History of the Church of God
(The Flickering Light)
By Peter Salemi
In the 1100's, a man by the name of Peter Waldo began publicly preaching the truth of God. A notable organized work began. Although we know very little about this man, certain Catholic writers give us some history about this man's life.
Some 12 to 15 years before he began preaching, Peter Waldo witnessed the sudden death of a friend. This tragic event even shocked him into seriously questioning the meaning of life. Waldo came from Dauphiny, the same area of France as did Peter de Bruys. It is believed that his family came from the Walden district. It is also believed that his family had direct contact with the Church of God. So Peter had some knowledge about God when he saw his friend die so suddenly.
Peter came from an extremely wealthy family. he came from a family of clothing merchants.
Peter gave up his credible wealth to completely follow Christ. He gave away the bulk of his money to the needy, believing that it had become his enemy. Peter recognized that money had kept him cut off from God. However he committed a portion of his wealth to the translation of the scriptures into the language of the people. He diligently began a personal study of God's word. He was earnest in his search for the truth of God. Jesus Christ opened Peter's mind to understand the truths that he had probably previously rejected.
Poor Men of Lyons
Peter's Catholic wife and daughters thought he had lost his mind. They separated from him. History shows that one of his daughters entered a convent. He wife became reconciled to him at a later time. She helped him and the work with money which he left behind for her.
Waldo brought the same practical common sense that had made him a successful businessman to the organization and the work of the church. He had the education and experience which so few had in God's church (1 Corinthians 1:26) Jesus Christ had probably guided that experience, unknown to Waldo, long before his conversion.
As he preached, others united themselves and their efforts to him. T'hey became, as it is said, "as many co-workers for him. They dedicated their lives and their property to the spread of Christ's gospel."
This little group became known as the "Poor Men of Lyons." But that was not the name of the church. T hey called themselves the Church of God, or simply Christians.
Little is known of the progress of their work during the first 19 years. At an unspecified, but probably early period, Waldo and a group of co-workers went to Picardy (in north of France). When persecution was raised there, some went further to Flanders and the Netherlands-their translation of the Bible always with them. As early as 1182, their doctrine had gain adherents in Holland. Prominent among these were Weavers_ Picards, as these Waldenses were called, ultimately spread as far as eastern Germany_ Poland and especially Bohemia.
Obey God Not Men
The impact of Waldo and his co-workers on central Europe was felt by the Church of Rome. The archbishop of Lyons launched a persecution against Waldo and the "poor men of Lyons" The archbishop officially forbade them from preaching in 1176. Waldo and the church refused. "We must obey God rather then men," Waldo responded. This, of course, has always been the policy of God's church, and his true Apostles, see Acts 4:18-20:5:28-29.
Waldo's persistence in preaching the Gospel was brought to the attention of the Pope. He was summoned to appear before Alexander III. The outcome of this meeting was critical. The real issue at hand was whether the work could continue in central Europe. Remember, at this time Papal authority was reaching its zenith. Waldo went to Rome in later 1178. He used great wisdom while dealing with the Pope. He deflected the arguments away from doctrine to the use of the Bible. He carried with him a copy of the scriptures written in the vernacular. He showed the Pope how desperately the people needed access to the scriptures. He showed how these scriptures had helped people all over Southern France and parts of Italy and Spain.
Alexander III at first appeared to agree with Waldo's demands. However, he left the decision to the Latern council of 1179. Peter Waldo left two of the "poor men" behind to attend this council-They were condemned by the Latern Council. Waldo's coworkers were told they could preach only if the local priest asked them to. For what reason? "The Roman Catholic Church cannot endure your preaching." Waldo's associates resisted the decision of the council. It is recorded that they replied, "Christ sent us. If you were His church, you would not hinder us."
So they continued to preach wherever they went. It took the archbishop five and a half years, a new Pope, and a new bull [papal decree] anathemizing Waldo and all his followers to finally drive them from Lyons.
But Waldo had already gone elsewhere. Jesus Christ had already opened a door (2 Corinth 2:12).
At the same council, members of an ascetic association from Lombardy had also sought the right to preach-They were a section of the "Humiliated," since about the year 1000, a widespread movement within the Catholic Church. Their request was denied. In disappointment but apparent sincerity, they defied the Roman Catholic Church and asked Peter Waldo to become their leader. Waldo crossed the Alps to teach them. Thus a branch of Waldenses was established in Italy.
A College Established
All of these events should reinforce one very important lesson for us today. God's church and work often grow stronger in the face of persecution. Then Waldo moved into Italy, the work grew rapidly. He soon founded a college to train men for the ministry. History shows that the college was established in three stoned buildings in the Angrogna Valley of the Cottian Alps. The college and the town of La Torre became the new headquarters for the work and the growing Church of God.
The ministers produced booklets and articles as a support to the preaching of the Gospel. At this time there was no such thing as a printing press-Everything was copied by hand.
The Waldensian People
The Waldenses recognized that they were the true successors of the apostolic church. They kept the Sabbath also the yearly Passover. And each September or October (in God's Seventh month-see Lei, 23). they held at the headquarters church a great "conference." As many as 700 persons attended from a far. New students were chosen, ministerial assignments were made, and crowds gathered daily for sermons.
What could this gathering had been but the feast of Tabernacles!
Under the name Passagini, we have the clearest sort of statement that these people, about 1200, observed the Whole Old Testament law, including the Sabbath and its festivals. How much more we might have known about these Middle Ages Feast of Tabernacles had not the inquisitors so zealously burned the records.
Anathema From Christ
In time serious persecution set in against the Church and the work. Pope Lucius' bull of 1184 condemned a group of rebel religious groups. Among the groups named were the Poor Men of Lyons, the Arnoldists and the Passagines. The Church of God had been targeted for persecution. Here are some of the selections from Lucius decree: "Wherefore we being supported by the presence and power of our most dear son Frederick, the most illustrious Emperor of the Romans, always increaser of the Empire, with the common advice and counsel of our brethren, and other Patriarchs, Archbishops, and many princes, who from several parts of the world are met together do set ourselves against these heretics. who have got names from several false doctrines they profess...
"More particularly we declare all Cathari, Paterines, and those who call themselves the Humble or the Poor of Lyons, Passagines, Josephines, Arnoldists, to lie under perpetual anathema...
"Whosoever shall be notoriously convicted of these errors if a clergyman or one that endeavors to conceal himself under any religious order, he shall be immediately deprived of all prerogative of the church orders, and so being divested of all office and benefice, be delivered up to the secular power (exercises all the power of the first beast [state power]. Revelation 13:12), to be punished according to demerit...
"We ordain further that all Earls, Barons, Governors or consuls of cities ... shall promise upon oath, that in all these particulars, whenever they are thereto required, they will powerfully and effectually assist the church against heretics," (The Sabbath in Scripture and History, pp.208-209, by Daniel AugshurWer).
This bull did not have the effect the Pope intended. The work continued in Southern France. Many civil rulers protected the church.
However in 1194, Alphonse, King of Aragon, Barcelona and Provence declared that the Waldenses were worthy of any punishment in 1197, all Waldenses were commanded to he burned at the stake in these lands. They fled to Castile but then were tracked down and slaughtered.
Pope Innocent III went after the Waldenses on all fronts. Pope Innocent was one of the worst Popes to sit on the Holy See, read Hallev's Bible Handbook, pp. 776-777, 785.
Some of the Waldenses fell by the wayside and became like any other Christian group, some even joined forces with those involved with the Protestant Reformation. But a remnant staved true to Almighty God and the Bible truth. God always leaves a remnant that clings to the truth.
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