Montanism

There is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (vv. 4–6).  

- Ephesians 4:4–6

Throughout church history, God’s people have endured attacks from people outside the faith. Islamic thinkers have denied the purity of the Bible. Materialistic philosophers have ridiculed the doctrine of creation. Atheistic regimes have tried to stamp out the church within their borders. The greatest need to defend the faith, however, has always been fought within the community of professing believers itself. We might even say that Christian apologists have best served the church in clearly summarizing the orthodox faith and in helping pastors, theologians, and lay people alike recognize the false and destructive sheep in their congregations.

After years of controversy, a gathering of the church condemned a teacher named Montanus in AD 160. Hailing from the region of Phrygia (modern-day Turkey), which was known for being a hotbed of eccentricity, Montanus looked at the church in his day and decided that it was not ready for the return of Jesus. He sought to recover a particular view of the gifts of prophecy and tongues in the church. In so doing, he developed unorthodox teachings about the Holy Spirit: Montanus believed that he himself was the Holy Spirit incarnate. He also led a group of people known for their extreme asceticism and gibbering chants. Appropriately enough, this movement is known as Montanism.

The Montanists believed that true Christianity depended on a mystical experience with the Spirit, and they taught a two-tiered division of believers, distinguishing between ordinary believers and the pneumatakoi, or “spirit-filled” Christians. The pneumatakoi were the “more advanced” group that received a special indwelling (a “baptism”) of the Holy Spirit after conversion. According to the Montanists, a life of true holiness or godliness was not possible if you were not numbered among the pneumatakoi.

Such teaching, the church quickly recognized, flies in the face of the uniform testimony of Scripture that there is but one faith and one baptism (Eph. 4:4–6). God’s Word knows nothing of a Christian who does not possess the Holy Spirit, and there is no warrant for seeking a baptism in the Spirit after conversion.

Coram Deo

Even today there is a tendency to distinguish between different kinds of believers in some corners of the church. We hear of “Spirit-filled” and “non-Spirit-filled” Christians. Some also make a distinction between “carnal” and “spiritual” believers. But all those who believe in Jesus have the Spirit, and even though some Christians may be further along in their spiritual journey, there is no power for Christian living that is available only to certain believers.

Passages for Further Study

Joel 2:28–29
1 Thess. 4:1–8

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343