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discovery tonight as I was looking for biblical statements made during the Middle Ages to be included in a list of historical documents that contain the system of doctrine for a new non-profit ministry I'm working on.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

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