The Lord Jesus said that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. This means that true churches and true Christians will always exist on earth. This article highlights Biblical Christians who lived between the apostolic age (ending 100 AD) and the Protestant Reformation (1517 AD). Some of the information has been taken from The Pilgrim Church, E H Broadbent. A couple of preliminary clarifications:-
Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy developed their present structure after Emperor Constantine stopped the Roman policy of persecuting Christians. Below are groups of people characterized by their refusal to be part of this structure and their Biblical teachings/practices. History is written by the dominant majority (in this case the RCC), and we observe that the RCC and Eastern Orthodoxy have done the following to these "outside" groups:-
Here then are some of my medieval brothers and sisters in Christ:-
The ancient Christians of South India: Thomas the apostle reached South India around AD 52 and led not a few people to the Lord Jesus. It was only in AD 342 that they brought themselves under the "Syrian rite" and became "orthodox".
The ancient Christians of Persia and Syria: The book Le Christianisme dans l'Empire Perse sous la Dynastie Sassanide (224-632) by J. Labourt tells us that these churches remained in the Biblical (autonomous) pattern for longer than most churches in the Roman Empire. After the fourth century, these churches also gave in to pagan influences. Thus, there were many Biblical Christians in Persia and Syria before 400 AD.
Cathari (the pure ones) a general term for pre-Reformation Biblical Christians. Around 1200, the Italian inquisitor Reneiro Sacconi said that they extended from the Black Sea to the Atlantic.
The Priscillians of Spain, Portugal and France: Priscillian (?-385) was from a pagan Spanish background. After he got saved, he became an avid student of the Bible, a popular preacher and church leader. The RCC tried to destroy all his writings, murdered him and the Christians with him [they were the first Christians to be killed for their faith after Emperor Constantine], and made its historians claim that the Priscillians were Manichaeans and Gnostics (that is, heretics). However in 1886, Georg Schepss discovered eleven of Priscillians's works; it turned out that he was a Biblical Christian.
Thonraks, Paulicians, were nicknames given to groups of Biblical Christians in Armenia, Greece and Turkey during the period from 200 AD to 850 AD (a few of them survived in pockets till as late as 1750). One of their influential preachers was called Constantine Silvanus. Egged on by orthodox clergy, the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Pogonatus had him executed. The executioner, Simeon Titus was so impressed by the Biblical Christians who were willing to suffer for their faith that he became one. Emperor Pogonatus responded by burning alive Titus and others. Another Paulician preacher was Sergius (800-834). A woman asked him why he did not read the gospels. He replied that only priests might do this. She replied that God is no respector of persons. He read the gospels, got saved, and testified very effectively for Christ. He was cut into two with an axe by agents of the Orthodox Church. Although Leo IV was an iconoclast, the Orthodox Church managed to persuade him to allow an attack on the Paulicians. When idol worshiping Orthodox empress Theodora ascended the throne, she murdered about 100,000 persons between 842 and 867.
"Many generals and magistrates have given them over to the sword and, without pity, have spared neither old men nor children, and quite rightly. What is more, our patriarchs have branded their foreheads and burned into them the image of a fox...others again have put their eyes out, saying, 'You and blind to spiritual things, therefore you shall not look on physical things'"
This was the description of Gregory Magistros, agent of the Orthodox Church, who was repeating the exercise 200 years later.
Due to persecution by the Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire, these Biblical Christians were pushed into Serbia and then to Bosnia and Herzegovina. From there, they went evangelizing and won converts from Croatia, Dalmatia, Istria, Carniola and Slavonia. From 1203 onwards, the Pope pressurized the population to become Catholic. When this failed, he asked the Catholic king of Hungary to ravage Bosnia and launched an inquisition. In 1463, the Bosnian Biblical Christians in desperation refused to oppose the Muslim Turks who were approaching from the other direction, and Bosnia fell into Muslim rule.
Bogomils were Bulgarians between 950 and 1700 AD who became Biblical Christians as a result of the preaching of the Paulicians. The Bulgarian orthodox priest Cosmas (~1000 AD) said that Bogomils were "worse than demons". The orthodox father Gregory of Narek however, said of the Thonraks: "From a negative position as regards the [Orthodox] Church this sect has taken up a positive line of things and has begun to search out the foundation itself, the Holy Scriptures, seeking there pure teaching, sound guidance for the moral life".
Fed up of Orthodox persecution, the descendants of the Bogomils eventually gave in to seduction from Roman Catholic missionaries who offered them protection from the Orthodox Church. They are thus the ancestors of the Bulgarian Catholics.
Waldenses were Biblical Christians in the mountains of Northern Italy dating from apostolic times; "discovered" by the papacy around 1100 AD, they were subject to brutal persecution.
Albigenses were Biblical Christians in medieval southern France. They were the victims of a genocide orchestrated by Pope Innocent III in 1209 AD.
Beghards and Beguines: Communities of widowers and widows in medieval France, many of whom were Biblical Christians due to Albigensian influence.
The European trade guilds of the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries included a number of Biblical Christians (many of whom did not know the concerned trades!), since trade guilds were not monitored by the papacy as much as the rest of the population.
The Unitas Fratrum (United Brethren) was a group of Biblical Christians in (what is now) the Czech Republic, who made themselves publicly known as non-Catholics in 1467. They were partly the fruit that God gave John Hus. Some of these people later began to be called the Moravian Brethren and they pioneered the Western missionary movement that took the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Anabaptists were Biblical Christians in Northern Europe dating from the early Middle Ages. The Protestant Reformation gave them the courage to come out of their secrecy in 1524. Since they practiced Biblical baptism, Catholics nicknamed them "anabaptists". The RCC slandered them by linking them to a group of extremists in Munster, Germany. The name was later shortened to "baptist".
Some individuals were raised in the Catholic Church; they read the Bible and became true Christians (as we can deduce from their writings and actions), but they did not break away fully from the Catholic Church for the following reasons:-
Modern Biblical Christians like me who live in free countries and enjoy excellent study resources have no right to condemn them. Some of these "Catholics" are as follows:-
Claudius of Turin (?-839) was an avid student of scripture. He rejected apostolic succession, the papacy, and removed all the idols from his "parish church".
Marsiglio of Padua (1270-1342) was a scholar from Bavaria (South East Germany). In his Defensor Pacis, he shows how the Biblical concept of church is completely different from the hierarchical meaning given to it by the RCC And Eastern Orthodoxy.
Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria (South East Germany) opposed Pope Boniface VIII when the latter claimed that submission to the Pope was necesary for salvation. Johannes Tauler (1291-1361) was a Dominican monk and popular preacher who supported the emperor. His writings suggest that he was a Biblical Christian.
Jan Hus (John Huss) (1372-1415) was a Catholic priest from (what is now) the Czech republic who was saved by his reading of the Bible. He preached his new found truth in his "parish". Only eternity will reveal how many people became true Christians because of his preaching. Emperor Sigismund promised him safety, but, threatened with the damnation, relented, and handed him over to the Catholic authorities who flung him in a dungeon and then burned him alive.
John Wycliffe (1328-1384) was an English priest who got saved when he read the Bible. Realizing the importance of the Bible for all, he translated the Bible from Latin to English. The RCC tried to murder him, but since he had some powerful well wishers, it had to settle with desecrating his grave. Those influenced by Wycliffe came to be known as the Lollards. The image shows "Lollard Pit" in Norwich, England, site of numerous Catholic-inspired murders of Lollards.
Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) was a Dutch scholar, ordained as a Roman Catholic priest, though it is doubtful he ever served in that capacity. He wrote stinging critiques of the RCC and published the first printed Greek New Testament.