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Monday, June 7, 2021

Reformers before the Reformers (yes, true biblical faith existed in the Middle Ages)

I made an amazing discovery tonight as I was looking for biblical statements made during the Middle Ages to be included in a list of historical documents that contain the system of doctrine for a new non-profit ministry I'm working on. 

I already had included early church statements like 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (55 AD) and the Apostles' Creed (300-400 AD) and later Reformation statements like the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) and the Westminster Confession (1646), but I was hoping to find something medieval that captured a biblical worldview consistent with the Scriptures. The difficulty with finding such written statements, of course, is that the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church (and the Orthodox churches in the latter half of the Middle Ages) controlled what was published and preserved during that time and did not allow anything to endure that contradicted their corrupted dogma.

But my search led me to a fascinating list of beliefs held by the Waldensians, a movement that started in the 1100s in France, spread throughout Europe in the following centuries, and was eventually enveloped into the the Protestant movement at the time of the Reformation.

What's so fascinating about this particular list is that it's probably very accurate historically, unlike a lot of what is written about the Waldensians. Everyone wants to claim them as forbears, from Mennonites to Anabaptists to Seventh Day Adventists to feminists and more, so accounts tend to be prejudiced and shaped according to each writer's point of view. But this list comes from a Roman Catholic scholar who does not agree with anything the Waldensians believed and is highly skeptical of most accounts coming from those who do. So he probably got pretty close to the truth with his list.

Before I tell you what's on the list, here's a footnote from the article documenting what I just said, so you can see that I haven't made it up: "Pius Melia, D.D., The Origin, Persecutions, and Doctrines of the Waldenses, pp. 101-129. This section of Melia's book.... not only cites several original Waldensian and inquisitorial documents for each point in the original and in translation, but in addition, each doctrine mentioned is answered from the Roman Catholic point of view."

So what did the Waldensians believe? Well, Melia's list (with the article author's additions) reads like a doctrinal statement of affirmations and denials that Reformational Christians today would be proud to have written. Here it is:

The Church of God has failed.

The Holy Scriptures alone are sufficient to guide men to Salvation.

The blessings and consecrations practiced in the Church do not confer any particular sanctity upon the things or persons blessed or consecrated.

Catholic priests have no authority; and the Pope of Rome is the chief of all heresiarchs.

Everyone has the right to preach publicly the word of God.

Every oath is a mortal sin.

Purgatory is a dream, an invention of the sixth century.

The indulgences of the Church are an invention of covetous Priests.

There is no obligation to fast, nor to keep any holy day, Sunday excepted.

The invocation of Saints cannot be admitted.

Every honor given in the Church to the holy images of paintings, and to the relics of Saints is to be abolished.

To this list, he adds doctrines that belong to the period between the Hussite revolt and the Lutheran Revolution:

Auricular Confession [to priests in a confessional booth] is useless, and. . .it is enough to confess our sins to God.

The definition of the church is, "the whole of the elect from the beginning of the world to its end." and that regarding ministries, "the holy Catholic Church is the congregation of all ministers and people obeying the Divine will, and by obedience united."

It is necessary to receive the Eucharist under two kinds. [everyone should take both the bread and the wine.]

To these I [the author of the article] would add, 

The church and the state should remain as separate authorities.

The Eucharist is to be viewed as a memorial, not as a sacrifice.

Wow... How about that? There's an amazing confluence between those persecuted medieval believers and many of us today! I myself would agree with almost everything on those lists, with a few exceptions where I think the ideas are overstated, which is typical and understandable among groups who are being exiled and killed for their faith - they tend to radicalize to one degree or another when they're so violently cut off from the institutional church and become reactionary against those who are persecuting them.

So I would include this Waldensian "doctrinal statement" as an example of one that contains the system of theology (though not all the specific points, of course) that has been believed by all true Christians throughout the history of the church. I hope you've found it interesting and encouraging!

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Spirit and truth in worship (and social media)

I posted the vlog below this past week and after I did, God brought an interesting insight to mind as I was thinking about John 4:21-24, where Jesus says this to the Samaritan woman (in answer to her question about whether to worship in Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim, where the Samaritans worshipped):

"The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

There are many applications of Jesus' words here, especially when we realize that "worship" biblically is not only referring to corporate worship when believers gather to sing, pray, learn from the Word, etc., but also to what we do the rest of the week as well. And that would certainly include what we do on social media (that should be worship for God just as much as church is).

The application of Jesus' words to our social media practices, I think, are very similar to what I'm saying in the video below, and what Jesus says in the passage I discuss there (Matthew 6:1:5):

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.... And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.

Notice (from the italicized words) that the wrong motives are what ruined the otherwise good practices of the hypocrites in Jesus' day. And that is what can ruin our social media practices today, even if they are otherwise good ones - or, in other words, even if our posts on social media are true, our motives can be wrong and thus make them displeasing to God (and harmful to ourselves and others).

The "truth" part of "spirit and truth" in John 4 is probably intended for the Samaritan woman and others who might say, "It doesn't matter if what I'm doing is biblical as long as I love God (or my motives are good)." The "spirit" part, however, is probably more for the Jews who so often did the right things for the wrong reasons. And that was somewhat new to me - I usually think of "spirit" as referring to our inner engagement or passion in corporate worship. But when we take into account the historical context I just mentioned, it seems more likely to me now that Jesus was referring to the motives we have for everything we do in life.

So when we post something on social media, Jesus would say that we should examine what we do carefully to make sure that we are being truthful according to His Word, but also that we are being motivated rightly in our hearts. 

For more on this, check out my "In the Light" vlog at (1) Social Media Pharisees? - YouTube :