The Bible teaches that Christ Jesus started His church during the days of His earthly ministry. On several occasions, He spoke about different aspects of church responsibility, discipline and theology. The word “church” (ekklesia) is used prior to the Pentecost which the Protestants mistakenly say was the founding of the church. In Matthew 18 Jesus was teaching his disciples about how to treat misbehaving believers, saying, “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church.” That statement shows that the disciples not only knew what a church was, but that one already existed. Those disciples were members of the very first church, which Jesus started in Mark 3. “He goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him (ekkaleo) whom he would; and they come unto him. And he ordained twelve that they should be with him, and that he might sen them forth to preach.” In Matthew 16, Christ said, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Christ has been building His church before and ever since He made that statement. Not only does this establish that Jesus was the founder of Christ’s church, but it also teaches that it would be indestructible. The Bible teaches that Christ’s church will remain in existence until the end of time. The “Great Commission” concludes with the words, “and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Baptists believe, God’s people believe, that Christ founded His church during His earthly ministry, and that there have been representatives of that first church in every age and every day throughout history.
Before the rise of Catholicism in the third century, there were churches of Christ – churches true to Christ and to Christian doctrine. During the rise of Catholicism in the third, fourth, fifth and six centuries there were churches of Christ. They were called different names by their enemies, but they were known by God – not by their names, but by their doctrine. There have been Christ’s churches and God’s people in every century – scattered across Europe and the East – since the days that the Lord Jesus walked this earth.
Last week we considered the antiquity of Christians dwelling in the Alps.
For centuries they were know as the “Valdenses” – “people of the valleys.” Some were lived in France on the western, southwestern parts of the Alps called the “Piedmont” – which means something like “the foothills.” Others lived on the eastern and southeastern parts of the Alps, in northern Italy. There can be little doubt that these Bible-believing people sought shelter in the valleys for centuries before the Reformation of the 16th century. From the days when Rome began her descent into apostasy, these believers spoke out against her heresy and were persecuted for it. They were hounded out of the plains and lower valleys into the upper valleys, where they became isolated, and adapted to the tough way of life required by that harsh climate.
I could greatly expand on the historical quotations which I gave you last week, but I want to move on. So, I’m going to share only a few more – just for the purpose of reintroduction. Hossius, was a Roman Catholic Cardinal and the President of the 1545 Council of Trent. At the time he was condemning the people known as “Anabaptists,” which we will likely examine next week. He said, that these people persisted in boasting of the Word of God, rather than religious tradition. They wrote and published books condemning the Roman doctrines. They refused to baptize their babies and denied the host – that the Lord’s Supper included the literal body and blood of Christ. And they suffered persecution willingly rather than bowing to the demands of the “holy church of Rome.” This Cardinal Hossius declared, and I quote, “The Anabaptists are a pernicious sect, of which kind the Waldensian brethren seem to have been. Nor is this heresy a modern thing, for it existed in the time of Austin (Hossius’ name for Augustine, who died in 430 A.D. ).”
Mosheim, the Lutheran historian, wrote, “The true origin of that sect which required the denomination of Anabaptist, by their administering anew the right of baptism to whose who came over to their communion …. is hid in the remote depths of antiquity, and is, of consequence, extremely difficult to be ascertained.” Neander, another Lutheran historian, wrote, “It is not without some foundation of truth that the Waldenses… asserted the high antiquity of their sect, and maintained that from the time of the secularization of the (Roman) church – that is from the time of Constantine that they had existed all along.”
So the Waldenses made a claim to have served the Lord and had been true to the doctrines of Christ since the days of the Paulicians and Donatists – since the time of Paul and of Christ. I believe that to be true, and I identify our church with those people. But it has to be admitted that antiquity proves nothing. Buddhism and Hinduism are very old as well, but that doesn’t prove they have divine authority as religions of Jehovah. What is the difference between Buddhism and Bible Christianity? If you had to use one word to point out the difference between our faith and the Hindus’ faith what word would you use? In fact, you could use a single word to describe the difference between us and the Muslim, the Mormon, the Methodist and the Roman Catholic. I think that you could use the word “scripture.” It is Biblical theology which sets the Waldenses apart from the Lutheran and the Roman Catholic.
What did the Valdenses believe and practice in their worship and service of Christ?
Their oldest extant manuscript, a lengthy poem called the “Nobla Leyçon,” points out these doctrines – They believed in the deity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit – they acknowledged the Trinity – the God-head. They believed that God, the Second Person of the Trinity, created the universe and man. They believed in the fall of man – that the innocent creation chose to sin against God. Thus they were not Manicheists as they were so often charged. They believed that the Decalogue, Ten Commandments, are moral laws still to be applied today. While teaching the importance of good works and holy living, they preached the necessity of divine grace, in order to be saved or to live a life pleasing to God. They believed in Heaven and Hell and in the resurrection of the body. And why did they believe such things? Because they believed the Bible.
There is undeniable evidence that the Waldenses possessed the New Testament in their own language. Early on it was just in segments – some had the gospels, some possessed the epistles, and so on. But while Catholicism was trying its best to keep the scriptures away from the common man, the churches of the valleys were doing their best to see that every believe had a copy of their own. And as pointed out last week, they had schools, teaching their children to read those scriptures. They also carried the scriptures throughout Europe, selling them to the wealthy and giving them away to the poor.
Wylie, the Presbyterian, in his book on the Waldenses says, “There is reason to believe, from recent historical researches that he Waldenses possessed the New Testament in the vernacular. The ‘Lingua Romana’ or Romaunt tongue, was the common language of the south of Europe from the 8th to the 14th century. It was the language of the troubadours and of men of letters in the Dark Ages. Into this tongue – the Romaunt – was the first translation of the whole of the New Testament made so early as the 12th century.”
Wylie quoted a Dr. Gilly who made a study of that translation. It was under the “superintendence and at the expense of Peter Waldo of Lyons, not later than 1180, and so is older than any complete version in German, French, Italian, Spanish or English. This verison was widely spread in the south of France and in the cities Lombardy. It was in common use among the Waldenses of Piedmont, and it was no small part, doubtless, of the testimony born to truth by these mountains to preserve and circulate it. Of the Romaunt New Testament six copies have come down to our day. These are small, plain, and portable volumes, contrasting with those splendid and ponderous folios of the Latin Vulgate…”
Why were the churches of valleys able to cling to the original doctrines of Christ? It was because they held the Word of God in their hands, and they taught their children how to read it. Why were the Catholics so easily lead into heresy? Because all they had was the word and tradition of their priests and bishops – they did not have the scriptures.
The Catholics published a formidable list of Waldensian “heresies,” which included such things as….. They held that there had been no true Pope since the days of Constantine and Sylvester. Temporal offices and dignities were not appropriate for preachers of the gospel. The Popes’ pardons – “indulgences” – were a cheat. This was one of the catalysts of Luther’s rebellion. Purgatory was a fable. Relics were simply rotten bones which had belonged to one knew not whom. Meat could be eaten on any day of the week, if one’s appetite serve him. Holy water was not a whit more efficacious than rain water. Prayer in a barn was just as effectual as if offered in a church. They scoffed at the doctrine of transubstantiation – that the communion bread was transfigured into the body of Christ, and that the wine became Jesus’ blood. And they even spoke of the Roman Catholic Church as the harlot of the Apocalypse. These all come from the assessment of J.A. Wylie, the Presbyterian.
Samuel Morland, the Anglican, in his book, “The Churches of the Valley’s of the Piedmont,” published the Waldsensian’s doctrinal statement from the year 1120. Please remember that was a generation prior to Peter Waldo. ‘We do believe that there is one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” They list the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, and they also list the Apocryphal books, a but denying that they are a part of the inspired record. They state that God created all things good, forming Adam in His own image and likeness, but that Adam sinned, and through him, sin entered into the world, and all men are now sinners. “That Christ was promised to our fathers who received the law, so knowing by the law their sin, unrighteousness and insufficiency, they might desire the coming of Christ to satsifie for their sins and accomplish the Law by himself.” “That Christ was born in the time appointed by God the Father. That is to say, in the time when all iniquity abounded, and not for the cause of good works, for all were sinners: but that he might show us grace and mercy, as being faithful.” That Christ is our life, truth, peace, and righteousness, as also our Pastour, Advocate, Sacrifice, and Priest, who died for the salvation of all those that believe, and is risen for our justification.” That there is no other mediator between God and man but Jesus Christ. That the virgin Mary was holy, humble, and full of grace as are all other children of God, and she, like the rest, are in heaven awaiting the resurrection of their bodies. “We believe that after this life, there are only two places, the one for the saved, and the other for the damned, the which two places we call paradise and hell, absolutely denying that purgatory invented by Antichrist, and forged contrary to the truth.” All feasts, vigils of saints, holy water, abstaining from flesh on certain days, and especially Masses, are an abomination before God. “We esteem for an abomination and as anti-Christian, all those human inventions which are a trouble or prejudice to the liberty of the Spirit.” The ordinances are only visible forms of the invisible grace, and that people can be saved without them. “We acknowledge no other Sacrament but Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” “We ought to honour the secular powers, by subjection, ready obedience, and paying of trtbutes.”
In another document dated 1532, and not always quoted by the historians, the Waldensians state – “All those that have been, and shall be saved, have been elected of God, before the Foundation of the World. It is impossible that those what are appointed to salvation, should not be saved. Whosoever upholds free-will denieth absolutely predestination, and the Grace of God.”
While not quoting that the 1532 document, I. K. Cross summarized his consideration of the doctrines of the Waldensians by saying, “Any Baptist student will recognize this as a Baptist confession of faith without question, and Morland says it descended through the ancestors of these Waldenses from the apostles themselves.” He says that Morland quotes Theodore Beza, another Protestant theologian and historian, who says, “As for the Waldenses, give me leave to call them the very seed of the Primitive and purer Christian Church, being those who have been so upheld by the admirable Providence of God…”
Once again, from what I can learn about the people of the Piedmont and Alps, the Waldenses, they were true saints of God. I would not be ashamed to be called a Waldense today.