The modern-day Charismatic Movement poses a great threat to the Christian Church, claiming its allegiance to the Bible and its historical lineage from the apostolic Church. A brief look at their characteristics, e.g. extra biblical visions, prophesies, their focus on the gifts of the Spirit, especially that of speaking in tongues, and claiming all sorts of fascinating experiences, had no small impact on the Christian world. Many have left their churches to experience the “blessings” of this movement. Hisorically, the origins are traced back to the time of John Wesley (1703-1791), Charles Finney (1792-1876), the Holiness Movement (birthed 1867), and the Azusa Street revival (1906).
Shortly after 323 A.D., the famous work, Church History, by Esebius, was published. In this work, in Book 5 and chapter 16, he wrote a very interesting piece of history. Most of what he wrote here, he got from the works of a man called Apolinarius of Hierapolis. Apolinarius was a 2nd century bishop. Unfortunately we do not have any of his original works, but Eusebius gives us a few snippets of his work in this chapter. The chapter concerns a movement coined the Montanists, named after its leader Montanis. This movement had an impact on the early church, to the effect that the famous Tertullian joined the movement.
It is an amazing read, whereby one realises that the modern-day Charismania is nothing new. Although the characteristics might differ here and there, we read, in the voice of Apolinarius, the same concerns that are raised today regarding the Charismatic Movement. Although this is not an exposition of either Apolinarius (as presented by Eusebius), or the modern-day Charismatics, it is presented here as an important historical reference to what was seen as a dangerous heresy during the second century A.D.
The Circumstances related of Montanus and his False Prophets
1. Against the so-called Phrygian heresy, the power which always contends for the truth raised up a strong and invincible weapon, Apolinarius of Hierapolis, whom we have mentioned before, and with him many other men of ability, by whom abundant material for our history has been left.
2. A certain one of these, in the beginning of his work against them, first intimates that he had contended with them in oral controversies.
3. He commences his work in this manner:
“Having for a very long and sufficient time, O beloved Avircius Marcellus, been urged by you to write a treatise against the heresy of those who are called after Miltiades, I have hesitated till the present time, not through lack of ability to refute the falsehood or bear testimony for the truth, but from fear and apprehension that I might seem to some to be making additions to the doctrines or precepts of the Gospel of the New Testament, which it is impossible for one who has chosen to live according to the Gospel, either to increase or to diminish.
4. But being recently in Ancyra in Galatia, I found the church there greatly agitated by this novelty, not prophecy, as they call it, but rather false prophecy, as will be shown. Therefore, to the best of our ability, with the Lord’s help, we disputed in the church many days concerning these and other matters separately brought forward by them, so that the church rejoiced and was strengthened in the truth, and those of the opposite side were for the time confounded, and the adversaries were grieved.
5. The presbyters in the place, our fellow-presbyter Zoticus of Otrous also being present, requested us to leave a record of what had been said against the opposers of the truth. We did not do this, but we promised to write it out as soon as the Lord permitted us, and to send it to them speedily.”
6. Having said this with other things, in the beginning of his work, he proceeds to state the cause of the above-mentioned heresy as follows:
“Their opposition and their recent heresy which has separated them from the Church arose on the following account.
7. There is said to be a certain village called Ardabau in that part of Mysia, which borders upon Phrygia. There first, they say, when Gratus was proconsul of Asia, a recent convert, Montanus by name, through his unquenchable desire for leadership, gave the adversary opportunity against him. And he became beside himself, and being suddenly in a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, he raved, and began to babble and utter strange things, prophesying in a manner contrary to the constant custom of the Church handed down by tradition from the beginning.
8. Some of those who heard his spurious utterances at that time were indignant, and they rebuked him as one that was possessed, and that was under the control of a demon, and was led by a deceitful spirit, and was distracting the multitude; and they forbade him to talk, remembering the distinction drawn by the Lord and his warning to guard watchfully against the coming of false prophets. But others imagining themselves possessed of the Holy Spirit and of a prophetic gift, were elated and not a little puffed up; and forgetting the distinction of the Lord, they challenged the mad and insidious and seducing spirit, and were cheated and deceived by him. In consequence of this, he could no longer be held in check, so as to keep silence.
9. Thus by artifice, or rather by such a system of wicked craft, the devil, devising destruction for the disobedient, and being unworthily honored by them, secretly excited and inflamed their understandings which had already become estranged from the true faith. And he stirred up besides two women, and filled them with the false spirit, so that they talked wildly and unreasonably and strangely, like the person already mentioned. And the spirit pronounced them blessed as they rejoiced and gloried in him, and puffed them up by the magnitude of his promises. But sometimes he rebuked them openly in a wise and faithful manner, that he might seem to be a reprover. But those of the Phrygians that were deceived were few in number.
“And the arrogant spirit taught them to revile the entire universal Church under heaven, because the spirit of false prophecy received neither honor from it nor entrance into it.
10. For the faithful in Asia met often in many places throughout Asia to consider this matter, and examined the novel utterances and pronounced them profane, and rejected the heresy, and thus these persons were expelled from the Church and debarred from communion.”
11. Having related these things at the outset, and continued the refutation of their delusion through his entire work, in the second book he speaks as follows of their end:
12. “Since, therefore, they called us slayers of the prophets because we did not receive their loquacious prophets, who, they say, are those that the Lord promised to send to the people, let them answer as in God’s presence: Who is there, O friends, of these who began to talk, from Montanus and the women down, that was persecuted by the Jews, or slain by lawless men? None. Or has any of them been seized and crucified for the Name? Truly not. Or has one of these women ever been scourged in the synagogues of the Jews, or stoned? No; never anywhere.
13. But by another kind of death Montanus and Maximilla are said to have died. For the report is that, incited by the spirit of frenzy, they both hung themselves; not at the same time, but at the time which common report gives for the death of each. And thus they died, and ended their lives like the traitor Judas.
14. So also, as general report says, that remarkable person, the first steward, as it were, of their so-called prophecy, one Theodotus—who, as if at sometime taken up and received into heaven, fell into trances, and entrusted himself to the deceitful spirit—was pitched like a quoit, and died miserably.
15. They say that these things happened in this manner. But as we did not see them, O friend, we do not pretend to know. Perhaps in such a manner, perhaps not, Montanus and Theodotus and the above-mentioned woman died.”
16. He says again in the same book that the holy bishops of that time attempted to refute the spirit in Maximilla, but were prevented by others who plainly co-operated with the spirit.
17. He writes as follows:
“And let not the spirit, in the same work of Asterius Urbanus, say through Maximilla, ‘I am driven away from the sheep like a wolf. I am not a wolf. I am word and spirit and power.’ But let him show clearly and prove the power in the spirit. And by the spirit let him compel those to confess him who were then present for the purpose of proving and reasoning with the talkative spirit,—those eminent men and bishops, Zoticus, from the village Comana, and Julian, from Apamea, whose mouths the followers of Themiso muzzled, refusing to permit the false and seductive spirit to be refuted by them.”
18. Again in the same work, after saying other things in refutation of the false prophecies of Maximilla, he indicates the time when he wrote these accounts, and mentions her predictions in which she prophesied wars and anarchy. Their falsehood he censures in the following manner:
19. “And has not this been shown clearly to be false? For it is to-day more than thirteen years since the woman died, and there has been neither a partial nor general war in the world; but rather, through the mercy of God, continued peace even to the Christians.” These things are taken from the second book.
20. I will add also short extracts from the third book, in which he speaks thus against their boasts that many of them had suffered martyrdom:
“When therefore they are at a loss, being refuted in all that they say, they try to take refuge in their martyrs, alleging that they have many martyrs, and that this is sure evidence of the power of the so-called prophetic spirit that is with them. But this, as it appears, is entirely fallacious.
21. For some of the heresies have a great many martyrs; but surely we shall not on that account agree with them or confess that they hold the truth. And first, indeed, those called Marcionites, from the heresy of Marcion, say that they have a multitude of martyrs for Christ; yet they do not confess Christ himself in truth.”
A little farther on he continues:
22. “When those called to martyrdom from the Church for the truth of the faith have met with any of the so-called martyrs of the Phrygian heresy, they have separated from them, and died without any fellowship with them, because they did not wish to give their assent to the spirit of Montanus and the women. And that this is true and took place in our own time in Apamea on the Mæander, among those who suffered martyrdom with Gaius and Alexander of Eumenia, is well known.”