The Ministry of the Holy Spirit in Church History
1550 to 1900 A.D. (Part 2)
by Lynn D. Kanga
By the time the 16th century was in full progress, a growing number of non-Catholic reform movements were insisting on expression. Some of these have become watchwords in church history, while many others arched meteor-like through the night sky of the Dark Ages and then disappeared.
After the invention of the printing press in the early 15th century (c.1440), the increasing availability of the Word of God dramatically changed the course of history, including the history of the Christian world. At last the public could read the Scriptures for themselves. Those who read were increasingly startled at how much the biblical patterns differed from the ordained rituals of the existing church. True, many counter-Catholic movements had taken place prior to the 16th century,butmanymore were to come. All of these changes, flying in the face of established traditions, were painfully, often tragically, accomplished.
Martin Luther was a German Catholic theologian, and subsequently a reformer, because of his encounter with the Holy Scriptures. Early in his association with the Catholic priesthood, Luther faced a stubborn spiritual dilemma:he earnestly sought spiritual peace and could not find it in the prescribed penances advocated by church leaders. Reverently, but persistently, hecontinuedtotry,butwithno success
One day he was reading the epistle to the Romans. Suddenly, God made the apostle Paul’s statement, “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17) real to Luther. At last, he experienced the inner assurance he had been seeking. This discovery changed his life. But another dilemma appeared:he began noticing other discrepancies between the practices of the Church and the clear statements of the Bible. Consequently, as the truths of Scripture dawned on him, he began to publicly express his differences with the practices of the Catholic Church. On October 31, 1517, he nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. Initially, he respectfully only sought to discuss his concerns.
Most of Luther’s friends and church leaders perceived his action as a serious confrontation of Catholic authority. As a consequence, Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther in 1520. Regrettably, there followed determined efforts to murder Luther. Church leaders believed it would benefit both God and the Church by exterminating this notorious heretic. But German officials shielded Luther from assassination, largely because of their nationalistic loyalties, rather than strong religious convictions.
Luther’s innovative theological ideas and his break with the Catholic Church eventually led to his becoming the primary leader of the German Reformation. This opened the door for many of Luther’s affiliates to reexamine the prevailing theological positions of the Church.1
After Luther’s expulsion from the Catholic Church, Lutheranism continued to rush toward a determined Protestant ideology, undoubtedly according to God’s design. This transformation continued even after Luther’s death in 1546. The pent-up longing for relevant ministry to the real-life needs of the populace — so long denied them but now at least promised — suddenly came flooding forth, demanding even more. Some of Luther’s contemporaries even accused him of being only a “half reformer” because of his hesitancy to make major adjustments beyond his own initial rediscoveries.
In many instances, the new Protestant populations grew, often becoming so dominant these Protestants displaced local governments and/or often transformed existing Catholic churches into Lutheran congregations. In these churches, they politely sidelined Catholic icons so the former Catholic Cathedral might function as a Lutheran worship center. We can observe the results of this transformation today. In Rothenberg, Germany, at least two former Catholic churches, both just off the city square, have undergone the re-orientation from Catholicism to Lutheranism.
An interesting commentary on Luther’s theology continues to surface in the annals of church history. The original source is the German church historian R. Kuntze (1859) who wrote: “Luther was easily the greatest evangelical man after the apostles, full of inner love to the Lord like John, hasty in deed like Peter, deep in thinking like Paul, cunning and powerful in speech like Elijah, uncompromising against God’s enemies like David; prophet and evangelist, speaker in tongues and interpreter in one person, equipped withal the gifts of grace, a light and pillar of the church”2 (emphasis mine).
It is possible that this statement, implying that Luther might have had some form of charismatic experience,wasmadeon February 18, 1846, as a memorialat the third centennial anniversary of Luther’s death. At this point, however, one cannot be sure of its original intent because of the absence of corroborating testimony. Was this meant to indicate that Luther had experienced a personal Pentecost? Or was this statement intended only as a panegyric, lauding Luther’s pioneering Protestant convictions? Or could this declaration be based on biographical information not yet fully documented?
Regrettably, there is not enough evidence at this point to be absolutely certain. However, since the Pentecostal experience has historically cut across many denominational boundaries, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Luther, in his role as an apostle of Protestantism, may have privately enjoyed a Pentecostal experience. Certainly, the terminology used hererelating to tongues,interpreter oftongues, prophet, etc.does suggest that the tongues experience was not unknown to Luther’s biographers and perhaps even to Luther himself.
One fact in historyisvery clear, however, Luther did have encounters with the Anabaptistprophets of Zwickau who reportedly were experiencing the gifts of the Spirit in their congregations. Luther, however, evidently considered them Schwarmers or fanatics because he believed they were unnecessarily aggressive in their evangelization efforts.3
Nonetheless, A.J. Gordon, in his book, The Ministry of Healing, quotes Luther: “How often has it happened and still does, that devils have been driven out in the name of Christ, also by calling on his name and prayer that the sick have been healed?”4
To illustrate Luther’s belief in divine deliverance, Gordon observes further that healings did occur when Luther prayed for the sick and for the possessed: “In 1541, when Myconius lay speechless in the final stages of consumption, Luther prayed and he was restored to health. Melancthon lay near death of a fever, face sunken and eyes glassy, knowing no one. But Luther sought God and he [Melancthon] began to mend from that hour. ‘I should have been a dead man,’ said Melancthon, ‘had I not been recalled from death itself by the coming of Luther.’ ” [Regarding Luther’s deliverance ministry, A.J. Gordon continues] “When called to deal with a demon-possessed girl, Luther laid hands on her, quoting ‘the works I do shall he do also,’[John 14:12] and prayed for her, whereupon she completely recovered.”5
The long-standing passion for a spiritual renewal of meaningful worshipledmany to explore the Bible with increasing determination to discover God’s real intentions among mortals. While Luther’s teachings were dramatically transforming Germany, two other former Catholic priests were challenging the thinking of Swiss congregations. This led to the Swiss Reformation paralleling that of Germany. One of those priests was Ulrich Zwingli of Zurich; the other was John Calvin of Geneva.
Historically, as Luther was guiding the Reformation in Germany, Zwingli (1484–1531) was examining similar demands for reform in Switzerland. Like Luther, Zwingli was a disenchanted Catholic priest. In fact, early in his priesthood Zwingli had regrettably experienced his own moral failure — not so unusual among the priests. But after 1516, he began reading the Greek New Testament translated by the Dutch theologian, Erasmus. Like Luther, Zwingli was ever more appalled at the godlessness of his world and of his own life.
Zwingli also persevered in studying the Scriptures, a practice which eventually transformed his life. Accordingly, he began preaching expositorily to hiscongregations.6 His innovative preaching style soon won Zwingli widespread favor with his congregations. As a result of his growing popularity, in 1519 he was invited to pastor the Great Church in Zurich, Switzerland.
By the time Luther was excommunicated in 1520, Zwingli had already being influenced by Luther’s teaching. As a consequence, Zwingli bolted from the Catholic priesthood in 1522.
Zwingli’s growing Protestant influence in Switzerland eventually resulted in nine of the 13 cantons (districts) of Switzerland turning to Protestantism. Four of those districts, however, remained militantly Catholic. This Catholic militancy eventually led to outright warfare.
Zwingli, in the interest of identifying with his people, felt obliged to join his parishioners on the battlefield. Regrettably, however, in spite of his commendable courage, Zwingli was killed in 1531 — the most significant casualty of the conflict. He was 47 when he died; his work not yet completed.7 But the Sovereign Lord God of the Swiss Reformation raised others to succeed him and lead the Protestant cause to even greater experiences in the Lord.
Zwingli was an important Reformer for another reason. His teachings led the Anabaptists to be concerned about a number of other religious practices that noticeably did not agree with Scripture. In that day particularly, it was expected that anyone examining the Bible for guidance regarding the Lord’s “perfect” way of life would discover a whole trove of inconsistencies not yet dealt with. Once Luther’s doctrine of the priesthood of all believers had opened the door to widespread Bible reading, others soon discovered additional discrepancies between the Scriptures and the ritualistic traditions of the Church.
In addition, there was a resulting move toward expository preaching (examples: Zwingli and Calvin) rather than the allegorical method that had been so long the fashionable method. Researcher, William R. Estep makes this enlightening comment in his book, The Anabaptist Story: “Here for the first time in the course of the Reformation, a group of Christians dared to form a church after what was conceived to be the New Testament pattern. The Brethren [Re. Anabaptists] emphasized the absolute necessity of a personal commitment to Christ as essential to salvation and a prerequisite to baptism. The introduction of believer’s baptism [as one example] was not an unpremeditated act. … Rather it was a culmination of an earnest searching of the Scriptures8 (emphasis mine).
The “Brethren,” as they preferred to label themselves, were scurrilously referred to by their contemporaries as the Anabaptists, meaning rebaptizers. This happened because of their highly controversial insistence that commitment to Christ must precede biblical water baptism. This position essentially negated the established Church’s tradition of baptizing children. While there were other teachings that the Brethren considered more important, the nullification of infant baptism became the major touchstone of their controversy with the Church — and, regrettably, with other contemporary Protestants as well. Ritualistic traditions die very slowly.
The Anabaptists had their beginnings in Zwingli’s Swiss Reformation, but when they proposed to make changes beyond those Zwingli had advocated — as elementary as those changes might seem to us today — they were considered radicals or fanatics as they attempted to adjust to newly-discovered biblical patterns. Not in compliance with even the Reformation churches, they found themselves at odds with other Protestants as well. Catholic Church ritualism had long prescribed that the little children of Catholic parents should be baptized by sprinkling or pouring to make them members of the Catholic faith. The Catholic reasoning was that water baptism was tantamount to being born again.
But by following the Scriptures, the Anabaptists believed water baptism could only be meaningful if the baptismal candidate had made a conscious commitment to Jesus Christ. This, of course, would not be possible for a little child who had not yet come to an accountable age. On these grounds the Anabaptists considered their own childhood baptisms meaningless, as though they had notbeen baptized at all, certainly not in the biblical sense. Furthermore, they reasoned that after a genuine conversion to Christ, to be compliant with Scripture, they were compelled to be baptized in water to demonstrate their lifelong commitment to the Savior. While this sounds reasonable today, to those early Reformers, the Anabaptists’ arguments seemed heretical.
The Anabaptist concept of requiring a confession of faith before baptism may seem inconsequential to modern-day Christians, because most present-day believers readily accept this as the intent of Scripture. But not so for the 16th-century Reformers — Luther and Zwingli among them. These leading Reformers, not yet fully enlightened as to all the truths of biblical theology, persecuted the Anabaptists unmercifully. In fact, the Protestant city council of Zurich decided to punish these radicals who had the audacity to disagree with traditions: first, to warn them of the consequences of their noncompliance. If the Anabaptists rejected this overture, the delinquents were then marched out to the local river and pompously rebaptized by being held under the water until they were dead.
To some of the mistaken Reformers it seemed in the realm of reason that “if the ‘heretics’ want water let them have it.”9 The result? Persecutions that martyred thousands nearly wiped out the Anabaptists as a movement. But regardless, the Anabaptist doctrines live on today in their inheritors — the modern-day Mennonites and their Amish cousins.
The second important Swiss Reformer was John Calvin (1509–64), who was born in France in July 1509. Benefiting from the reputation of his well-to-do father, he entered the University of Paris in 1523, at the age of 14. He soon proved himself a brilliant scholar. He graduated in 1528 with a master of arts degree. Calvin’s prosperous father had at first intended that his son pursue theology. But when the father had a falling-out with certain royal authorities, he enrolled Calvin at the University of Orleans to study Law, where he later graduated with a Law degree. Undoubtedly, his training in law influenced his method of interpreting Scripture.
But God had ordained that Calvin become a theologian. After his father died in 1531, Calvin once again turned his full attention to theological studies. During this time the young student read many of Luther’s books on salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. As a result, in 1533, at 24, Calvin experienced what he called a “sudden conversion” because God spoke to him through the Scriptures.10
From that moment on, he became increasingly critical of the apostasy he observed in the Catholic Church. This was admittedly a dangerous preoccupation, for by so doing Calvin was aligning himself more and more with the Protestant Huguenots of France. Not long after, when his close friend Nicholas Cop gave a public oration in Paris, the speech sounded suspiciously Protestant. (Calvin allegedly had written this address for Cop.) The consequence was that both of them rather hurriedly decided it the better part of wisdom to move to safer territory — Switzerland.11
In God’s providence, Calvin arrived in Geneva at a time when that city’s government was in serious disarray because of the Genevan disagreements with the authoritarian demands of Catholic leaders. The citizens of Geneva were greatly in need of leadership, and Calvin was able to oblige them. In fact, the man in charge pled with Calvin to remain in Geneva, even though Calvin had fully intended to go on to Strasbourg to teach.
Under Calvin’s leadership, the Genevan canton declared its independence from Catholic rule. Calvin subsequently established a form of government based on biblical principles. It is of special interest that Calvin’s exemplary theocracy later led John Knox to guide Scotland into the Protestant fold as well.
Bernard Bresson, in his extensive historical study of Medieval Pentecost, cites sources indicating Calvin’s reformation experiences were a product of his association with the Huguenots who repeatedly manifested the gifts of the Holy Spirit in their meetings.12 When Calvin was at last well-established in Geneva, he secretly supported in every way those persecuted Protestant Huguenots in France.13
Thus, the Huguenots became an important link in the chain of events that awakened thewholeProtestant movement to larger vistas of New Testament doctrine. So while Luther’s revival in Germany was progressing, similar convictions began to appear in France. This occurred, at least in part, because of the widespread circulation in France of Luther’s writings, even influencing — as has been cited above — John Calvin’s sudden conversion. Officially, of course, France was a Catholic stronghold, and the royals — the monarchs of that nation — were ever under pressure from Rome to keep it Catholic, at any cost.
Once Protestantism was introduced into France, it grew by leaps and bounds, to the great alarm of both Rome and the Catholic royal families. By 1559, the Huguenots were strong enough to declare their first Protestant Council (Synod) in spite of the objections from the Catholic authorities. Indeed, by that time, Marguerite of Navarre, a sister of the king, had become a follower of Huguenot teachings. Many others of the ruling noblemen of France had also become believers, among them Admiral Coligny and Henry of Navarre.
In 1561, the Cardinal of Sainte-Croix, greatly alarmed, wrote to the Pope, complaining that “The kingdom [of France] is already half Huguenot.” At the same time, Micheli, the ambassador from Venice, wrote back to his government that no province in France was free from Protestants.14 As a consequence, the Catholics, imagining themselves seriously threatened by the Huguenots, contemplated ominous countermeasures.
The Huguenots were willing to coexist with the Catholics. Through the years several compromises had been worked out. But neither the Pope nor the Catholic clerics could endure for very long the prickly presence of, or the aggressive evangelizing by, the Huguenots. Hundreds of nominally Catholic adherents were turning Protestant.
King Philip II of Spain felt it was his holy calling to exterminate Protestants wherever they were found — and by whatever means available. As a consequence, his shadowy influence was felt in France as it had been in England and other European countries. Since Protestants were usually considered as vermin to be destroyed, Catholic factions easily ignored agreements. Murder was often considered a viable option.
Thus, although the Catholic leadership initially resorted to harassment, it soon evolved into martyring undesirable Protestants. This in turn exploded into outright massacring of the hated Huguenots. The first Huguenot was burned at the stake in 1523. And amazingly, the Huguenots’ religious freedom was not fully restored until after the French revolution in 1789, after 266 years of persecution with only occasional intermissions.15 Brave believers, indeed.
One example of these deceptive intermissions occurred on St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1572. As the day approached, circumstances between the Protestants and the Catholics seemed relatively peaceful. Many Huguenot nobles had gathered in Paris for the festive occasion. In fact, an important wedding was planned for a leading Huguenot nobleman, Henry of Navarre, and Marguerite of Valois, Charles IX’s sister.16 But Catherine de Medici, the mother of the youthful king, had been in connivance with other Catholic leaders to take advantage of the unsuspecting Huguenots gathering in Paris for the occasion.
The Catholics initiated a nighttime attack that ultimately massacred 8,000 of the visitors to the capital. Admiral Coligny, a reputable leader of the Huguenots and a respected politician, was among those assassinated by the Catholic deception.
During the days that followed this surprise attack, Catholics systematically exterminated thousands more Huguenots throughout the provinces of France. Catholics declared open season everywhere on the Protestant Huguenots. It has been conservatively estimated that over 70,000 were unconscionably martyred. And ironically, the Pope, now convinced that all the Catholics who were involved had at last accomplished the will of God, “sent congratulations to Catherine and both thought they were done with the Huguenots.”17
Many Huguenots, however, lived on, perhaps to die yet another day — but alive, nonetheless, and still committed to their strong faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In spite of the supposed demise of the Huguenots, there were survivors of that terrible massacre. These survivors fled to the Alpine region of the Cevennes mountains, where the troubled remnant cried out to God for grace to endure. A loving Heavenly Father answered by pouring out His Spirit, thereby comforting those harassed believers.
The St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre was the origin of the now famous Cevennes prophets, to which John Wesley later referred. God strengthened these survivors with Pentecostal experiences by the Holy Spirit, the heavenly “Comforter” Jesus had promised His believers. In his text, The Life and Letters of St. Paul, author David Smith observes that during this time of severe persecution in 1685, as the Huguenots earnestly sought the Lord for consolation “the spiritual gifts of the Apostolic Church reappeared — miracles of healing, prophecy, and talking in tongues.”18 By 1689, Pentecostal experiences were quite common among the Huguenots of the Cevennes.
James Hastings, in his Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, provides further valuable information about these retiring, godly outcasts: “An infectious ecstasy seized people of all ages and of both sexes. They heard supernatural voices. They spoke with tongues. … uneducated persons gave utterance, when ‘seized by the spirit,’ to prophecies in the purest French, when all they knew was the patois Romanesque language of the Cevennes.”19
Some historians claim that all of their leaders were prophets and that [the gift of] prophecy was what held them together for 200 years.”20 Bresson’s research further claims that when under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the Huguenots would quote “long passages of Scripture correctly, talked in tongues, prophesied coming events which were to occur a long distance from them and afterward the event(s) happened as foretold.”21
Through the years of persecution, many Huguenots, including members of the French Prophets of the Cevennes, fled to England, America, and other countries, carrying with them the good news of salvation and of the ministry of the Holy Comforter and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. For example, referring to these French Prophets in England, M’Clintock and Strong call attention to their charismatic and Pentecostal-like activities: “[These ‘French Prophets’] came over to England about 1706, and brought with them the ‘gift of prophecy.’ They soon made converts in England [many from the upper classes of English society]. The great subject of their predictions was the speedy establishment of Messiah’s kingdom. Their message was (and they were to proclaim it as heralds to every nation under heaven) that the grand jubilee “the acceptable year of the Lord,” the accomplishments of those numerous Scriptures concerning the new heavens and the new earth, the kingdom of the Messiah, the marriage of the Lamb, the first resurrection, and the New Jerusalem … was now even at the door.”22
Further in this report, these Encyclopedists make it clear that these French Huguenots anticipated having a part in the fulfillment of their end-time prophecies. They expected this to be accomplished by means of the “inspiration of the mighty Gift of the Spirit,” and that this mission would also be “witnessed to by signs and wonders from heaven”23 Many certainly recognize these pronouncements of the Pentecostal-like French Prophets as similar to the present-day preachments of modern charismatics, particularly Pentecostals.
Near the end of their article, M’Clintock and Strong offer some personal evaluations that reveal their unfortunate inclinations to scandalize the manifestations of miracles in modern times. They base these, it seems, on the same philosophy that prompted Dr. Middleton’s assertion that the miraculous no longer occurs, since the apostles are dead. We see this bias in the following passage of M’Clintock and Strongs’s report on the French Prophets. “These prophets also pretended [?] to the gift of languages [tongues], of miracles, of … discerning the secrets of the heart; the power of conferring the same spirit on others by the laying on of hands, and the gift of healing. To prove they were really inspired by the Holy Ghost, they alleged [?] the complete joy and satisfaction they experienced, the spirit of prayer which was poured forth upon them, and the answer of their prayers by the Most High.”24
Pretended? Alleged? Could not their own documented report of 18th-century prophets just as easily have been describing events that occurred in the Book of Acts. Their theological prejudices — obviously present in their report — do not mean the events they describe did not really happen, although they seem anxious to imply these Pentecostal experiences were imagined. In fact, the M’Clintock and Strong report indicates that some sort of unusual spiritual experiences were happening, evidenced by the fact people were being changed for the better — even the numerous prominent upper-class believers who became Huguenots. These theological doubters — like those of Jerusalem in Acts 2 — offered rationalistic criticisms, which turned out to be totally false.
The deception employed on Saint Bartholomew’s Day was not the first — nor was it to be the last — of the premeditated and persistently planned extermination of the Protestants. Although the Huguenots were pacifists theologically, they soon learned that the only possibility of survival was to resort to armed resistance when negotiations failed. The reason? The Huguenots were willing to arrange coexistence, but the Catholics would never comply.
Because of the Romanist’s repeated efforts to expurgate the Protestants from the kingdom, at least eight major civil wars took place from 1559 through the late 1700s.25 After further harassing the Huguenots, “In 1715 King Louis XIV announced that he had [at last] ended all exercise of the Protestant religion in France.”26.
During that time, however, thousands upon thousands of Huguenots had fled the tribulations of France for the relative security of other countries. But the massive emigration of Huguenot artisans and nobility seriously impacted the French national economy. By the mid-1700s the general population of France had grown increasingly weary of the meaningless, murderous mayhem caused by the personal prejudices of their rulers. As a result, the French Revolution of 1789 ensued, and the ironic results were the complete restoration of religious freedoms for the Huguenots.
While the Huguenots elsewhere in Europe were struggling for survival, the Quakers of England were exploring the ramifications of a deeper spiritual life. The label Quakers was a nickname invented by outside observers attempting to describe their unusual behavior to the moving of the Spirit as they waited on the Lord in their midst. The Quakers, however, preferred to be identified as the Society of Friends. Nonetheless, their responses as they worshipped were decidedly charismatic, for as they waited before the Lord for inner light, or inspired direction, they often trembled physically.
They followed the teachings of their founder, George Fox (1624–91), who abhorred the cold and ritualized worship practices of the dominant Church. They believed, instead, that the Holy Spirit should fully direct their worship. In their meetings, any believer — women as well as men — could sing, read the Scriptures, or deliver an impromptu exhortation as the Holy Spirit led them. Based on his extensive research of historical sources, Bresson makes this comment about the Quakers: “A practical mysticism seems to [have] pervaded the entire Quaker Movement. Their literature records visions, healings, prophecies, and a power which they liken to Pentecost. There are many references to the moving of the Spirit.”27
As an example, Bresson provides a primary quote from among the Quakers recorded by W.C. Braithwaite and others: “We received often the pouring down of the Spirit upon us, and our hearts were made glad and our tongues loosed and our mouths opened, and we spake with new tongues as the Lord gave utterance.”28 Reports like this make it evident that the charismata of the Holy Spirit continued into modern times, in spite of the sophistry and the contrary arguments of the cessationists. It seems God insists on being in charge.
The general public that was steeped in traditions viewed these practices with great suspicion. As a consequence, the Quakers — as they sought to follow their conscience — suffered much persecution, including martyrdom for some. William Penn — a devout Quaker — established the state of Pennsylvania in 1682 to provide the Quakers a haven from persecutions they had suffered in both England and America. Somewhat later, according to his own written testimonies, John Wesley and his Methodist followers also eventually experienced the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit.
John and Charles Wesley were born into a devout Anglican minister’s family of 19 siblings. John was the 15th, born June 17, 1703; Charles was the 18th, born December 18, 1707. Both were destined to be colaborers in the ministry of evangelizing England and other parts of the world, although Charles did not entertain exactly the same religious convictions as his brother.
John Wesley’s family life and theological training reinforced his inclinations to High Church formalism. As a result, his earlier ministry was largely uneventful, if not unsuccessful. But during his voyage to America to fulfill a church assignment in Georgia, Wesley became acquainted with Moravian missionaries who challenged the young minister to seek a deeper Christian experience. Indeed, already vaguely conscious of a spiritual void in his life, Wesley greatly desired just such an experience.
Wesley’s 2 1/2 years in Georgia were generally a disappointment to himself, his brother Charles, and his colonist parishioners. Thus, he and Charles returned to England. Once again Wesley met faithful Moravian brethren, who by their gentle exhortations, led Wesley to a genuine experience of conversion. The Moravians, having experienced the gifts of the Spirit in their congregations on the Continent and in England, influenced Wesley to recognize the validity of the charismatic experiences. This lead to his later emphasis on the doctrine of entire sanctification.
Professor Robert H. Nichols of Auburn Theological Seminary describes the circumstances of Wesley in 1738: “At this time he was a man of zealous but rather severe and formal piety. He held High Church opinions, and made much of observance of the rules and seasons of the church. By narrow-minded insistence on this he came to grief in Georgia.”29
Walker adds to Nichols assessment: “There he fell in with some Moravian missionaries, in whom he saw a Christian confidence and joy which he had never known. Thus began a deep change in his religious life. This went on after his return to England, under the influence of other Moravians. It culminated in his ‘conversion,’ which occurred in 1738, during a religious service in London.”30
Wesley describes this conversion: “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”31
Wesley was so fascinated by the spiritual power manifested by these Moravians that in less than 3 weeks after his conversion he visited their religious center in Herrnhut, Germany, a Moravian village located on Count Zinzendorf’s estate. There Wesley spent 2 weeks in Marienborn conferring with Zinzendorf, a devout Moravian, and other Moravian believers.32 These Moravian contacts and those of the refugee Huguenots arriving in England influenced Wesley to be favorable toward charismatic manifestations. Wesley’s journals abound with references to Pentecostal-like demonstrations that occurred among his followers during his meetings. Wesley defended their authenticity, sometimes to the chagrin of his more formally oriented fellow ministers.
One of Wesley’s most trusted preachers, Thomas Walsh, recorded the following charismatic experience in his journal. The event is dated March 8, 1750: “This morning the Lord gave me a language that I knew not of, raising my soul to Him in a wonderful manner.”33 Wesley made it clear that he believed in the continuance of tongues and other gifts of the Holy Spirit referred to in the Bible.
In his sermon, “The More Excellent Way,” Wesley observed as follows: “St. Paul has been speaking of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost; such as healing the sick; prophesying in the proper sense of the word, that is, foretelling things to come; speaking with strange tongues, such as the speaker had never learned; and the miraculous interpretation of tongues.
“It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were common in the Church for more than two or three centuries. We seldomhear of them after the fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian; and from a vain imagination of promoting the Christian cause … heaped riches and power and honour upon the Christians in general, but in particular upon the Christian Clergy. … The cause of this was not, (as has been vulgarly supposed) ‘because there was no more occasion for them’ because [supposedly] all the world was become Christian. This is a miserable mistake; not a twentieth part of it was then nominally Christian. [No,] The real cause was [that] ‘the love of many,’ almost all Christians, so called, was ‘waxed cold.’ The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other Heathens. The Son of Man, when He came to examine his Church could hardly ‘find faith upon earth.’ ”34
John Emory, editor of The Works of John Wesley, cites another relevant statement from Wesley’s journals as Wesley sought to explain the decrease in the frequency of the charismatic gifts through the Medieval Period. Wesley wrote: “The grand reason why the miraculous gifts were so soon withdrawn was, not only that faith and holiness were well-nigh lost, but that dry, formal, orthodox men began to ridicule whatever gifts they had not themselves; and to deny them all as either madness or imposture.
“There is nothing either in the Old Testament or the New which teaches, that miracles were to be confined within the limits of the apostolic or the Cyprianic [post-apostolic] age, or that God hath precluded himself from working miracles of any kind or degree, in any age to the end of time.”35
It is evident that Wesley had the deepest of convictions that the Lord still does miracles in modern times, just as He had done in Bible times. Moreover, Wesley supported this claim for the continuance of biblical manifestations of the Holy Spirit by recording his own experiences of several hundred healing miracles during his own itinerant ministry throughout England. So, then, we are justified in agreeing with the Scripture, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). As the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3:3,4, “For what if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar”(KJV).
The continuance of spiritual gifts in the biblical pattern is evident also in the 19th century. While there are many reports that I could cite here, a noteworthy example is the powerful charismatic revival in England associated with the Irvingites — so called because Edward Irving (1792–1834) was their leader.
The Irvingites repeatedly experienced charismatic gifts that powerfully stirred London (and all England as well as Scotland). A number of that nation’s social and political leaders became adherents of Irving. Included among them were Sir James Mackintosh, statesman; Sir David Wilkie, artist; F.D. Maurice, theologian; Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas DeQuincey, Charles Lamb, and Thomas Carlyle, renown English authors.36
The principal leader of this revival, Edward Irving, was born in Scotland to Presbyterian parents. His father was a Covenanter, his mother of Huguenot background. They ambitiously determined that their son Edward would be a minister. Indeed, Edward willingly prepared himself for that profession by graduating from the University of Edinburgh in 1805. He served in minor roles in his denomination until he was chosen to serve as assistant pastor to Dr. Chalmers of St. John’s of Glasgow. There he developed an enviable reputation as a pulpit orator and pastor.
As a consequence of his success in Scotland, in 1822 he was sent to London to be the senior pastor of the Scottish Caledonian Church on Cross Street, which was slowly languishing into oblivion. Although the church, at the beginning, had only 50 members, Irving’s anointed preaching soon attracted large crowds. In 3 months his church seating 1,500 was filled beyond capacity. At this point he enjoyed acclaim from many of the important personages of London society mentioned above.37
What might have been the cause of Irving’s developing successes? One biographer of 1860 stated the following physical reasons: “The preacher’s great stature, his bushy black hair hanging down in ringlets, his deep voice, his solemn manner, the impressiveness of his action, his broad Scotch dialect, his … forcible style, all combined to rivet attention, and made you feel that you were in the presence of a power.Nor did his matter (sic, manner ) belie the impression which was thus created. He was bent upon accomplishing the Gospel ministry in saving souls from death”38 (emphasis mine).
Other biographers have noted what is undoubtedly a more significant reason, the special empowerment of the Holy Spirit. By 1830, Irving was teaching that the initial evidence of a believer’s receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. According to Irving, unless the believer speaks in tongues he has not yet received the gift of the Holy Spirit. As a result of Irving’s teaching, the first public manifestation of the gift of tongues in his church occurred on April 30, 1831.39 And as one might expect, numerous other spiritual gifts followed.
Irving’s parishioners generally received these charismatic manifestations. But, tragically, Irving went further, to the detriment of himself and his congregation. He began teaching that prophecies given under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit should be received as equivalent to the Scriptures. Without question, the Lord of heaven “honors His Word above His Name” (Psalm 138:2). Unfortunately, however, because of this error many Bible scholars argue that everything Irving did was heretical — but that is not true.
Irving was wrong to equate ecstatic speech with God’s holy Word. He suffered a heart-breaking decline because of his mistake. Many in Irving’s congregation began to feel uneasy with this latest teaching. This uneasiness grew, and shortly thereafter the congregation began to openly object. Their objections crescendoed into a storm.
The unpleasant conclusion occurred in April 1832. Irving’s own church members relieved him of his pastorate. In March 1833, the General Presbytery of the Church of Scotland deposed Irving from the ministry he loved so much. It seems likely that Irving had intruded on God’s Holy of Holies, and he suffered the consequences. Irving died on December 7, 1834, at the age of 42.40
In spite of his deviation from scriptural doctrines, many of those who opposed him, respectfully attended his funeral and praised his selfless ministry to others. As M’Clintock & Strong observed, “Of Irving it may truly be conceded that a more devout or earnest spirit has not appeared on the stage of time in the 19th century.”41
It would, however, be a monumental mistake to suppose that Irving was the only bright star in the expanding Pentecostal constellation of the 19th century. There were other powerful revivals led by ministers such as Charles Finney (1792–1875) and Dwight L. Moody (1837–99) both of whom testified of Pentecostal-like experiences empowering their efforts.
Shortly after Finney’s conversion in 1821, he was waiting on the Lord asking for spiritual enablement when he was mightily moved upon by the Lord. In his Autobiography, Finney refers to this experience as the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” and described the occasion as follows: “I wept aloud with joy and love … and literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my soul.”42
Finney could have easily described the remarkable intensity of his unique experience in the words of Paul in Romans 8:26,27: “But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will” (NLT43). Paul is probably referring to the believer’s experiences of praying in ecstatic utterances (“tongues”), motivated by the Holy Spirit.
Finney’s experience was so intense that he reported he was constrained to ask the Lord to let up a little. But the experience of that anointing was the impetus for Finney’s powerfully successful revivals. Britannica’s biographical sketch of Finney says: “He fomented spirited revivals in the villages of upstate New York. … His revivals [also] achieved spectacular success in large cities, and in 1832 he began an almost continuous revival in New York City … [which] led his supporters to build … the Broadway Tabernacle [for him] in 1834.”44
Dwight L. Moody
Dwight L. Moody was also mightily used of the Lord to bring revival to both America and the United Kingdom. Moody was born in Massachusetts. He was converted from Unitarianism to fundamentalist evangelicalism in 1854. During the Civil War he worked with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). In the 1870s and 1880s he and Ira D. Sankey conducted evangelistic meetings in Great Britain with only moderate success.
In his disappointment with the results of his evangelistic efforts, Moody began seeking the Lord for the reasons. Perhaps in answer to Moody’s prayers, he met two Christian ladies who encouraged him to wait before the Lord for the enduement of spiritual power. Moody retreated to his room and did what they advised. Following is Moody’s own account of the results: “I was crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit. Well, one day, in the city of New York — oh, what a day — I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred to name. … I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had an experience of His love [so] that I had to ask him to stay His hand. [After that] I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted. I would not be placed back where I was before that blessed experience for all the world — it would be as the small dust of the balance.”45
From that moment Moody’s ministry was noticeably enriched. By his own admission, many more people came to the Lord, people were often healed, some prophesied under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and some even spoke with tongues. Spiritual gifts similar to those recorded in Acts also occurred.
Stanley H. Frodsham records the following incident reported by Rev. Robert Boyd of one such occurrence at the YMCA in Sunderland, England: “When I got to the rooms of the Y.M.C.A. I found the meeting on fire. The young men were speaking in tongues and prophesying. What on earth did it all mean? Only that Moody had been addressing them that afternoon. Many of the clergy were so opposed to the movement that they turned their backs upon our poor innocent Y.M.C.A., for the part we took in the work; but afterward, when the floodgates of divine grace were opened, Sunderland was taken by storm. … The people of Sunderland warmly supported the movement, in spite of their spiritual advisers. There was a tremendous work of grace.46
In addition to the examples of Pentecostal experiences listed above, the dedicated researcher will discover that there are many other textbooks describing similar visitations of the Spirit in the 19th century. For example, additional accounts can be discovered by perusing Stanley Frodsham’s With Signs Following, particularly chapters 1, 23, and 24. Other sources include Smith’s Bible Dictionary. All of these reports are from a dedicated researcher/author of the modern period under consideration. Likewise, peruse the last three chapters of Bresson’s Studies in Ecstasy. Each chapter provides additional documented information on this late 19th-century period.
Several sources, among the texts listed in the endnotes, tell of John Wesley’s encounter with Dr. Conyers Middleton a noted cessationist and contemporary of Wesley. Middleton published a document entitled Introductory Discourse and the Free Inquiry into Miraculous Powers. Middleton argued: “After apostolic times, there is not, in all history, one instance; either well attested, or even so much as mentioned, of any particular person who had ever exercised that gift [the ‘Gifts of the Holy Spirit’], or pretended to exercise it in any age or country whatever.”47 A very self-assured claim, but remarkably mistaken for someone claiming to be a scholar.
Because of his supposed scholarship, subsequent scholars — even into the 20th century — have quoted him. In Coneybeare & Howson’s classic and otherwise commendable work The Life and Epistles of Saint Paul, Conybeare states: “The feature which most immediately forces itself on our notice, as distinctive of the Church in the Apostolic age, is its possession of supernatural gifts. Concerning these, our whole information must be derived from Scripture, because they appear to have vanished with the disappearance of the Apostles themselves, and there is no authentic account of their existence in the Church in any writings of a later date than the books of the New Testament.”48
More recent and careful scholarship has proven how immensely inaccurate Middleton and his later cessationists colleagues have been. It is possible that these renowned men felt so secure in their oft-repeated presuppositions that they failed to research the records carefully for themselves.
We cannot deny that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit have at times diminished alarmingly. But without question we cannot deny that there are many verifiable incidents in church history that tell of the Holy Spirit’s gifts being poured out,even in the darkest hours of church history.
However, those infrequent sprinkles of blessing in Medieval times have in the 20th and 21st centuries turned into a “Latter Rain” downpour of Pentecostal manifestations. These gifts are helping mature the final harvest prophesied by Joel to occur in the last days.
The Master of the Harvest — less interested in preserving denominational names than in gathering the precious harvest—is “paying” workers hired at the end of the “day” just as much as He did those workers employed at the beginning (Cp Matthew 20:1-16). The unfolding story of modern-day Pentecost most certainly supports this assertion.
The late Lynn D. Kanaga, Keizer, Oregon, was former associate professor emeritus, Vanguard University, Costa Mesa, California.
- Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929), 335–59.
- R. Kuntze, Geschichte der Chrislichen Kirche fur Schule und Haus, trans. 3d book (Dresden: R. Kuntzes, 1859 & 1882), 400 & 406.
- Walker, 350–53.
- A.J. Gordon, The Ministry of Healing (Chicago: Fleming H. Revell, 1882), 92; quoted by Donald Lee Barnett and Jeffrey P. McGregor, Speaking in Other Tongues (Seattle: Community Chapel Publications, 1986).
- Ibid., 93–95; quoted by Barnett and McGregor, 239.
- Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 2d ed. (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1995), 249.
- Robert Hastings Nichols, The Growth of the Christian Church (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1941), 201–05.
- William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1963), 11.
- Shelley, 247–49.
- Walker, 391.
- Ibid., 389–401.
- Bernard L. Bresson, Studies in Ecstasy (New York: Vantage Press, 1966), 40,52.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia III, (1980), 674.
- John M’Clintock and James Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature IV (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1894), 391.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia V, (1980), 189.
- Walker, 435.
- Nichols, 212.
- David Smith, The Life and Letters of St. Paul (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1919), 299.
- James Hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, VII, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908–27), 480.
- Bresson, 41.
- Ibid., 42.
- M’Clintock and Strong, III, 661, col. 2.
- Ibid., IV, 39–97
- Britannica, Micropaedia, V, 189 (1980).
- Bresson, 68.
- W.C. Braithwaite, The Message and Mission of Quakerism (Philadelphia: John C. Winston, Company, 1912), 16; quoted in Bresson.
- Nichols, 274,75.
- Walker, 507–18.
- Nichols, 275.
- Walker, 513.
- Stanley H. Frodsham, With Signs Following (Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1941), 258.
- Thomas Jackson, ed., “The More Excellent Way,” sermon #89, in The Sermons of John Wesley, 1872 edition.
- John Emory, ed., The Works of John Wesley, vol. 6, (Methodist Book J. Emroy & B. Waught, 1831), 556.
- Arnold Dallimore, Forerunner of the Charismatic Movement: The Life of Edward Irving (Chicago: Moody Press, 1983), 47; quoted in Donald Lee Barnett and Jeffrey P. McGregor, Speaking in Other Tongues (Seattle: Community Chapel Publications, 1986), 243.
- M’Clintock & Strong, IV, 662–65.
- M’Clintock & Strong, IV, 662, col. 2.
- Bresson, 96.
- Britannica, XII, 694, and Bresson, 100.
- M’Clintock & Strong, IV, 665.
- Charles Finney, Autobiography of Charles Finney (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1908), 20.
- Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright Â© 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia, IV, 145.
- William R. Moody, The Life of D.L. Moody (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1900), 149.
- Robert Boyd, The Wonderful Career of Moody and Sankey in Great Britain and America (New York: Henry S. Goodspeed & Company, 1875); also reported in W.H. Daniels, Moody and His Work (Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1876), 248.
- Conyers Middleton, Introductory Discourse and the Free Inquiry into Miraculous Powers (London: J. Smith, 1749).
- W.J. Conybeare, and J.S. Howson The Life and Epistles of Saint Paul, chapter XIII, (Hartford: S.S. Scranton & Company, 1906), 372; also footnote 6 on 451,52.