| The Thin Scarlet Line
Retracing the March of the Remnants from a Historical Perspective
Scriptures: “Then he brought me back to the door of the house; and behold, water was
flowing from under the threshold of the house toward the east, for the house faced east.
And the water was flowing down from under, from the right side of the house, from south of
the altar” (Eze. 47:1a).
Monica and I were grateful to the Lord to have participated in the “Church Revival Historic
Trails in Europe” conducted by Bro. Christian Chen in August. Although the tour was the
most physically challenging than the previous ones, we returned home blessed, moved,
and humbled by learning the travails of the Lord’s remnants and seeing the places
associated with them. With a sense of “From everyone who has been given much, shall
much be required”, we prayerfully began sharing with our local saints, over many weeks,
what the Lord had impressed us with. I am now committing to the Lord in writing what He
placed in my heart; and Monica is working on a chronological pictorial account of Church
History. The sources of my information came from Bro. Christian’s handbook and sharing,
Edmond Broadbend’s book “The Pilgrim Church”, H. Price’s book “An Abridged Version
of Church History”, H.A. Ironside’s book “A Historical Sketch of the Brethren Movement”,
Watchman Nee’s book “The Orthodoxy of the Church”, other biographical books on Count
Zinzendorf, Robert Champman (“Brethren Indeed”), and other sources. But it is my sincere
hope that the inspiration of it all came from none other than the illumination of the Holy
Spirit upon the Lord’s written words. Therefore the views expressed herein do not
necessarily represent that of anyone mentioned above.
The Early Church
Toward the end of the apostolic era, a few names began to emerge to bear the burden of
shepherding the Lord’s flock. They were later known as the “Church Fathers” by the
historians. Some of them maintained the teaching and tradition of the apostles such as
breaking of bread and remembrance of the Lord from house to house, prayers, priesthood
of all believers, believer’s baptism, etc. Others, however, began to introduce teachings and
practices unknown to the apostles and unintended by the Scriptures. Among these was
Ignatius (AD 35-107) who proposed that bishop attained a higher spiritual status and
superior authority over elders in many churches in a given district; thus an embryonic
system of hierarchy began to develop. By the time of Cyprian (AD 200-258), his teaching
of the Church being “Catholic” in nature had gained traction and begun to spread. Although
the papal system did not come into being until sometime later, the hierarchical system that
elevated the clergy over the laity increasingly took hold in the Church.
During the first three hundred years the Church suffered horrendous persecutions in the
hands of Roman emperors. This period was dubbed “The Age of Martyrdom”, as many
faithful believers of Jesus Christ were executed, burned, torn by lions, or driven out of their
homes and countries.
In the year 313 AD, Constantine the Great reversed the trend of persecution and began
embracing the Church which led to the instituting of Christianity as the state religion of the
Roman Empire. Large basilicas were given to Christians to house the gatherings. In one
fell swoop, he swung the Church doors wide open to huge masses of unregenerated
people who flocked to the Church simply because the emperor deemed it proper.
At the same time, Constantine’s mother, a woman of exceptional religious zeal, helped
legitimize the worship of religious relics and idols. In one of her expeditions to the Holy
Land, pieces of wood and nails were introduced to her as fragments from the cross of
Christ; and they were held as objects of worship. Most historians, secular or religious, held
that this period was a time of great flourishing and expansion of the Church. During this
period St. Augustine (AD 354-430) further emboldened the Catholic Church by declaring,
“No salvation outside of the Church”. It was a time of confusion, idolatry, and mixture as the
Church was in union with the world.
Sadly, what the enemy of the Lord couldn’t do through severe persecution, as the
resurrection life of Christ always overcame torture and death, Constantine wrought
exceeding damage by uniting the Church with the world! It was as the Lord Jesus
prophesied in Matthew 13:24-30 when tares grew side-by-side with the wheat.
Declension and Reforms within the Catholic Church
Real Christians and those who chose to remain faithful to the Lord and His Word were
increasingly driven underground. Even some true believers who stayed in the Catholic
Church became clear of the apparent degradation of the Church. Despairing of the
worldliness and corruption, some longed for sanctity and purity: Anthony of Egypt (AD 250-
356) retreated into the wilderness to live a hermit’s life. Monk Benedict (AD 480-550) saw
the immorality of the Church in Rome and withdrew into the mountains and domiciled in a
cave for three years. Large numbers of seeking Catholics began gravitating to him and
formed the early monastic movement. Under the steady hand – and clever preaching – of
Bernard de Clairvaux (AD 1090-1153), monasticism acquired widespread popularity and
swept the Catholic world. The “honey-tongued doctor”, as Bernard was called, held sway
with several popes and was highly regarded. It is worthy to note that separation from the
world was a powerful motivation that drove seeking Catholic believers who agonized over
the corruption and immorality of the Church into the ascetic monastic movement. It is
equally worthy to note that they, however, never fully separated themselves from the
It was precisely the unwillingness to separate from the Catholic Church that doomed many
good-intentioned reforms by godly men within the Church. St. Francis of Assisi (AD 1181-
1226) is a case in point. Francis was born to a wealthy family and lived a life of luxury until
his adulthood. After a few setbacks as a knight in shining armor, he began to change his
views and ways on life. Having given away his possessions, he chose to live among the
poor of the land. His simplicity and devotion won him a following which resulted in the
pope's acquiescence in approving a new order, the Franciscan Priesthood. His zeal for
reform within the Catholic Church, however, was hijacked and doomed. May this be a
lesson to us: any true reforms that come from the Lord cannot be carried out within the
parameters of the existing and corrupt religious system, as the Lord taught that “new wine
cannot be contained in old wineskin”.
The Papal System
Regarding the institution of the papal system, although the Catholics claim the apostle
Peter as their first pope and can produce a list of names for each succeeding popes, true
Christians never bought in to such audacious claim. It may be debatable as to who was the
real first pope. A case can be made that Emperor Gratian (AD 360) gave up his title of
“Pontifex Maximus” to his favorite Bishop of Rome who became the first pope (Damascus
I) under whom the preeminence of the Roman see was asserted.
Pontifex Maximus originated in a pagan religion in Babylon. The seat of this cult gradually
crept west, first to Pergamum, then to Rome, and it was adopted as a Roman religion with
the Emperor being the head of this cult thus wearing the crown of Pontifex Maximus (aside
from his Emperor’s crown) until Gratian relinquished it to pope Damascus I.
From that time on, each succeeding pope, now Pontifex Maximus, grew more lustful after
not only spiritual dominance, but also political dominance, to the degree that some popes
even managed to depose kings from their thrones! And along with power came
tremendous wealth with the sale of the notorious “Indulgence Certificates”. By this time the
Church, shackled with corruption, immorality, and idolatry, finally slipped deeply into the
“Dark Ages”, and brought the Roman world with it. All these things came about as the
Bible, the Word of God, was locked away in chains causing a pall of darkness to descend
upon the whole inhabited earth.
The Thin Scarlet Line
Lest we be overly distraught with the failures and apostasy of the Catholic Church, it will be
well to consider the Lord’s character of graceful lowliness and His way of non-striving, for
they are the essence of how He prepares and preserves His true testimony. The way that
our King of glory came as a lowly Lamb and walked among us in frail humanity, to the way
that He was led to the slaughter without murmur or vindicating for Himself, He showed us
the true testimony of Jesus. His teaching of offering the other cheek, going the second
mile, the last shall be the first, the least shall be the greatest, being like little children,
deferring all glory to the Father, not doing anything without the Father’s will, being obedient
unto death, etc. show us the secret of living His life the way it is intended to be lived.
Jesus lived His life under the shadow of the cross from the day He was born to the day He
was crucified. Sometime after birth, the child Jesus was presented with gold, frankincense,
and myrrh by the wise men from the East. Gold symbolizes divinity; frankincense
symbolizes resurrection; myrrh indicates suffering and death. After Christ’s crucifixion,
Nicodemus came with a hundred pounds of myrrh mixed with aloes (Jn. 19:39) intending
on embalming Jesus’ body. From birth to death, Jesus lived a life of the cross. To the un-
regenerated, and in the eyes of the world, this is utter foolishness. But this is precisely God’
s way of accomplishing things. He does it by the principle of the cross.
The apostle Paul tells us that “we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to
Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the
power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men,
and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (I Cor. 1:23-25). The natural mind simply
cannot comprehend how foolishness and weakness can amount to anything at all. The
whole world craves for fame and glory, strength and power. The Hollywood culture, the
sports superstars, the rock star musicians sum up natural men’s insatiable desire for
sensual stimulation and hero-worship. This kind of culture also spills over into the Church
as Christians are increasingly mesmerized by outward glory, power, and eloquence. And
churches that exploit this culture reap their rewards in increased membership rolls, not to
mention financial gains.
But underneath all the rumbles of sights and sound, pomp and circumstance, the Lord has
been preparing His testimony quietly. In fact, He has been preparing a thin scarlet line of
remnants who have been marching out of Babylon back to Zion for the last two thousand
years! Unless we turn our eyes away from the hypes and the sensational, and turn our ears
back to the Holy Spirit’s still small voice, we will miss this quiet march of the remnants.
To illustrate this point, there is a familiar passage in Ezekiel 47:1-12. There we see a little
trickle of water seeping out of the house of God from under the threshold. After measuring
a thousand cubits, the water reaches the ankles; after measuring another thousand cubits,
the water reaches the knees; after measuring again a thousand cubits, water would reach
the loins. Upon measuring yet another thousand cubits, it becomes a river that cannot be
forded, for the water has risen.
Most Christians agree that water in the Bible symbolizes life, and river symbolizes the
fullness of life. The divine life which we first received at our re-birth comes as a trickle. Then
the Holy Spirit deals with us, as we journey forward, with a wonderful intention of sanctifying
and maturing us. When we were born-again, we received sanctification positionally. We
became children of God. From then on, we have a need to grow and mature unto sonship;
for this we need the Holy Spirit to deal with us as with sons. Hebrews 12:6 tells us that “For
those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.”
This is the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctifying us dispositionally.
Early in Paul’s life, each time the Holy Spirit tried to deal with him, he would “kick against
the goads”. We probably do it far more frequently than Paul – I know I do. The Lord doesn’t
chasten us because He enjoys punishing us. No! Just the opposite; He does it because He
loves us! He wants to mature us. He wants to make us useful. It is by sanctifying us
dispositionally, our little trickle becomes a torrent! Shall we not welcome the Lord’s
dealings? Lord, make us willing!
Ezekiel 47 expresses the same sentiment with the word, “measuring”. In the Bible, to
measure is to possess. When the children of Israel entered the Good Land, Joshua was to
measure out portions of the land for each tribe to possess. Now, when the Lord measures
us, it means that the Lord wants to possess us. No one knows better than the Lord what
parts of us need measuring. And I am certain that when the Lord measures us, we’d all
agree – though we may not like it – that it is precisely the thing that needs to be dealt with
by the Lord. After the Lord is done measuring, there will be a corresponding maturity; and it
will bear fruit in time.
Similarly, in Ezra 8:33-34, the silver, gold, and utensils that Ezra brought back from
Babylon to the house of God had to be “weighed out” by the priests. In New Testament
terms, this means that each time brothers and sister gather (as the house of God), we all
should bring a portion of the riches of Christ to share with each other. As we listen and
consider each other’s sharing, we are “weighing out” the fellowship to discern – and
appreciate – the weightiness of the sharing. Sometimes the sharing is full of Christ; other
times, not so much. If our fellowship does not strike an accord with the saints, don’t be
upset – we’re all learning. The important thing to remember is, as Paul puts it, “each one
has” and “all can prophesy” (I Cor. 14).
Actually, to let our “fellow priests” weigh out our sharing is very beneficial to us. If our
sharing hits a wall and bounces right back, then we should be sensing that the Holy Spirit
may be trying to tell us something. We should go back and deal with the Lord to see what
He may be saying or correcting. I, for one, cannot say enough as to how much I have
benefited over the years from the Holy Spirit’s correcting when I shared something in the
gathering without much gold or silver or useful “utensil” in it. So, next time your sharing falls
flat, or some dear brothers and sisters disagree with your sharing, do not lose heart, the
Holy Spirit is about to speak to you and raise your spiritual understanding to another level.
After all, iron sharpens iron, does it not?
It is quite detrimental that many churches only have one designated speaker giving out his
single portion of silver, gold, or utensil. All other priests, which we all are, have been
relegated to pew-sitters, and not allowed to exercise their portions in gold, silver, or
utensils. When the priests are forbidden to share their portions and forbidden to measure
the weight of the speaker’s sharing, the house of God is robbed! We have allowed the
enemy to plunder the house of God.
In all fairness, there is a time and place for the prophet to exercise his unique portion and
timely message for the whole church, such as what we see in Paul’s missionary journeys.
And who can deny that we all need such a prophetic ministry of the word desperately? But
after “Paul” leaves, the normal daily and weekly functions of the church should resume with
everyone sharing their portions and “weighing out” each other’s silver, gold, or utensils. By
the way, I think that we pay too much attention to the weighty portions of silver and gold to
the neglect of the practical “utensils”. Our “preacher-centric” culture has left us with itching
ears for weightier messages – with all due respect for preachers and weighty messages.
Even Paul at times doles out practical “utensils”, if I may. Ever notice his practical advice to
Timothy who suffers frequent stomach ailments? A true spiritual man is one whose head
may be in heaven, but his feet are on the earth. One of the problems with some brothers
and sisters may be that their heads are stuck in heaven, and their feet are dangling in the
Perhaps it’s time to start appreciating some practical fellowship from the ones who might
be too intimidated to share their “utensils”. Let us reconsider the little trickle of water
seeping out from under the threshold in the house of God. Another way to look at this
passage is that the little trickle represents the remnants. The remnants are not only
quantitatively small in number; their littleness is a reflection of the lowliness of the Lamb, the
unassuming humility of the Son of God, the unglamorous nature of Christ. This little trickle
of water is barely seeping out; it doesn’t even have the volume or strength to overflow the
threshold – notice how it seeps from underneath the threshold! And it is such a weak
stream that it cannot even keep a straight course – it trickles to the “right of the house”, and
“to the south of the altar”. And when the angel brought Ezekiel outside of the east gate to
look, the water was “trickling from the south side” of the gate. Such a weak stream! “Lord,
You have pushed this weakness thing to an extreme!”, we would likely be quick to protest.
But, such is the way of the Lord. And such is the true testimony of the remnants. Paul
realized this secret when he said, “When I am weak, then I am strong”. In fact, Paul would
rather “boast” in his weakness! To the Church in Philadelphia, the best of the lot, the Lord
says, “You only have a little strength”.
It is totally opposite of human mindset – this business about the Lord’s way. Human
mindset wants great power and great fanfare. Religious mindset wants great strength and
great endowment to do the Lord’s work. But the Lord only gives a little strength, so that no
flesh should boast before God. Paul says it best: “For consider your calling brethren, for
there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God
has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the
weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the
world and the despised, God has chosen; the things that are not, that He might nullify the
things that are, that no men may boast before God” (I Cor. 1:26-28).
For sure, the Lord wants man to do His work. But He does not need a powerful man, a
capable man, or an eloquent man. As a matter of fact, He will wait until our natural power,
ability, and wisdom are reduced and weakened before He can do His work in, through, and
out of us. He needed but a little lad overlooked and despised by everyone, including his
father and siblings, to fell the giant Goliath. He would wait until Moses is old and frail – not
to mention stuttering – before He commissions him for His work. And so it is with the
remnants that carry the torch in the thin scarlet line of testimony.
Although the thin trickle of water eventually becomes a mighty torrent after repeated
measuring, it does not mean that what starts out small and weak should end up big and
strong. It simply implies that the repeated dealings from the Lord will eventually mature a
man so that the Lord can finally bear fruit through him without the hindrance of his flesh and
his natural ability. Didn’t Abraham finally bear fruit in Isaac when he was 99 and “as good
Waldenses (AD 70-1700)
Now we are ready to consider some of the ones in history who carried the torch and
marched in the thin scarlet line of the Lord’s testimony. When the Church was being
severely persecuted by the ruthless Roman emperors during the first three hundred years,
many saints fled north into the Italian Alps and found refuge in the valleys. Very possibly,
some also left because they wanted to separate themselves from the increasingly hostile
Church that was becoming “Catholic”. They continued in the doctrines and practices
handed down by the apostles. They had an open Bible; they fellowshipped with each other;
they partook of the Lord’s table in remembrance of Him; they gathered for worship; they
practiced priesthood of all believers; they prayed; they shared the gospel; and they
baptized new believers…. Equally significant was the fact that they never participated in
the visible apostate Church.
They took no name for themselves as they preferred to call each other “brethren”. The few
full-time workers among them were called “barbis”. Since they lived in the valleys of the
Alps, they were referred to as the “Valleces” – people of the valleys. Later, they were called
“Valdeces”, or “Waldenses” in English, among a few other names.
As the Catholic Church grew more and more vile, corrupt, idolatrous, and apostate, she
viewed the Waldenses as heretics and conspired with the government authority to wage
campaigns to wipe them out. We know little about them other than what their detractors
wrote about them. Since the Catholic Church had become apostate and antagonistic,
whatever charges she brought against the brethren actually painted a bright picture of the
true faith in Christ and biblical practices of those whom she branded “heretics”.
As the persecutions grew fiercer, many of the brethren scaled the mountains and fled into
the French Alps for sanctuary. Thousands of the brethren were martyred for their beliefs
and practices. As a matter of contrast, the difference between the highly visible Catholic
Church and the hidden and lowly Waldenses could not have been sharper. The visible
Church was intoxicated with the kings of the world and bent on destroying the lowly and
hidden brethren who quietly carried the torch of the Lord’s testimony. The contrast of these
two lines also reminds us of the lowliness of the Lamb of God as the brethren were
slaughtered and driven from place to place.
For a large part of the early centuries, no individual brethren stood out as having a stature
of a spiritual giant. They were grassroots people and all stood firm for what they believed.
And many among them paid a price with their blood for it. Yet they grew and spread in
spite of the persecutions. It is as one of the early Church Fathers, Tertullian (AD155-220),
said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”.
Then in the 12th century a change began to take place. Peter Waldo, a wealthy merchant
from Lyons, France, received the gospel and became a seeking Christian. From his study
of the Bible, he felt the Lord calling him to dispose of his worldly riches and to serve Him.
He began to share the gospel among the poor. With his zeal and eloquence, many people
came to the Lord and gathered around him. Because of his high profile and many travels,
he drew the attention of the Catholic Church. In his travels he came to know and help many
brethren who were scattered among the Alpine valleys. Many of them were encouraged
and revived in their love for the Lord from Waldo’s preaching. It is not difficult to imagine
how the brethren responded to his preaching and rallied around him as their leader. Since
Waldo became a target of the Roman Church, the brethren around him were lumped
together and named as the “Waldenses” by the detractors. Because Waldo was driven
from place to place, he was able to spread the gospel and inspire many simple gatherings
in many places. Waldo eventually died in Bohemia in AD 1217.
The Waldenses movement was mainly a grassroots movement. Many of the faithful
followers were farmers, carpenters, bakers, blacksmiths, shoemakers, etc. Although
lacking in men of spiritual stature, they had an open Bible and adhered to the teaching of
the apostles. In the midst of the Dark Ages, they stood as a beacon of light. Without even
trying, these lowly farmers, bakers, and shoemakers were able to influence a great number
of spiritual men whom the Lord would raise up years later. Their Bible-based beliefs and
practices dispelled darkness, calmed troubled breasts, and inspired seeking souls not only
in their times, but in generations to come. The Lord was able to entrust them with His torch
of the testimony as they quietly marched in a thin scarlet line.
Some have even suggested that Francis of Assisi had been influenced by Waldo since
they both lived in the same time period, and Francis of Assisi followed almost the same
pattern as Waldo in his conversion to Christ and giving away all his earthly riches. It has
also been suggested that the pope even approved two new orders of the Catholic
priesthoods due to his perceived threats of influence from the Waldenses. The order of the
Franciscan Priesthood was approved to counter the influence of the Waldenses among the
poor. An order of the Dominican Priesthood was approved to counter the influence of the
preaching of the Waldenses because of their knowledge of the Word. The Franciscan
monks specialized in their charitable work among the poor; and the Dominican monks
specialized in studying the Scriptures and preaching the Word.
Now, if we can go back and revisit our Bible theme verses in Ezek. 47:1-12 we can see the
deepening of the river that started out as a mere weak trickle. It is not far-fetched to
superimpose the progress of this river with the lowly and weak Waldenses movement. Like
the measuring of the river, they too, have been tried and found faithful. Although they did
spread to many places, the Waldenses cannot be considered as a major force in terms of
number or size. Besides, they never had a central governing body to plot the course or
strategize in order to exert maximum impact. But in terms of their far-reaching spiritual
influence, they were indeed a torrent in turbulent times. And, like the fruit-bearing trees on
the banks of the river, the fruit of the Waldenses also speaks for their deepening maturity.
Allow me to reiterate: as long as we recognize our lowly and wretched state as mere men,
and as long as we cling fiercely to the Lord, He will make us His remnants and entrust us
with His torch of the testimony.
As mentioned before, Peter Waldo died in Bohemia where he had labored extensively and
borne much fruit for Christ. John Huss (AD 1369-1415) was a theologian and confessor to
the Queen of Bohemia. His teachings were influenced by the Waldenses and by John
Wycliff of England. One hundred years before Martin Luther, Huss was already teaching
salvation being apart from the works of the law, and it is by grace through faith alone.
Needless to say, this incurred the wraths of the Catholic Church in the form of severe
persecutions. He was ordered to retract his teaching and writings, but with humility and
courage, he agreed to retraction only if he could be proven wrong by the Scriptures. Before
he was to be burned at the stakes, he quipped that though he was going to be roasted as a
goose (his name means “goose”), a hundred years later, there will arise out of the ashes a
swan that the Church cannot touch. Prophetically, one hundred years later, Martin Luther
burst onto the scene with his provocative “Ninety-Five Theses” that set Europe ablaze and
shook the core of the apostate Church.
The 1500s saw a flurry of spiritual activities as the Bible was being translated and printed
in many languages and put into the hands of common people. As a result, the pall of
darkness that descended on the whole earth began to lift as the light from the Word of God
illuminated the hearts of men. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli recovered
much of the truths in the Bible that had been hitherto veiled by the Catholic Church.
The recovery work, however, did not go far enough as each of the three men of God was
hamstrung by their ties with the political world. In the cases with Luther and Zwingli, the ties
were deeper whereas with Calvin, the tie was more subtle.
At the Diet of Worms, Luther was ordered to retract all his teachings and books, or face the
threat on his life. He famously replied, “My conscience is captive only to the Word of
God…I will not retract.” Luther then came under the protection of the Elector of Saxony,
Frederick the Wise, who shielded him from the pope who had banned Luther which
opened the way for anyone to kill him. The Lutheran Church began to develop as the State
Church, and it soon calcified to the disappointment of Luther. He said that he wished there
could be a small and pure church within the larger Lutheran Church where members of the
body of Christ could function as the Bible intended. So, he was powerless to implement his
vision fully due to political considerations and limitations.
Zwingli at around the same time ministered in Zurich, Switzerland. His vision was clear, but
his ties with the city hall (Rathaus) kept him from implementing all, especially the
practice of believer’s baptism. However, three of his students, Grebel, Manz, and Blaurock
boldly plowed ahead with tireless travels, preaching, and celebrating the Lord’s Supper
(aka Breaking of Bread), implementing everything they knew and holding public baptisms
for the newly saved. The Council from the city hall singled out believer’s baptism as
forbidden activity; but it only increased the activity of the three. People came by the
hundreds to hear the preaching and to be baptized. The persecution became widespread.
Those who practiced believer’s baptism were drowned, including Manz. It is extremely sad
to learn that the so-called “Reformers” went after, with cruelest of means, the fellow-
reformers who wanted to be faithful to the Lord and to the Scriptures. These true reformers
were labeled “Anabaptists” in a derogatory way. So the thin scarlet line marched on….
It seemed plausible that the various reformed churches included worldly-minded and
perhaps even unsaved people due to the fact that the Church now is sanctioned by the
state; and that the state has a strong voice in judging issues related to the Church. Under
this system, those true and serious believers wishing to press on further in the thin scarlet
line would be persecuted.
The year 1532 is a signpost year for the Waldenses brethren. The Reformers from various
backgrounds came to the Italian Alps for a conference with the Waldenses brethren. They
gathered in a forest clearing called Chanforan in the Angrogna Valley. The purpose of the
conference was to explore if the two camps could join forces.
As the Reformers began detailing the various truths and practices that have been
recovered, the Waldenses interjected that all these items have long been their practices
and firmly-held biblical doctrines. “We have no need for reform, because we never lost
them!" came the reply from the Waldenses brethren. At this point, one could easily
conclude that the conference would end in failure. Indeed, the Waldenses were centuries
ahead of the Reformers in terms of the light from the Scriptures, in terms of holding fast the
doctrines of the apostles, and in terms of all the biblical practices. But, amazingly, the
Waldenses agreed to be assimilated into the Reformed Church!
Possibly, the Reformers enticed the embattled Waldenses brethren with some relief from
persecution as some of the Reformers enjoyed freedom and protection in their respective
regions. Therefore, it stands to reason that the Waldenses would also come under the
umbrella by joining them. Reportedly, some of the Waldenses leaders balked at the idea,
but acquiesced to the majority who favored the idea. One other thing, in joining the
Reformed Church, the Waldenses agreed to embrace all the rules set by the Reformers
such as: conforming to all church administrations, instituting pastoral system, performing
prescribed liturgies…. It amounted to a wholesale surrender!
At this juncture, one would be inclined to say that this Chanforan Conference is a telltale
sign of the decline of the Waldenses movement. Since the very inception of the brethren of
the Italian Alps (approximately at the end of 1st century AD), persecution has been a
way of life for the remnants who stood firm on the Word of God carrying the torch of the
testimony of Jesus marching in a thin scarlet line. They were “measured” again and again
by the persecutions only to have their spiritual capacity deepened each time. Their
fruitfulness confirmed their Spirit-deepened flow just like the trickle turned into a river in
Ezekiel 47. So, their fear of persecution now would suggest that a spiritual declension has
taken place for some time.
Another crucial year that suggests declension is the year 1555. This was the year that
permission was granted by the authority for the Waldenses to build their first churches. A
number of such churches went up this year in the Italian Alps. They all celebrated their first
“churches”. Again, we have to say that this is yet another sign of their degradation. Since
when is the physical building the church? The Waldenses claimed to hold fast all the
biblical teachings, then we have to believe that they also held fast the Lord’s teaching and
the apostles’ teaching that the believers in Jesus Christ being the body of Christ, the
church. The building or structure was never the church! The Waldensians must have known
it and held it dear to their hearts and put in practice for hundreds of years, if not longer.
For the first 1,500 years or so, they had no official church buildings, for they WERE the
church! Sure, they might’ve met in homes, barns, or various buildings; but they never called
those buildings the church. Buildings became churches came from a pagan emperor in
313 AD! Furthermore, the church includes all the believers in any given town or village, not
just the ones that gathered with them in a building. This is the true biblical concept of the
church; and evidently the Waldenses treasured and practiced it. Until 1555.
Spiritual declension does not happen overnight. Peter Waldo traveled far and wide
covering all the Alpine villages encouraging and edifying the brethren. A Waldensian
revival must have broken out due to Waldo’s ministry. Then he died in Bohemia in 1217
where he had labored and planted many seeds. The voice of the Waldenses went silent
some years after that. Instead, the Bohemian Church was revived being led by their local
brethren John Huss and Peter Cheltschizki (in the 1400s). By the 1700s, the wide-spread
influence once enjoyed by the Waldenses was no more as they were assimilated by either
the Presbyterian Church or the Methodist Church.
Since Waldo was mightily used by the Lord in preaching the word, making converts for the
kingdom, and raising up new assemblies in the Waldensian way of simple gathering, could
it be that the eyes of the brethren which formerly fixed firmly on Jesus, now fixated on their
capable leader? Or could it be that – God forbid – pride had crept in knowing they were the
Remnant with a capital R? There really is no need to force an answer here. It is enough to
know that eyes off of Jesus is always the root cause of degradation. And it can happen to
any assemblies, Waldenses or otherwise. May the Lord help us keep our eyes firmly fixed
The Moravian Brethren
Although the Reformation started out well, it finished poorly. It is very interesting that the
church in Sardis in Rev. 3:2 corresponds with the time of Reformation. The Lord rebuked
her for her incomplete work. The work of the Reformed Church was definitely
incomplete. The Lutheran Church has calcified and become a State Church where all
citizens born in the realm of Saxony, later in all Germany, were automatically members of
the Church. Infant baptism never was repudiated – not even by Luther himself as he tried to
justify it when questioned by Menno Simon of Holland. Later even some Lutheran churches
have gone back to emphasizing doing good works, as though by them one might merit
salvation! Under this backdrop, the German Pietism was born. In 1675 Philipp Spener
proposed a “heart religion” to replace the dominant “head religion”. The University of Halle
became a center of Pietist movement where Ludwig Nicolai von Zinzendorf (1700-1760)
was a student.
Count Zinzendorf was born in nobility. He came from a line of godly people. His father died
a few weeks after the birth of Nicolai. So the young Zinzendorf was raised by a godly
grandmother. He learned to converse with the Lord Jesus as intimately as with a
friend at a tender age. At 6, he would write love poems and float them out of his castle
window, and charge angels to take them to Jesus. Spener, a frequent guest of the family,
noticed something very special about the young Zinzendorf.
After getting his law degree and doing a bit of travel, Count Zinzendorf settled for work.
Then came a man named Christian David from the persecuted Moravian Church. He was
searching for a place of refuge for his fellow-believers, and presented his story to Count
Zinzendorf who listened with great compassion and interest. After obtaining a large track of
land from his devout grandmother, Zinzendorf opened his estate to the refugees from
Moravia, and later from Bohemia as well.
They began building houses and doing farming in what became known as Herrnhut. These
new immigrants came from diverse Christian backgrounds each asserting their doctrines
and practices to be the best. Quarrels and backbiting were a common occurrence. The
gentle and lowly Zinzendorf started to visit the brethren house by house. Not long after, the
Holy Spirit began to move in the hearts of these brethren. One day, as they came together
for the breaking of bread in remembrance of the Lord, the Holy Spirit fell among them, and
tears of repentance flowed as they repented to each other. It was a memorable day that
none would forget. The Lord’s love constrained them to love each other in spite of any
The fire of missionary zeal also ignited among them. They began a round-the-clock prayer
vigil that lasted for 100 years! The Moravian missionaries were sent out into many parts of
the world. In the 1700s, while on a sea voyage to America for the spread of the gospel,
John Wesley met a group of Moravian Brethren on the ship. As they encountered a violent
storm, Wesley panicked in fear along with other shipmates. But upon seeing the peaceful
demeanor of the Moravian Brethren who showed no fear, Wesley was greatly amazed.
When the Moravian Brethren asked him if he was saved, he could not answer. This
episode was recorded and on display at the John Wesley House in England to this day.
Later, John Wesley paid the Moravian Brethren a visit in Herrnhut. He was so impressed
with what he saw, he wrote that he wished he could stay there forever….
The Moravian Brethren left us a good example of what the church in Philadelphia, aka the
church of brotherly love, should be like.
The Plymouth Brethren
At the end of the Moravian Brethren’s one hundred-year round-the-clock prayer vigil, the
Holy Spirit began stirring in the hearts of seeking Christians in Ireland and England. Around
1825, there was a young dental student by the name of Edward Cronin. He came from a
Roman Catholic background, later was converted to genuine faith in Jesus Christ. After
getting his dental degree, he remained in Dublin, Ireland and enjoyed attending Christian
church meetings. Some months later he would be approached by the church leaders for his
consent to sign up to become a member of that church. He would refuse on the ground that
he was born-again into the church; and that by signing to become a member of one church,
he would contribute to the alienation from other Christian churches.
After searching the Scriptures and much agonizing prayers, it was confirmed to him that
there was no scriptural ground to denominate based on doctrinal, or any other
considerations. The practice of one-man ministry also became repugnant to him. Thus he
was led to simple gathering in his home with two of his nieces and other brethren.
In 1827 J.N. Darby and J.G. Bellett joined him, as they also independently discovered the
same truths from the Bible regarding the oneness of the body of Christ and other truths.
Soon the Holy Spirit enlightened many like-minded brethren all over England and as far
away as America. They also took no name for themselves and preferred to call each other
“brethren”. The historians and others assigned them the name “Plymouth Brethren” which
they did not accept.
Through their love of the Word and their desire to search out the unsearchable riches of
Christ hidden in the Word, the Lord was able to accomplish the things that were left
unfinished by the Reformers. What most Christians today regard and hold fast as
fundamental teachings and biblical practices were largely recovered by the Brethren. They
wrote hundreds, if not more, of books and pamphlets expounding the Word of God; and
they would not even print the authors’ names on their books preferring to use only their
initials instead. It has been said that a lowly cook among the Brethren knew more about the
Bible and the Lord than even missionaries.
Watchman Nee attributed the spiritual impact of the Brethren as being much deeper and
far-reaching than that of Reformation. D.L. Moody once said that if the books of the whole
world were to be confiscated, he would keep only two books: the Bible and C.H.M’s “Notes
on the Pentateuch”; C.H.M. being the noted Brethren C. H. Mackintosh. Henry Ironside said
that whether they knew it or not, most, if not all, God’s people have benefited from the
teachings of the Brethren either directly or indirectly.
The precious Bible in the hands of the Plymouth Brethren became an open book with light
that illuminated every seeking Christian. Their insights regarding Old Testament typology,
prophecy, the Church, the headship of Christ in His Church, the universal priesthood of all
the believers, the Lord’s second coming, kingdom, rapture – to name but a few – were
unprecedented. Yet they remained largely hidden and unknown because they never
resorted to promoting their books or themselves. The fact that they remained largely
unknown yet their spiritual impact shook the world, and their teachings shaped the
evangelical thinking should provide another instance that calls for the superimposing of
Ezekiel’s lowly trickle of water over the Brethren movement.
Unfortunately, the Brethren’s honeymoon only lasted twenty years. By 1847, a dispute
among them had split the Brethren into two major camps: the Exclusive Brethren, and the
Open Brethren. The heart of the dispute concerned Ben Newton’s disagreement with J.N.
Darby’s Dispensational teaching and his teaching on Rapture; Darby also disagreed with
Newton’s teaching of the Church being inclusive of Old Testament faithfuls from Abraham
During this tumultuous time of division, a lowly and saintly Brethren, Robert Chapman of
Barnstaple (1803-1902), opened his home to receive many disillusioned Brethren caught
in the quarrel. Through his ministry of love, many Brethren were encouraged and revived.
Since Chapman did not choose sides in the heated argument, the news of him receiving
the disenchanted Brethren riled some in Darby’s camp. The confidant of Darby plotted to
discredit Chapman, and the news reached Darby. He rebuked the ones who were plotting
such a thing saying, “We only preach about being in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
Brother Chapman already lives there….” So, the attempted discredit was thwarted by
Henry A. Ironside lamented, “The Brethren knew how to rightly divide the Word, but they
didn’t know how to rightly divide themselves.” Let it be a warning to us that even the very
ones who sounded the alarms about the wickedness of division in the body of Christ, fell
into the same trap.
The church should be a living organism, but once division cuts the organism into
fragmented pieces, lifeless organization invariably becomes the result with centralization
and pride as its usual by-products. Regarding the pride of the Plymouth Brethren,
Watchman Nee of China (1903-1972) was invited by its Exclusive branch (headed by
James Taylor) in London for a visit in the 1930s. Nee sneaked out one day for a visit
with T.A. Sparks, a non-Brethren. The Taylorites became upset and rebuked Nee, “We
have all the riches in Christ; you need not go anywhere else for fellowship.” It might well
have been true that the Plymouth Brethren amassed unprecedented volumes of spiritual
riches and biblical understanding, but the spirit of pride is the perpetual leakage that will
drain the strongest torrent dry! The church in Laodicea prided herself for having all the
riches and needing nothing. But the Lord sternly rebuked her as being “wretched,
miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3: 18).
May the remnants take heed and repent. When the remnants become calcified, the Lord
always goes outside the camp to raise up from despised and overlooked places a people
to carry on His thin scarlet line of testimony. After the fall of the Plymouth Brethren, the Lord
used Lightfoot, Wescott, and Moule – three successive Anglican archbishops to shed
exquisite light from His Word in the mid to late 1800s. The Lord has yet more light and
truths to spring forth from His Word – even from the Anglican Church! Could it be that the
Lord used these Anglican archbishops to show His impartiality toward His children, and to
rebuttal the Plymouth Brethren’s claim of exclusive light from His Word?
Deeper Life Movement
In the late 1800 to early 1900s, seeking Christians were driven by a yearning for deeper
spiritual life. The famous Keswick Convention officially began in 1875 and provided a
fitting venue for the pursuit of the deeper spiritual life. G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945),
Jessie Penn-Lewis (1861-1927), and T. Austin-Sparks (1888-1971), among others, were
frequent attendees of the convention; and they were instrumental in furthering the deeper
inner life movement. By then, the quality of the messages, and that of the messengers,
have scaled new heights in the spiritual landscape. The precious little trickle of water that
started seeping from the first century has deepened into a river that cannot be forded. Mrs.
Penn-Lewis’ messages on the dealings of the cross unlocked a secret to spiritual fullness.
Bro. Sparks’ messages on the centrality and supremacy of Christ elevated Christians’
understanding of Christ and His Church and broadened their visions on the eternal
purpose of God like never before! G. Campbell Morgan was lauded as a “man of the
Word”, and “prince of biblical expositors”. He would read a book of the Bible 40-50 times
before even attempting to study it. His monumental work, “The Crises of the Christ” was the
best on the life of Jesus.
Although each of these three was given a special and timely message for the 20th century
and beyond, they remained largely unknown or misunderstood in traditional Christian
circles. In fact, Bro. Sparks to this day is still evil spoken of in the Plymouth Brethren and
the Baptist circles. This serves as a reminder that a special and timely word from the Lord
is not necessarily a popular word for the majority of Christians. How we need the Lord’s
mercy to grant us renewed mind and hearing ears!
What’s in a Name?
There are a few interesting verses in Revelation chapters 2 & 3 that mention the word
“name”. To the overcomers in the church in Pergamum, the Lord said, “I will give him a
white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives
it” (2:17b). Then to the overcomers in the church in Sardis, He said, “I will not erase his
name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His
angels” (3:5b). The church in Philadelphia was known to have “a little strength”, and have
“kept His word”, and have “not denied His name” (3:8b). Furthermore, the overcomers in
the church in Philadelphia will be rewarded with being made into a pillar with the name of
God, the name of the city of God, the New Jerusalem, and the Lord’s new name written on
As noted regarding the Plymouth Brethren, having tremendous riches in the Word does not
equal to being the remnants. Likewise, returning to the biblical way of doing church does
not guarantee being the remnants. And the quality of the message is not synonymous to the
quality of the messenger. We have seen that through the centuries, the quality of the
messages was steadily improving. First there were the “people of the valleys” who held fast
the teaching of the apostles and various biblical practices. They were faithful in what the
Lord entrusted to them; and the Lord did not ask for more than what was given them. Then
Peter Waldo delved deeper into the Word and discovered more riches which fueled his
passion and zeal. A revival broke out among the people of the valleys, and they were
named the “Waldenses” from then on. Then the Bible-based teachings of the Waldenses
spread and impacted a number of priests and monks in the Catholic system such as John
Tauler and John Huss who in turn influenced Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich
Zwingli…. But as we retrace the history of the lowly remnants marching in a thin scarlet line,
we begin to see that although the quality of the messages improved progressively, the
quality of the messengers left a lot to be desired; the hitherto-mentioned Reformers are a
case in point.
Madam Jean Guyon in the 1600s provided an earlier sparkle in the improving inner quality
of the messengers with her gentle spirit and tender love for the Lord. Count Zinzendorf
added another bright spark in the progressive line of the inner quality. Although the
Plymouth Brethren showed a promising trend in improvement in the quality of the
messengers, their leaders soon tarnished it as squabbles broke out.
Finally, in the early 20th century, a definitive word was released to point us in the right
direction in terms of preparing the quality of the vessels for the Lord’s use. And that word
is: “cross”. Mrs. Penn-Lewis unlocked a secret to spiritual fullness through the dealings of
the cross. T.A. Sparks and Watchman Nee continued to expand the depth and scope of
this theme as the Holy Spirit uses the cross to prepare and adorn the inner beauty of His
With these being said, a few things seem to come into focus: the Holy Spirit is ever
travailing among men and women to fully restore the fullness of Christ. Although He does
restore the long lost biblical truths and practices, He is far more interested in forming and
constituting Christ in our inner being. The Lord is looking for a particular set of
characteristics in men and women whom He can use to carry His torch of the testimony.
This particular set of characteristics is all summed up in one word, “Christ”. Once the Holy
Spirit’s travails in man produced Christ in his inner constitution, he is ready to be used.
And the extent of his usefulness is dependent upon the amount of Christ that has been
constituted within. Without exception, all the failures of the foregoing remnants can be
attributed to this one thing – the shortage of Christ within.
At the start of every move of the Holy Spirit, men and women were “measured” – dealt with
– so that they could become suitable to carry the testimony forward. As long as they
remained humble and lowly, the Holy Spirit was able to carve out a course and deepen the
flow. The attribute of being humble and lowly in conjunction with the Holy Spirit’s deepening
flow should not surprise anyone because it is the very essence of the character of the
Lamb. It is the way of the cross. It is how the Lord uses the “foolish things”, the “weak
things”, the “despised”, and the “nothings”, to defy the wise, the strong, and the high-
minded, and so on. It is the thin scarlet line of the remnants upholding the Lord’s testimony
in triumph. The whole key element that secures the triumph is summed up in being willing to
take the way of the cross that would result in the Lamb-like humility and lowliness.
Interestingly, one way this key element was partially expressed – in at least three of the
historic remnants, namely, the Waldenses, the Moravian Brethren, and the Plymouth
Brethren – was in how they all refused to make a name or a title for themselves. They all
preferred to be called “brethren” and declined to accept the names which others forced
upon them. One thing that the fallen man desires is to make a name for himself, for he
covets vain glory. Ever since the tower of Babel, fallen men had desired to make a name
for themselves (Gen 11:4). Ironically, a vast number of Christians also covet to make
names for themselves – at least secretly. They name their churches; they name their
pastors putting them on church buildings, billboards, and bulletin boards; they promote their
names on TV and online.
It is possible that since the brethren refused to make a name for themselves that the Lord
promised the overcomers in the historical time period corresponding to the church in
Pergamum (AD 300-400) that they will receive a white stone with a new name which no
one knows except him who receives it. It is easier, in a way, to refuse to make a name
thereby reducing the chance for men’s applause; it is extremely difficult not to gloat when
the Lord rewards us with a new name. Herein lies a test as to whether one is an
overcomer: to receive a praise from the Lord for a job well done and be content to still
remain anonymous! This is only possible when the flesh has been thoroughly dealt with by
The Lord also will reward the overcomers in the church in Sardis (timeline: 1500-) with His
confession of their names before the Father and His angels. During the time of
Reformation, the single saddest thing was not in the fact that Christians were persecuted
by earthly rulers or by the Catholic Church; it was in the fact that they were persecuted by
their own Reformer brethren! Dear saints of God, may the Lord grant us grace that when
men revile us and smear our names with all manner of evils, we would hide ourselves in
Jesus’ bosom. And when our own Christian brothers and sisters look down on us and
relegate our work as trivial, may we wipe away our tears and look to Him for grace and find
comfort by His wounded side. And when men rally around and heap praises upon us for a
work well done, may we learn from the brethren who went before us that He is the One who
might confess our names before the Father.
The Lord praises the church in Philadelphia for having a little strength, for keeping His
word, and for not denying His name. For the overcomers in the church in Philadelphia, the
Lord promises to make them pillars in the temple of God and to inscribe the name of God,
the name of the city of God, and the Lord’s new name on the pillars. Incidentally, the
Plymouth Brethren fervently kept His word and insisted on putting the Lord’s name front
and center to the neglect of their own names. As a result, the Lord blessed them with
unprecedented outpouring of light from His word which far surpassed the recovery of His
word in the Reformation.
The trio set of names i.e. that of God, the city of God, and the Lord’s new name, indicate a
deep and intimate oneness with the Lord and understanding of His eternal purpose. When
a person is fully immersed and lost in God, he is no longer seen, as he becomes a channel
to express the wisdom and riches of God in many ways. We can see this in the apostle
Paul when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but
Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Again, we see this reality in Paul in Eph. 3:8-10, “To me, the
very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable
riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for
ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; in order that the manifold wisdom of
God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and authority in the
For a time, the Plymouth Brethren were indeed given grace to release the unsearchable
riches in Christ, to shed light on the mystery hidden in ages, and to display the manifold
wisdom of God. But in the end, they still fell short. What did they miss?
The Missing Piece
This discussion about “What’s in a Name?” should bring us to consider the way the
rebuilding of the house of God would be consummated. Contrary to what most Christians
believe, the laying of the final piece of capstone did not complete the rebuilding of the
house of God. It was finished when Ezra came back to “beautify” the house of God. Most of
the dear brothers and sisters who fancy themselves as the remnants did pay a price to exit
their religious “Babylon”. They are burdened to rebuild the house of God, the church, which
has been in ruins. Armed with a list of items: gathering in the simplicity of homes, doing
away with the clergy-laity system, having the priesthood of all believers, holding organic
meetings without preset time or place, doing spontaneous singing and praying, breaking
bread from house to house, celebrating the Lord’s table, loving each other…they set out to
rebuild the house of God. One by one, the items are being checked off; and the house of
God is finally being rebuilt. But wait, there is still one missing piece – and what a huge
missing piece that is!
So, what does “beautifying the house of God” mean in New Testament terms? Paul said in
Ephesians 5:26-27, “that He might sanctify her [the church] having cleansed her by the
washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself a church glorious, having
no spot, no wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.” This is
how our heavenly “Ezra” is going to beautify the house of God, the Church! The Lord is
sanctifying us in our inner disposition with His Word until we, the bride of Christ, are filled
There is another way to look at this sanctifying process in Ephesians 4:13, “until we all
attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to
the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” In case you may have
missed it, here is that word “measure” again. So the secret is the cross. The Holy Spirit
delicately and intricately molds, shapes, measures, forms, carves, chisels in our inner
being to conform us to the image of the dear Son of God. This is the beautification process
that will finally usher in the completion of the house of God, the church glorious!
In the last twenty centuries, the Lord has measured His remnants again, and again, and
again…. And the flow of water has been deepening. The lowly remnants also have been
tested, dealt with, and approved by the Lord. Finally, in our generation, the missing piece
of the beautifying of the house of God has been presented; and in many circles the quality
of the messengers are getting close to matching the quality of their messages. Lo, the thin
scarlet line of the testimony of Jesus quietly marches on. Are you hearing the sound of the
trickle getting louder?
The Remnants’ March
1) Saints of old marching onward,
Separated, looking above;
Drawn by Jesus, lived by His Word,
Cleared our paths, showed us His love.
2) 'Tis a journey ever upward,
Going through trials, tested and proved;
Marching to Zion through tribulations,
Many-a perils, many-a crowns.
3) Saints of God now ever vig'lant,
Learning to watch and learning to pray;
Blessed by His presence, kept by His grace,
Looking to Jesus, ent'ring His rest.