The Plain Truth About The Waldensians
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The Plain Truth About The Waldensians

Chapter III:

Church and Ministry

   Throughout church history, including. the New Testament times, it has been the practice of people in general to call the church by the name of their founder, by one of their major doctrines, or by the area from which they came. Note this in Acts 24:5, with reference to the Apostle Paul, "a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes," and Matt. 23:2, "and He (Jesus) came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene." Further research will reveal that Jesus was referred to as "the Nazarene" many other times (Matt. 21:11; 26:71; John 18:5,7; Acts 3:6; 4:107 6:14), and this name was used in a way of derision toward Jesus and His disciples (John 1:46). Since the Jews rejected Jesus as not really being the Christ, they certainly did not call His followers Christians. The disciples were called Christiana, named after their leader, first at Antioch (Acts 11:26; 26:28; I Pet. 4:16), and Nazarenes after His area of residence. When God's church refers to itself, it always denotes itself "The Church of God." This is the Biblical name of God's church twelve times in the New Testament. God's people have always objected to being named after their leader or a geographical location, with only one exception, the name Christian.
   How true this is of the Waldenses. They were called after their leader by this name; called Lyonists, Poor Men of Lyons after his locations, and Vaudois later after the area into which they fled. This is also illustrated from E. Comba's work: "The Waldenses objected to being called after Peter Waldo. They teach that 'we are a little Christian flock falsely called Waldenses.'"20
   This did not mean that they objected to being considered followers of Waldo as if they antedated him, but that they preferred the title "The Church of God" to being called after a man. This has been true all through history of the church, whether called Nazarenes, Paulicians, Petrobrussians or Waldensians.

For Elect's Sake

   Their true name and who they felt themselves to be is clearly and beautifully illustrated by the following:
   As we are not numerous we live concealed, and for very good reasons: but, whatever may be said, we are the Church of God, and those who are not with us will go to perdition. We are but a handful of people, but it may be on our account that the world has not perished.21
   Many times Jesus likened His followers to sheep, and a flock of sheep with a shepherd. Interestingly, Jesus said in Luke 12:32, "Fear not, little flock (Gr. poimnion little flock in contrast to Gr. poimne flock): for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." In each historical reference to His church, Jesus refers to it in this same way, "little flock," in each of the following verses in the Greek (Acts 20:28-291 I Pet. 5:2-3). It is more than coincidental that both Comba and the above source both quote the Waldensians in referring to themselves in this way.
   Also they felt that God might have spared the world for their sakes, just as He did for Noah's sake, as He did Israel for Moses' sake, and as He promised to do for the elect's sake in the end age of this world: "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." (Matt. 24:21-22) They also felt that God had built only one true church, and it was not divided or splintered as they said, "those who are not with us will go to perdition." This is further substantiated in their following confession of faith.

1669 Confession of Faith

It is stated in article 24 of this confession:

   That God has chosen unto Himself one church in the world for the salvation of mankind, and that same church to have only one head and foundation, which is Christ. 25. That that church is the company of the faithful, who having been elected before the foundation of the world, and called with an holy calling, come to unite themselves to follow the word of God, believing whatsoever He teaches them, and living in His fear. 26. That that church cannot err, nor be annihilated, but must endure forever, and that all the elect are upheld and preserved by the power of God in such sort, that they all persevere in the faith unto the end, and remain united in the holy church, as so many living members thereof. 27. That all men ought to join with that church, and to continue in the communion thereof. 31. That it is necessary the church should have ministers together with the elders and deacons, after the manner of the primitive church.

   Their pastors were called "barbas," the Waldensian term for uncle.22

   How similar this is to what Jesus told His disciples: "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you out of the world." (John 15:16, 19) Later, at the time the Waldensians were joining the Protestant Reformation, one of their sticking points was a disagreement with Luther and the other leaders on Predestination and God's calling. Certainly we can see it would be from such quotes from their own history and confession, and that even as late as 1669 A.D.
   The fear of God is another constituent of their beliefs repeated many times, and how clearly they showed that they expected God's church to continue in an unbroken chain since Christ, and to be about His work "for the salvation of mankind." They considered church membership essential, as well as ministers with varying jobs and degrees of responsibility over one another. These facts are further substantiated by a Baptist historian:
   A catechism, emanating from the Waldenses during the thirteenth century, has no allusion to infant baptism. It says of the church catholic (word for universal, not meaning Roman Catholic), that it is the elect of God, from the beginning to the end, by the grace of God, through the merit of Christ, gathered together by the Holy Spirit, and fore-ordained to eternal life.23
   Notice, also, they were fore-ordained, not to heaven, paradise, or such, but to eternal life.

Gospel Sent Free

   One of the early pieces of their literature was a poem, entitled "The Vaudois Missionary." Stanza V of this poem relates:
   The cloud went off from the pilgrim's brow, As a small and meagre book Unchased with gold or diamond gem, From his folding robe he took: "Here, lady fair, is the pearl of price May it prove as such to thee! Nay, keep thy gold I ask it not For the word of God is free."24

The Kingdom

   The message of God's church since its inception has been the same, the Kingdom of God. Jesus began this message (Luke 16:16; Matt. 4:23; 24:14), it continued in Acts (1:3; 8:12; 19:8; 28:31), and has continued to be the message of God's church ever since. It is not a surprise to discover the same knowledge among these people:
   The Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Knox, and others) with all their zeal and learning were babes in spiritual knowledge when compared with the Waldenses, particularly in regard to the nature of the kingdom of Christ, and its institutions, laws, and worship in general.25

Church Government

   Many writers accuse Peter Waldo of usurping the office of an apostle, which word or title in the Greek language of the New Testament means, "one sent." Were the leaders of each of the different church eras of God's true church down through the centuries separated by God's direct calling and sent to fulfill His calling? The Apostle Paul was, as had been the apostles before him, and certainly such is suggested in the case of Peter Waldo by many references to him as acting in that capacity regardless of his wish not to be referred to as such. There were the general Biblical officers in their church: Evangelist, Pastor, Bishop, Elder, Deacon, as can be seen in Perrin's great work:
   That the character of the Waldensian Barbs or Pastors may accurately be known, we insert the following testimony concerning them:

   The monk Reinerius reported many things concerning the vocations of the pastors of the Waldenses which are mere fictions: as that they had a Greater Bishop and two followers, whom he called the Elder Son and the Younger, and a Deacon: that he laid his hands upon others with a sovereign authority, and sent them where he thought good, like a pope.26

   I realize the Protestant writer Perrin calls this report or record "mere fictions," but naturally a congregationalist quoting such Catholic records would be biased and prejudiced, but it should be considered in the light of additional references to Waldensian church government as follows.
   Another Baptist congregationalist writer states, "to the vows of poverty they united one of chastity and of obedience to their superiors."27
   The Catholic historian Alzog records, "they were at first governed by bishops of their own appointment whom they styled 'majorales' and by presbyters and deacons; all of which orders, they said, had been instituted by Christ."28

The Presbyterian historian, C. B. Strong, relates:

   In their "Ancient Discipline of the Evangelical Church of the Valleys of Piedmont," article II, we read, "among other powers which God has given to His servants, He hath given them authority to elect the leaders who govern the people, and to constitute the elders in their churches according to the diversity of the work in the unity of Christ, according to the apostle in the Epistle of Titus in chapter 1: 'For this cause left I thee in Crete, that you shouldst set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee.'"29

Annual Ministers' Conference

   In article IV of the aforementioned work, it is said, "We that are pastors assemble once a year, to treat of our affairs in a general council." This general council was composed of all the ministers and two elders from each parish. Ackland, an Episcopalian, says of this council, "The Synod, presided over by the Moderator, has always possessed the chief authority in the Waldensian church. It was composed, as at present, of all the pastors and a portion of elders deputed by the people."30

Further information states:

   The Waldensian synod anciently met every year, in the month of September.... Later in their history, it met once in three years. It now (1853) meets once in five years.

   At the annual synod, held in the valleys, the past conduct of the pastors was closely investigated, and their mutations of residence regulated. These mutations took place every third year among the younger pastors; the old barbas were not removed.31

Binding and Loosing

   An ecclesiastical history of the ancient Piedmont church states the following pertaining to the Waldensian ministers: "They declare themselves to be the Apostles' successors, to have apostolic authority, and the keys of binding and loosing."32
   Some terminology in the above quotes might be more easily understood with a little magnification. Strong states that God has given His servants authority to elect the leaders who govern the people, and to constitute the Elders in their churches. In other words, the minister or servant over an area elects, or chooses as the word meant then and in Bible times, the leaders and Elders in the ministers' churches. The people are stated as being governed, and not as doing the electing by any type of voting. In the terminology, "Elders deputed by the people," is meant the same as the New Testament references to "being brought on their way by the church" (Acts 15:3; Rom. 15:24; I Cor. 16:6), or in other words, being financed on their way by the church, not that the church chose or elected whom to send. As many as the people could depute or afford to send came to the annual conference. "Their mutations of residence" being regulated every third year simply meant, among the younger ministers, it was thought wise to transfer them in their church assignments this frequently. For one experienced in ministerial responsibilities, the wisdom of this practice is well appreciated.

Laying on of Bands

   One of the foundational principles of the doctrine of Christ is the laying on of hands (Heb. 6:1-2). Until more recently, this practice was followed in most of the Protestant churches, but now is rarely practiced. That the Waldensians followed this practice, for more reasons than one, is many times attested to. Strong says:
   In Article II of "The Ancient Discipline of the Evangelical Church of the Valleys of Piedmont," which belongs to the early part of the twelfth century, it is said concerning pastors "all those who are to be received as pastors among us, having good testimonials, are by the imposition of hands, admitted to the office of preaching. He that is last received ought to do nothing without the license of him that was received before him; and in like manner the former ought to do nothing without the license of his associates to the end that all things among us may be done in good order.33
   The latter comment bears out the wisdom of God's recommendation that "in the multitude of counsellors there is safety." An excellent Biblical example of this practice is the incident in which Aquila and Priscilla took Apollos to their home and expounded to him God's way more perfectly (Acts 18:24-28). Although ministers ought to be brothers in this way, this reference in no way contradicts their previous statements of someone always being in charge and responsible for the leadership, but avoids high-handedness or lording it over God's heritage. This practice is further illuminated by their practice in training their ministers and in their ministerial college.

School of the Prophets

   It was in the almost inaccessible solitude of the Pra-del-Tor, that their school was situated. There those who were preparing to be "barbas" learned by heart the gospels of St. Matthew and St. John, the Catholic epistles, and a portion of those of St. Paul. They were instructed, further, in Latin, Romane (Old French), and Italian. After this they passed several years in retirement, and they were then consecrated ministers by the administration of the sacrament and the imposition of hands.

   These missionaries always journeyed in pairs, a young man and an old man, the latter being designated "regidor," the former "coadjuteur." ... Each pastor being, in his turn, a missionary, the younger men thus became initiated in the delicate duties of evangelization, each being under the experienced conduct of an elder, whom discipline established as his superior, and whom he obeyed in all things, alike from duty and from deference.34

How Ministry Supported

   That the Waldensians were acquainted with the laws of tithing is clearly shown in the following testimony:
   The thirteenth charge laid against the Waldenses was: that they may without sin endamage the Romish priests in their persons and goods, and retain the tithes without scruple of conscience.

   Their answer was that they affirmed, that the priests might lawfully be slain or damaged in their tithes, which one might retain without scruple of conscience.35

   Some have falsely supposed the Waldensian ministers were compelled to be employed at a regular job and minister on the side as a policy of the Waldensian church. The fact that a minister might need to do so under certain circumstances, or in certain areas is readily admitted, but that it was a law of practice in the church is not so. They had been accustomed to paying the tithe as the above quote shows, but now withheld it from a false church until they found God's church to which to pay it. With reference to pastors working we offer the following evidence:
   One charge more against them is, that they compelled their pastors to follow some trade. How satisfactory their answer! "We do not think it necessary that our pastors should work for bread. They might be better qualified to instruct us, if we could maintain them without their own labour; but our poverty has no remedy." So they speak in letters published in 1508.36


20. Comba, History of the Waldenses of Italy, p. 142.

21. Don F. Neufeld and Julia Neuffer, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Students' Source Book, Vol. 9, art. 1755, p. 1073.

22. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, The Waldenses, pp. 388-390.

23. Orchard, Baltist History, p. 302. (quoting Gilly's Narrative, Appendix 12).

24. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, The Waldenses, p. 44.

25. Jones, History of the Christian Church, p. 326.

26. Perrin, Historie of the Waldenses and Albingenses, pp. 48-49. (quoting Reinerius, de forma Heretic. Folio 8).

27. Orchard, Baptist History, p. 261.

28. Alzog, Church History, Vol. II, p. 661.

29. C. B. Strong, A Brief Sketch of the Waldenses, p. 84.

30. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board, The Waldenses, p. 373, (Ackland quoted in this book).

31. Ibid., p. 373, 43.

32. A. H. Lewis, The Sabbath and the Sunday, p. 212.

33. Strong, A Brief Sketch of the Waldenses, pp. 83-84.

34. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, The Waldenses, p. 42.

35. Perrin, Bistorie of the Waldenses and Albingenses, pp. 26, 31.

36. Isaac Milner, The History of the Church of Christ, p. 51.

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Publication Date: 1974
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