Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: evangelical Christianity

Henny Penny and her kindred

The story, as I heard it in my childhood, goes like this. Henny Penny, a rather ordinary hen, is contentedly sleeping in the warm sunshine when an acorn falls on her head. She awakens in a flap and begins squawking, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” The other hens are alarmed and one of them says, “Someone needs to tell the king!” Henny Penny decides that since she is the first to be aware of the impending disaster, she must be the one to go. She is joined by Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey and Turkey Lurkey, all flapping their wings and crying “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”. After travelling awhile, they encounter Foxy Loxy, who hears their story and declares his intention to join them to warn the king. “But first, he says, you must come to my place for a meal.” The others accept his invitation, only to discover too late that they are going to be the meal.

There are different versions of this story, which may be as much as 2500 years old. For at least that long there have been folks flapping their wings and saying “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” The result has quite often not been as they expected.

When the plague appeared in Europe during the middle ages and multitudes of people were dying every day, many believed it to be a judgment of God. Groups of people, believing that if they punished themselves enough the anger of God would be appeased, walked from city to city, whipping themselves and raking their backs with sharp rakes. They were called flagellants, and each group spent 33½ days on their pilgrimage, wearing hoods but no shirts, so as to continually have open wounds on their backs. And as they travelled from city to city, they spread the plague from city to city.

There seem to be many folks like Henny Penny among evangelical Christians. People who are keenly interested in knowing what is wrong with the world, and who rejoice in every bit of bad news that they can interpret as a sign of the end. Something they can point to as proof that: “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

A few years ago, many Christians were repeating the news that a department of the Canadian government had analyzed the frequency and severity of natural disasters from all over the world over recent centuries and had solid proof that such catastrophes were increasing in frequency and severity. The story was bogus, but that didn’t prevent it from being cited over the pulpit in many churches. The department of the Canadian government named in the story has never existed and those who investigated found that in all the bureaucracy of the Canadian government there is no office dedicated to collecting and analyzing such information. An article in the Christian Research Journal analyzed the available data and determined that there has been no increase in recent history. What has changed is the ability of the media to inform us immediately of any catastrophe anywhere in the world, creating the impression that such events are increasing.

We are warned in the Bible that one day, without warning, the world will come to an end. The apostle Peter tells us that, if we really believe this, we should live accordingly (2 Peter 3:11). That is, we should stop wasting our time looking for signs of the end and rather take care to live in such a way that we will be prepared for the end, ready to meet Jesus in peace.

The origins of the Waldensians

One thing that is clear is that there were Waldenses before Peter Waldo, thus it cannot be said that he founded the Waldensian movement, or church. Waldenses, Vaudois in French, means “people of the valleys,” referring to the valleys in the Alps which form the border between France and Italy.

Peter Waldo, Pierre de Vaux in French, means “Peter of the valleys”. Research into his background has not turned up any trace that he originated from Lyon. The city of Lyon is near to the Alps and it is possible that he originated from among the Christians in the alpine valleys, then left to seek his fortune in the big city.

He made his fortune, but it appears his heart was not at rest. He heard the call of God to repentance and forsook all he had gained. Beginning around 1170, he held meetings in his home where he distributed both natural and spiritual food to the poor, having had the Word of God translated into their language. Then he went to Rome to seek approval of the Pope to continue this work of evangelism. The Pope refused to authorize what he was doing and at this point Peter Waldo appears to have realized there was no future for evangelical Christianity in the Roman church.

From here on the details get  murky. He sought the believers in the alpine valleys, but did not remain there long. Perhaps he rekindled the missionary fervour of the Christians in those valleys. Subsequent history mentions appearances of Peter Waldo in other parts of Europe and of itinerant Waldensian missionaries everywhere. Despite living in an era of persecution, Peter Waldo travelled and preached among the common people without being betrayed.  He died a natural death in Bohemia in 1217.

Wonderful as the story of Peter Waldo may be, it does not tell how the Waldensian church began. The excerpt from the article on Antichrist that I posted Saturday dates from at least 50 years before Peter Waldo and reveals a church already well established.
The Antichrist writing dates from the time of Pierre de Bruys; it is possible that he was the writer. Pierre de Bruys was a former Roman Catholic priest who became a very effective evangelist after his conversion. He was active from 1117 to 1131, when he was burned at the stake. There is a section of this writing which gives the “reasons for our separation from Antichrist.”

Another possibility would be Henri, a former Benedictine monk, who preached the same doctrine as Pierre de Bruys from 1116 to 1134. Henri died in prison in 1148. Or the writer may have been someone unknown to history. We mostly know Pierre and Henri to us through the records of their persecutors.

The Antichrist writing says the spirit of iniquity had been active for centuries in the Roman church, but lacked power to suppress all its opponents. It wasn’t until the 11th century that the Roman Catholic church controlled the secular authorities and could use them to eliminate their opponents. Persecution became much more acute, culminating in the Albigensian crusade (1209 to 1229) and the Inquisition in France which began in 1233.

The history of persecution by the Roman Catholic church began long before the year 1,000; it just wasn’t as thorough. The Roman church saw heretics everywhere. Some of them may well have been groups with non-Biblical beliefs and practices. Many of them, though, were genuine evangelical Christians, teaching and living the peaceful doctrine of Jesus Christ. It is from these Christians, in ways lost to history, that the Waldensian church had its origins.

© Bob Goodnough,

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