Thursday, December 16, 2010
“In 1179, Peter Waldo asked his archbishop for permission to be recognized as a separate and approved movement and asked for permission to be organized as a preaching fraternity. The request was passed on to the pope, Alexander III, who refused the request. The group appealed to the Third Lateran Council in 1179, but this Council also refused their request.
“Convinced that they were only doing that which was Biblical, they continued to preach anyway, and thus incurred the wrath of the church which excommunicated them at the Council of Verona in 1184.
“What is particularly interesting about the Waldensians is their views. I doubt whether any group of people in all Europe, prior to the Reformation, understood the truths of Scripture so clearly as these poor people. Philip Schaff even calls them, ‘the strictly biblical sect of the Middle Ages.’ It is almost impossible to imagine how these simple folk could have come to such excellent knowledge of the truth in the times in which they lived. They were the lowly, the uneducated; …forerunners of the Reformation…when the Calvin Reformation dawned, most of them were quick to join it; it was as if the Calvin Reformation was exactly what they had been waiting for all these centuries. Only the fact that God preserves His church can adequately explain their existence.
“At the beginning of the movement the Waldensians did not depart from Roman Catholic teachings. They did not reject the authority of the pope, the entire sacramental system of Roman Catholicism, nor the church itself as the mother of believers. They were, in fact, very much like a religious order. They demanded vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for full membership and insisted on a novitiate before allowing adherents to become full members.
“But from the outset their main emphasis was on preaching. It was preaching that got them into trouble with the church, for they preached without permission. But they continued even in the face of excommunication because they were convinced that preaching is decisive for salvation…
“It really ought not to surprise us, in the light of the times, that the Waldensians even went too far with their idea of preaching. They were opposed to Roman Catholic clericalism, and soon came to see the importance of what Luther later called the office of all believers. With their emphasis on the office of all believers, and failing to distinguish between the special offices in the church and the general office of believers, they gave to the laity, including women, the right to preach. All God's people were preachers, and they were preachers not by virtue of ordination, but by virtue of a Godly and spiritual life which manifested that they were believers.
“One benefit of this erroneous viewpoint, however, was the fact that they saw the need for all God's people to possess the Scriptures. And so they translated the Scriptures into the vernacular, and even insisted on the final and absolute authority of the Scriptures for life, doctrine and preaching. Preaching had to be exposition of God's Word.
“After persecution and excommunication, their views developed. They saw inconsistencies with the position they had taken and the other teachings of Rome. And so, bit by bit, they rejected the oath, purgatory, prayers for the dead, the mass, and transubstantiation.”