Tomorrow night, November 9, at 7 p.m. Highlands Presbyterian Church in Ridgeland, will be hosting a Wycliffe Associates banquet to raise awareness and funds to help complete the task of translating the Bible into all of the languages of the earth. For those of us raised in the 21st century, it´s hard to appreciate the struggle our forefathers endured to get the Bible put into the language of the “common man.” Most Americans-even many non-religious citizens-have multiple Bibles in their households; we take for granted the gift of Bibles in our own languages and can´t imagine it being otherwise.
In the 14th century, John Wycliffe came to the conviction that the laypeople, not just the clergy, needed access to the Scriptures at a time when the medieval church soundly repudiated such a notion. His endeavor to translate the Scriptures out of the Latin (a language that, by that time, no one could read except scholars) put him out of favor with the established church, and even today, Wycliffe´s name in certain circles is frowned on.
However, the work he began lives on today through Wycliffe Bible Translators. Their goal, which is admittedly ambitious, is to have the Bible translated into every language in the world by 2020-a short ten years off. This is all the more difficult as there are still many cultures that do not have a written language. In such situations, Wycliffe missionaries first connect with a culture, develop and introduce a written alphabet, and then go on to translate the Scriptures. A daunting task if there ever was one!
The fear during Wycliffe´s generation was that if the average Christian had access to the Bible, he or she would merely distort it and misunderstand it. Only the church had the right to interpret Scripture, to tell the common man what it meant. Whenever the masses have access to the Bible, there is a danger that it will be mishandled and misused-this is a real problem. But keeping Scripture un-translated and out of the people´s hands is a cure worse than the problem itself. God´s Word is living and powerful-it´s not just a human document. When people can read it in their “heart language”, God can use it to show himself to them in ways they never dreamed of.
We often think that, as churches, in order to bring people to Christ, we´ve got to woo them with the right marketing, the right style of worship, the right “atmosphere”. However, we often forget that there´s no better way to encounter Christ than by just reading the gospel. Pastor John MacArthur tells a story of a doctor, whose main job happened to be aborting babies. After visiting MacArthur´s church, the man, who was not a Christian, met with him, wanting to know more about Christ. MacArthur gave him a copy of John´s gospel and told him to read it. Many were flabbergasted. Why hadn´t MacArthur been more industrious? Why didn´t he give him some popular apologetics book? The Four Spiritual Laws? Why just the Bible?
Shortly afterwards, when the man finished reading John´s gospel, he trusted in Christ. What does this show? That God´s Word can do the saving. Too often, we think (or at least act as if we think) that God´s Word is limp or lifeless unless we come alongside it and add some pizzazz to it. Not true. Thank God! God´s Word, as Isaiah says, accomplishes what God sends it out to do.
God´s Word is a lamp to our feet, but it can only be that lamp if we know the Word. Last week, Moody Radio South (89.1, WMBU-Forest, Jackson, Meridian) interviewed an African man from Ghana, who said that until he´d heard the Scripture in his own tongue, he´d always felt like Christianity was the “white man´s religion.” How sad!
Let us be thankful to God for men like Wycliffe. If you´re not busy tomorrow night, please consider coming to Highlands Pres. to learn more about the ministry of Wycliffe Bible Translators. You´ll be glad you did.