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Free Will? Liberal Christianity. Punished for Sins We Commit After We Become Christians? Tertullian and the Montanists, Part 5

by Karl Kemp  
4/29/2015 / Bible Studies

We continue this seven-part study here in Part 5.

I'll quote quite a few excerpts from chapter 10, which deals with Montanism, of Vol. 2 of Philip Schaff's "History of Christian Doctrine" (Eerdman's reprint; originally published in 1910; in the public domain), and I'll supplement these excerpts with excerpts from other scholars. It is difficult to get the balanced truth regarding Montanism; for one thing, much of the information dealing with Montanism that is available came from those who opposed them. ((I'll quote part of a footnote from Stanley M. Burgess ("The Spirit and the Church: Antiquity" [Hendrikson, 1984], page 55; Burgess comes from an Assembly of God background; his parents were missionaries and he taught for many years at an Assembly of God [Pentecostal] college): "Montanism and his movement are known to us almost exclusively through the fragments of anti-Montanist writings and a few of the sayings of Montanus and his earliest followers recorded by polemicists [a person skilled in the practice of disputation or controversy] within the Catholic Church. The only Montanist writer of significance of whom we are aware was Tertullian, who believed that the Montanist movement was the completion and perfection of early prophecy and revelation. Because all of the sources are slanted in one direction or the other, the scholar must weigh each carefully in attempting to understand and evaluate the movement and its teaching on the Holy Spirit. ... M.F.G. Parmientier, "Montanisme"... (1978): pages 310-317, has shown that historic Montanism often is looked upon with great respect by Charismatic writers, without giving adequate attention to the teachings and place in the early Church." The fact that the Montanists manifested spiritual gifts doesn't suffice to demonstrate that they were solid Christians, and all the more so, when it is clear that some of their prophecies were false.)) Schaff seems to be more objective regarding Montanism than some scholars I have read on this topic. It is significant that Tertullian, who is typically regarded as one who became, and continued to be, a true Christian, became a Montanist, and most agree that the Montanists were mostly solid regarding foundational Christian doctrines.

"All the ascetic, rigoristic, and chiliastic [believing in a literal millennial reign after the Lord Jesus returns at the end of this age] elements of the ancient church combined in Montanism. ... ...Montanism was not, originally, a departure from the faith [but some serious errors dealing with the end times were there from the beginning it seems and a claim to be the center of God's genuine work in the world in those supposed very last days before the Lord would return], but a morbid overstraining of the practical morality and discipline of the early church. It was an excessive supernaturalism [We should be walking by the Spirit in all of the supernaturalism that God makes available, but we must make sure it is God's supernaturalism and that we walk in line with God's Word on a continuous basis, by grace through faith] and puritanism [We are required to walk in all of the puritanism (truth, righteousness, and holiness) that God has called us to] against Gnostic and Catholic laxity. It is the first example of an earnest and well-meaning, but gloomy and fanatical hyper-Christianity, which, like all hyper-spiritualism is apt to end in the flesh.

... ...Montanus considered himself the inspired organ of the promised Paraclete or Advocate, the Helper and Comforter [the Holy Spirit] in these last times of distress. ... Connected with him were two prophetesses, Priscilla and Maxmilla, who left their husbands. During the bloody persecutions...which raged in Asia Minor [where Montanism was centered; Phrygia was part of Asia Minor] and caused the death of Polycarp (AD 155), all three went forth as prophets and reformers of the Christian life, and proclaimed the near approach of the age of the Holy Spirit and of the millennial reign in Pepuza, a small village in Phrygia, upon which new Jerusalem was to come down. [This "prophecy" regarding Pepuza was clearly wrong, including the idea that the Lord was coming very very soon. The idea that new Jerusalem was going to come down at the beginning of the millennium instead of the end of the millennium was clearly wrong too.] ... They called themselves 'spiritual' distinction from the psychic or carnal Christians.... [Some Montanists might have been more spiritual than many of the Christians who didn't belong to their movement, but it clearly isn't true that they were led by the Spirit in everything they said and did, and it wasn't true that all their opponents, of which there were many, were unspiritual. We all have the potential to look at things in a way that makes us look good; we have to be very careful we aren't motivated by pride (and as I mentioned demons are experts at appealing to pride).] ..." (pages 417-419).

"In doctrine, Montanism agreed in all essential points with the Catholic Church, and held very firmly to the traditional rule of faith. [footnote: "This was acknowledged by its opponents. ...."] Tertullian was thoroughly orthodox according to the standard of his age. ... ...its errors consist in a morbid exaggeration of Christian ideas and demands. Tertullian says, that the administration of the Paraclete consists only in the reform of discipline, in deeper understanding of the Scriptures, and in effort after higher perfection; that it has the same faith, the same God, the same Christ, and the same sacrament with the Catholics. ... [[We cannot ignore the serious errors that came with their prophecies or their claims to be the center of what God was doing on the earth. I'll include an excerpt from the "New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religions" under "Montanus, Montanism" on the internet: "Though primarily a phenomenon of the Church of Asia Minor, Montanism spread to the West with a suppression of its ecstatic features and emphasis on its ethical requirements. ... But the great Montanist of the West was Tertullian. Led on by his moral earnestness, and predisposed against any conformity with the world, Tertullian saw in the new prophecy the divine seal of his endeavors. ... ...and in his 'De ecsasi,' he definitely defended the Montanistic revelations... [I have been able to confirm this to some extent, but as I mentioned, he didn't teach that the Lord Jesus and new Jerusalem were coming to Pepuza, and there were other things he didn't teach. I'll say a little more on this point below.]." From our present perspective it is obvious that some of their end-time prophecies were wrong, and I believe it is equally clear that their revelations regarding those sins that cannot be forgiven and the idea that Christians must be punished for their post-baptismal sins, including compensatory reparations after death for some Christians were wrong too. (As we have discussed, the Montanists were not alone in some of these ideas.)]]

... This is the first instance of a theory of development which assumes an advance beyond the New Testament and the Christianity of the apostles [It is extremely dangerous to go beyond the New Testament and the Christianity of the apostles.] ... Tertullian, however, was by no means rationalistic in his view. On the contrary, he demanded for all new revelations the closest agreement with the traditional faith of the church.... Nevertheless he gave the revelations of the Phrygian prophets on matters of practice an importance which interfered with the sufficiency of the Scriptures. ...

Montanism...sought a...continuance of the MIRACULOUS GIFTS [his emphasis] of the apostolic church, which gradually disappeared as Christianity became settled in humanity.... ... ...Montanistic prophecy related to the approaching heavy judgments of God, the persecutions, the millennium, fasting, and other ascetic exercises, which were to be enforced as laws of the church.

The Catholic church did not deny, in theory, the continuance of prophecy and the other miraculous gifts [and some prophecy and other gifts of the Spirit were manifested], but was disposed [with exceptions] to derive the Montanistic revelations from satanic inspiration [Schaff has a footnote which I won't include], and mistrusted them all the more for their proceeding not from the regular clergy, but in great part from unauthorized laymen and fanatical women.

... [The Montanists] put a great gulf between the true spiritual Christians [themselves] and the merely psychical [soulish]; and this induced spiritual pride and false pietism. ...

Another of the essential and prominent traits of Montanism was a visionary millenarianism, founded indeed on the Apocalypse [the book of Revelation] and on the apostolic expectation of the speedy return of Christ, but giving it extravagant weight.... The Montanists...held fast to the speedy return of Christ in glory, all the more as this hope [in large numbers of other Christians] began to give way to the feeling of a long settlement of the church on earth, and to a corresponding zeal for a compact, solid, episcopal organization [organized under bishops]. ... They lived under a vivid impression of the great final catastrophe, and looked therefore with contempt upon the present order of things, and directed all their desires to the second advent of Christ. Maximilla [one of the two original prophetesses] says. 'After me there is no more prophecy, but only the end of the world.' [[I'll quote two sentences from the article on "Montanus, Montanism" in the "New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religions": "The new prophecy [Montanism] claimed the right, in view of the approaching end of all things, to regulate life in the Church. ... The entire purpose, in fact, of the new prophecy was preparation for the approaching end, and expectation of this great event should determine the entire life of the Christian."]]

The failure of these predictions weakened, of course, all the other pretensions of the system. [It is surprising though how such errors can be minimized or explained away by those who have espoused them, including in our day.] ...

Finally, the Montanistic sect was characterized by fanatical severity in asceticism and church discipline. ... Tertullian makes the restoration of a rigorous discipline the chief office of the new prophecy.

... Montanism turned with horror from all the enjoyments of life, and held even art to be incompatible with Christian soberness and humility. It forbade women all ornamental clothing, and required virgins to be veiled. It courted the blood-baptism of martyrdom, and condemned concealment or flight in persecution as a denial of Christ. It multiplied fasts and other ascetic exercises, and carried them to extreme severity.... It prohibited second marriage as adultery, for laity as well as clergy, and inclined even to regard a single marriage as a mere concession on the part of God to sensuous infirmity of man. ... Tertullian held all mortal sins (of which he numbers seven), committed after baptism, to be unpardonable, at least in this world, and a church, which showed such laxity toward gross offenders, as the Roman church at that time did, according to the corroborating testimony of Hippolytus, he called them worse than a 'den of thieves,' even a 'spelunca moechorum de fornicatorum [cave of adulterers and fornicators].' [The Montanists clearly went too far here.]

The Catholic church...opened the door likewise to excessive ascetic rigor, but only as an exception to the rule; while the Montanists pressed their rigoristic demands as binding upon all. ..." (pages 421-426).

I'll quote several sentences from the article on "Montanus and Montanism" at on the internet. "About the middle of the second century...Montanus appeared as a new prophet in Phrygia...and found many adherents.... Under him, also, prophetesses appeared - Priscilla and Maximilla. Prophecy was, indeed, the most prominent feature of the new movement. Ecstatic visions, announcing the approach of the second advent of Christ, and the establishment of the heavenly Jerusalem at Pepuza in Phrygia, and inculcating the severest asceticism and most rigorous penitential discipline, were set forth as divine revelations.... In spite of the sensation it created and the discussion it caused, the movement remained for a long time within the pale of the Church; but as it grew in strength, penetrating from Asia Minor into Thrace, it naturally roused a stronger opposition, and, in several places, synods were convened against it. Some persons considered it to have been caused by a demon....

Condemned in Rome and in its native country, Montanism found a new home in North Africa, and its most prominent representative in Tertullian. He adopted all their views [This statement must be qualified, as we have discussed.], and further developed them. The speedy advent of Christ, and the establishment of the millennium...are the fundamental ideas of his theology. ...."

I'll include a short excerpt from the four-page article on "Tertullian" in the "New Catholic Encyclopedia" (page 1019). "Outstanding 3d-century theologian and ecclesiastical writer.... Converted to Christianity (about AD 195) .... ... As early as 206 his teaching began to reflect Montanistic ideas, and about 212 or 213 he broke with the Church and joined forces with Montanism in Africa, becoming the leader of a party subsequently known as Tertullianists. He was certainly married; whether he was a priest is still a matter of dispute."

I'll quote several sentences from Stanley M. Burgess ("The Spirit and Church: Antiquity" [Hendrickson, 1984], page 51): "... What was new and particularly galling about the Montanists [to the Catholics] was that their rigorous asceticism grew out of a series of prophecies which they considered to be a final divine revelation of truth to mankind, superseding even the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. This apocalyptic asceticism, coupled with a strong sense of exclusiveness (only the 'church of the Spirit' could forgive sins, not the 'church which consists of a number of bishops' [Burgess has a footnote which I won't quote]), and a propensity to attack without mercy the traditionalism and growing secularism in the mainline Church, proved a challenge too great to tolerate."

David W. Bercot in his "A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs" (Hendrickson, 1998) has four pages under the heading "Montanists." The sub-headings are 1. The Nature of Montanism and its teachings, and 2. Examples of Montanistic teachings from Tertullian: A. New revelations from the Paraclete [Holy Spirit]; B. Christians should not flee from persecution; C. No second marriages; D. No forgiveness for post-baptismal sins [for sins like apostasy, murder, or adultery/fornication].

I'll include several excerpts from passages that Bercot included, but I'll take them from the "Ante-Nicene Fathers" 10 volume set, and I won't limit my excerpts to the excerpts Bercot included. This first excerpt is taken from "Tertullian Against Marcion," Vol. 3, book 3, chapter 25, pages 342-343. Bercot dated this writing about AD 207. Tertullian believed in a literal millennium, which was the dominant viewpoint with the ante-Nicene Fathers (and I believe is the correct viewpoint), but as this excerpt shows, he significantly confused the issue, and this confusion undoubtedly came, to some significant extent, from Montanistic prophecies.

(( (This double parenthesis goes on for two paragraphs.) I learned some important information which I hadn't picked up before (but I have mentioned previously to some extent in this paper), from the article on "Montanism" in the "Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics" edited by James Hastings, published 1908-1927, that is available on the internet. There were significant differences between the teachings of Tertullian and the teachings of Montanus and the two prophetesses. (The article mentions that "...Maximilla, the last of the original trio, died in 179-180...." A few paragraphs back I included an excerpt that said that Tertullian's teachings began to reflect Montanistic influence as early as 206.) This article mentions, for example, that Tertullian "never mentions Pepuza" and he believed that Christ (and new Jerusalem) will come to Jerusalem, not Pepuza. The article assumes that Tertullian was substantially limited in his knowledge of some of what they taught. We also have to consider the very real possibility that he rejected some things they taught (especially prophecies that had already been proved wrong before he joined the Montanists) without mentioning that he was rejecting them. It was some 2,500 miles from the middle of Asia Minor to Carthage if you took the Roman roads. (This is a rough estimate taken from a map on the internet.) If you went mostly by ship it was some 1,000 miles. If you walked 40 miles a day, it would take you some 62 days to get to Carthage from the middle of Asia Minor.

One reason this excerpt from Tertullian is important to this paper is that Tertullian speaks of the saints being resurrected at different times within the thousand years, dependent on "their deserts." (This viewpoint probably came in large part, if not totally, from Montanistic influence, which we have discussed to some extent. I believe the New Testament shows that ALL true Christians who will have died before the Lord Jesus returns will be resurrected and glorified when He returns.) And he teaches that new Jerusalem will come down at the beginning of the millennium ((The Montanistic prophecies clearly taught, and made a big deal of the fact, that NEW JERUSALEM WILL COME DOWN AT THE BEGINNING OF THE MILLENNIUM, at Pepuza, and they invited their followers to move to Pepuza to await the very soon return of the Lord Jesus. I believe Revelation chapters 20 and 21 show that new Jerusalem will come down to the fully glorified new earth right AFTER the millennium and the great white throne judgment at the end of the millennium. Irenaeus rightly taught that new Jerusalem will come down to the new earth after the millennial kingdom and the great white throne judgment at the end of the millennium ("Irenaeus Against Heresies" in Vol. 1 of the "Ante-Nicene Fathers" set, chapter 35, pages 565, 566; the article on Irenaeus in Wikipedia dates this writing about AD 180.]])) Now I'll quote from Tertullian:

"...for this reason, that our inquiry relates to what is promised in heaven, not on earth. But we do confess that a kingdom is promised to us upon the earth [referring to the millennial kingdom], although before heaven [[(before heaven in the full and final sense, after the millennium); Tertullian believes that we (the Christians) will participate in this (millennial, but for us also heavenly) kingdom after we are resurrected and glorified; he doesn't mention here the believers who will still be alive when Christ returns (he was dealing in context with the resurrection of the body), but in "On the Resurrection of the Flesh," chapters 41, 42, page 575 of Vol. 3 of the "Ante-Nicene Fathers," he shows that he understands that the living saints will be glorified at the same time as the glorification and resurrection of the saints who will have died before that time. However, he confuses the issue to some extent by mentioning "an instantaneous death, which is accomplished by a sudden change, to become qualified to joining the rising saints...." I don't believe the New Testament teaches that the living saints will have to die in order to be glorified.]], only in another state of existence [including dwelling in new Jerusalem, which is a heavenly city on the earth at Jerusalem during the millennial kingdom, according to him]; inasmuch as it [this heavenly kingdom on the earth] will be after the resurrection for a thousand years in the divinely-built city of Jerusalem, 'let down from heaven [However, Rev. 21:2 prophesies of new Jerusalem coming down after the thousand years, not at the beginning of the thousand years; that's quite a difference.],' which the apostle also calls 'our mother from above'; and while declaring that our citizenship is in heaven, he predicates of it that it is really a city in heaven. [Tertullian is saying, if I understand him, that during the millennial kingdom we will be living in heaven in the sense that we will be living in "a city in heaven" that will be located on the earth during the millennial kingdom.] ... And the word of the new prophecy which is a part of our belief [Montanism], attests how it foretold that there would be for a sign a picture of this very city exhibited to view previous to its manifestation. This prophecy, indeed has been very lately fulfilled.... [A footnote mentions that Tertullian "is the only author who mentions this prodigy (extraordinary event)."] For it is evident from the testimony of even heathen witnesses, that in Judea there was suspended in the sky a city early every morning for forty days. As the day advanced, the entire figure of its walls would wane gradually, and sometimes it would vanish instantly. We say that this city has been provided by God for receiving the saints on their resurrection, and refreshing them with the abundance of all really spiritual blessings, as a recompense for those [things] which in the world we have either despised or lost; since it is both just and God-worthy that His servants should have their joy in the place [on the earth, but in the "city of heaven" that comes down to the earth at the beginning of the millennium, according to Tertullian] where they have also suffered affliction for His name's sake. ... After its thousand years are over [at the end of the millennium], within which period [the millennium] is completed the resurrection of the saints, WHO RISE SOONER OR LATER ACCORDING TO THEIR JUST DESERTS [my emphasis; discussed above], there will ensue the destruction of the world and the conflagration of all things at the judgment [at the end of the millennium]: we shall then [when we are resurrected and glorified, starting at the time the Lord Jesus returns and the millennium begins] be changed in a moment into the substance of angels, even by the investiture of an incorruptible nature, and so be removed to that kingdom in heaven [Tertullian was referring to new Jerusalem here, which he called "a city in heaven" earlier in this excerpt. He taught that the city will come down at Jerusalem at the beginning of the millennial kingdom; the early Montanist prophets said it will come down at Pepuza in Asia Minor.] of which we have now been treating...."

We will continue this study in Part 6 of this paper.

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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