"Daughter Of Babylon,
The True History of
The Worldwide Church of God"
by Bruce Renehan
Chapter 8 And He Gave Some, Apostles
It was important for Worldwide Church of God historians to establish that history drew a virtual blank in the first few centuries of the Christian movement until its organizing by Constantine. This was to emphasize Armstrong's assumption that a great counterfeit system rose up in Rome as the GREAT WHORE of the book of Revelation.
But if the Worldwide Church of God adhered to the definition of Matthew 16--the same one that the Roman Catholic system used to establish itself as the one true Christian church--then the Worldwide Church of God was limited in its search for the alleged one true church among obscure groups of heretics.
It was then fundamentally assumed that the flame of the "primitive church" was never extinguished, but rather it continued to burn in "scattered" groups who were keeping "God's true Passover" and "Sabbath."
These Worldwide writers did not leave room for the slightest doubt by asserting that these authentic groups were the ancient Ebionites, Paulicians, Bogomils, Cathari and so on. They asserted that these groups were NOT apostate or heretical, but indeed the authentic lineage of "God's one true church." And all this simply because the Catholics did not accept them. Their reasoning is all very circular.
What is actually written in history about these early groups of heretics is so riddled with fable and ambiguity that it is difficult for the layman to scrutinize the references adequately to verify Armstrong's claim. If we are careful, though, we will begin to see holes in Armstrong's history.
A person lacking scholarly training could easily be made to yield to someone who claims to be an erudite authority. Advertisers have long used authority as a substitute for truth in statements like, "Nine out of ten doctors use Brand X Aspirin." If we were further informed that those ten doctors may have been offered a year's free supply of Brand X Aspirin for endorsing the product, we might wonder why one doctor chose not to go along with his colleagues.
In reality, what Armstrong and his writers had attempted to produce was a construct. A construct is a concept that is neither provable nor disprovable. The fairy tale of the Emperor's New Clothes gives a good example of a construct in action. Convinced by two traveling salesmen, posing as "tailors," that he could parade before his subjects in fine new clothes so exquisite that only pure hearted people could see them, the emperor surrendered a fortune in gold for the magic clothes. But, the only clothes that the emperor ended up wearing in the story were the clothes that he imagined. He had fallen for an invisible construct produced by two con artists. Finally, among all of his fearful devoted subjects, only an innocent child was brave enough to declare, "The emperor's not wearing any clothes."
Since I don't want to chase after constructs, the group of Christian reformers that I would like to examine are those who rose up against an arrogant and wealthy papacy and followed a wealthy Catholic merchant named Peter Waldo. These were the Waldensians. Armstrong, as well as Joseph Tkach, have made specific claims about these Christian reformers of the Middle Ages.
In part seven of Ronald Kelly's 1991 Plain Truth he entitled "The Church That Loved The Bible," he wrote:
The story is told in many treatises on Church history, but we refer our readers particularly to History of the Waldenses of Italy From Their Origin to the Reformation by Emilio Comba, and The History of the Christian Church, From the Birth of Christ to the XVII. Century; Including the Very Interesting Account of the Waldenses and Albigenses by William Jones.
I read both histories cited above, in researching this book, and I would invite my readers to read them as well. Let's see now if the sources, quoted by both Herman Hoeh in 1959 and Ronald Kelly in the early 90's, do indeed substantiate this story of church lineage.
On page 22 of Herman Hoeh's 1959 history, he too focused on this group of twelfth century "heretics" called the Poor Men of Lyons or Waldenses. To follow through with the alleged apostolic succession of the Church of God, Waldo had to have been raised up among an already existing "Church of God" as an apostle. This never really happened.
Remember, the "gates of hell" could not have prevailed against the "True Church" and it has "always" preserved the true Sabbaths, holy days, tithing and name "Church of God". Here is what our historical guide, Hoeh wrote:It was the close of the twelfth century. In Lyons, France, lived an astonishingly successful and wealthy merchant, Peter Waldo. "One day, while in the company of some of the leading citizens, one of his friends fell lifeless at his side. Terrified by the event, he said to himself: If death had stricken me, what would have become of my soul?"
Being a Catholic, Waldo asked one of these theologians what is the perfect way. "Ah! answered the theologian...'here is Christ's precept': "If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell that thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come take up thy cross and follow me."'" (Comba, History of the Waldenses, p. 21).
Waldo disposed of his property by distributing to the poor. But from his wealth he also had a translation of the Scriptures made. In this translation he noticed the command to the apostles to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God. His mind began to understand the scriptures.
God was using Peter Waldo.
Comba says that "he brought to the study of the Scriptures that practical common sense which had guided him in his business transactions...The word of Christ was clear enough; for Waldo it was simply a question of furnishing a literal translation" (p. 243 of Comba's history).
The humble remnant of the Church of God listened to him. Soon many new disciples were coming to repentance. "His disciples became almost as many co-workers for him" (p. 26). The world called them Waldenses.
God's Church was once again spreading the gospel! A school for ministers was established to provide the trained help to carry the gospel.
The book that Herman Hoeh was quoting from is the same one that Kelly had referred to, History of the Waldenses of Italy, From Their Origin To The Reformation by Emilio Comba, DD. (Waldensian Theological College, Florence, Italy, 1889 ed.) Therefore, this will be one of our sources as well.
Notice what Dr. Comba mentions in the preface of this same book concerning the attaching of legends of "apostolic succession" to the Waldensians:There has been desire on the part of some to extend backward their early history; with this only as a result, that it has been crushed out of all shape. The historian has filled it full of fables and traditions picked up at hap-hazard; then, as if with trumpet-blast and clarion ring, its antiquity was blazoned forth. But, although the sound re-echoed far and wide, it could not dispel the thick cloud that overhung that people's origin and early days. Flatterers are more to be feared than assailants. The former would have it credited or imagined that the Waldenses are of a patriarchal age--of great duration; that they are apostolic in name and in fact, but barren withal; that they had an existence, but always in the cradle; that they did not live with all the word implies, but slept for three, seven, or even ten centuries! It is quite possible to conceive that such an uneventful existence--if such could be--might well have passed unnoticed; what we deny is that such an existence was possible. We shall examine facts, and after all if we find the antiquity of the Waldenses to be less far reaching than has been supposed, it is none the less grand and venerable...
There is an idea with some, that its origin may be traced back to the very time of the first preaching of the Gospel; but it is important that this idea be disentangled from a confused mass of legends.
We shall find the first authentic source appearing with Waldo, and the disciples whom tradition has called by his name. From that time onward, we shall follow the sinuous course of their followers' history down to the eve of the Reformation.
The other major source used by the Worldwide Church of God to make an apostolic lineage for the Waldenses was William Jones' The History of the Christian Church, from the Birth of Christ, to the XVII. Century; including the Very Interesting Account of the Waldenses and Albegenses. To make the claim that William Jones somehow substantiated "Apostolic Succession" is untrue as well. To do so would be to quote him entirely out of context. He clearly stated his view of people who tried to read something into history that wasn't there.It may possibly strike some readers with surprise that no notice is taken, in the following pages, of a multiplicity of sects which arose, from time to time, in what is called the Christian world, and whose history occupies so very large space in the volumes of most of our modern writers on this subject...In tracing the kingdom of Christ in the world, I have paid no regard whatever to the long disputed subject of apostolical succession. I have, indeed, read much that has been written upon it by the Catholic writers on one side, and by Dr. Allix, Sir Samuel Morland, and several Protestants on the other; and I regret the labour that has been so fruitlessly expended by the latter, persuaded as I am that the postulatum is a mere fiction, and that the ground on which the Protestant writers have proceeded in contending for it, is altogether untenable. It is admitted, that the Most High has had his churches and people in every age, since the decease of the Apostles; but to attempt to trace a regular succession of ordained bishops in the Vallies of Piedmont, or any other country, is "labouring in the fire for very vanity," and seems to me to proceed upon mistaken views of the nature of the kingdom of Christ, and the sovereignty of God, in his operations in the earth, as they have respect to it.
(Jones, vol. 1; p. xi)
Both of these historians were two of the highest regarded sources used by all of the Worldwide Church of God writers in the past. And yet both of these books warn against using the history of the Waldenses to establish a form of apostolic succession.It has been said:--"There is hardly a sect whose origin has been more disputed over than that of the Waldenses." Disregarding the expression "a sect"--which is here more or less out of place--the above statement is not without foundation. We know that any question of origin contains inherently an element of vagueness, which fascinates the imagination. What religion, city, or family is not inclined to trace its origin back to mythical sources?...If prejudice be allowed to have a voice in the matter, it will only accumulate legends; and history can no longer disentangle herself from them. This has too often been the case. Basnage says:--"It is a weakness belonging to all Churches, as well as States, to claim for themselves great antiquity." The reason may be readily divined, for it is nothing new. Let us admit at the outset, that prejudice has taken a very active part in the researches relating to the origin of the Waldenses; it has exerted its influence, somewhat over everybody, friends as well as foes. But as prejudice has no part in true history, it must be our endeavour to free ourselves of it.
The following words, written more than five centuries ago, are often quoted:--"Among all the sects, there is none more pernicious to the church than that of the Leonists, and for three reasons:--In the first place, because it is one of the most ancient; for some say that it dates back to the time of Sylvester; others to the time of the Apostles. In the second place, because it is the most widespread. There is hardly a country where it does not exist. In the third place, because, if other sects strike with horror those who listen to them, the Leonists, on the contrary, possess a great outward appearance of piety. As a matter of fact they lead irreproachable lives before men, and as regards their faith and the articles of their creed, they are orthodox. Their one conspicuous fault is, that they blaspheme against the Church and the clergy, points on which laymen in general are known to be too easily led away."
Here we have an indisputable testimony. It has been erroneously attributed to the Inquisitor Rainerius Saccho, who settled in Milan, and was in contact with the Waldenses of Italy; whereas it was rendered by one of his colleagues in the diocese of Passau in Austria, about the year 1260. We may assent to it, but on one condition, namely, that its meaning be not perverted. The writer in no wise affirms that the Waldenses date back to a period anterior to Waldo; he simply states that some claim that they do. As for himself, he believes in no such thing....Unquestionably it was, even at this early time, current among the Waldenses, that they were of ancient origin, truly apostolic...
The pretension to apostolic succession of the Church innate, manifests itself in the Catholic party in a way differing from that in the dissenting sections. In the former it takes a more material and gross form
of expression than in the case of the latter, in which it has nevertheless a wider basis of truth, notwithstanding the little regard manifested for appearances. According to the popular tradition--which for many years has had an increasing ascendancy over men's minds--the primitive Church, faithful and canonical, goes back to the days of Constantine, under whose reign the original fall of the Church took place, and the era of apostasy began. (Comba, 3-4)
Here we have an original version of some of the Waldensians trying to claim a link to the "primitive church." Comba refers to apostolic succession applying to the Waldensians as a pretension (a fabricated story). But one must remember that apostolic succession had been claimed by the popes for centuries by the time of Peter Waldo. If a group of heretics wanted to disarm the Catholics, claiming apostolic succession would be an effective way to do so. In actuality, what these Catholics and followers of Waldo were arguing about was who acted more like the "primitive church," not who was descended from it. The Waldensians were upset with the direction Christianity had been taking, during the Middle Ages, under the papal system. Here in Comba's book we find that fictional claims might be attempted to support this mysterious "Church of God" theory through the Waldensians. To do so, we would need to overlook the context, ignore history, and misquote the historians who have already debunked their plagiarists for fanning the flames of vanity.
What made the Waldensians heretics was their defiance of the Pope.
They believe that Pope Sylvester, at the instigation of the devil, became the founder of the Roman Church. "They say," repeats the monk Moneta, "that the Church of God had declined in the time of Sylvester, and that in these days it had been re-established by their efforts, commencing with Waldo." "They call themselves successors of the Apostles," adds monk David of Augsburg, "and say they are in possession of the apostolic authority, and of the keys to bind and unbind."(Comba, p. 7)
The above mentioned Moneta was an Inquisitor. The Church of God that had declined (or become corrupted) was the Catholic Church. This is a third party accusation by Moneta against the Waldenses. Moneta further claimed that the Waldenses were rejecting the papacy because the prelates were wealthy, loved "red wine and women" and had locked away the scriptures in the Latin language, of which no common man could read. The poor were not receiving the scriptures.
Peter Waldo, as Hoeh pointed out, was a Catholic. As one of the earliest reformers of the Catholic Church, he preceded Martin Luther by 300 years.
The popes themselves had authored the doctrine of the "primacy of Peter" or "apostolic succession" and they commonly referred to the Roman Catholic church as the "Church of God". Further, since they had canonized the Bible, it was written in Latin, the language of scholars and clerics, but not of commoners. They claimed vicarious authority from God. No one could challenge the Church of God or its bishops without being in danger of excommunication or becoming declared anathema.
Peter Waldo felt sympathy for the poor. As an example, he took on a vow of poverty (formerly kept by the early popes themselves but now abandoned). He went with a handful of followers to the Vatican. Standing in the opulent chambers before regally dressed bishops and emissaries, Waldo's ascetics, much like those of his contemporary Francis of Assisi, looked shabby and pathetic dressed only in rags. His group was received well by the Pope for their vow of poverty. It was Waldo's desire to translate the scriptures from Latin into the common language that was perceived as a threat to the clergy, resulting in his excommunication in 1183 AD.
Waldo was mentioned in Jones' History in Volume II, pages 90-92, as one of the early catholic reformers. In other words, he was a Catholic until 1183 AD.
It must be noted here that Waldo was not raised up to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God, did not call himself an apostle, did not belong to any Church of God except the Catholic Church of God (from which he was excommunicated), did not commemorate the Hebrew Passover, and observed the Sunday Sabbath (sometimes simply referred to by Catholics as the Sabbath).
What are we commanded by the third commandment? --By the third commandment we are commanded to worship in a special manner on Sunday, the Lord's day. "Keep you my Sabbath: for it is holy unto you....(My Catholic Faith, p. 202)
Was Dr. Hoeh actually making more out of this story than really existed?
God's Church was once again spreading the gospel! A school for ministers was established to provide the trained help to carry the gospel. (True History)
For instance, when did Peter Waldo begin observing the Saturday Sabbath? When did he start keeping the Passover on the 14th of Nisan? All we seem to have here is a spurious legend about "apostolic succession" and the mysterious name "The Church of God." Under the heading, "Called the 'Church of God'" in A True History of a True Church, Hoeh wrote:
Here is a marvelous record from these people, still preserved, dated 1404: "We do not find anywhere in the writings of the Old Testament that the light of truth and of holiness was at any time completely extinguished. There have always been men who walked faithfully in the paths of righteousness. Their number has been at times reduced to a few; but has never been altogether lost. We believe that the same has been the case from the time of Jesus Christ until now; and that it will be so unto the end. For if the Church of God was founded, it was in order that it might remain until the end of time...We do not believe that the Church of God absolutely departed from the way of truth; but one portion yielded, and, as is commonly seen, the majority was led away to evil. (Quoted in Comba's History, pp. 10-11.)" ( Hoeh, 22)
Notice that after the portion of text that Dr. Hoeh used as a proof that this alleged Church of God existed apart from the Catholic church, there is a section of quoted text deleted with an ellipsis (...). Here is the deleted section that Dr. Hoeh left out while quoting Comba.
For if the Church of God was founded, it was in order that it might remain until the end of time. She preserved for a long time the virtue of holy religion, and, according to ancient history, her directors lived in poverty and humility for about three centuries; that is to say, down to the time of Constantine. Under the reign of this Emperor, who was a leper, there was in the Church a man named Sylvester, a Roman. Constantine went to him, was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and cured of his leprosy. The Emperor finding himself healed of a loathsome disease, in the name of Jesus Christ, thought he would honour him who had wrought the cure by bestowing upon him the Crown of the Emperor. Sylvester accepted it, but his companion, it is said, refused his consent, separated from him, and continued to follow the path of poverty. Then, Constantine went away to regions beyond the sea, followed by a multitude of Romans, and built up the city to which he gave his name--Constantinople--so that from that time the Heresiarch rose to honour and dignity, and evil was multiplied upon the earth. We do not believe that the Church of God, absolutely departed from the way of truth; but one portion yielded, and, as is commonly seen, the majority was led away to evil. The other portion remaining long faithful to the truth it had received. (Hoeh's deletion of Comba's History, pp. 10-11)
This text is obviously concerning the split between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic church. Placed back into context, these Waldensians are saying that until the Roman Catholic pope Sylvester (who reigned 314-334 AD) the Church of God (Catholic) had been pure, teaching the vow of poverty among its clergy. Constantine's founding of the Eastern Orthodox church signified the beginning of a great culpability in the Roman church to the Waldensians. One church under Constantine, in Constantinople; one under Pope Sylvester, in Rome. Comba goes on to state that this was a "traditional" view of history, or legend held by the Waldensians and:
...has no reference to the isolated existence of any particular religious sect, and not even to their creeds; but solely to the vow of poverty, which Waldo certainly did not invent, but merely re-established. (p. 11)
What we are concerned with here is Hoeh's accuracy as a historian. In his account he has clearly fabricated a historical "Church of God" independent of the Catholic Church. When put back into context Hoeh's "Church of God" becomes the Catholic Church! This reminds me of the pithy saying: "We have seen the enemy and it is us."
The story of an ancient origin of the Waldensian church is said to have sprung out of legend. There is no supporting evidence to conclude that the Waldensians were protesting against anything other than the papacy of the Middle Ages because of their wanton greed. They were doing exactly what Martin Luther did 300 years later. This makes the Waldensian movement a Protestant one.
And where are the critical doctrines of adhering to the law of Moses? Where was Peter Waldo ever made or called an apostle? There is no evidence.
Now this raises a serious issue for members of the Worldwide Church of God. After re-inserting the passage from Dr. Comba's history that Herman Hoeh had removed, we find that the Church of God that Hoeh claimed to be the missing link to the Worldwide Church of God is, none other than, the Roman Catholic Church itself.
In other words, the Waldenses were Catholics in every way except for their vow of poverty. Waldo, like Luther, was a Catholic reformer who only succeeded in being excommunicated from the Church of God. How odd that such a thing should happen to the "apostle" of the "era" Hoeh called Thyatira!
The Waldensian church still exists to this day. Their world headquarters is in Piedmont, Italy and their American Headquarters is in New York. I questioned them directly about any historical data referring to the Waldenses calling themselves "The Church of God" or of them keeping the seventh day as the Sabbath or of having kept the Passover instead of Easter. This was the reply I received from Rev. Frank G. Gibson, executive director:
In past centuries, various writers held that the Waldensian experience runs to early centuries of the Christian era. No Waldensian scholar today holds to this line. The Waldensian Church and Witnesses authors trace their story to the movement of Valdesius in the 1100's, and not before. I am aware that others--not Waldensians!--do not tend to accept this line, but unfortunately they tend to rely on very dated sources now thoroughly overtaken by historical research.
His reference to various writers of past centuries indicates that clinging to the Waldensians for a link to the "primitive church" predated Hoeh's attempt to do so. Others have attempted this same claim in the past. There is nothing like being taken in by an old con.
Tkach was rather slow to distance himself from the claim to apostleship. As late as March 31, 1992 in the WORLDWIDE NEWS, Joseph Tkach had written in his "Personal" to the membership:
From time to time Church Administration receives questions about what the Church means by its use of the term apostle in reference to Herbert W. Armstrong and me [Joseph Tkach]...Some have been confused by this terminology, assuming it connotes an office equal to that of the apostles of the first century....Mr. Armstrong was indeed an apostle, or "one sent," in the same sense as Peter Waldo was an apostle, for example, or as any other person whom God has stirred up through the ages since the first century to lead the Church in proclaiming the gospel.
Again there is no known reference of Peter Waldo calling himself an apostle. His gospel was that church leaders should take a vow of poverty. The Waldensians also were adamantly opposed to the doctrine of tithing. This certainly doesn't present any evidence of kindred spirits between the Worldwide Church of God and the Waldensians.
I questioned Dr. Ruth Tucker (author of a book about modern cults entitled Another Gospel) about this use of the term of apostle by the Worldwide Church of God. Since she teaches church history, I asked her if she knew of any claim of Peter Waldo to the office of apostle. She felt that Herbert Armstrong had definitely claimed to be an apostle in the same sense of the New Testament apostles. She knew of no historical record, though, of Peter Waldo claiming apostleship. She felt that Tkach was being vague in his reference to the term. What about Joseph Tkach? Is he an apostle? In the same Personal he wrote:
As you know, the original apostles formed part of what Paul called the foundation of the Church: 'Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone' (Ephesians 2:20, New International Version throughout)...When referring to Mr. Armstrong or myself, however, the Church uses the term apostle (drawn from the list of ministerial offices in Ephesians 4:11).
Read what Ephesians 4:11 (not quoted by Tkach) says:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers;
Notice these points: 1) There is no biblical distinction between the office of apostle; past, present, or future. Any distinction therefore would have to be imaginary. 2) Prophets? Who were the prophets since the time of the apostles? 3) The reference to apostles and prophets in Ephesians 4:11 is taken from Ephesians 2:20. Ephesians 2:20 specifically states that the foundation of the "household of God" is Christ, the apostles, and the prophets.
I would have to concede with Dr. Tucker that Joseph Tkach was confused both historically and biblically as to the definition of an apostle. This teaching of apostleship was one that the Worldwide Church of God seemed to be gradually backing away from after Armstrong's death. The January 1993 issue of the Plain Truth magazine managed to redefine the title apostle to that of a "fellow worker or messenger" and implied that the Worldwide Church of God had never participated in the practice, by laying the blame on "some Christian denominations":
Today, some Christian denominations use the title apostle for the person who holds the chief spiritual office in their church. These churches generally do not mean the term in the broadest, biblical sense--as eyewitnesses of the resurrection--but rather in the administrative sense. (p. 19, Plain Truth, January 1993)
In making this statement, the Plain Truth writers were unclear in explaining exactly how these other churches came to redefine this biblical title to a sense of an administrator from the sense of an eyewitness.
If the biblical synonym of an apostle is eyewitness, then just as an eyewitness in a court hearing bears only one type of authority, that of being a witness to a crime, so witnessing the life ministry of Jesus granted some the title apostle. There appears to be no other type of apostolic authority given in the New Testament.
In the next chapter I will discuss what Herman Hoeh and Herbert Armstrong called the Sardis "era" of the alleged true church. It actually comprised three totally different churches.
Go to the "Painful Truth" page.