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The Waldenses

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By
Pastor Mark Montgomery
Ambassador Baptist Church
1926 Babcock Blvd
Pittsburgh, PA 15209
(412)822-7255
The Baptists of today truely have a rich heritage. Unlike other denominations, the Baptistis can trace their roots back through the centuries to their founder, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Baptists did not come out of the Great Reformation, as some would believe. The Baptists, unlike the Reformation, or Protestant churches, have no ties to the Mother Church in Rome, but have a dignified heritage which can be traced by the trail of blood which has been shed by Baptists through the ages.
It is, nevertheless, a right royal succession, that in every age the Baptists have been advocates of liberty for all, and have held that the gospel of the Son of God makes every man a free man in Christ Jesus.(1)
One of the Baptist groups which has existed in past eras is the Waldensians, This group of Baptist believers was found most prevalently in the mountain valleys of the Alps. They truely have a distinguished history. However, a major question has been raised concerning the Waldenses, which is: When did the Waldenses originate? Experts disagree on their antiquity. Some trace the Waldenses clear back to the Apostolic churches while others trace them only to the twelfth century fury.

Those who believe that the Waldenses came into existence in the twelfth century base this on the story of Peter Waldo, one of the great leaders of the Waldenses. Peter Waldo was born Vaux, in Dauphine, in France. "He first comes into notice as a wealthy merchant in Lyons experiencing a religious crisis."(2) The crisis he faced was the sudden death of a close friend while they were attending a feast.(3) Coupled with this was the effect that a traveling minstrel had upon his life. The minstrel sang songs about St. Alexis, who was a fourth century saint of poverty. The final straw was Waldo's visit to a "learned divine" who told him, "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell all that thou hast and give to the poor."(4) From that day forward Waldo attempted to live a life of poverty. His followers, known as the Poor Men of Lyons(5) traveled many miles preaching the Gospel, while taking with them barest provisions, and usually no shoes. This row of poverty was to be a mark of the Waldenses down through the ages.

It is without question that Peter Waldo was a Waldensian. However, many scholars believe the that the Waldensian line can be traced further than Peter Waldo. The Waldenses themselves claimed to have a historic line which led back to the apostolic churches. "They call themselves. ..successors of the apostles, and say that they are in possession of the apostolic authority, and of the keys to bind and unbind."(6) They believed that the apostolic succession could be traced directly to Peter Waldo.

Still others believe that the Waldenses simply came out of Rome earlier than the twelfth century. Rorenco, who was the prior at St. Rock in Turin, states that " they were not a new sect in the ninth and tenth centuries, and that Claude of Turin must have detached them from the church in the ninth century."(7) One question which has been raised is how the Waldenses could have formed the religious beliefs they did had they started with Peter Waldo. They were an isolated people in the valleys of the Alps, and would not have had the opportunity to check into the errors of Catholocism because they were so far removed from Rome. This would seem to contradict the idea that the Waldenses began with Peter Waldo.

The generally accepted theory is that the Waldenses were indeed in existence before the time of Peter Waldo. Though their antiquity may not reach to the time of the apostles, their line can be traced back through the Petrobrusians and other sects. The name "Waldenses" is from the Italian word "Waldesi" which means valley, and would imply that the Waldenses were valley people who lived in the Alps.(8) This is probably the correct theory.

Most of the historic evidence about the Waldenses comes from the time of Peter Waldo. Waldo originally did not desire to separate from the church in Rome. His main desire was to lead man to a holy life.(9) For this cause, Waldo was not considered a heretic by the Catholic Church. However, the Catholics did demand that Waldo and his followers not preach without church authority. Waldo's reply was "we ought to obey God rather than man, Christ commanded His disciples to preach."(10) And Waldo and his followers continued to preach. They met with good success everywhere they went. People were tired of hearing the priests say one thing, but live another. They were impressed by the wholehearted dedication which they found among the Waldenses. The priests saw this as being perilous to them, and ultimately excommunicated Waldo and his followers. This forced the Waldenses to flee into the Alps for safety from persecution.

This shows the three distinguishing principles of the Waldenses.(11) First, they believed the that it was better to obey God than men. Secondly, they believed that the Holy Scriptures were to be their source of knowledge. Thirdly, they believed in the importance of preaching. These three guiding principles are seen over and over again in their history. They were severly persecuted by the Catholics because of their refusal to bow the knee to Rome. The first perscution occurred in 1332, when the reigning pope ordered his men to destroy all the "heretics" up in the valleys of the Alps. This started a long series of persecution. "After this date there was scarcely a pope who did not bear unintentional witness to their great numbers and wide diffusion."(12) This indicates that persecutions more frequent and widespread. Had the Waldenses submitted to the leadership of Rome, these persecutions would not have occured. But they believed they ought to obey God rather than man.

The Bible became their only rule for faith and practice. "The Bible was a living Book, and there were those among them who could quote the entire book from memory."(13) It was for this reason that they rejected the doctrines of the Catholic Church. "They rejected the doctrine of purgatory, masses for the dead, indulgences, the invocation of saints, and the use of images, and they venerated, but declined to adore, the Virgin Mary."(l4) What they did do was emphasize the imitation of Christ. If anything, they dwelt more on living a Godly life than they did on justification by faith.(l5) However, their theology, while not shown in dogmatic statements, is easily seen through their lives and through the results of their ministry.

Their final principle was the importance of preaching. This is quickly evidenced by the rapid growth of the Waldensian movement.

To maintain the truth in their own mountains was not the only object of this people. They felt their relations to the rest of Christendom. They sought to drive back the darkness and reconquer the kingdom which Rome had overwhelmed. They were an evangelistic as well as evangelica1 church.(16)
The Waldenses started their push in Switzerland and Northern Italy. But soon their work extended throughout all of Europe.(17) The Waldenses did have the unscriptural belief that women could preach equally with men. But the fact that this helped spread the Gospel cannot be denied.

From what has been shown about the Waldenses, it is clear that they were Baptistic. However, their Baptist doctrines should be dealt with.(18) First of all, they believed only in regenerate church membership. This is evidenced by their creeds and by their rejection of infant baptism. Secondly, the Waldenses practiced immersion, which is the only proper form of Scriptural baptism. They were also correct in realizing that baptism identified them with Christ but did not wash their sins away. Thirdly, they were Baptist because they believed that the Bible was the highest authority and the only rule for faith and practice. Fourthly, they agreed with Baptists on the ordinance of the Lord's Supper. Finally, and most importantly, they were Baptists in that they believed that salvation did not come through the church, or through works, but only through justification by faith.

As the Waldenses continued to spread, "many Roman Catholics were won over and some of them doubtless brought some error with them."(l9) Some of these errors gradually crept in to the movement. These errors eventually worked to bring a downfall to the Waldensian movement. On the eve of the Reformation, the movement was drawing to a close. The numbers had dwindled drastically because of persecution. Many of those who remained had joined the newer Anabaptist movement. Tired of fighting, the remaining Waldenses opened negotiations with the Reformers, and in 1532, a union was brought about. Sadly, this caused the Waldenses to lose some of their convictions, and they became Pedobaptists.(20)

The Waldensian novement was certainly important to the line of Baptists. These people came out of their valley dwellings in the Alps and sent the cause of Christ, and Baptist principles throughout Europe. At one point, it was said that "one third of Christendom if not more has attended illicit Waldensian conventicles and is at heart Waldensian."(21) This great movement helped to keep the fires of Baptist polity alive through the dark period predeeding the Reformation. It may be true that different Waldensian sects did not all entirely hold the same views. But it is a blessing to know that the Waldenses, as a whole, were Baptists.


1) John Christian, A History of the Baptists (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1922) p. 23.

2) Encyclopedia Americana, volume 28, (New York: American Corporation, 1968 ) p. 275.

3) Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists, (New York: Bryon Taylor and Co., 1887) ) p. 294.

4) Ibid.

5) Albert Newman, A history of Anti-Pedobaptists, (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1897) P. 41.

6) Christian, op. cit., p. 72.

7) J. Wylie, History of the Waldenses, (Washington: Review and Herald Publishing Association, N.D.) pp. 10,11.

8) Christian, op. cit., p. 76.

9) Armitage, op. cit., p. 296.

10) Ibid.

11) Christian, op. cit., p. 76

12) Wylie, op . c i t ., p . 27.

13) Christian, loc, cit., p. 76.

14) Encyclopedia Americanna, op. cit., p. 273.

15) Newman, op. cit., p. 44.

16) Wylie, op. cit., p. 20.

17) Newman, loc. cit.

18) W. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, (Fulton: National Baptist Publishing House, 1904) pp. 161-165.

19) Christian, op. cit., p. 77.

20) Ibid., p. 82.

21) Leonard Varduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964) p. 173.


BIBLIOGRA PHY

Armitage, Thomas,
A History of the Baptists. New York: Bryan Taylor and Co., 1897
Christian, John,
A History of the Baptists. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1922.
Encyclopedia Americana,
volume 28. New York americana Corporation, 1968.
Jarrel, W.,
Baptist Church Perpetuity. Baptist Publishing House, 1904.
Ncwman, Albert,
A history of Anti-Pedobaptism. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1897.
Verduin, Leonard,
The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. Grand Rapids: Williim B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964.
Wylie, J.,
History of the Waldenses. Washington: Review and Herald Publishing Association, N.D.



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