The Holy Spirit Versus "Another Gospel"
Church History, 1000 to 1550 A.D. (Part 1)
by Lynn D. Kanga
By the year 1000, the simple gospel had accumulated extensive ecclesiastical baggage. No longer was there only one mediator between God and man. The spiritually penitent had to seek the intervention of a priest — whether the priest was moral or not — by means of the confessional. And the priest, as the “representative of Christ,” assumed the right to “absolve” the sins of the sinner or — as an alternative — require acts of penance, often in the form of monetary gifts to the Church.
Additionally, the priest might also require the spiritually penitent to seek the mediation of Jesus’ mother, Mary. The Church had characterized her as being godlike, and would later endow her (by Church inventions) with her own immaculate birth. Thereby, the Church deemed her worthy of worship. Moreover, there was also an ever-growing number of “saints” canonized by the legislations of the Church. These people, because of their formerly exemplary life, could intercede before God for the salvation of the repentant after the repentant’s death.
Furthermore, the hopeful penitent, even then, might not be assured of heaven. The Church, then, incorporated into Church doctrines a place called Purgatory — an intermediate abode for the departed. In Purgatory, those who were not quite saved could wait for further penitential acts by the living, thereby rescuing them from eternal discomfort, or possibly, the eventual fires of Hell.
Of course, if none of these sacrificial efforts was successful, the Church made no promises of any monetary refund. The Church assumed any lack of success was some failure on the part of the supplicant. To this rationale the Church later added the provision of Indulgences. These mercenary provisions of the Church came to be distasteful to medieval parishioners and finally pushed Martin Luther to break with the Catholic Church.
In addition, the Church added other doctrinal inventions to the already heavy burdens of the commoners. One such nonbiblical invention had to do with the ordinance of Holy Communion. The Church superimposed their invented doctrine called “transubstantiation” onto the original simple ceremony. This was a mystical concept that claimed the elements of the Communion, after being blessed by the officiating priest, became the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. This doctrine, however, posed additional problems for the theologians and their parishioners.
For example, theologians troubled themselves about what might occur if the “blessed” elements should accidentally fall to the floor. M’Clintock and Strong cite one debate concerning what might transpire if some cathedral pest should happen to partake of the already blessed elements that were carelessly dropped. The implied question, of course, was whether the pest might have some sort of religious experience.
The ramifications of this concern, however, had larger implications for the parishioners. Church leaders, certain that “transubstantiation” was a fact, concerned themselves about preventing awkward parishioners from dropping Communion elements. To avoid the likelihood of any such accidents, the officiating priest placed the Communion wafer into the mouth of the parishioner. The priest would follow this by drinking the Communion wine himself — all of it. That is, he gave none to the parishioner — a duty the priest very likely did not mind.
These nonscriptural doctrines, along with issues related to the Church’s practice of infant baptism, suddenly became serious doctrinal issues in need of reexamination by Church leaders. The simple biblical teaching that later Reformers agreed was that water baptism was intended only for those who had made a conscious commitment to accept and serve Jesus Christ. As a consequence, there were huge and sometimes angry debates designed to discredit those who believed the scriptural position was for committed believers only. This medieval controversy was particularly devastating to the Anabaptists of the 16th century. They suffered intense persecutions from both the Church and sometimes from fellow Reformers.
The Reformers eventually universally rejected these and certain other “entrenched” procedures of the establishment Church as unscriptural “traditions” formulated by man rather than by God. These dissenters became known as “Protestants.”
This disagreement with the Catholic hierarchy became especially intense when the New Testament became available in the language of the peoplerather than the Latin, which few commoners understood. When the Church’s liturgy and the Bible were in Latin, commoners were essentially nonparticipants. Thus, the availability of the Bible in the language of the commoners made the differencebetween success and failure of most of the Reform movements.
Persecution happened to both categories of Protestants, but only those who maintained a healthy reverence for the Word of God survived. Because the Scriptures were not available to the general population for centuries, every major biblical doctrine became distorted sooner or later — including the doctrines of salvation by grace, the real meaning of water baptism, and the significance of Communion. All were insidiously manipulated, modified, masked, or mauled into oblivion.
It is not surprising thatthe doctrine of the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the exercise of spiritual gifts were particularly vulnerable, given the general moral decadence of the time. When the Reformation finally arrived, these intrusive practices of “another gospel” were changed only because some courageous common people and certain brave priests — such as Savanarola, Wycliffe, John Huss, Martin Luther, and others — laid their lives on the line to preach and practice doctrinal changes highlighted in the Bible.
Consequently, because of burdensome traditions and the general moral corruption of Church leaders — from the lowliest priest to the Pope — as the new millennium of 1000 A.D. approached, most Church historians have observed that there was widespread conviction that things were so bad everywherethat the end of the world must surely be about to occur. This particular medieval uneasiness is interestingly similar to the mystical speculations that prevailed in our own time as the year 2000 approached — and then passed — without significant changes.
There were valid reasons besides the rather vague eschatological suppositions of the Church for that medieval society to be concerned. As is implied in Augustine’s lengthy title, “Concerning Miracles Which Were Wrought in Order That the World Might Believe in Christ and Which Cease Not to be Wrought Now That the World Does Believe,” the theological position of the established Church was that Christianity would eventually win the whole world to the Lord, and thereby the millennial rule of Jesus Christ would be established here on the earth. Fantasy in the midst of folly!
The medieval Church’s eschatological position was terribly ironic, however, for three distinct historical reasons: (1) the ordained clergy were alarmingly corrupt even to the great dismay of the population to whom the Church was supposedly ministering. (2) The Church itself was terribly divided in its “evangelizing” efforts, so much so the Roman Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church had both declared anathemas and excommunication edicts against each other. Each supposed they were the official voice of God. (3) Islam, a new, non-Christian religion, appeared abruptly in the seventh century A.D., systematically supplanting the realm of the Churches.
The general practice of Muslims was to convert others by one means or another. If personal persuasion failed, the sword proved to be a rather handy device for winning converts and/or to wipe out those who disagreed. Islam was, and is, at heart an anti-Christian persuasion. They taught then, as they do now, that Jesus Christ is not the divine Son of God. They do, however, recognize Jesus as a prophet, but supposedly inferior to Mohammed. This new militant religion quickly made significant inroads into important Christian centers of the Near East: the Holy Land; Jerusalem; Alexandria, Egypt; Constantinople, and other places traditionally Christian.
It seems especially significant that this Islamic religion should appear at a time when the complicated trappings of Church traditions seriously obscured the simple means of conversion. Furthermore, the weakened influence of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit left a serious vacuum in the continuing warfare between good and evil. In addition, the Church further endangered vibrant Christianity by declaring that reading Holy Scripture was off-limits to the populace. Evidently the official concern was that only the clergy were qualified to interpret the Bible correctly. It is no wonder that the devil — that spiritual revolutionary — was so successful in inventing many substitutes for genuine Christianity.
Among reasons for concern about the world coming to an end was a widespread disgust for, and a distrust of, the Church. The failure of the existing Church had continued to become a concern among the laity, and later — in a more influential way — also among some of the progressive clergy. Apparently, almost everyone felt that the fabric of existing society was “rotten to the core.” Societal corruption and injustice were notably bad on their own, but the more serious problem was that the Church leaders were — according to some historians —even more corrupt than the civil authorities and consequently, were providing little or no exemplary guidance for the culture it was claiming to represent before God.
Most church historians have prefaced their discussions of the Reformation by identifying one of the central problems leading to the Reformation — the spiritual and moral failures of the Church. Few have stated the problem more succinctly than Dr. Andrew Zenos of McCormick Theological Seminary of Chicago. He writes: “The marked feature of the age [the medieval period] is the divorce of religion and morals. While piety was externally very great, its root was superstition rather than vital godliness. Fear and not love was the actuating motive in religious life. It was not uncommon for Christians to express their devotion to their faith by building churches, going on [long] pilgrimages, undertaking the [military] defense of the Church against her enemies, and scrupulously obeying her prescriptions in external matters; and yet living immoral lives. The Frankish kings were notorious criminals. Their example could not fail to have its effect on the people. Thus as this age advanced, morals degenerated.
“The tenth century particularly is distinguished as the period of the lowest ebb in morals in Europe. It has for this reason been called the Dark Century (seculum obscurum) [or now more commonly “the Dark Ages”]. As the year 1000 drew near, the superstitious belief gained ground that the world was coming to its end. This belief had the effect of paralyzing the energies of the Church. Lawlessness prevailed. Piracy, brigandage, and ruffianism became very common. … But the general decline of morals affected the monastic system [too], and corruption entered here also. The monasteries grew wealthy, and their wealth proved an irresistible temptation to the covetous to enter them for the sake of enjoying, or administering, their property. Many laymen even sought the headship of monasteries for the material gain attached to them. When they did obtain possession of them, they turned them into feudal castles, bringing within these enclosures their wives, their hounds for the chase, and other worldly accompaniments.”1
Thus, in the alarming spiritual vacuum at the beginning of the 11th century, the instinctive response of the general public was to search for avenues of peace and purification other than those so-called “holy” exercises prescribed by the Catholic hierarchy. The people’s religious instincts told them there had to be something more fulfilling than the empty activities the Church was offering. With this growing populist dissatisfaction already so far-reaching, the common people began experimenting — with or without the blessings of the Church.
The common people’s unresolved spiritual needs led to the emergence of a variety of so-called “heresies.” While it is true that many were heretical, there were those who pursued genuinely scriptural patterns of life. It is important to note that all — whether heretical or not — represented efforts to find God’s approval. And it is accurate to say: All sought to bring about reform and to supersede, or to replace, the burdensome and ineffective rituals of the established Church.
Lacking godly guidance, and often with very limited access to the Scriptures, many of these populist efforts developed into fanciful “heresies” which — because of their flagrant deviations from Scripture — did not enjoy God’s favor and, therefore, did not survive the onslaught of severe persecutions by the establishment Church. On the other hand, there were some that appeared, however briefly, that did contribute significantly to the groundswell of demands for a reformation of religious faith. Generally, those that did survive had the happy circumstance of discovering the real truth revealed in Scripture — even when they had only a portion of the Bible with which to work.
Another alarming historical fact is that the Catholic Church, troubled greatly by these “unorthodox” commoners, initially decided to pursue the most plausible (to them at least) counterattack — brute force. As a consequence, all of these so-called “heresies” — whether wholly biblical or not — suffered horrendous persecution by the military arm of the Church. As most historians have observed, it was during this period of religious experimentation that the existing Church established the Gestapo-like Inquisition (c1100 A.D.), designed to force people either to recant their unorthodox views or suffer the most horrible kinds of physical tortures.
When intimidation did not effect submission, the usual procedure was to send mercenary troops against these “heretics.” These hired soldiers were almost always artificially emboldened by ecclesiastical promises of exemption — for up to 40 days — from Purgatory after death, if these “sanctified” soldiers would exterminate the “wicked” dissenters forthwith. It is a disturbing story how most of the earliest reform movements were viciously wiped out by the most horrendous kinds of torture imaginable.
For example, “drawn and quartered” is not just some humorous phrase in the modern English language. Sadly, it is lodged in modern expression because in medieval times victims were “racked” almost to death — but not quite — and then disemboweled while still alive. They then meticulously carved the victim into four parts. They afterward displayed these quarters on a pole in various sectors of the land as a gruesome example of the mortification that awaited all dissenters. The Church of the period used this form of punishment often, if for no other reason than to intimidate those who privately expressed dissatisfaction with Church policy. These ecclesiastical perpetrators were convinced they represented Jesus, the loving Savior.
One may read numerous graphic accounts of torture in Fox’s Book of Martyrs, first published in English about 1563, during the reign of the Catholic Queen of England, Mary I. Fox labeled her “Bloody Mary,” an appellation which stuck and historians have repeated it again and again. It is almost unbelievable that she, like many others in authority, was sure she was doing God a service, when, in fact, her dedication to preserving Catholicism prompted her to torture and murder at lest 300 of the Lord’s servants during her short reign in England.
In this spiritually sick culture, many sincerely sought for answers outside the strict boundaries prescribed by the Catholic Church. Indeed, if “hope springs eternal,” the intense longing for spiritual security must have been screaming for satisfaction. Without question, the Church of the middle ages was not answering the spiritual cry of the people.
If the alleged “ministers of God” did not point out the way to peace, one can hardly blame the disappointed for searching elsewhere. It is true that some pretty weird teachings emerged from these anxious explorations. Of course, the Word of God in the language of the people was generally not available; and even if it were, reading the Bible could certainly prove to be detrimental to the reader’s “health,” if the church officials learned it was occurring.
Consequently, the pontifical declarations of the Church, however burdensome they might seem at the time, were generally grudgingly accepted as the most pragmatic response, even if the people’s instincts told them these were not God’s ways. It is no wonder, then, that some of the earliest ill-advised efforts to find real truth were mixed in varying degrees with failed Eastern philosophies, Greek and Roman rationalism, or even grass-root reasoning.
But the compassionate God of heaven heard the plaintive cries of the lost, and eventually the Lord led them into a meaningful relationship with himself. It seems this is the tale of the godless behavior of medieval history. Mankind did not lose touch with a holy God overnight, either. Instead, layer upon layer of accumulated false doctrines eventually obscured from view the compassionate Savior of all mankind. Undoubtedly, many must have wondered how a “loving God” could be so severe. It follows then that just as Jesus’ parents searched three days for their Son who was lost only one day, even so the restoration of Christian faith took longer to be rediscovered than it did to lose it.
In fact, it seems clear that the rediscovery of truly biblical Christian experiences is still going on. Martin Luther (1483–1546), for example, did not rediscover all that had been hidden from believers for centuries, but he did rediscover some — the simple but important truth of salvation by faith alone. We are immeasurably grateful to the Lord for Luther’s courage. The principle which God seems to have employed through the centuries of recovery is “here a little and there a little,” lest we be dazzled to consternation by the full revelation of truth.
The Church perceived all of the reformers — commoners and priests alike — as radicals and persecuted them unmercifully. So in this flow of rediscovery, the revival of Pentecostal experiences — as they had been experienced in the New Testament — has been blossoming in our own century, though separated from Luther’s time by over 500 years. The revival of truth has continued into our own period of history.
Indeed, there are records — although somewhat scanty at times — of medieval Christians who manifested gifts of the Holy Spirit even in that dark, dark period. Bogomiles of eastern Europe; the Paulicians, also in eastern Europe; the Cathari (or the “Pure Ones”), originally of Bulgaria, later of southern France; the Waldensians of southern France and northern Italy; and finally, the last century or more, the various Pentecostal movements — all were a part of that grand rediscovery of biblical truth.
One notable survivor of persecutions of the Dark Ages, for the most part scripturally orthodox, were the Waldenses. Theirs is an exciting story of bravery and dedication to the truth of scriptural patterns of life. Reading The Israel of the Alps (regarding the story of the Waldenses) by Alexis Muston, gives the reader startling enlightenment about their religious group.
A reform movement appearing long before Waldenses and the Dark Ages was the Montanists. Montanists were greatly concerned about worldly trends and the decline of spiritual dedication they observed in the established Church. Two important reasons stand out: (1) The obvious moral laxness of the Catholic clerics — a concern cited by the Montanist’s most important apologist, Tertullian of North Africa. (2) A noticeable decline in the occurrence of charismatic gifts in the existing Church. They obviously believed the charismata gifts of the Holy Spirit were to continue beyond the Apostolic Era, since their warnings occurred as late as 300 A.D.
The Waldensian movement surfaced in Asia Minor about 200 A.D., under the leadership of Montanus, who claimed to possess the biblical gift of prophesy. In addition, two women prophets, Priscilla and Maximilla — who were associated with Montanus — made the same claim. Among others of their persuasion, this group not only believed in the giftsof the Holy Spirit, but they were dedicated believers in the imminent return of Jesus Christ, whom they expected to return even in their own time. That end-time awareness seems always to surface in a time of revival.
However, even Tertullian’s scholarly defense of their movement could not save it from error. Probably from their limited access to biblical instruction on the manifestation of spiritual gifts, the Montanists developed the erroneous presumption that their prophecies had the same authority as Holy Scripture. Of course, the Catholic hierarchy considered the movement a heresy and vigorously resisted the Montanists.
In those earliest days of the established Church, the Church lacked the military strength to destroy the movement. Consequently, the Montanists survived into the fourth century in spite of their errors. In their defense, however, it is evident that the severe accusations of the Catholic hierarchy distorted the details of their doctrinal position.
In spite of their errors, the Montanists contributed significantly to the Reformation. Indeed, as one reviews their doctrines from present-day perspective, the Montanists are in many ways evangelical: (1) They decried the growing immorality of every level of their society. (2) They vigorously called attention to the Church’s diffidence about the manifestations of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as recorded in the New Testament. (3) They maintained their strong conviction about the imminent return of Jesus Christ.
As Church historian Bruce Shelley has stated, “The … moral fiber in the church [was] weakened. Montanus was not entirely wrong. By the year 220 it was evident that the Christian churches, together with their bishops and clergy, were no longer what they had been.”2
Two other groups, the Paulicians, for example, (from about 700 to 1000 A.D.), and the Bogomiles (from approximately 1000 to 1200 A.D.), reportedly rejected all external forms of religion practiced by either the Roman Church or the Eastern Orthodox. Both of these reform movements especially objected to the use of religious images as idolatrous.
For the most part, the Paulicians expressed disgust for the outward ceremonies of ritualized religion. They sought, instead, to return to the simplicity of apostolic worship. In addition, they vigorously objected to the worship the Virgin Mary or any of the “saints.” They also objected to any exaltation of the Cross, because it had become an icon of mystical, nonbiblical worship. Furthermore, they refused to partake of Communion sacraments, objecting primarily to the supposed material presence of Christ in the Communion elements (transubstantiation). Severe 12th-century persecutions in eastern Europe eventually drove the Paulicians into the Alpine regions of France and Italy. It seems likely they eventually merged with the “Cathari,” subsequently called “Albigenses.”3
Later, also in Bulgaria, the Bogomiles arose. They held many of the same beliefs as the Paulicians. They strongly objected to the empty formalism and ritualism of both the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Churches. But ancient literature also suggests they may have been guilty of rejecting the divinity of Christ, subscribing instead to the Manichean philosophy of “dualism.” However, this accusation may also have been the result of Catholic propaganda.
Stated simplistically, the chief error of dualism was that they perceived Satan and God as forces of equal power. This belief — if they really held it — would have caused the Bogomiles to be immediately in opposition to the orthodoxy of the Church.
The story of church history makes one thing certain — the domain of “orthodoxy” cannot long tolerate the “unorthodox.” Thus, severe persecutions in Bulgaria drove the Bogomiles, en masse, first to Bosnia, then to Italy, and finally to the Alpine regions of Italy and France. There they suffered the same fate as other reform movements of that period.4
The Cathari, too, were a reform sect, in which the followers sought to live a life of sincere holiness. They were active in Europe from about 1250 to 1350 A.D. Because of their practice of living a holy lifestyle, and because of the contrasting general moral depravity of the Catholic clerics, the general population — according to historical records — held the Cathari in high regard because of their moral decorum. In fact, it is reported, that many of the European upper classes became adherents of this group. These facts, along with other motives, caused the Catholic leadership great consternation. Eventually the Church’s anti-heretical persecution developed into a full-scale military operation. When these persecutions became ever more vicious, by 1350 the Catholic hierarchy boasted that they had supposedly completely obliterated the Cathari.
This reformation group is especially interesting because they believed and taught — as many people believe today — that the infilling of the Holy Spirit was a second definite work of grace that sanctified them in a special way to be leaders of their congregations, allowing them to be called Perfecti, or the “Pure Ones.” This experience identified them as Consolamentum, apparently seen as an experience of sanctification. In pursuit of this experience, they sought to emulate the experience of Christ’s baptism in the Holy Spirit after John immersed Jesus in Jordan’s waters (Matthew 3:16,17; Luke 3:22).
Consolamentum means “Consolation,” a word linked to the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. Thus, this experience of “Consolation,” among the Cathari, was evidently their concept of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. As among the Samaritans (see Acts 8:17), the Cathari entered this experience by the “laying on of hands” of the elders of the congregation. It was at this point the Cathari admonished the “Perfecti” to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19; see also Mark 16:15,16). With this ceremony completed, they expected the “Perfected” to manifest the supernatural power of “binding” and “loosing” both in heaven and on earth (Matthew 16:19; 18:18). 5
Until their demise, the Cathari movement proved to be an increasingly worrisome threat to the established rituals of the Catholic Church. As a consequence, the Church’s persecution of them became ever more militant and vicious. As a result, they decimated Cathari numbers and eventually “were utterly rooted out in the course of a little more than a century.”6 Allegedly, Church officials captured the last Cathari bishop (a “Perfecti”) in Tuscany of central Italy in 1321 and summarily executed him. By 1350 A.D., the Church claimed it had at last “destroyed” all of Catharism in western Europe. What a murderous accomplishment to boast about!
It is noteworthy that the Cathari reform movement believed in and practiced the infilling of the Holy Spirit with accompanying gifts of ministry, even though there is little supporting evidence they practiced speaking in tongues. But the reports of their pursuit of personal holiness suggest the gifts of the Spirit were an important part of their belief system. Thus, it seems reasonable to assume that the Cathari were in fact an active charismatic group, dedicated to evangelizing the world as indicated by their invoking on their “Perfecti” the command of Jesus Christ to “Go into all the world … and make disciples.”
The Cathari’s aggressive evangelizing, coupled with their general popularity, may have accelerated their demise.7 In any case, the Catholic regime could not tolerate for very long the growing Cathari and Waldenses’ threat to their authority. As a consequence, the Church established the infamous Inquisition about 1150 A.D. to accomplish its dark, dark assignments.
Some have alleged — whether factual or not — that there may have been other doctrinal issues that weakened the Cathari’s spiritual stamina. For example, in spite of the Cathari’s devotion to Jesus Christ, church historians of the 19th century — after reviewing Catholic documents of the 13th century — have accused the Cathari of being dualists, perhaps subscribing to the Eastern teaching that Satan was the god of evil, equally eternal with the eternal God of heaven. But since most of their original writings were burned during their persecutions, and since these accusations were made almost wholly by the Catholic Inquisitors, only God is in a position to judge the truth about the Cathari.
The Catholic Church had plenty of other reasons — mostly political — to destroy the Cathari. Catholic authorities could not long endure the embarrassment of any group whose pursuit of holiness pointed up the Church’s lack of it.
Some have alleged but another flaw — the Cathari accepted only the four Gospels and Acts as Scripture. This implies that they rejected the authority of the Old Testament, and even the New Testament Epistles. Some of these accusations cannot be verified, of course, because of obvious Catholic propaganda. Nonetheless, their presence on the religious scene for over a hundred years aptly illustrates the widespread longing for meaningful changes in the dominant Church.
There is yet another populist reform group that did survive the severest of persecutions — the Waldenses. Unlike the Cathari, the Waldenses began their efforts with no conscious hostility to the Catholic Church. Had they been treated with more diplomacy, the Waldensians might never have seceded from the Church.
Peter Waldo, a rich merchant of Lyon, France, started the movement in the late 1100s (c.1150–1217). One day as he was going about his business affairs, he overheard a traveling minstrel singing about St. Alexis, an early Christian who gave up his wealth to become a preacher of the gospel. Alexis’ dedication to the service of others greatly moved Waldo. Waldo sought the counsel of a parish priest and the priest advised him to do what Jesus had said to the rich young ruler, “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor and follow me” (Matthew 19:21). Apparently, in 1170, Waldo did exactly that.
After selling all his possessions, he made provisions for the continued care of his wife and two daughters. He then dedicated himself to a life of mendicant preaching and service to the needs of others. Soon, his unauthorized preaching began attracting many who were already dissatisfied with the ritualism of the Catholic Church. To his surprise, he soon discovered he had a following for which he was spiritually responsible. To assist these adherents, he began translating the four Gospels from the Latin Vulgate into the local French dialect. The results were remarkable. People began observing the striking difference between the ceremonial demands of the Church and the spiritual expectations of the Gospels.
Meanwhile, this unauthorized activity was making the area Church officials increasingly uneasy. So in 1179, when Waldo asked the archbishop for permission to preach, the archbishop summarily denied the privilege, allegedly because Waldo was not officially trained as a churchman. Waldo responded as the apostle Peter had responded to the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than man.” The result: Pope Lucius III excommunicated Waldo and his followers in 1184.
As might be expected, the Catholic Church instituted increasingly venomous persecution against Waldo’s followers. Waldo, seeking to strengthen his adherents, translated all of the New Testament into the local vernacular. He then required his followers to memorize whole books of the New Testament so they could encourage one another by means of the Word. The internalized Scriptures strengthened their resolve to remain faithful.
Thus, their reliance on the Word of God gave the Waldensians survivability. It is remarkable to discover that these medieval believers preceded, in point of time, the efforts of those well-known priests who later became Reformers, who also challenged the Church’s worldliness.
Additionally, it is amazing to discover that even today Waldensian congregations exist both in Italy — ironically, in the immediate vicinity of the Vatican — and in the United States. It is evident that this group of Protestants proved very important to the overall recovery from the moral darkness of the Dark Ages. This following statement from the Britannica confirms this: “Persecution gave new vitality to their [Waldenses’] doctrines, which [were] passed on to Wycliffe and Huss [and Luther], and through these leaders produced the Reformation in Germany and England.”8
Another important fact is evident as well. The catalogue of earliest Waldensian doctrines closely parallel those of modern fundamentalism: (1) The Holy Scriptures are inspired by God, which He intended as an authoritative guide for faith and practice. (2) They practiced the belief expressed in the articles of the Apostle’s Creed. (3) They rejected all external rituals promoted by the Catholic Church, except for water baptism and Holy Communion. They particularly abhorred temples, vestments, images, pilgrimages, the worship of relics, etc. which they considered inventions of Satan. (4) They rejected the papal doctrines of Purgatory, religious masses, and prayers for the dead. (5) They rejected the sale of Indulgences and confessions to a priest — although they did teach that confessions to a fellow believer were both biblical and beneficial. (6) They taught that both water baptism and Holy Communion were only symbols. Thus, they rejected the Church’s concept of transubstantiation. (7) They rejected the Church’s complicated hierarchical system of leadership. As for their own organization, they allowed only bishops, priests, and deacons as spiritual guides. Further, they taught that the marriage of the clergy was both biblical and necessary. (8) Last, they denied any obligation to obey the Pope or any of his officials. Eventually, they called Rome “the whore of Babylon.”9
Some church historians claim the Waldenses did experience the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including speaking in tongues. This is not at all surprising, since Waldo’s followers were so dedicated to living by the rediscovered precepts of Scripture. They were especially careful to follow what the Bible teaches rather than the accumulation of invented Church rituals and unscriptural traditions invented by ecclesiastical legalism. The spiritual adjustment to the Bible standard is admirable, to say the lest.
The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church states that the Waldenses believed God gave them visions and prophecies for their instruction and for the direction of their congregations.10 Another source claims that they believed in and practiced divine healing as well as speaking in tongues.11 Therefore, based on the testimony of these credible sources, we are justified in stating that the Waldenses were an active charismatic group of the 12th and 13th centuries, noticeably long after the apostles had gone on to their rewards, and in addition, long after the New Testament had been formalized.
In view of the horrendous persecutions they endured for centuries, the Waldenses were as much in need of the supernatural support of the gifts of the Spirit as did the persecuted believers of the Book of Acts. Since many Christians in the world today endure severe persecution, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are equally as necessary in our time as they were then. In fact, whether in Bible days or today, the consolation of the Holy Spirit is always a welcome support for those who have to “resist the devil” to maintain a victorious Christian faith. The following admonition of the apostle Paul to the Corinthians is applicable to today’s believers as well: “We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians10:3–5, NLT12).
Last of all, in the interest of fairness, we should observe that although the desire for reform was at first given long and powerful expression by the commoners of the Catholic world, it was the influence of a few avant-garde Catholic clergy who gave the Reformation energy. The spiritual instincts of both the clergy and laity demanded, ever more strongly, that the dogmas of Catholic traditions were failing to minister to the soul cry of the people. The medieval Catholic organization was elitist, favoring those adherents of power and position and neglecting — even enslaving — the ordinary populace. But it was eventually the influence of some of the educated Catholic priests who at last provided leadership to activate the needed reforms.
One of the earliest was John Wycliffe (c.1320–1384), an educator and secular clergyman of England. Motivated by his spiritual discoveries resulting from his own translation of the Greek New Testament, he voiced his opposition to the extensive immoral practices of the Catholic clergy, thereby angering the Church hierarchy. The fact he resided in England no doubt protected him from martyrdom. He died a natural death at 64. But later Catholic leaders, not content that Wycliffe escaped execution, exhumed his bones and burned them to ashes, which they then threw in the River Wye so they might drift out to the world’s oceans, there (they reasoned) to disappear forever.
John Huss (c.1369–1415) was a Bohemian educator and religious reformer. Influenced by Wycliffe’s translation of the Greek New Testament, Huss spoke out against the general moral depravity of his time, especially the worldliness of the clergy. He urged a return to the godliness emphasized in the teachings of the Gospels and the Epistles. Later, a hundred years before Luther, Church officials tricked him into attending a Catholic Church council to discuss doctrinal differences between himself and the Church. In spite of Catholic promises assuring him safe passage, when he arrived at the Council of Constance, they arrested him and held him in jail for 8 months. Subsequently, they condemned him to die by being burned at the stake. According to Fox’s Book of Martyrs, bundles of firewood were stacked up around him to his chin. He died July 6, 1415, but his dedication to biblical truth lived on in the Bohemian reform movement.13
Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498) was a Dominican monk ministering in Florence, Italy. He, too, preached against the moral depravity among the clergy. Consequently he was eventually hanged by the neck and then burned to ashes in the city square of Florence. Tourists today can observe a large plaque positioned in the city square celebrating Savonarola’s memory — although it was awarded embarrassingly late.
Thus, the courage of commitment to biblical truth cost some of our spiritual forefathers a price beyond description, but their sacrifice coalesced the efforts for reform and influenced others to take a more aggressive stand against the Church’s immorality, both physical and spiritual.
And so the Age of Spiritual Enlightenment — a Religious Renaissance in its own way — was set in motion. These famous Reformers influenced other clergymen to speak out against the corruption of the time and in favor of biblical principles. Exposure to the Word of God provided spiritual motivation for the Protestant movements to rediscover the genuine truths of the Bible — one after another — leading at last in the 19th and 20th centuries to the rediscovery of the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the accompanying ministry gifts.
According to Scripture, these gifts were designed for the encouragement of those who maintain a vibrant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And we today are the happy beneficiaries of those who courageously insisted on the revival of biblical experiences promised by the Lord.
Editor’s Note: Part 2 will appear in the summer 2011 issue of EJ Online.
Lynn Kanaga, M.A., Salem, Oregon. This article is adapted from chapter 7, “The Holy Spirit versus ‘Another Gospel’: Church History, 1000 to 1550 A.D.” in A New Personal Pentecost (Sisters: Oregon: VMI Publishers, 2005).
1. Andrew C. Zenos, A Compendium of Church History (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Education, 1938), 151–54.
2. Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language 2d ed. (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1995), 74.
3. John M’Clintock and James Strong, “Paulicians,” in Cyclopedia of Biblical Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature Vol. VII (New York: Harper Brothers, 1894), 835.
4. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1947 ed., and Micropedia II, 1980 ed.
5. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1947 ed., vol. V, 31,32.
6. Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929), 254.
8. “Waldenses” in Encyclopedia Britannica 1947 ed., vol XXV, 288.
9. M’Clintock and Strong, 855.
10. J.D. Douglas, ed. “Waldenses” in New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, revised 1978), 1026.
11. Gordon F. Atter, The Third Force (Ontario: College Press, 1982), 13.
12. Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright Â© 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
13. Shelley, 232.
Douglas, J. D., organizing editor. The New Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Inter-Varsity Fellowship), 1979.
Fox, John. Fox’s Book of Martyrs. William Byron Forbush, ed. Philadelphia: John C. Winston Company, 1926.
Muston, Alexis. The Israel of the Alps: A History of the Waldenses. Vol, I, II, III. Glasgow and New York: Blackie and Son, 1857.