From the life of the early Waldensians, Brother John D. Martin draws several practical lessons — The Preaching of the Gospel is non-negotiable. True Christians are committed to literal obedience. True Christians should maintain a healthy suspicion of clever theological rationalizations. The priority of Christians is a thorough understanding of the Scriptures. The Biblical teachings of wealth should be taken seriously and literally. “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”
Opening prayer by Dale Heisey:
Dear Father, what a blessing we can be together in this way, and that our hearts are beating together. There’s great love for each other here. We are humbled and blessed in your presence. Thank you for the fellowship. Thank you for the testimony of lives that blessed us. That you for the mutual contribution that we have been able to make one another over the years. Thank you, oh God, that were together in this time of worship this morning and to see each other’s faces and hear each other’s voices and sing these hymns together and make these commitments with each other. We have a testimony yet we would like to hear about. I ask you to use Brother John to share this message with us; bless his heart, his message, his ministries, life as he shares these precious words with us today. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Good morning. I was sitting there thinking how in the world could we follow that message with anything that would add to it. But I’ve been asked to do that. So we’ll we’ll try to do that.
The title my message this morning is “A Heritage Gained and Lost.” I agree with a news commentator I heard once say,
“There are no great eras in the history of men. Only the story of great men.”
And Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said,
“Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime,
And departing leave behind us footprints on the sands of time.”
I have four points this morning, and I’ll try to make it quick because we are over time. But I don’t begrudge one moment of what brother Ernest did; it was just a tremendous challenge. I’ll just tell you that I somehow don’t understand why I was so privileged to be part of this great heritage.
Many people, most people, never even come close to this heritage, never have a chance even to hear it. Now I want to be faithful to that heritage. So I want to talk about a heritage compromise, a heritage gained, a heritage lost, and a heritage evaluated.
So let’s talk a little bit about a heritage compromised. I want to talk a little bit about the early church. The early church existed at a time when there were no printing presses. The New Testament was not completed. They basically had the Old Testament Scriptures. And there was one thing that characterized the early church, and that was a passionate devotion to the teaching and person and example of Jesus. Paul said,
“that I may know him… I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”
“As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk ye in him.”
“He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk even as he walked.”
And I noticed throughout the Epistles – I’m an Old English teacher – and I noticed througout the Epistles the tremendous prepositional phrases in Christ, unto Christ, to Christ, for Christ, after Christ, with Christ. Paul just laces his Epistles with those prepositional phrases all through. Paul did not want anybody to misunderstand his belief that it also focused on the person of Christ and participation in who he is.
There was no printing press until 1439. But Paul was already seeing a threat to what I just told you, and one of the verses that really struck me some years ago as I was studying II Corinthians:
“I fear lest by any means as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
Now Paul in his day was already seeing people who were trying to improve the Gospel. The first group that we have, believe it or not, did not attack his Divinity.
You know, there’s a tremendous emphasis that we believe in the Divinity of Christ, and I don’t want to minimize that emphasis. But the first attack on Christianity was an attack against his humanity. The Gnostics said he could not have been a real human being. Because all material things including the flesh was created by an evil God and Jesus could not have taken on real human flesh. Now what’s the implication of that? If Jesus did not take on real human flesh, then his call for you to follow him was a farce. You can’t follow him and you don’t talk to some people very long about this subject until they say “We can’t do that. He was God.” How many have ever heard that? That was the first attack on Christianity an attack on his humanity. That’s why the Anabaptists had a particular emphasis on the humanity of Christ.
And Paul was already seeing this in his day. The whole Epistle of John is written to refute that heresy and passages from Paul as well. Here’s another Scripture:
“Beware lest any man spoil you…”
And that word spoil there means rob.
“Beware lest any man rob you through philosophy and vain deceit.”
Now immediately people think about worldly philosophies, but Paul was writing to Christians. What was he talking about?
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and…”
Listen to this:
“…and not after Christ.”
The philosophy he’s talking about is the clever manipulations that people can do with with ideas from the Bible to lead us away from Christ. He said that’s how the world does things. They do it by logic. They do it by philosophy. Philosophizing. And you’re going to see as we go down through this one of the greatest enemies of true Christianity is theological philosophical manipulations of spiritual ideas.
And then you had scholasticism. You had Gnosticism – attack on his humanity. We also did have an attack on his deity. That’s referred to in John as well. Those two things are very, very, very crucial. And then you had scholasticism which tried to marry Greek philosophy with the teachings of Jesus. I read one place that – I think it was one of the theologians back in the early church – that said he found every doctrine about Jesus in Aristotle, except the resurrection. Well, that is a pretty bad omission because it happens to be the central theme of the Gospel.
And so you have these cultural pressures. You have the pagan culture. You have the Greek culture. And just like today – Brother Ernest was right on the mark – we are being pressured on every side by every possible means, and they had it back then, but how did they fight it? They fought it with theology.
Rather than Paul who kept his focus on Jesus and obedience to him. That’s all we need, folks. Honestly, that is all we need – is to keep our focus on doing exactly what Jesus said. That will solve the problems that we have.
So I just want to go down through a list of where the church went and I’m giving all of this as a backdrop to Peter Waldo.
So the church veered further and further and further and further from literal, strict, passionate obedience to Jesus literal teachings and example. Somewhere in the third century non-resistance got lost. And I’d like to talk about that for a long time, but we don’t have time.
After Constantine’s conversion the church and the state united. Now you have the state using physical force to make people obey the church. AD 310: prayers for the dead and the sign of the cross. AD 375: veneration of angels and dead saints. AD 593: purgatory established by Gregory the Great – and it was established by him, because it didn’t exist before that and still doesn’t. AD 600: prayers to Mary, the Mother of God. AD 788: worship of the cross, images, and relics. AD 850 – see, this happened over centuries – holy water mixed with a pinch of salt blessed by the priest could sanctify anything it touched. AD 998: fasting on Fridays and during Lent imposed, and then Mass developed into a sacrifice. AD 1079: celibacy in the priesthood decreed. AD 1090: the rosary or prayer beads introduced and, of course, you all know 1095: the crusades where Christians are now killing Muslims in Jerusalem.
Now the interesting thing about it is right after that list. We’re now up to the 1100s. There was a tremendous sense in Europe that something was drastically wrong. And so you had wandering preachers wandering around the country calling people back to the example of Jesus. Now many of those groups we would call heretical. Some of them didn’t believe in the Divinity of Christ, most of them still practiced infant baptism, and I could go down a long list of things that we would seriously theologically disagree with. But they had one thing in common: they were passionately committed to go back to the teachings of Jesus.
The Waldensians was just one group of them. All right, I want to read a quote from someone in their day talking about these heretics, and some of them we would have actually called heretics theologically, but this is what they said:
“If you question the heretic not about his theology, but if you question him about his faith, nothing is more Christian than what he has to say. If about his daily converse, nothing is more blameless and what he says he proves by his activities. As regards his life and conduct, he cheats no one, he pushes ahead of no one. He does violence to no one. Moreover, his cheeks are pale with fasting. He does not eat the bread of idleness. He labors with his hands and thus makes his living.”
Matthew 25 says nothing about the theologies that we’re concerned about – that we should be concerned; I certainly have a problem with anybody who doesn’t believe in the Divinity of Christ. We should have a correct theology. But Matthew 25 says, “In the end it will be how did you apply your faith to the needs around you?” That’s going to be the final test. And these people on that subject passed with flying colors, and we’ll let God be the judge about their theology.
But all of these groups faded away. Most of them were sort of Gnostic. They were sort of ascetic. They lived a very abstemious lifestyle. They starve themselves because they sort of had this idea that the flesh is evil and the spirit is good. And so you just have to punish the flesh. Gnosticism took two forms: one was to do what they were doing. The other one was to say “Well, the flesh can’t be redeemed. Let it live however it what will.
But this group took that other route, that the flesh had to be brought under, and so they were sort of extremist in that way, and all of those faded away by the 14th century pretty much. But not the Waldensians, and that’s why we’re still talking about them. They have persisted down to the present. There are 50,000 Waldensians in the world today. Most of them are in Argentina.
They are considered the mother of the Reformation sometimes.
History is uncertain about them due to inadequate sources much of what is written about them was written by their enemies and I’m going to read one of those. This was written by the Inquisition in the 13th century.
“The poor men of Lyon…”
That’s what they were called because Peter Waldo was from the city of Lyon in France.
“The poor men of Lyon rose about the year 1170 founded by a certain man of Lyon by the name of Waldesious after whom his followers took their name. The person in question was a rich man who abandoned all his wealth, determined to observe a life of poverty and evangelical perfection like the apostles. He arranged for the gospels and other books to be translated into the common tongue as well as some text of the saints…
And they list some of the saints there.
“…under titles which he called sentences in which he read with great zeal without however understanding very much…”
That’s his enemies’ comment.
“…full of his own importance and with little education he ended up by usurping the prerogative of the apostles. He dared to preach the Gospel in the streets.”
Isn’t that terrible!
“…where he made many disciples both men and women and compounded his arrogance by sending them out in turn to preach. These people ignorant and illiterate when about through the town’s entering houses and even churches spreading many errors everywhere. They were summoned by the archbishop of Lyon who warned them against such defiance, but they refused to fall in line cloaking their madness by saying they must obey God rather than people, since God had commanded the apostles to preach the gospel to every living creature, and thus they ended up despising the clergy, accusing them of being rich and living a life of ease, all the while boldly declaring themselves to be imitators and successors of the apostles. Because of this disobedience and of this arrogant appropriation of a task, which did not belong to them at all, they were excommunicated and expelled from their country.”
And you must remember there was no printing press. These people had an amazing command of Scripture. I read an account where somebody reported back in the day that he met a Waldensian at the crossroads somewhere, and that Waldensian quoted to him word for word the entire Book of Job. (I don’t know why I chose Job. I often wondered what that had to do with his message.)
I’d like to ask something: How many of you… I debated whether I want to do this because I don’t want to put anybody forward or put anybody down, but I’m just sort of curious. How many of you have ever memorized the entire Sermon on the Mount? Raise your hands high. Okay, thank you.
How many of you have ever memorized and an entire book of the Bible? Praise God. Bless your hearts.
These people had hope – remember, there was no printing press if you were going to give the Scriptures to somebody, you had to give it by memory. You might have had a little handwritten portion of it. They were passed around and people met. That’s what they memorize from. But I just really want to challenge us.
Waldesious was a man of exceptional vitality. I mean this man could not be stopped. But he’s pictured as a man of tremendous humility. He left no body of written materials. I have nothing to quote from, like you’ve heard quoted from, he composed no precepts. He didn’t create any organization. He issued no rules or any ordinances. He just chose to live out his faith and publicly testify why he lived as he lived. He was not a leader. He was not a self-appointed teacher or model. He was nonetheless to become a reference point for many generations of Christians who sought to live as biblical people live.
Now the story is that he was a man of tremendous wealth. He was criticized for lending his money at outrageous rates of interest. And there are three accounts as to how he got converted.
The most popular account was that after a mass in one of the Roman Catholic churches, a minstrel sang the story of Saint Alexis. Saint Alexis was a rich spoiled member of a noble family who on his wedding night left his bride and family for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He returned to his city so disfigured that no one recognized him. He was ignored and left to die under a staircase and it was only after his death that he was identified. Waldesious was so touched by a man who would invest that kind of action into his faith that he asked the minstrel to come to his house and do the song again, and he came to believe that he should do something very similar. That’s the first account.
I tend to believe that there’s probably some truth in all of these; that this same story. The second account is as a rich merchant amid poverty and many of the people around them were poor, some of them because of him. Waldesious had a troubled conscience and sought out counsel at one of the cathedrals. The priest read to him from Matthew 19:16-22 where Jesus told the rich man to sell his goods, give to the poor, and follow him. And Waldesious believed he should do that. That’s the second account.
The third account is that Waldesious was very upset over the death of a friend who was taken in a seizure at a banquet and died. He asked himself, “If death should overtake me, would my soul be ready for the journey?” After weeks of certain uncertainty, he decided to give up his former way of life and begin anew.
This is the crisis of a medieval man who in his own town met the Christ of the Gospels. It’s a beautiful story. His vow of poverty: he did give away all his wealth, made provision for his wife, and gave the rest away. It did not lead him, as it did many people his day, to the monastery. He chose to live out his life among the poor, not as an act of merit, but to challenge others to do the same. To the scoffers as he distributed the last of his goods, he said,
“Citizens and friends, I am not out of my mind as you seem to think. I’m freeing myself of those who were oppressing me and making me a lover of money more than of God. This act I do for myself and for you. For myself, so that if from now on I possess anything you may label me a fool for you in order that you too may be led to put your hope in God and not in riches.”
Now a small community formed, and they were determined to live out Jesus’ teachings together. And this is what they said (or somebody said at that time):
“The decision we have taken is this to maintain until our death faith in God and the church’s sacraments to preach freely according to the grace given by God to us. This we will not cease to do for any cause.”
They did not seek to start a revolution. They never left the Roman Catholic church officially. They were expelled, obviously, and persecuted but they never. He wasn’t really trying to do anything spectacular except just live out the teachings of Jesus. He did not set up a religious order or name a leader. In fact, the Archbishop in his town at first praised him for what he was doing. But he said this to him, “We bishops are here to do the preaching. It is part of the task laid down for us as the successors of the Apostles.”
This was the only accusation against these people. They had no problem with the way they lived. The monks went into the monastery and took a vow of poverty. I mean almost everything they did as far as their lifestyle was concerned had been done in the monasteries and there are always people who did those things, but the thing they did that could not be forgiven was that they dared to preach the Gospel without anybody authorizing them to do it.
I was thinking of that when you were talking last night, Brother Dean. That that was the distinguishing feature of these people that got them in trouble. They could have done everything else they did and there would have been no trouble, but they were told to quit preaching. They said, “Preaching belongs to everyone who chooses to truly live as the apostles of Jesus.”
Now he had the New Testament translated into the vernacular French, parts of it at least. He required of people who followed him to took on a vow of poverty. They believed that salvation comes by faith and works of charity and identification with the poor. They continued to practice Mass. They did not withdraw from the Roman Catholic church.
Now he did take his case to the third Lateran Council and ask the pope to endorse what he was doing. He met with Pope Alexander III who blessed him, but said they could not preach. See this was the issue. Without approval from the local clergy, they preached anyway.
Later Pope Lucius III declared them heretics in 1184. This is just fourteen years after he began. The Lateran Council in 1215 also declared them heretics. In 1184 the Inquisition was established to eradicate all heretics including the Waldensians.
In 1211 in Strasbourg more than eighty Waldensians were burned as heretics, but their doctrine spread rapidly through south Germany, Bohemia, Moravia, Selicia, Poland, and Austria and the number was reported to be 80,000. That’s probably a very conservative estimate. Martin Luther at one point – I think it was Martin Luther – said, “One third of the people of Europe either attended a Waldensian meeting or knew about the beliefs of the Waldensians.” In other words, there’s just many people affected by this.
They finally were driven out of France. I was always a little perplexed why their headquarters is in northwest Italy. We actually visited Torre Pellice, which is their headquarters, two years ago, and I’ll tell you about that at the end of my message. And there we were told there were 50,000 of them still in the world, most of them in Argentina.
One thing that perplexed me is the other Americans with us on that tour were Mormons. And they told us that the last Waldensians in America, for the most part, joined the Mormon church. Now you go figure that one out.
I’ll tell you a little bit about my interview with the leader we had at Torre Pellice, the headquarters in northwestern Italy.
Everybody wants to claim them. The Seventh-Day Adventist even say there were Sabbatarians, although that can’t be proven. Everybody wants to say, “We are the descendants of this heroic group.” But their original beliefs do not identify them completely with any group.
They emphasized the Bible as their only guide for faith and life, and that is still their creed. That guide at Torre Pellice, they said all the other Christian groups, they have their creeds, they have their little statements, they have their statements of faith. We don’t. We follow only the Bible.
They laid particular stress on the words and example of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount often called “Sermon on the Mount People.” They rejected all killing including capital punishment and war. They rejected the oath and government offices.
They formed an association of men and women who formerly vowed to observe Apostolic poverty and a life of discipleship. They were divided on the issue of baptism. Most of them continued to baptize infants. A few of them decided they should baptize adults. There was no organization regimenting these people to do what they did.
All right, there preachers were called “barbas” which means “uncles.” Their preaching was simple: repentance, faith, and obedience to Jesus.
Now, a lot of time has been spent trying to connect these people with the Anabaptists. We have no record that any Waldensian ever joined the Anabaptists. I don’t know if we have any record they ever even met the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists were pretty much in northern Switzerland, and of course in northern Europe. They were making connections with Lyon, France, which is in southwestern France, and then they basically were driven out of France, and then they went into the Piedmont, the valleys of the Alps, over in northwestern Italy, and that’s where you find their headquarters today. Alright, so there was no connection.
Now there was a connection between the Waldensians and the Hussites. And that a Waldensian bishop ordained a Hussite bishop. So there was a connection between those two groups. In fact, I’m getting ahead of my story, but it’s in that interview at the end, I said to him after he described everything and he didn’t describe the whole thing of non-resistance. And so I thought well, I won’t embarrass him in front of the group. I’ll ask him at the end. So I took him off to the side and I had other questions. But one of them I asked, I said “Weren’t they non-resistant?” He said “Yes.” I said, “Well at the end, what happened to the ones who were non-resistant?” And he said, “I think they joined the Hussites.” And somebody should research that.
All right. Now that’s the heritage. People who would not quit obeying and preaching the clear, literal teaching and example of Jesus. That’s where it is folks. That is where it is.
Now I want to talk about a heritage lost. So they were able to reclaim this wonderful heritage that Christianity began with, that was just simply a following Jesus in obedience, and that got lost through all the theology and all of the scholasticism under the pressures of culture and paganism it got lost, and these people managed to regain it. I don’t know how much they even know about the early church. They just read the Bible. They just read the teachings of Jesus.
It’s a little bit like the Anabaptists. We don’t have much evidence the Anabaptist knew anything about the early church. John Overholt always said the Anabaptists are the bridge to the early church. They recaptured that vision of just following Jesus. Well, they welcomed the news about Luther. This is 300 years later. This is amazing to me, that these people kept a purity of faith without a strong organization, a strong doctrinal statement, and all those things we think we need to keep everything right. They didn’t have almost any of those, and they kept a pure faith for 300 years. That’s amazing to me.
But then they heard about the Reformation, and in 1526 an assembly of Waldensian were eager to make contact with these people. Ah, there’s been a revival of true religion in Switzerland!
So they sent two men to meet with Guillaume Farel. I don’t know how much you know about Guillaume Farel, but it was bad news for anybody to meet with him. He was a rabid Reformed theologian. And the young man was convinced that the Waldensian should adopt the Reformation theology.
The old man wasn’t so sure so they went back to their Alpine valley to discuss this, and they decided they needed more information. So they sent two more “barba” uncles. This time they sent a pretty astute theologian (which I think was a mistake) up to discuss with the Reformers. They met Bucer, Oecolampadius, and the other reformers of Strasbourg, and Bern, and Basel.
Now this is interesting to me. The Swiss Reformers knew about the Anabaptists. And the thing that concerned them whenever they heard these Waldensians give their testimony was it sounded Anabaptist to them. And they warned them against the perfectionist teachings of the Anabaptists.
The Waldensians that held to a clear separation between civil power and Christianity. The Swiss Reformers said, “You need to rethink your position. These men who have been teaching this are ignorant people. They are not theologians. You need to become more Biblical in your theology and join the mainstream Reformation.”
Now the onrush of the Reformation was so rapid. These people did not take the time they should have to think. We’re talking now about a meeting in one of the Alpine valleys, the valley in a little town in a meadow near Chanforan in 1532. Well, that’s just seven years after 1525. So this is all happening very quickly.
Farel and his colleagues interrupted their work at Geneva to make sure they were at this meeting. The issue was – some of the issues was – the predominant place that the Bible should have in faith in practice, and they had no problem with that. Of course, that was the great theme of the Reformers.
They limited the sacraments to two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But the two issues that couldn’t be resolved were: “Could a Christian rightly seek public office?” and “Was it right to lend money at interest?”
Farel insisted that all traces of Catholic piety, you see the Roman Catholic church never left the idea that you should follow Jesus. They just simply surrounded it with a bunch of junk. But at the heart of Roman Catholic theology was: if you really want to be a Christian you go to the monastery, you give up your money, you don’t go to war, you live a life of poverty, and you may obey Jesus in the monastery. They always respected that. And so the Reformers didn’t like that and they said: “These evidences that you have of Catholic piety – they have to be brought in line with the proper theology.”
Now some of the Waldensians when they came back, those two men came back, this was the second consultation they had – some of them said “Well, let’s go slowly and maybe adopt some of the Reformation.” Some of them wanted to go the whole way with the Reformation. And some of them just want to stay with the past. They didn’t trust this new movement.
Well, Farel convinced them that the Reformation was the fulfillment of their long struggle with an unfaithful church that they had waged for centuries. I mean, he was so happy to have these people that had waged almost (not single handedly, but) alone much of the time with a false church. This was a real trophy for him. And he tried to convince them to go with the Reformation.
But the Waldensian still weren’t sure. So they sent a few brethren up to talk to the Bohemian brother, the old Hussite Ernesti Frustum. And they gave them good advice. Some of those Bohemian brethren were non-resistant. Petr Chelčický – how many of ever read him? You should.
They said, “Don’t be hasty here. You’re giving up a precious heritage. You need to reflect a long time before taking action and guard against extremism and novelty.” But they held a second assembly at Chanforan and there they decided to accept the Reformation.
I’m almost finished.
What were the things that they agreed upon at Chanforan? This whole thing is so tragic it makes you cry. They decided – Now, I want you to notice the difference between obeying Jesus, and philosophical theological manipulation of spiritual ideas from the Bible. One of the decisions was a Christian may swear before magistrates without disobeying Matthew 5. Because the magistrate derives his theology – well, we all have theology, but this is systemic deceptive theology. Because the magistrate derives his power from God whether he’s a Christian or not…. I think that’s very sloppy reasoning. So therefore it’s okay to swear before the magistrate? For your information, Jesus said swear, not at all. That’s the clear teaching. James, we heard about at the beginning of these sessions, says swear not at all. But this is what you do. Okay. So swearing is okay.
No work is called good, but what God has commanded and no work is bad but what God has forbidden. So there’s some things you can just simply do because God didn’t say anything about it. See, we’re not looking at Christ anymore. We’re not looking to get direction from him. We’re reasoning. All right.
Not all usery is forbidden by God. He only prohibits usery which damages one’s neighbor because the law says that you should love your neighbor as yourself. So as long as you’re charging usery and you’re loving your neighbor as yourself, it’s okay.
And, of course, they had to get this in there: all those who have been and shall be saved have been elected by God before the foundation of the world. There’s your predestination.
The next one: the minister of the word of God ought not to itinerate from place to place, except it be for some great good of the church. So, they wanted to limit these preachers wandering all around teaching the people should follow Jesus.
And lastly, it is not a thing repugnant to the apostolic communion that ministers have some possessions for the welfare of their families.
So that’s how it was lost. It was that simple. Join the Reformation. We’re here to help you. Your suffering is ended.
I stood in astonishment as the guide showed us what happened afterward. Their suffering was not ended. Now they have joined the Protestants or the Reformation and they get involved in all those horrible wars – that 30-year war I talked about. And a lot of his lecture was detailing these horrible wars these people got into, and almost got exterminated because of the wars. And I stood there in a thought, “I’d sooner be persecuted. I sooner be persecuted than be involved in all of that.” It did not end their suffering.
So what happened? I’m just going to summarize this and will try to close here. They turned away from a discipleship and obedience to Christ nourished by a literal reading of the Bible, especially the Sermon on the Mount. They turned away from that. They turned to:
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit.”
That’s what the first is talking about – exactly what happened here.
They chose to replace non-resistance with participation in armed resistance. They accepted the union of church and state and abandoned their concept of the two kingdoms. They became participants in the protracted wars between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants that raged for centuries. And that is a horrible story. I wish you could have all stood there and heard the recitation of that guide of the horrors they got involved in. They finally were driven up into the mountains; weren’t even permitted to come down to the towns. They were up there in the Alps.
They started a process of rationalizing the clear teachings of Jesus until they became just another expression of liberal Protestantism and they finally united was the most liberal Protestant groups.
They lost the continuation of a heroic heritage that had stood successfully for 300 years, almost 400 years, against the false religion of their day.
What should we learn from the Waldensians? I’ll summarize it in five statements and I’ll be finished – almost.
- Number one: The preaching of the Gospel to every creature is the non-negotiable priority for all Christians. That’s what got them in trouble. If you were Waldensians, you would be preaching in the shops, on the streets, to every person you meet, someone at the crossroads you’d quote a whole book of the Bible to, you would just be preaching, preaching, preaching, preaching, preaching, and nothing could stop you. Because they believed that we were told to preach the gospel to every creature and that is a non-negotiable command. You heard it last night.
- Number two: True Christians are committed to obey all of Jesus’ teachings literally. These are the things that we can learn from them.
- Number three: True Christians maintain a healthy suspicion of clever theological rationalization. Those of you who know me know that I say, “I’m not a theologian.” Our theology is what we believe about God. So I have a theology. When I say “theologian,” I mean the clever manipulation of Scriptures to come to predetermined conclusions. I’m not a theologian. I have a deep suspicion of systematic theology.
- Number four: We can learn that a priority of true Christians is a thorough command of the Scriptures, a thorough command. These people didn’t have a written Scripture to depend on. They had to have it memorized.
- Number five: Jesus’ teaching about wealth should be taken seriously and literally. Distribution, not accumulation, should be the rule for the Christian.
Now I told you we visited Torre Pellice. At the end of that interview I asked about the non-resistant ones and already gave you his answer. He thinks they joined the Hussites.
And then I asked him this question. “I said throughout this entire lecture. You have told me that you folks obey only the Bible. So tell me what do you do about homosexuality? What do you do about abortion? What do you do…” and I went down through some of these social issues, and he shook his head and said, “We don’t do anything about them. Whatever the state says is legal the church accepts.” And I didn’t say it to him because I didn’t want to be unkind but I had a notion to say, “So it’s the Bible and the state.” I close with the verse that I’ve been talking about all along:
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men…”
Because that’s how they figure things out.
“…after the rudiments of the world.”
That’s how they go about it.
“…and not after Christ.”
So I think we’re concluding where we’ve been the whole way through this. Let’s go back to the clear teachings of Jesus and let’s just follow in obedience. It’s not theology. It’s discipleship.
Shall we bow our heads for prayer?
Father, I thank you so much for the courageous example of these people who kept true faith burning throughout 300 years before the Reformation and provide for us a challenging example of their tenacity to the teachings of Jesus and their persistence in teaching them to others. Oh God, give us somehow whatever it was that they had. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.