March 17, 2008

Remaining Faithful in a World of Falsehoods

Christianity has always struggled with people that have sought to draw Christians away from their faith by claiming to speak for God. In the mid-2nd century, Montanus came forward claiming to be the incarnation of the paraclete (usually translated as Helper or Advocate) spoken of by Christ in John 14:16. He said that he received direct revelations from the Holy Spirit. Essentially, God’s revelation continued through Montanus and would bring purity to the church.

Montanus quickly attracted many followers and was accompanied by two female prophets, Maximilla and Priscilla. They were called "the Three," having ecstatic visions and urging their followers to fast and pray with the hope of having their own personal revelations. Together, the Three warned against the growing worldliness of the church and called believers to return to Christ. While waiting for the Lord's return, the Montanists were to live a life of strict discipline and self-denial. This teaching spread all over the region, including Africa and Gaul.

Thankfully, within a few generations the Christian church declared Montanus’ teaching to be heresy. He had distorted the teaching of Scripture, ultimately overthrowing fundamental truths revealed by God. Nevertheless, his popularity shows how easy it is for Christians to be fooled into following false prophets and teachers.

TertullianBut before you think that the Montanists were limited to the ignorant and the poor people of this time, one of the most important and respected early church fathers eventually joined this group. Who was he? The North African theologian Tertullian. From developing the doctrine of the Trinity to writing Prescription Against the Heretics, he zealously sought to defend the Christian faith against doctrinal error. Nevertheless, Tertullian was attracted to the Montanists' rigorous pursuit of purity. He came to believe that the continuing sin of Christians proved that the church was an intermediate stage, giving way to the new age of the Spirit. As a result, Tertullian became the most famous member of this group.

What would lead one of the most brilliant Christian minds of his time to embrace such error? And how can we avoid all of the falsehoods that surround us in today's world? In 1 John 4:1-6, the Apostle John gives us two truths to remain faithful to our Savior:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Next Monday, we'll identify the first truth.