy