But just as Al Gore did not invent the Internet, so the Internet did not invent freedom of thought and expression. As seismic as its impact has been, the world wide web is simply the latest version–Freedom.4.0 so to speak–in a long line of word weapons we have wielded in the fight for freedom.
Ironically 2011 is the 400th anniversary of one of human history’s greatest triumphs of the written word in our continuing battle for freedom. Similar to how we witnessed the successful end of the Egyptian protests (we hope and pray), people in the year 1611 saw the end of a violent 200 year revolution. With words, and fierce faith and determination, the protestors finally triumphed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Before that–some two thousand years ago–Jesus, not the written word but the living Word, started a revolution in another time of severe economic, political, and religious oppression delivering us freedom never before imagined. This freedom promised not the mere overthrow of a despot dictator or corrupt system but rather the release of our bodies, minds and spirits from the tyranny of sin and corruption. We no longer had to cower to our own fears, cruelties, hates, frailties, and failures. Nor those of others. Jesus proclaimed the truth would set us free.
What truth? That his life, death, and resurrection freed us from guilt, fear and separation from our Creator. Lean not on a ruler, president, government, religious system, or philosophy for what you need. These are blank-eyed idols. Dead. Jesus said. Then Jesus even conquered that ultimate tyrant: death.
In words inspired by God himself, Jesus’ followers wrote down the story and truth of Jesus’ revolution. Slowly–but just as virally as if the very air carried the story–the Word spread. First slaves, women and children learned they were valued and free in Christ. Boldly they struck out to live new lives. Then others bravely joined in. Often facing ridicule, torture, and death for their beliefs. Eventually even kings, dictators, and governments bent their knees to Christ the different kind of king. The good news of freedom in Christ conquered much of the world. Even the Roman Empire was reborn, this time with a soul.
Then slow tragedy struck. The Word, the story loved and lived by so many, was captured by the elite. Written in Latin, a language common folk no longer spoke, this great story of freedom disappeared from the streets and allies and kitchens and living rooms and squares and markets of life. With the written Word locked in monasteries, cellars, libraries, studies, and castles, freedom vanished. The truth of Jesus‘ kind of freedom became a mere shadow of itself, like a wonderful childhood story heard before the fire but now only vaguely remembered and smiled at. Worse yet, the elite added untrue elements to the story. With their elite and twisted knowledge and power, these corrupt ones sucked freedom, faith, belief, truth, and life from their people like early versions of J.K. Rowling’s dementors.
But God kept for himself a remnant, a faithful few who read God’s amazing story in Latin and Greek and Hebrew and saw the truth shining from its pages like a search light in a dark sky. Then for two hundred years this remnant, men–and probably women too but unfortunately history did not record them–with names like Wycliffe, Huss, Gutenberg, Erasmus, Tyndale, Luther, Knox, Calvin, and Cranmer began to love and live Jesus’ original story again. Not only that, they began to retell it–translate and publish it–in the language of the people: common German, French, and finally English. Many died for this. Burned at the stake, tortured, shunned, hated. But they kept protesting, fighting.
Then in 1611 God drew all the work and struggle into one beautiful Book. That was the year King James authorized the publishing of Jesus’ revolutionary story in common, though beautiful and poetic, English. Finally, those translating and publishing this scared story would not be held in contempt or killed for making it available to the common people. Freedom was reborn.
Today we–and even the Muslim Egyptian protestors–are children of those brave revolutionaries. The historical strings that tie us to these ancient protestors (today called Protestants) have been lost, cut, and often purposefully obscured. But their God given love for Jesus and his truth about freedom drove them to fight against religious and political oppression. We bask in their work. Much of our belief in freedom of speech and our obsession with free thinking, learning, and expressing our beliefs and ideas is rooted in the story of Jesus–who spoke out against religious oppression long ago–and in the story of those who followed him and believed that every person should have access to this book of truth.
Today we call that book the Bible. Four hundred years ago this year, the Authorized King James version of the Bible was first published. Since then, it is the “most published book in the world . . the only book with one billion copies in print.” The King James Bible, along with its predecessors and descendants is a book of revolution: personal, national and international.
There is probably a copy of it, looking deceptively quaint, hidden somewhere in your house. Happy four hundredth birthday King James! Break out the Book and celebrate.
Eugene C. Scott writes this blog. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO