Lollards - Medieval Church Planters

The term "Lollard" may have meant "babbler" or "mumbler" and was probably a pejorative comment on the preaching of this third stream Medieval movement.

The Lollards were the English followers of the reformer and Bible translator John Wycliffe. By the end of the C14, due to extensive evangelism and teaching in the midlands and south of England, Lollards maintained a number of congregations and enjoyed considerable support among the artisan and middle classes.

In 1395 Lollards submitted a document to Parliament summarising some of their beliefs and complaints. In particular, they emphasised the centrality of personal faith in Christ, opposed hierarchy in the church and rejected transubstantiation, clerical celibacy and the church's temporal power. In addition, they rejected prayers for the dead, pilgrimages and images of the saints. They saw the primary duty of priests to preach and teach the word of God and wanted the Bible to be made available in the common tongue for all believers.

As an aside, there is debate over the extent to which Geoffrey Chaucer represented or even endorsed Lollard ideas in his Canterbury Tales. He was certainly familiar with the movement.

Although outlawed as a movement in 1401, and despite many leaders being burned or hanged, Lollardry continued to spread. When the Reformation got under way a century later, much preparatory work had already been done in England. Lollard ideas were already part of the English consciousness.

A season of revival in the C16 in London, East Anglia and the Chilterns added to the movement's strength and influence.


Separate and Different

One of the characteristics of most third stream groups is a recognition that they are called out of the world and called to a different type of life - a life devoted to God.

This awareness came into sharp focus at the time of the Reformation when those seeking an expression of local church made up of believers found themselves strongly opposed by the Protestant Reformers who were generally wedded to the concept of the state church.

In this latter type of church, the conduct of church members was often no different from that of the world around it. Practical holiness was often a mark of the groups seeking a New Testament style of church, comprising believers.

The following quotes are illustrative of the differences that existed at that time:

"I verily see more of moral improvement among them [Anabaptist groups] than with those who are Lutheran." (Philip of Hesse in a letter to his sister Elizabeth of Saxony)

"among us there is no betterment of life." (Martin Luther to Casper Schwenckfeld)

"The Anabaptists have the semblance of outward piety to a far greater degree than we and all the other churches which in union with us confess Christ; and they avoid the offensive sins that are very common among us." (statement before Bern City Council C16)

"The magistrates are rather coarse and carnal men and the preachers are very neglectful; many of them frequently get drunk. Since the lords and the council-men are that kind of people ... they drive the poor people away with their wild way of life. The plain man cannot bring himself to recognise the Church of Christ among such wild persons and to distinguish correctly between doctrine and life." (Martin Bucer)

All quoted in Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren (Dissent and Nonconformity)