A Theologian for Today

William Tyndale was a greater man than most people give him credit for. We owe our language to his very modem translation of the Bible, and everyone who reads it realises how modern and alive it is. It is here that most people start and stop when they think of Tyndale.

But there are other ways where he was far ahead of his times. Although we are often involved in humanitarian work, there is very little difference in the reasons given by Oxfam and the Christian Relief Agencies (such as Christian Aid) as to why we do this work. We need to turn to Tyndale's writings where we can see the Christian necessity for this work, without which we are failing in our Christian responsibility.

All too often this failure, and many others, stem from our basic thinking about man's place in creation and in salvation. Tyndale did not believe that Christ became man and died on the Cross so that we might be saved and brought into God's kingdom. That is too man-centred a view, and is too restricted in its scope. Our salvation is not for man, but in order that God can destroy the devil, undo the consequences of man's sin, and achieve His creation plan.

This reverses much of the teaching of the Church over the centuries. The doctrine of the two kingdoms usually separates them in some way and makes the spiritual kingdom of greater importance than the kingdom of the world. But for Tyndale the temporal kingdom is the basic one, God 'invented' the spiritual kingdom in order to redeem creation. The Christian's task is to be used by God in his redeeming work and the restoration of God's creation. Unfortunately Tyndale does not spell it out as clearly as this, but it is the only interpretation which makes sense of his many references to salvation and good works. Although in several places in his writings Tyndale appears to suggest a universal salvation he is doing no more than the scriptures (Rom. 5:18; 1 Cor.15: 22), but Christ's blood is not actively giving life to anyone until, through repentance and faith, they become children of God.

As Christians we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. Tyndale expounds the word neighbour as,

Neighbour is a word of love, and signifieth that a man should be ever nigh, and at hand, and ready to help in time of need.' (Mammon, PS 1, p. 85).

Very few of us would be prepared to go as far as Tyndale believed was a Christian's duty as he saw his neighbour had need. The following passage must be read in conjunction with all Tyndale's writings and we must understand 'creation' as relating to the world in the way the Bible does.

When we hear the law truly preached, how that we ought to love and honour God with all our strength and might, from the low bottom of the heart, because he hath created us, and both heaven and earth for our sakes, and made us lord there-of, and our neighbours (yea our enemies) as ourselves, inwardly, from the ground of the heart, because God hath made them after the likeness of his own image, and they are his sons as well as we, and Christ hath bought them with his blood, and made them heirs of everlasting life as well as us. (Pathway, PS 1, p. 18.).

Tyndale was writing of the temporal kingdom in that passage, a few lines later he wrote of our being 'born again' by which we, through the blood of Christ, become part of the spiritual kingdom. Until the Holy Spirit has given us life through the blood of Christ we cannot love God's laws, neither can we love God or our neighbour.

Again Tyndale wrote of our love to God, we are:

to love God that is the Father of all and giveth all; and Jesus Christ, that is Lord of us all, and bought us all, with all our hearts, souls, power, and might; and our brethren for our Father's sake (because they be created in his image), and for our Lord and master Christ's sake, because they be the price of his blood. (Exposition Matthew 5-7: PS 2. p. 11f).

Here Tyndale was saying no more than Paul.

Because we thus judge, that if one died for all then were all dead died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. (2 Cor 5:) 4,1.).

Once we have been born again and made God's children the answer to the question, 'Who is my neighbour?' is twofold. In the spiritual kingdom it is those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ; in the temporal kingdom it remains, as it always was, our brothers and sisters who are created by God — and we are to reach out to help our brothers and sisters who are in need irrespective of whether they are in the spiritual kingdom or not.

Tyndale's answer to the lawyer's question in Luke 10, 'And who is then my neighbour?' was as revolutionary as Christ's reply in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Firstly,

Thy friends are the poor, which are now in thy time, and live with thee; thy poor neighbours which need thy help and succour. (Mammon, PS 1, 66f.).

Secondly, Tyndale had a worldwide view which reached across every barrier which separates one person from another.

If thy neighbours which thou knowest be served, and thou yet have superfluity, and hearest necessity to be among the brethren a thousand miles off, to them art thou debtor. Yea, to the very infidels we be debtor, if they need. (Mammon, PS l, P. 99.).

In fact, about the time when the Pope was calling for a Crusade against the 'Turks, Tyndale wrote. 'I am bound to love the Turk with all my might and power; yea, and above my power, even from the ground of my heart, after the ensample that Christ loved me.' Why were we to love the Turk? Tyndale answers, 'to win him to Christ.' (Mammon, PS 1, p.96.). In fact, as Christians we should be able to say, 'Them that are good I love, because they are in Christ: and the evil, to bring them to Christ.' (Obedience, PS 1, p. 299.) Tyndale understood what Christ meant as he answered the lawyer's question, 'Who is my neighbour?'. In today's language the Good Samaritan not only cared for the man in need, and paid for the estimated cost for his recovery, but he also wrote an open cheque to cover any further costs which might be incurred! Tyndale's formula for giving is: Income minus absolute necessities (food, clothing, housing) equals amount available to help our neighbour in their need.

Tyndale spells out the reason for doing good to those who are evil even more clearly,

Even so provoke thou and draw thine evil brethren to goodness, with patience, with love in word and deed; and pray for them to him that is able to make them better and convert them. And so thou shalt be thy Father's natural son, and perfect, as he is perfect. (Exposition Matthew, PS 2, p. 71.).

If we want a point where we stop helping others Tyndale gives us an answer:

When thy neighbour hath shewed thee more unkindness than God hath love, then mayest thou hate him, and not before; but must love him for God's sake, till he fight against God, to destroy the name and glory of God. (Exposition Matthew, PS 2, p. 47.)

Even in the world of today we still need to listen to Tyndale's words. His thoughts are firmly based on the word of God. They also are as revolutionary today as they were nearly 500 years ago. If we think some jobs are better than others, 'Tyndale tells us to think again:

Compare dede too dede / so ys one greater then another: but compare them to god / so are they all tyke / and one as good an another. Even as the spyrite moveth a man / & tyme & occasion gevyth. (Marginal Note, Matthew 10. N.T. Cologne Fragment, 1525.).

Comparing deed to deed Tyndale equates the sermon of a great preacher with that of the lad in the kitchen who was doing the washing up.

Now if thou compare deed to deed, there is a difference betwixt washing of dishes, and preaching of the word of God; but as touching to please God, none at all. (Mammon, PS 1, P. 100-102.).

The important thing is that any job we do must be done to the glory of God and to the best of our ability.

There are many other ways in which Tyndale was ahead of his time and is relevant for us today. We need, as Christians, to listen to what Tyndale has written as he sought to bring the Church back to the word of God. Like the Old Testament prophets Tyndale has a habit of bringing to our notice the whole of Scripture — including those parts we tend to pass over quickly until we reach those passages which suit our ego. For Tyndale the only thing that matters is that God is glorified in us and through us, and God's purpose in creation is restored and fulfilled.

© Ralph Werrell, October 2001

Valid XHTML 1.0!