A man, and a woman named Priscilla, founded a ministry that was wildly successful, even attracting a prominent theologian. They emphasized the gifts of the Spirit and the millennial return of Christ. They even set the date and location for the grand event. Their followers gathered to await the descent of the New Jerusalem to earth. The movement ended in disappointment and was eventually declared heretical by the mainline Church. When and where did this occur?
I asked a number of people, and here are their guesses:
- Not in North Carolina in the 1980s.
- The Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker scandal happened in North Carolina in the 1980s. Even though they stressed charismatic gifts and the second coming, it wasn’t primarily an end-times movement. There was no Priscilla, there was no defection of a prominent theologian to their cause, nor was there any talk of the New Jerusalem descending to earth.
- Not in California in the 1970s
- A lot of strange things happen in California, and that’s just the weather! The place and date might have reminded you of the People’s Temple disaster. However, it didn’t match any of the clues I gave.
- Not in Australia in the 1890s.
- With apologies to my Australian readers, I have no idea what happened in Australia during the 1890s. The nation was only about 30 years old, and I am not aware of any major religious hysteria in Australia at any time. I just picked the date and place out of thin air. I’m curious why some people chose it.
- Not in Missouri in the 1840s.
- There was a lot of millennial madness in the 1840s, but none of the movements involved a woman named Priscilla, the descent of the New Jerusalem to earth, the defection of a prominent theologian, or charismatic gifts. (The modern Pentecostal and charismatic movements began in the early twentieth century.) None of the millennial movements of the 1840s were officially declared heresies, either.
- Not in Germany in the 1420s.
- There was a lot of millennial madness in central Europe in the 1420s, which is why the Protestant Reformers taught that millennialism is a heresy. Some of those movements did involve charismatic gifts and the New Jerusalem on earth, but none of them had a Priscilla. The largest millennialist movement in the 1420s took place in Bohemia, not Germany.
- Yes! Asia Minor in the third century!
- This is the correct answer! The man was named Montanus, and so the movement was known as Montanism. Montanus and Priscilla claimed to be the incarnate Holy Spirit. They predicted the imminent return of Jesus and set a date for the descent of the New Jerusalem in a town in Phrygia. Tertullian was the prominent theologian who was won over to their cause. By some ancient reports, he later returned to Orthodoxy. Because baptism has to be in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit according to Matthew 28:19, and because Montanus thought he was the Holy Spirit, the Church ruled that Montanist baptisms were invalid.
I remember when I was a teenager, someone assured me that Jesus would return by 1970, because no other time in history was as good a fit for the prophecies in the Bible as the late 1960s. If you read up on Church history, or if you are old enough and paid attention, you will recall that there are people like that in every decade and century. Jesus said that we should be ready at any moment, so obedient Christians should take news of the second coming in stride.
Personally, I think that people are fascinated with the end times so that they can avoid thinking about death. Surely it is more fun to think that I will meet my Lord on the clouds than on a hospital bed in a nursing home! It is more likely that I will meet my Lord in the hour of my death than on the clouds when He returns. I should be prepared for either one to happen at any time.