Historical Church Series: Early Church Heretics – Montanus the Spiritual Drunkard

Hello, beloved, I hope this post finds you all doing well. If you missed Tuesday’s post regarding essential Biblical doctrine you can find it here, although today’s heretic did not deny the virgin birth. There is a connection that I want to make, however, and that is with the sufficiency of Scripture. When we talk about essential doctrines of the faith it necessitates the need for God’s Word to be inerrant and sufficient. Often times cults, and ancient heresies require one or the other, and sometimes both, to be ignored. It was sufficiency that Montanus was attacking, as he would suggest he spoke directly for God, or more specifically the Paraclete.

Montanus came onto the scene around 160 a.d. with two women that claimed to be prophetesses. While his own writings have been lost to time, others wrote about him, including Eusebius and Tertullian. Before claiming to be a Christian prophet, Montanus was a priest of an ecstatic Oriental cult that worshipped Cybele the goddess of fertility. It does not appear that Montanus gave up much of the behaviors he learned in that cult, but changed his language to reflect that of the Christians. He and the two women claimed to be the fulfillment of John 14, 15, and 16 which had, rightly, been understood to have been fulfilled by the disciples themselves. Montanus also claimed that they were being filled with the Holy Spirit, and anyone who didn’t agree was simply not spiritual. They behaved, by all those who recounted it, as if they were possessed. They would go into trances, act wild as if they had no control of their movements, and then make prophecies. The majority of those prophecies would not come true, including the one that stated once they died Christ would return, bring the New Jerusalem, and the apocalypse. They were often called spiritual drunkards. That’s right beloved, there is nothing new under the sun, the Bethel folks did not invent the idea of being drunk in the spirit, Montanus and his two prophetesses’ did.

The early church was most disturbed by Montanus’ insistence on speaking first person for God, and his claim that the prophecies given were authoritative. God would, through His providence, use this to lead the 2nd-century church into clarifying the cannon. By this point in church history the cannon is closed, no new revelation is coming. There is agreement, for the most part, about what is theopneustos, or God-breathed. It was heretics like Montanus that would bring greater clarity to what was considered Scripture, and what was not. In this way, all things are used for good to those that believe. What some meant for evil, God meant for good, and the church was, during times of great persecution, still able to hold fast to the truths handed down. Unfortunately, we see a resurgence of Montanism today that is, for the most part, going unchecked. Men like Francis Chan are wrapping their arms around it, and embracing it as readily as they embrace ecumenism. I’m, of course, referring the the NAR and the WoF movements. Those who do not know church history are repeating it today.

At this point, I want to discuss Tertullian, with a warning to you, my dear friends. Tertullian was born in the middle of the 2nd century in Carthage, and indulged in the paganism of the day. Before the end of the century he was converted to Christianity, having been quoted as saying “Christians are not born, they are made”. His life changed radically at that point, he would go on to be a giant against heresy and the persecution coming from Rome. Unfortunately, towards the end of his life, Tertullian had some disagreements with the introduction of Greek philosophy into church by Clement of Alexandria. This disagreement eventually led him to leave the church and join the Montanists, who were stricter in many ways, and avoided philosophy. This not only gave credence to the Montanists, but also marred Tertullian’s reputation, and bolstered this heretical movement into the 3rd, and 4th centuries. There are times when we will disagree, this is why I’m writing about the essential doctrines, these are the areas we must separate over. To separate from sound believers over philosophy, and connect yourself with those denying Scriptural sufficiency makes very little sense. We can see that looking back, however, at the time I’m sure it looked very different. Tertullian had spent his life refuting Gnostics that were using the very same philosophy that was brought into the church. He felt that was a greater danger than Montanus. Believers today can learn two things from this, the first is that man is fallible, and the second is that we need to guard our hearts and renew our minds. I hope this series is a blessing to you all. As always, beloved brethren, be good Berean’s and study to show yourselves approved.

Author: lnhereford

I am a Christian, wife, mother, podcaster and homeschooler currently traveling the United States with my loving husband and darling daughter!

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