Christian History – Monarchianism, Montanism, and Speaking in Tongues (Part 1)


My image choices for this series get weirder and weirder.

The Monarchians, who do not exist in our age and day, stressed the monarchy, or sole rule of God. The name given here exists as a historical classification rather than an actual name they gave themselves – the “monarchy” part, as in the king of the universe, refers to their strict monotheism. They imagined themselves the direct descendants of the Jewish faith, so God was One and no other. A couple verses in the Bible point to this, such as Mark 12:29, Romans 3:30, and James 2:19. Taken out of context and without the notion of Jesus being God, we could find ourselves with a very, very large doctrinal problem.

Most Christians today, if not all, stay strictly Trinitarian, the belief that God is actually three persons in one substance, so there is an obvious problem with monarchianism right from the start. Monarchians, to resolve the apparent contradictions they found in the Biblical text, believed that the Father is the Son is the Holy Spirit – one God performing three roles. Think of this in terms of symbols – each name is a symbol representing a particular way in which God acts. It’s a simple, but important fact to note, as the various names of God refer to various functions of God rather than beings in themselves.

This is obviously problematic if we view the Word of God as a holistic document – if God is all three, parts of the Scripture narrative don’t make much sense from a story or logical standpoint. How does God sacrifice himself? How does God send Himself to Himself to help Himself? How does God pray to Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane, or talk to Himself? Of course, God does not necessarily need to operate on rules of logic or human understanding, but unless we want to view the whole of Scripture as a metaphor for God’s own workings, than we need to seek some inner consistency in the narrative. Ergo, if God talks to Himself, then the explanantion isn’t that God’s actually One in the traditional sense of being a singular monism. Confused yet? Imagine monarchians explaining this to other people, and you can see one possible reason it didn’t catch on.

Furthermore, the symbolic approach that they took is difficult to apply, for it removes the content and, at the same attempts, tries to reduce something that doesn’t make sense from a logical point of view, never much of a problem for most of the Christian life. Firstly, it’s funny sounding and confusing. Second, it doesn’t allow for each person of the Trinity to be a unique person, as in the latter half of Genesis 1. And furthermore, how exactly would the laity understand these concepts? Wouldn’t God make it digestible and not so complicated, and/or reliant on human notions of oneness?

Each person of the Trinity, for us, is three distinct persons who are one God, not tritheism (three gods), but not monotheism either. It is a distinct idea, and Monarchianism does not fare well here. Tertullian, one of the early theologians (speci cally founding the Latin formulation of theology, one of the greatest Latin writers ever) and apologist, had much to say about this belief system. To combat this, he stated that God was one substance in three persons. As he put it when referring to one of his monarchian contemporaries:

Praxeas managed two pieces of the devil’s business at Rome: he drove out prophecy and brought in heresy. He put to flight the Paraclete and crucified the Father.

Even so, Tertullian himself subscribed to a different belief: montanism. Montanism was called “the new prophecy” by its supporters in and around 170 AD. Two women and a man name Montanus began preaching the imminent end of the world; in light of this fact, true believers needed to act with an air of austerity in their daily lives. Thus, no marriage, fasting, and no flight from martyrdom, contrary to Matthew 10:23:

23 “But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.

Primarily,Montanism attracted many followers because it provided a strong moral code, and a strong reason to follow this same moral code. However, there are other reasons for concern when it comes to the Montanists. They are the precursor to the modern Pentecostalists, as they believed in the same tongues and ecstatic prophecies. The Montanist prophets did not speak as messengers of God but were described as possessed by God while being unable to resist. A prophetic utterance by Montanus described this possessed state:

Lo, the man is as a lyre, and I y over him as a pick. The man sleepeth, while I watch.

Thus, the Phrygians were seen as false prophets because they acted irrationally and were not in control of their senses, as well as being possessed. I.e., they babble and talk without
an interpreter. And, we know from Paul that this is not the case. So here comes my personal diatribe against a certain kind of “speaking in tongues” the modern Montanist variant. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-12, for example, we know that:

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. 12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.

It’s a gift of the spirit, not the effectof the spirit! The primary show of the Holy Spirit is not “I got blown back physically” or some crazy stuff like that. The Kingdom of God lives WITHIN you; you don’t have to make a fancy show of it. If you are filled with the Holy Spirit, it will show through your attitude, your life, and your actions; you don’t need magic spirit powers to prove it. Otherwise you’re just acting foolishly, and possibly leading people down the wrong path of what constitutes true discipleship. Then, in verses 27-31, Paul says this:

27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts.

Notice the ordering of the gifts here; Paul lists them last specifically due to the problems of the Corinthian Church. Hey, if everybody’s got ’em, then what about the other gifts essential to the church body? That’s a bit distressing, isn’t it?

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • So what inspired this post?

    Also, do you believe tongues are not for today?

    It’s no surprise that I’m all for them, but more for the gift of prophecy. Though the key difference with proper application is that there’s the spirit of the prophet is always subject to the prophet (meaning that God doesn’t ever steal control away from you). The purpose of said prophecy is always to comfort, strengthen, and encourage. And it’s not really that hyper mystical other than that God knows stuff and gives us stuff that we don’t have any immediate knowledge of. Past that, it’s basically pretty similar to praying and going wherever you feel like God’s leading you.

    Anyway, I don’t know anything of Monarchianism or Montanism. But all of what you’re describing here kinda freaks me out, and I can see why somebody would have problems with tongues and prophecy after this application.

    • Zachery Oliver

      Well, it’s a two parter, so it just got out of hand, haha. Next week should clarify my position a bit more.

      This was written in response to stuff in some churches I attended. Can tongues be used effectively? Absolutely, no doubt about that. It’s just a rare occurrence right now, and it usually harms more than it helps. Paul sets such strict guidelines that I have to assume people were (and will continue) to abuse such things.

      • Oh! How do you think tongues can be used effectively?

        And how have you seen it used harmfully?