Where Pentecostalism came from (PART 2)

The legacy of Edward Irving

“The major milieu out of which Pentecostalism sprang was the worldwide Holiness movement, which had developed out of nineteenth-century American Methodism.”(Vinson Synan, Ph.D., University of Georgia, 2001) [1].

To be consise, Pentecostalism developed in the early twentieth-century from the Holiness movement, which developed from American Methodism in the nineteenth-century, which developed out of eighteenth-century Weslyan theology. However, the theological roots of Pentecostalism are more complex than American Methodism alone.

In the 1830s until the end of the nineteenth-century a revival of tongues-speaking occurred in England that was the forerunner to twentieth-century Pentecostalism. The revival occurred during the ministry of Edward Irving. Understanding where Pentecostalism came from involves understanding the legacy of Edward Irving and the importance of nineteenth-century premillennialism.[4]

Nineteenth-century Premillennialism (Irving's legacy) [2]

Edward Irving (1792-1834) is considered to be a forerunner of Pentecostalism [3]. He was a Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) minister, with a congregation in London. He believed himself to be a prophet of God and sought to reintroduce a charismatic dimension to Protestantism.

Irving developed a charismatic sacramentalism. He believed that much of the power of the Reformation lay in its sacramental theology, and so in response he stressed the presence and power of the Spirit in baptism.

Later he developed a charismatic eschatology. After meeting some of the first Anglican premillennialists [4] he began to believe in a period prior to the Second Coming when a “latter-rain” outpouring of the Holy Spirit would occur. This was grounded in his apocalyptic exposition of biblical prophecy. Irving was the first major populariser of this theology because of his many published works on prophecy and the Albury Park prophecy conferences, which he organised. [5]

It was Irving's apocalyptic interpretation of biblical prophecy that influenced one of the most significant fathers of this movement, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), to adopt this new understanding. Darby was a leader in the Brethren movement who went on to develop a new system of eschatology called “dispensationalism.” Dispensationalism went against the teaching of all of Church history by teaching that the Second Coming of Christ would occur in two stages, the first being a secret “rapture” of true believers, and the second being the Second Advent. Many from Darby's own group, the Plymouth Brethren, went on to become enthusiastic preachers of dispensational premillennialism. [6]

Next Irving formulated a charismatic Christology, teaching that in the incarnation Jesus received a fallen nature, but the activity of the Spirit in his life kept him from sinning.

It was during this time that Irving began to teach that the “extraordinary” gifts would be given again by the Spirit to the church in the period just prior to the Second Coming of Christ. This conviction led him to wait in expectation for this to occur in his life time.

Then in 1830 Irving learned that speaking in tongues had been reported in Scotland. It was not long after this that Irving himself reported manifestations of tongues-speaking in his Regent Square Church. From then on Irving made tongues-speaking the central focus of his church meetings.

Shortly after this time, in 1833, Irving was disposed by the Church of Scotland General Assembly for his teachings. Almost all of his followers joined the Catholic Apostolic Church and until the end of the century his followers made tongues-speaking characteristic to their church life.

The next post will be the final of this three part series talking about where Pentecostalism came from. We'll talk again about the nineteenth-century, this time focusing on the Holiness movement, the movement that began in America with the motive of preserving and spreading Wesley's (English) doctrine of entire sanctification and Christian perfection.

More on this topic

(PART 3) Where Pentecostalism came from - The Holiness movement

(PART 1) Where Pentecostalism came from - The theology of John Wesley

Why Pentecostalism began

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[1] Vinson Synan (Ph.D., University of Georgia), “Pentecostalism,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed., Paternoster Press, 2001, p. 899.

[2] Ian S. Rennie (Ph.D., University of Toronto), “Irving, Edward,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed., Paternoster Press, 2001, p. 617-618.

[3] Gary B. McGee (Ph.D., Professor of Church History, Chair, Bible and Theology Department at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary), Systematic Theology, Chapter 1 “Historical Background”, Logion Press, 1995, p. 10.

[4] The “Millennium” denotes the kingdom of Christ spoken of in Revelation (20:1-10) describing Christ reigning on earth for a thousand year period. This period is inaugurated by the devil being bound and a resurrection of those martyred for Jesus who reign with Christ during the millennium. “Millennialism” is concerned with the nature of the kingdom of Christ. “Premillennialism” views Christ's Second Coming preceding his millennial reign, while “Postmillennialism” views the Millennium starting with his Second Coming. “Amillennialism” views the Millennium as figurative of the present age in which we live now. Each of these views expects the nature of Christ's kingdom to be quite different. Premillennialism views Christ's kingdom coming in a cataclysmic and supernatural way, preceded by miraculous signs, preaching the gospel to all nations, great apostasy, the appearance of the Antichrist and the great tribulation, all before Christ's coming which will result in a period of righteousness when Christ and Christians control the world. Postmillennialism sees Christ's kingdom coming naturally and gradually over a long period of time by means of preaching and conversions, resulting in a new age of peace and prosperity. Amillennialism rejects the notion that Scripture predicts an earthly rule of Christ before the final judgment. They see Christ's kingdom in the present age already, in which his rule is exercised in his Church through his Word and Spirit. They view the present age continuing as it has done since the beginning, right up until the Day of resurrection and judgment at Christ's Second Coming.

[5] Robert G. Clouse (Ph.D., University of Iowa), “Millennium, Views of the,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed., Paternoster Press, 2001, p. 770-773.

[6] Darby taught the apostasy of the contemporary church and became the leader of the exclusive group known as the Plymouth Brethren movement when his interest in biblical prophecy led him to develop classical dispensationalism, a philosophy of dividing history into separate eras, each having a unique order to God's redemptive plan. The present age of the Church was to end in failure, like all dispensations, due to sinfulness. Darby went against the teaching of all of Church history by teaching that Christ's Second Advent would occur in two stages, the first being a secret “rapture” of true believers. The rapture would end the “parenthesis” of the Church age which had put a pause on the literal fulfilment of OT prophecy concerning Israel. After the rapture the prophecies of the Book of Revelation would be fulfilled, beginning the Great Tribulation. After this Christ's final Second Coming would inaugerate a literal thousand year reign of Christ on the earth, consummating the Kingdom of God and bringing the resoration of Israel.

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