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Posts Tagged ‘followers of Jesus’

I have started sharing with you the stories of faithful Christians from time to time, people who lived after the time of the Bible. I am doing this to point out that we can be radical followers of Jesus in whatever context we find ourselves in, not just in Bible times. And I am doing this to encourage us to live more radical, faithful lives as Christians. And to that end, in each case, I want to highlight how their lives embody specific aspects of faithfulness to Jesus from the Scriptures.

So far we have looked at Perpetua, who lived in Carthage, North Africa in the 200’s; Felix Mantz, who lived in Zurich, Switzerland in the 1500’s; and today we look at a man named –

Waldo

He was from Lyon France and lived  from around 1140-1206.  This is a statue of Waldo, in Worms Germany. Of course, no one knows what he actually looked like.

waldo

Much about Waldo’s story is shrouded in mystery, coming from his enemies or from later legends about him. I will try to give you some basics.

1. His name was Valdesius, which is Latin, but has come into English, whether correctly or not, as Waldo.

He is usually called Peter Waldo, but it is not at all clear that his name was Peter. All we know for sure is his Latin name Valdesius which he signed in one instance. His name in the local language was probably Vaudes. We’ll call him Waldo.

2. He was a wealthy merchant. The merchant class was emerging at this time and gaining social and economic power, and Lyon was a real commercial center. It is possible that he handled the investments for the archbishopric, which was suspected of charging interest on the poor. If true, he was involved in oppressing the poor to make himself rich.

In terms of real estate he is said to have owned “ponds, groves and fields, houses, rents, vineyards, mills, and fishing rights.” http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/waldo1.html This doesn’t include his bank account. He had some serious wealth in a time when most were dirt poor.

3. He gave up his wealth to preach the gospel. He was already concerned for his soul regarding his wealth, and then he heard the story of the rich young ruler and how Jesus called him to give up all his wealth and to come follow him. And he was disturbed that Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 19:24). (Which, by the way, doesn’t refer to a small gate in the wall of Jerusalem).

Waldo heard in all this Jesus calling him to give up all his wealth so that he could preach the gospel, and this is what he did.

Regarding his preaching, one source gives this account of what sounds like his first public pronouncement.

He cried, “No man can serve two masters, God and mammon.” Then his fellow-citizens ran up, thinking he had lost his mind. But going on to a higher place, he said. “My fellow-citizens and friends, I am not insane, as you think, but I am avenging myself on my enemies, who made me a slave, so that I was always more careful of money than of God, and served the creature rather than the Creator.

I know that many will blame me that I act thus openly. But I do it both on my own account and on yours; on my own, so that those who see me henceforth possessing any money may say that I am mad, and on yours, that you may learn to place hope in God and not in riches.” http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/waldo1.html

He also criticized the church’s accumulated wealth and how many of its officials lived in luxury.

4. He had portions of Scripture translated so that people could hear and understand them. It’s not clear when this happened, but he hired two clergy to do this. This book was called the Sententiae and apparently focused especially on the Gospels. (There were also other portions of Scripture and some sayings of the church fathers as well.)

You have to understand that Scripture was in Latin, which the common person didn’t know. So people were completely dependent on what the church taught them.He brought the Scriptures into the common person’s language so that they could hear them for themselves. He is said to have memorized this book.

5. A movement began – the poor of Lyon, or the poor of Christ. People responded to his preaching. A number gathered around him and also gave up their wealth and began to preach. This would have been around 1170-1175.

They would go out two by two, as in the Gospels. They would share from the Scriptures and call people to repentance. Both men and women went out to preach. They lived off of the support of those who heard and received their message.

As one enemy wrote, they “went from village to village, going into people’s homes and preaching in public squares and even in churches . . .” (Bernard Gui). But this was a real problem because only trained clergy were allowed to preach, and then only under the supervision of the local Bishop.

This is the key that led to their –

Persecution

In 1179 some of his followers appeared before the Third Lateran Council. They sought the approval of their movement by the church.They showed them their Bible translation. There was some openness to them, but they were also ridiculed for their perceived ignorance of theology.

In 1180 Waldo signed a confession of faith to establish that he was orthodox. But they were still eventually forbidden to preach. In 1184 the Council of Verona made excommunication the punishment for those who persisted in preaching. Waldo and his followers were excommunicated and expelled from Lyon.

It is said that Waldo responded to all this by saying, “We must obey God rather than man”quoting Acts 5:29 and Peter’s words to the religious authorities of his day who told him to stop preaching.

Waldo died, apparently of natural causes, somewhere around 1206.

waldensiansLater persecution of the movement

 The poor of Lyon or the Waldensians, spread all throughout Europe with many thousands of adherents. They were also harshly persecuted. Many faced the inquisition. Many
were killed. They were forced to flee into the Alps to find refuge. This is a picture of the burning to death of some of them in  Toulouse in the 1200’s.

From 1487-1489 a Crusade of 18,000 troops was sent against them, to persecute and kill them.

 

 

I want to highlight – 

Several characteristics of faithfulness from Waldo’s life

But first let me say, you don’t have to die to be faithful. I don’t want to give the wrong impression with these stories of faithfulness. We all have to lose our lives in this world in various ways by giving them up to follow Jesus. But not all will be killed for their commitment. Waldo died a natural death.

Regarding his faithfulness, 1. His fearless preaching of the Gospel stands out. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . ..” In a time when it was assumed that everyone was a Christian, he preached and called all people to repentance. And when some tried to stop him, he accepted rejection and persecution to continue to do this. He is a model for us of zeal to reach out and share our faith in our much, much easier set of circumstances, where the biggest issues for us are shame, laziness or making time in our busy lives.

2. His rejection of wealth. Jesus doesn’t call all people to give up all their wealth like the rich young ruler or Waldo. But he does call all of us to reject wealth as the source of our security and comfort. This is God’s role in our lives. As Waldo quoted Jesus from Matthew 6:24 – “No one can serve two masters . . .You cannot serve God and money.”

Jesus also tells us all in Luke 12:33 – “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.” We should all give of what God has blesses us with to help those who have needs. And we can also give sacrificially, even cutting into what we need (Mark 12:41-44). 

3. He obeyed Jesus simply and radically. It is Jesus’ purpose that we do everything that he teaches. As he said in Matthew 28:19, everyone who is baptized is “to observe all that I commanded you,” that is, all that he taught the apostles. As he says in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” We are called to obedience.

Waldo heard what Jesus said, he listened to the Spirit and he acted. He did not need any fancy explanations or pressure, or an inspiring message to act. And he certainly didn’t listen to any who would explain away what Jesus said. He read it and he acted on all that Jesus said.

And he obeyed Jesus even when it was very difficult, giving up everything he had and living off of the charity of others; even when  the authorities, even the church authorities, told him not to; even when it brought him persecution.

Let me end with a call to commitment. We all only have one life to live. Why not give it to Jesus fully and radically? Why not give it as a monument of your love and devotion to him? Why use it up on the mundane things of this world, especially accumulating wealth and trying to live comfortably? Don’t waste your life. It is a gift from God. Don’t let the distractions of this world and earthly pursuits take up your life so that you wake up one day and you are old and you haven’t served or loved God in dramatic ways. What will any of this life’s comforts mean in the context of the final day? Why not choose to do something great for God? Lift up your eyes to see greater things than just living life like everyone else is, or just being a nominal Christian. What is God calling you to do? Do you have the courage to follow him? It is never too late.

[A note: If Waldo did leave his wife behind and put his children in a convent, then this is problematic. Neither Luke 14:26, nor Matthew 8:18-22 condone functionally divorcing one’s wife and orphaning one’s children. Even though he provided for them financially he was bound by his marriage covenant to be with his wife (Matthew 19:4-6; 1 Corinthians 7:3-5) and as a father to raise his children. Although perhaps it is possible that he maintained some contact with his wife and children.]

*I have relied on Gabriel Audisio’s The Waldensian Dissent, and also John Driver’s Radical Faith, who in turn draws on Amedeo Molnar’s work.

William Higgins

 

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