The Waldensian Churches Face a Crisis

For centuries the Waldensian church had been a beacon of light in the midst of prevailing darkness, remaining true to their motto “Lux Lucet in Tenebris” (“Light shining in Darkness”). They faithfully preserved the Word of God and worked tirelessly to infuse the entire continent of Europe with its truths. For this, they paid a high price. Wave after wave of persecution washed over them, driven primarily by the Roman Church who enlisted the powers of the state to carry out their work.

However, while the Reformation was beginning to spread across Europe, the Waldensian churches were experiencing the quiet advance of spiritual declension. Tired of the relentless persecution many Waldenses were opting to call themselves Catholics and render outward compliance while still trying to remain true to their faith in the word of God. But this was a plan that didn’t really work and the church began to lose its distinctive identity and therefore its efficacy.

Torre Pellice, Italy

Around this time of crisis, the Waldenses got word of the Reformation that was beginning to make inroads throughout Europe. They heard of the work taking place in Germany, Switzerland, and France and could hardly believe the reports which seemed too good to be true. In order to fully understand the nature of this new movement and whether or not it embraced similar biblical values to their own, the Waldensian churches sent out a few delegations of ambassadors to meet with the leaders of the Protestant churches.

The first representative they sent was Pr. Martin from Italy who returned to his Valley in 1526 with news of the Reformation and its progress. They heard first-hand reports of the similarities between their own beliefs and those of the Reformers and hope began to spring up in their hearts.

Up to this point, the Waldensian churches had thought they were a lone voice championing the cause of truth against insurmountable odds. But as they heard of others, who like them were rising as standard bearers to uphold the truth of God’s Word against the teachings of Pope’s and councils they were greatly encouraged. Martin also brought back the writings of many of the leading reformers which he distributed among the Waldensian churches giving the congregations an opportunity to fully understand the main tenants of the Reformation for themselves.

In 1530 another delegation of ambassadors was sent from the Waldensian churches in France who met with reformers in Switzerland and Germany. They spent time with Farel and Haller in Switzerland and presented Oecolampadius, the disciple of Zwingli, with a detailed outline of their fundamental beliefs as a church. The leaders of the Waldensian churches then decided to convene a Synod so that representatives from the Protestant churches could meet with leaders from the Waldensian church to further discuss their beliefs and determine the relationship that the Waldenses would have with the Reformation as a whole.

On the 12th of  October 1532 in the Angrogna Valley, the Synod of Chanforan was convened and sat for six consecutive days. One of the most significant decisions that were made at the Synod was the resolution to translate and print the entire bible into the French language. This was financially sponsored by the Waldensian churches who raised the funds for it and was considered to be their gift to the Reformation. 

The work was undertaken by Calvin and his cousin Olivetan and completed in 1535. The Bible was then printed in Neuchatel and distributed throughout the French-speaking Protestants of Europe.

Some of the commonalities shared between the two churches were the rejection of decidedly Papal institutions like the mass, confession, celebration of feasts and the worship of saints, the celebration of Lent and the observance of the lenticular fast and prayers for the dead. They also rejected the doctrines of purgatory, prayer for the dead, penance and celibacy. In their joy at finding fellowship, the Waldensian churches were quick to embrace certain shortcomings of the Reformation as well. Though the Reformation of the 16th century was a significant step in the right direction it did not bring about a complete restoration of Biblical truth and some of the compromises the Waldenses made with the Reformers represented a decided step backward in the progress of the truth.

While it is important to be surrounded by a community of like-minded believers who can provide accountability and fellowship to help us in our spiritual walk, it is also equally important to realize that some fellowship can also lead us to compromises that weaken our spiritual experience. The most important thing is that we each keep our eyes fixed on Jesus so that regardless of our circumstances we will find ourselves empowered to stand for the truth

Further Reading

  • White, E.G. (1888) – The Great Controversy
  • Wylie, J.A. (1878) – The History of Protestantism