Christianity’s Dangerous Idea
By the Revd Canon Chuck Collins
King Henry VIII was a religious Catholic in belief and practice all his life, so the odd occasions when he favoured Protestant ideas are notable. He was certainly influenced by the Protestants who occupied his court for their shared anti-pope sentiments. Henry issued a royal proclamation May 6, 1541 that an English translation of the Bible be in every church in England. This was on the heels of his chief minister’s (Thomas Cromwell) order in 1538, to provide “one book of the Bible of the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have care of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it.” The Bible commissioned by King Henry was The Great Bible compiled by Myles Coverdale. This was a 1539 English translation that used William Tyndale’s New Testament and Pentateuch, and since Tyndale’s Bible was incomplete when he was martyred, the Old Testament English translation was supplied by Myles Coverdale (translated from the Latin Vulgate). The Great Bible changed everything!
Having the Bible available in English was kryptonite to the non-biblical and extra-biblical teachings of the medieval church, and the Reformation in England that began with John Wycliffe (Lollards) 150 years earlier would now not be stopped. For the first time in 1500 years normal Christians were permitted access to the great biblical doctrines of “justification by faith” and “the priesthood of all believers.” To their delight they read that the Bible is the inspired (God-breathed) word of God, and profitable for teaching, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness.
Alister McGrath claimed that Christianity’s “dangerous idea” is that the Bible can be read and understood by individuals — “Protestantism took its stand on the right of individuals to interpret the Bible for themselves rather than be forced to submit to ‘official’ interpretations handed down by popes or other centralised authorities.” This one idea changed the landscape of the English church and society. The Bible is plain to read and plain to understand by ordinary people in all essential matters pertaining to salvation (Articles of Religion, Article 6). The first traditional Anglican homily states: “As drink is pleasant to those who are dry, and meat to those who are hungry, so is the reading, searching, and studying of holy scripture to those who desire to know God, or themselves, and to do his will.” Thomas Cranmer goes on to write in this homily to say, “Let us diligently search for the well of life in the books of the New and Old Testaments, and not run to the stinking puddles of people’s traditions.” There is no way to overestimate the impact the Bible translated into English had in Great Britain for all the ages!
Myles Coverdale was arrested and imprisoned when Mary Tudor became Queen. He might have been martyred along with almost 300 other Protestants had it not been for the King of Denmark intervening. Coverdale went into exile in 1555, first in Denmark and then to Switzerland. He returned to England when Elizabeth I succeeded her stepsister to the throne, and he resumed preaching the gospel until his death in 1569.