Posted: March 27, 2007 Filed under: Patristic Church History
A Review of James D. Smith III, “Montanism: An Early Charismatic Movement?”
He is a professor at Bethel Theoligcail Seminary West, in SanDiego, Califonia where he is an Associate Professor of Church History. His study as been: A.B., San Diego State University; M.Div., Bethel Seminary; Th.M., Harvard Divinity School; Th.D., Harvard University.
A man named Montanus in the year 157 started to prophesy in the name of the Holy Spirit. Later he was joined by two prophetesses by the names of Maximilla and Priscilla. They claimed they were sent to cal all the believers to prepare themselves for a “heavenly descent” to the New Jerusalem. This new movement had spread by the 170’s and the prophets held to the claim that they had direct revelations from God and their utterances were treasured and kept as authoritative teachings. These revelations were held in a trance like state and were exciting, fresh, new and held the hearts and minds of congregations around the area! Not only was this very experiential but these prophets were very emphatic about holding to many practical holiness deeds. These deeds were in the form of fasting, issues of marriage, asceticism, and spiritual healings. In a treatise, Tertullian, a famous convert, says about a new sister that had come amongst them, “she converses with angels and sometimes even with the Lord. She both sees and hears mysterious communications.” This movement was not without opposition however, in 192, Serapion who was the bishop of Antioch said that this was a “lying organization” that was an abomination. Many opposing bishops in this time held to five main objections of this new movement:
1. ”Abnormal Ecstasy”, which is being in a frenzy that is not controlled by the spirit.
2. No controls, in which the new prophets refused to submit to the practice of discernment.
3. Worldliness was played out in the lives of the followers in questionable financial dealings, gambling, makeup and outward adornment.
4. Extra-Scriptural revelation that was held to a higher esteem than the actual Holy Scriptures.
5. False Prophecies that ended up being falsehoods and were not fulfilled.
Although there were many teachers that opposed these teachings many did not outwardly condemn it. Even the great heresy hunter, Epiphanius did not find any major falsities in these people and their teachings. By the 4th Century the enthusiasm once held for this movement had died out and Tertullian who wrote many books on it, became the last major figure. There are debates by historians on the issue of the how the church handled the “twin stewardship of church authority and spiritual power”. Many would argue for the view that the condemnation of the movement kept the people from creating any more dissention. Another way of thinking was that Paul’s warnings about “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. Do not treat prophecies with contempt” passage was not adhered to by the people.