Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Church History - Montanists

I developed a recent interest in church history, no that's a lie - I've always been interested in it but this summer I decided to do something about it. I do agree with George Santayana that, 'Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.' One of my church leaders lent me 'Church History - A Crash Course for the Curious' by Christopher Catherwood. I am only a couple of chapters in, but I have already learnt a lot - about evangelicalism, various denominations that have risen and died through the ages, and how the church has stood the test of time. It's a great book that I highly recommend to all you 'curious' folk! One of the early, and now extinct denominations that caught my attention was Montanism, so I decided to dig a little deeper.
There are not that many sources around that have documented the practices, doctrines and the demise of this community. Moreover, there seems to have been sects within the Montanist church confined to various localities, and these sects had varied doctrines, again details that are not well documented. I am going to share my findings - but if you would like to correct or add anything, you are most welcome.


The Montanist Church was founded by Montanus - a young Christian convert who is said to have been a priest of Apollo or Cybele - in 2nd century AD. It started in Phrygia, Asia Minor, hence it's followers were also referred to by the names, 'Cataphrygian' or 'Phrygian' which literally means 'out of Phrygia'. Montanus travelled with two female assistants, Prisca and Maximilla - they preached their doctrines and were known for their ecstatic prophecies. It was a sect that placed a lot of emphasis on the Trinity, fidelity during persecution and esteemed chastity, penance and spontaneous reliance on the Holy Spirit.

They were protestants of sorts, as they believed in salvation through Jesus Christ and consecutive repentance. Their doctrines focus primarily on John 14 and 16, chapters that document the power of the Holy Spirit and the gifts that we can obtain as a result.
John 14:12 - whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things
John 16:14 - He [Spirit of Truth] will glorify me [Jesus].
They preached that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are bestowed through grace and not 'deeds' of righteousness or spiritual superiority; and also that the Spirit provided prophecies to both men and women alike.
Moreover, they propagated a belief in 'The Four Ages'
  1. NATURAL AGE - innate understanding of God, through personal revelation and nature. This was the period before the Law i.e. Noah, Adam .etc.
  2. LEGAL AGE OF THE FATHER - This age is the age of the Law. From Moses until the period of Jesus, covering all the prophets.
  3. GOSPEL AGE OF CHRIST - This is the New Testament period pertaining to the life and ministry of Jesus.
  4. REVELATION AGE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT - They believed that this period, after Christ, was established by Montanists and that it supersedes the age of Christ - WHAT? Supersede? I thought the Spirit was meant to 'glorify Jesus' - moreover, their primary form of teaching is by revelation and NOT via Scripture...sounds a bit dodgy to me!
Montanist meetings are said to have a period of TERROR - I am not quite sure what that meant or constituted. This was followed by a period of QUIET and PASSIVITY IN MIND, where they empty their minds completely to be taken over by the 'spirit' - I am a bit weary about this, hence I have not capitalised it. The 'spirit-filled' state is known as the ECSTATIC STATE, where members of the congregation prophesy in first person, out of the control of one's own will. This varied from the prophecies in the Bible which are characterised by calmness and free will, but this difference was justified as a 'new, higher order' - but weirdly, this was exactly how Montanus is said to have prophesied as a priest of Apollo or Cybele!
In addition to all this, they were pre-millennial - they believed that Jesus' second coming would happen before 1000 AD. They were also quartodeciman - celebrated Easter according to the Hebrew calendar - who wore make-up (Note - make-up was a sign of harlotry) , paid preachers and believed to posses the authority and power to forgive sins.

According to my research, which involves mainly Catholic and Reformed sources, these were the beliefs of the majority, but like I said before the doctrines changed between localities. For example, the famous historian Tertullian, is said to have converted into Montanism, although he remained on records, a Catholic. He wrote that the Holy Spirit did not supersede Jesus but only 'affirmed ambiguities in the Bible', not introducing new doctrines. His teachings resulted in Tertullianism which spread to the West. No matter where it spread, all forms are known to have met their demise by 6th century AD. What caused this sudden decline in a movement that captivated many?

Looking at what they preached and practised, it is clear to see why many had a problem with them - it was not so much that they were exercising the gifts of the Spirit or prophesying, it was more so the manner in which they did it. Can the Spirit of God result in violent or 'ecstatic states'? I don't know, but I see no examples in Scripture! Just because they exercise these gifts, which some believe stopped with the Apostles (I am not here to debate that, although I do believe that they continued), they're wrongly linked to modern day Charismatics or Pentecostals! Just, no! There must surely be demonic spirits that counteract the Spirit of God - how do you discern the two, if you rely on spontaneous revelation, without affirming it with the Word of the Lord? Jesus Himself did not come to overthrow the words of the Father but to clarify them. The deal breaker for me however, was looking at the actual prophecies, as we are asked to 'test the Spirit' - and guess what, they had numerous that did not come to pass. Their prophecies were very 'end-time' oriented (e.g. One of their prophecies stated that Christ would return to New Jerusalem, which will be located in Pepuza or Tymion; they apparently also gave a date - this obviously never happened, and we see their followers declining from this point on) Jesus said He'd come like a thief! Never believe anyone who tells you otherwise, but be ever prepared!

I know that there is a wealth of knowledge out there on Montanism, that I am ignorant to, but with what I have at hand, I certainly see this as a heresy. What scares me though is how much truth it actually holds - much truth that totally loses it's value because of the odd lies and misconceptions that decorate it. These people appeared to be on fire for God, moved and used by the 'spirit', but that was all a lie - doesn't that scare you? The thought that a demonic spirit can imitate the Holy Spirit? There is a spiritual world out there, believe it or not! It reminds me of Matthew 7:15, where Jesus says that false prophets, referred to as wolves, come 'dressed in sheep's clothing' - the false doctrines always contain elements of truth to ease you into it. This calls for us to be vigilant, not only towards attacks of sin that can mar our walks with God but also towards what we're feeding ourselves with. A deluded mind is worse and often harder to correct than an unbelieving one.

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