The Great Controversy - Teachers Comments

2024 Quarter 2 Lesson 04 - Standing _for the_ Truth

Teachers Comments
Apr 20 - Apr 26

Key Text: John 3:14, 15

Study Focus: John 14:6; Jude 3, 4; Rev. 2:10; 1 John 1:7; Heb. 11:6; Acts 4:12; Matt. 10:18–20; Rev. 1:9.

Introduction: The early and medieval faithful Christians were characterized not only by their individual faithfulness to God and to His Word but also by the public stand they took in proclaiming the principles of God’s kingdom and of salvation. This week, we continue to witness the church’s stand on the side of God in the great controversy, throughout the periods of the Middle Ages and during the Reformation. During this time, the early Reformers and church leaders drew inspiration from the example of Christ and the apostles, as well as from martyrs, such as Polycarp.

This era of reform comprises no ordinary period of persecution, though; rather, it constitutes a prophetic period of 1,260 years, spanning from a.d. 538 to a.d. 1798. As in the case of the other prophetic periods of persecution, this era also points to the fact that the time of persecution is limited and that God is ultimately in control.

During this epoch, numerous Christians, such as the Waldensians, Wycliffe, and Huss, not only suffered persecution at the hands of God’s enemies but went on the offensive against the forces of spiritual darkness. The weapons of their offensive were not derived from their own strength, vision, or wisdom. Nor did these defenders of the faith mount an assault against the forces of evil with cunningly devised military strategies. Rather, the mission of the true Christians and the secret of their power consisted in their discovery of, love for, and proclamation of the Word of God, no matter the cost.

The work of the Reformers resulted in a double achievement for both humanity and God. Their first achievement was understanding that the love of God, as revealed in His Word, transforms the lives of His people and gives them hope in the kingdom of God. Their second achievement was the proclamation of Bible truth to the world in vindication of God’s identity and character, both of which were denigrated by the forces of evil in the great cosmic war. Then as now, spiritual darkness retreats in advance of the proclamation of the Word of God, which illuminates the world with hope and love.

Lesson Themes: This week’s lesson emphasizes three major themes:

  1. The persecution that the medieval church waged against Bible-believing Christians transpired during a prophetic period, limited in time and under God’s ultimate supervision, as forecasted by Scripture.
  2. The Waldensians, John Wycliffe, and John Huss illustrate what it means to stand on the side of God, witnessing to and proclaiming the Word of God in the darkest times of the cosmic conflict.
  3. God’s Word is our greatest source of hope and power, enabling us to live, and stand, on God’s side.

Part II: Commentary

The Root of Persecution

Typically, the causes of early Christian persecution have been classified by church historians according to the following categories:

• Economical (e.g., a believer’s profession of faith impacted, and often restricted, his or her transactions with local and regional businesses; see Acts 19:23–27)

• Social (e.g., Christians refused to participate in immoral activities)

• Political (e.g., Christians were made scapegoats to solve political problems)

• Religious (e.g., Christian beliefs, practices, and growth were perceived as an existential threat to dominant religions)

The root cause of all these persecutions was Satan. What was his motive in attacking Christians in his ongoing war against Christ? Wasn’t it Satan, after all, who had originally accused God of control, oppression, and the restriction of liberty? Why would Satan now become the ultimate source of persecution and oppression?

We may postulate two possible reasons. First, Lucifer built his entire rebellion and his proposal for a new world order on lies, wild speculations, and baseless and pernicious accusations against God, His character, His status, and His sovereignty (John 8:44). As a liar, Satan distorted reality not only for others; he himself was affected by the lies he promulgated and by the act of lying itself. Deception distorts the very foundation of personhood. How quickly the lie becomes a controlling force in a person, attempting to assert itself as truth against the dictates of reason and conscience.

Although the lie exists only in the human mind, it controls one’s actions and behavior. Thus, the lie causes catastrophic distortions to one’s external reality. This distortion of reality happens because the lie cannot survive naturally; it does not correspond to reality, and, therefore, it wants to conform reality to its postulates. Otherwise, an encounter with the truth would simply dismiss the lie. Therefore, the lie needs to constantly force itself into existence. Any attempt to examine the truth is an existential threat to the lie, and thus, the one who accepts the lie will suppress any attempt at a search for the truth. For this reason, the very evil nature of Lucifer, distorted by his own lies, now was acting to suppress any attempt of God’s people to receive, discover, live, and proclaim the truth.

Second, there is no freedom without God. God Himself is free. He created us in His image: free, and, therefore, moral and loving. God not only created us free; as our Provider, He is the standard and the sustainer of our freedom. We cannot have real freedom without, or against, God. Any undertaking to establish complete autonomy apart from God, as Lucifer wanted, would mean depriving God of His status as Creator and Provider. Further, such an undertaking would be to dethrone Him. So, in order to achieve absolute autonomy, Lucifer originated his rebellion against God. However, Lucifer soon realized that to preserve his autonomy, he would constantly need to suppress the very existence of God, who by definition was the Creator and the Provider. Not only that, Lucifer also would need to suppress any desire, in himself and others, to return to God and to the principles of His kingdom. For this reason, Lucifer would need to exterminate any mention of God’s existence. Thus, because God’s people testify of God’s existence and worship Him as their Creator and Provider, Satan could not allow the existence of God’s people to continue unmolested. For to do so would mean acknowledging the collapse of his theories, namely, that there was freedom apart from God and His government.

Waldensians, Franciscans, and Scripture

By the beginning of the second millennium after Christ, the Roman Catholic Church had become a fearsome, centralized, and hierarchical behemoth in Europe. It also was a deeply corrupt institution. Church members could not overlook these developments. They felt the need to identify the causes of the church’s corruption and to propose solutions. This process resulted in numerous religious and mendicant orders.

At the beginning of the thirteenth century, Francis of Assisi (1181–1226), the rather worldly son of a wealthy family, had a mystical conversion experience, after which he renounced whatever property he had and declared his intention to imitate Christ’s poverty as much as possible. Francis founded the order of the Franciscans, which promoted poverty as a virtue. The Franciscans were known for their street preaching. In 1209, Francis sought the formal recognition of his order by Pope Innocent III, who was in power from 1198 to 1216. After an initial hesitancy, the pope granted Francis’s request in 1210. Francis also founded a women’s order, that of St. Clare, as well as the Third Order, comprised of laypeople.

Just several decades earlier, by the end of the twelfth century, Peter Waldo (d. 1205), a successful businessman in southeastern France, also experienced a conversion, renounced his riches, and preached voluntary poverty. He also founded an order for the poor and appealed to the Papacy for approval. Although Pope Alexander III, who presided from 1159 to 1181, initially accepted Waldo’s vow of poverty, his successor, Pope Lucius III, who presided over the papal see from 1181 to 1185, condemned Waldo and his movement, the Waldenses, as heretical, and banned them from preaching. Worse, over the next several hundred years, the Roman Catholic Church mounted horrific persecutions against the Waldenses that nearly led to their extinction.

So, let us consider the similarities before us between these two revivalist movements and religious orders, which emerged at about the same time in history. The founders of both movements, Francis of Assisi and Peter Waldo, had rather similar conversion experiences. Initially, both men founded their orders on similar spiritual rules: poverty and street preaching. Both men had similar desires to reform the church, and both appealed to the Papacy for approval of their orders. However, the two orders had radically different relations with the Papacy, and, consequently, they had different fates and endings. The Franciscans’ request for papal approval was initially met with hesitancy but was later granted. In contrast, Waldo’s vow of poverty, which was initially approved by the Papacy, was later rescinded. The Franciscans grew into one of the most influential Roman Catholic orders. (Today, we can see its influence most notably reflected in the fact that the current pope, although a Jesuit, honored Francis of Assisi by adopting his name.) On the other hand, the Waldensians endured one of the cruelest persecutions in history, persecution directed at their extermination.

The question of why is most pertinent here. What made the difference between these two movements or orders? The answer is in their ultimate allegiance. The Franciscans, very likely having learned from Waldo’s experience, obtained papal approval by giving ultimate allegiance to the pope. That is, the Franciscans recognized the Papacy as the ultimate spiritual and temporal authority on earth and vowed to support unconditionally its authority in matters of doctrine and practice.

The Waldenses, on the other hand, believed that the ultimate authority for our lives and teachings sprang out of God’s Holy Scripture. For this reason, they made Scripture the heart of their study, preaching, and living. Consequently, the Waldenses soon discovered and repudiated an increasing number of the Roman Catholic Church’s falsehoods and compromises, such as:

• the veneration of the saints,

• most of the seven Catholic sacraments,

• the concept of transubstantiation,

• auricular confession of sins to human priests,

• the practice of infant baptism,

• the sale of indulgences,

• the doctrine of purgatory, and

• prayers for the dead.

Instead, the Waldenses proclaimed that God is the only Creator and Savior. They also proclaimed that Christ is the only Mediator, giver of grace, and forgiver of sins. They taught that worship was not restricted to the physical space of Roman Catholic churches but could be offered to God in any place.

The Waldenses did not, in their lifetimes, receive the reward for their faithfulness. But their ideas and their courage to stand for God’s Word against compromise and the devil’s falsehoods soon inspired the morning stars of the Reformation, Wycliffe and Huss, as well as the rest of the Reformation movement, from the sixteenth century onward. Not honored by humanity, these Reformers will be honored by Christ Himself at His glorious return. As part of their enduring legacy of faith, the Waldenses bequeathed to us their implicit trust in the authoritative power of Scripture. They understood that the success of Christianity resides not in the innate genius or stratagems of its members, but in their witnessing to others of what Christ has done and in pointing to God’s Word as the source of divine revelation and salvation. For this reason, the Reformers simply followed the apostle Paul’s exhortation to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2, ESV). They spread, in their wake, Bibles, or fragments of the Holy Book, and left the results with the Holy Spirit. The Waldenses were motivated in this work by the foundational, and great, principle of sola scriptura; that is, that Scripture, by itself, is the Word of God, that the Bible has the power to communicate God’s message to all humans, and that it is self-sufficient and makes sense to all its readers. It is precisely this ethos that later gave impetus to the identity, mission, unity, and life of the Advent movement in the 1800s.

Part III: Life Application

  1. The Waldenses spread the Word of God in times of persecution. Maybe, like them, you are in a setting of persecution. Or perhaps you are currently in a situation of religious tolerance and peacefulness. Either way, what can you do to spread the Word of God in your circumstance in a meaningful way for the people around you?
  2. Develop a three-point plan to help you stand faithful on the side of God in times of persecution. Share your plan with your family or Sabbath School group.