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-- © GodSpeak International 1998 --
-- Do not republish without written permission from <copyright@godspeak.org > --

Author: Jim Paul, Pastor EastGate Christian Fellowship, Hamilton Ontario, CA <jimpaul1@iprimus.ca>
Editors: Teresa Seputis, Al Vesper

Prophetic-School MiniTraining Series

The Prophetic in Church History

[Adapted from Jim Paul's recent book "Prophecy in Practice", published by Monarch Press, Crowborough, UK. This adaptation takes the form of an expanded discussion with associated questions. This is a three part series, focusing on three broad periods of Church history:

Course 6 -- Part 1: The Early Church 100-450 AD

We must learn from history - church history, especially as it relates to the practice of prophetic gifts throughout the ages. If this New Testament gift has only a 20th century manifestation, then we must ask some hard questions. But no, a study of church history will show that prophecy is not some glamour gift of this modern age.

Like a golden thread woven throughout the fabric of Church history, prophetic gifts have graced the Body of Christ. This prophetic heritage of the Church is a reflection of the glory of God to our culture. From the earliest days of the Apostolic Fathers in the second century to the Reformation period and the Latter Rain Movement of 1948-51, the revelatory was evident.

There is an identifiable link between the reviving presence of the Spirit and the voice of the Spirit. When the Comforter comes He often brings words of comfort mediated through God's people. We are experiencing that same phenomena at the Toronto Airport Fellowship and in the renewal meetings that are springing up world-wide. An exhaustive study of the prophetic in Church History could be in itself the subject of a book. For the purpose of understanding the relationship of the prophetic and the church, we will review some of the historical highlights.

Have you noticed an increase in the ability or desire to prophesy as it relates to revival or renewal movements?

Not only was the New Testament written against the backdrop of a massive revival, but the Apostolic Fathers (70 AD - 200 AD) also wrote during seasons of refreshing from the Lord. Irenaeus, Justin Martyr and Tertullian all recount the continuing work of the gifts of Spirit in the Church. Richard Riss, in his series Tongues and Other Miraculous Gifts In The Second Through Nineteenth Centuries, suggests a reasoned approach to their letters and documents.

In the early history of the church, the gift of tongues was closely associated with prophecy. When the second century author Irenaeus quoted Acts 10:46, he substituted the word "prophecy" where the Biblical passage specifies tongues. These miraculous gifts in general tend to be closely associated with one another, and accounts of tongues and prophecy are often included in accounts of healings, miracles, revelation and visions.

Justin Martyr wrote to his friend Trypho about "gifts of prophecy" in the plural in approximately 148 AD - "from the fact that even to this day the gifts of prophecy exist among us Christians... Now if you look around, you can see among us both men and women endowed with gifts from the Spirit of God." This discourse with Trypho was in the context of an overall discussion of other charismatic gifts.

Prophecy was flowing in those early days of the Church along with a host of powerful spiritual encounters.

In A.D 206, Tertullian of Carthage, the father of Latin Theology, became a Montanist, a widespread prophetic movement that lasted into the fifth century. In his work called A Treatise on the Soul, Tertullian describes that third century renewal in this fashion:

"For seeing that we acknowledge spiritual charismata, or gifts, we too have merited the attainment of the prophetic gift, although coming after John the Baptist. We have now amongst us a sister whose lot it has been to be favored with sundry gifts of revelation, which she experiences in the Spirit by ecstatic vision amidst the sacred rites of the Lord's day in the church: she converses with angels, and sometimes even with the Lord; she both sees and hears mysterious communications; some men's hearts she understands, and to them who are in need she distributes remedies."

Dr. Kenneth Latourette, in his foundational book, A History Of Christianity, defends this movement which was severely persecuted by the established Church. He summarizes the impact of the Montanists in this way:

"It had itinerant preachers supported by the gifts of the faithful, and in time seems to have been fairly well organized, with the head living in Phrygia. It prized the records of the teachings of Christ and his apostles, but it believed, although not contradicting what had been said there, that the Holy Spirit continued to speak through prophets, and among these it included women. It stressed a high standard of Christian living among Christian communities into which laxity was beginning to creep."

Persecution of the Montanists may have been based on a few issues. They did teach a soon return of the Lord. The concept of an early return of Christ was not new nor was it exclusively a tenet of the Montanists as we find several allusions to it in the Epistles and Revelation.

However, they gave dates and places which we know is not scriptural. Another reason why they were ostracized was probably cultural. Eusebius, an opponent of this movement, criticized the prophetic style. He reported that Montanus, the founder of the movement, "suddenly fell into frenzy and convulsions. He began to be ecstatic and to speak and to talk strangely, prophesying contrary to the custom which belongs to the tradition and succession of the church from the beginning."

It's hard to put new wine into old wine skins. Even now the same issues arise as fresh oil and new wine fill the Church.

Did you notice at this juncture in our history that prophets were making the same mistakes, i.e. dates and places? We need to solve this classical problem of saying too much, too soon!

During the dark night of the soul in the Church, when the word of the Spirit almost became non-existent, there were still some shining prophetic voices heard in the land. Gregory, the pupil of Origen, in the fourth century was blessed with prophetic gifts and miracles.

By Christ's mighty name he even commanded rivers to change their course and caused a lake, which afforded a ground of quarrel to some covetous brethren to dry up. Moreover, his predictions of things to come were such as in no wise to fall short of those great prophets.

Genevieve of Paris accurately prophesied God's intervention over the city and called the believers to fast and pray as Attila the Hun was preparing to invade Paris, in A.D. 451. The seemingly invincible army suddenly changed the course of the march and Paris was saved.

Next week we will look at the prophetic among the Reformers.

Discussion Question:

What do you believe was God's purpose for releasing predictive prophecy in the church during these days (100-450 AD)?

-- © GodSpeak International 1998 --
-- Do not republish without written permission from <copyright@godspeak.org > --

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