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Edward Irving: Preacher, Prophet and Charismatic Theologian

 

The battle between Irving and the elders continued. The issue of contention was not theological, but ecclesiastical. The elders did not argue that tongues had passed away with the apostles and were therefore not apart of biblical worship. Their concern was that tongues and prophecy from members of the congregation caused interruptions in the church service. Irving’s sister-in-law, Mrs. Hamilton reported that during one meeting a few women began to speak in tongues. Some in the crowd cried out saying, “Silence!” Others vocalized their approval with cheers of “Here, here!” According to Irving, everyone in the congregation turned to each other to say something. The result was commotion. Irving gained control of the meeting.30 Irving was torn over the issue of speaking in tongues. He disliked the commotion, but confidently believed that the gifts of the Spirit were in line with the Word of God concerning the worship of the church. In April 1832, the board of trustees brought the issue before the London Presbytery. On May 2, the Presbytery decided that Irving was in violation of the order of worship for the Church of Scotland by allowing interruptions by the laity. The Presbyters deemed him unfit to minister at the National Scotch Church and ought to be removed from his position of leadership.31 The next day, those who attended the morning prayer meeting found the doors to the church locked.

 

The Church on Newman Street

With no place to meet, Irving and 800 charismatic enthusiasts from Regent Square used a rented facility to continue their services highlighted by the gifts of the Spirit. After a few months, they found a permanent home on Newman Street in London. Only a handful of people remained in what was left of the National Scotch Church in London. As an independent church, the Newman Street Church presented an opportunity to explore the full “restoration” of New Testament spirituality and church government. In addition to the restoration of the Spirit baptism, tongues and prophecy, many of the emerging leaders at Newman Street anticipated the restoration of apostolic church government. Following a strict interpretation of I Corinthians 12:28,32 Church authority rested first with apostles. In November, John Cardale, who lead the investigation of the charismatic manifestations in Scotland, was appointed as the first apostle. The layout of the platform of the Newman Street Church best expresses the authority structure of the church. There were six levels to the platform, with the top level occupied by the Apostles. The second level sat the Prophets. Levels followed for the Elders, Evangelists & Deacons in descending order. The bottom level was reserved for Edward Irving, who received the title “Angel,” taken from Revelation chapters two and three.

The Newman Street Church experienced the use of the gift of tongues and prophecy and attracted people who had grew weary of the lifeless religiosity of denominational Christianity. The supernatural component of the faith had been restored in a religious climate steeped in intellectualism. Not only did Irving teach on the restoration of the gifts of the Spirit and Spirit baptism, but he also taught on the power of the Church to heal the sick. Irving writes,

…And this we have as the last particular (from Mark 16:17&18): “They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” Sickness is sin apparent in the body, the presentiment of death, the forerunner of corruption. Disease of every kind is mortality begun. Now, as Christ came to destroy death, and will yet redeem he body from the bondage of corruption, if the Church is to have a first-fruits or earnest of this power, it must be by receiving power over diseases, which are the first-fruits and earnest of death; and this being given to her, completes the circle of her power.33

In Irving’s theology of healing, he linked together sin and sickness, calling sickness “sin apparent in the body.” For Irving, this is a Christ-centered doctrine. The power of the Lord present to heal is a result of the ministry of Christ. He came in the power of the Spirit to heal. This became a precedent for the Church to follow and the “first fruits” of power over sickness and disease. In a June issue of the Morning Watch, Irving writes in response to the cholera outbreak in England. Irving’s comments concluded that sickness was the result of sin or a Job-like test “and that no man with faith should be overpowered by it.”34

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Category: Church History, Spring 2002

About the Author: Derek Vreeland, MDiv (Oral Roberts University), DMin (Asbury Theological Seminary), is the Discipleship Pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He is the author of Shape Shifters: How God Changes the Human Heart: A Trinitarian Vision of Spiritual Transformation (Word & Spirit Press, 2008), Primal Credo: Your Entrance into the Apostles' Creed (Doctrina Press, 2011), and Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright: A Reader's Guide to Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Doctrina Press, 2015). http://derekvreeland.com Twitter: @DerekVreeland

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