October 31, 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the day when a monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses, or points for discussion, on the castle church door in Wittenburg, Germany. It is considered the start of the Protestant Reformation—possibly the greatest revival in the history of the world. There were significant problems in the organized church at that time. Martin Luther was not the first to address these concerns but in God’s providence, it was his call for debate in 1517 that the Lord used to ignite a reformation among Christians.
As I said, Luther was not the first, there were others who had raised concerns in the centuries leading up to Luther’s stand. One of those was the Waldensians. They got there name from Peter Waldo (1140-1205 Anno Domini). One of the things that characterized the Waldensians was their love for the Word of God. They would make translations into their language and memorize large portions of it. They would also make copies of portions of these Scriptures and give them away. This may not seem that outlandish to us now, but in the time in which they lived it was illegal to do that. The pope demanded that they stop reading or teaching the Scriptures in their language or face the penalty of death.
Okay, let’s leave the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries for a moment and get back to 2017 in the United States of America. None of us are facing that kind of threat for reading our English Bibles in our day. I hope you have several Bibles in your home. I hope you read your Bible. I hope you take time to study it. I hope you are in a Bible study group that helps you understand the Bible more clearly. I hope you are in a church in which you can hear the Bible read and preached on a regular basis. But what if you knew that your life was in jeopardy if someone caught you with your Bible in hand? What if you saw the authorities surrounding your church to arrest anyone who entered—would you still go? I wish I could say absolutely yes … but I know how easily I can be intimidated. I know that I can talk big but sometimes back down because of fear. With God’s help, I hope that you and I would continue to read and study our Bibles in spite of death threats. The Waldensians did just that.
They sent out missionaries who preached to the poor and would read from their French or Italian New Testaments. These missionaries often went as peddlers selling various items. When the customers asked if they had anything else to sell, they would say “yes, we have the most precious stone of all, the Word of God.” And they would leave hand written portions of the Scripture with them. If they were caught, the penalty would often be a fiery death.
But it was not only the ministers who were at risk. Whole communities were targeted. In Grenoble, France in 1393, one hundred and fifty Waldensians were burned alive for their faith. On Christmas Day in 1400 a whole village of Waldensians, including eighty children, were attacked in the Pragela Valley and killed. In the spring of 1489 more than three thousand men, women, and children were killed in a great cave in the Valley of Loyse.
These kinds of things continued for 100’s of years. The Waldensians would move to a place that seemed to be safe, but would ultimately be discovered and killed—often as they sang praises to the Lord. But the amazing thing is that they continued to read, and study, and teach the Word of God in their language.
In the 1500’s the Waldensians began to hear of others who were looking to the Scriptures as they were. They sent a delegation to meet with several of the reformers in 1530. Both the reformers and the Waldensians rejoiced at how much agreement they had on the basic doctrines in the Word of God. After years of isolation, they were now part of a rapidly growing church.
May the Lord continue to raise up people who love the Scriptures like the Waldensians.
Mac Williams is the Pastor at Two Rivers Community Church which is located at 3400 Little York Road. He can be reached at 898-2824 or visit the church’s website at www.tworiverscc.org.