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Edward Irving: Preacher, Prophet and Charismatic Theologian


Ecclesiastical persecution & Pentecostal perseverance

Serving as the minister of the National Scotch Church at Regent Square, Irving served under the London Presbytery and willingly submitted to their authority. By the spring of 1830, opposition to Irving’s doctrine of the true (sinful) human nature of Christ had come to the attention of other presbyters. In May 1830, Irving published the third tract defending his position entitled, The Opinions Circulating Concerning Our Lord’s Human Nature, Tried by the Westminster Confession of Faith. But his defense was not persuasive. At the September 20th meeting of the London Presbytery, the issue was raised again to pursue some type of action against Irving’s doctrine. Irving dissented, but his final plea was rejected. Irving attempted to defend his doctrine biblical, historical and theologically through the very creed held by the Presbytery. Finding no solution, Irving withdrew himself from the authority of the London Presbytery in order to make an appeal to the Church of Scotland from whom Irving received ordination. During the November 30th meeting, the London Presbytery ruled that Irving was guilty of heresy.26 Irving continued to preach at Regent Square. After a December 15th meeting, the Elders and Deacons of Regent Square released a public statement of support for Irving and his doctrine.

Unmoved by the claims of heresy, Irving held tight to the expectation that the manifestations of the Spirit in West Scotland who occur in London. A group from Irving’s church led by John Cardale had returned from West Scotland and started prayer meetings in various homes to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In the spring of 1831, Irving held a morning prayer meeting Monday through Saturday at 6:30 AM.27 Anywhere from 600 to 1000 attended every morning to pray for a restoration of the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit. On April 30th, their prayers were answered. John Cardale’s wife stood up during the prayer meeting and spoke in tongues and prophesied. People began to speak in tongues privately. Irving judged it to be proper and in order when it was followed by an interpretation that was edifying. He gave his authorization for the gifts to be exercised in the prayer meeting. Although the board of trustees had given their support of Irving, they began to grow increasingly uneasy with the reports of tongues and prophecy in the early morning meetings. Irving defended his authorization of the gifts by firmly stating that he could not hinder the work of the Holy Spirit. Most board members were in opposition to the gifts; one was undecided. All agreed that the gifts of the Spirit should not be introduced during the morning worship service. Many of the prayer meeting attendees were eager to see the gifts in operation during the worship service. Irving was reluctant. The conflict would soon come to a head.


The outbreak of tongues

On October 30, 1831, Irving was preaching during the regular Sunday morning worship service. Miss Hall, a governess in the home of a parliament member, stood up during Irving’s sermon and quickly made her way to the vestry. There she began to speak out loud in other tongues in the hearing of the congregation.28 The crowd of over 1500 was thrown into confusion trying to see where they sound was coming from. They questioned one another trying to understand the meaning of the unintelligible utterance. Irving stopped his sermon and called the congregation to order. He explained that this was the biblical gift of tongues and that it had become a regular occurrence of the morning prayer meeting. Feeling the need for more biblical understanding, Irving opened his Bible to 1 Corinthians 14, where he taught on the use of tongues in the worshiping community. The gift of tongues would continue.

Irving consistently defended his experience of the Spirit with a thoughtful exposition from the Scripture.

During the evening service, Irving announced that he could no longer resist the Spirit of God and would allow the worship services to be “added to” by the gifts of the Spirit.29 Tongues and interpretation were uttered during the worship services. Manifestations of the Spirit continued primarily during the evening services. Many of the trustees felt that things were getting out of control. After much consideration, Irving decided to allow tongues and prophecy at two designated places during the worship service. He felt that this would retain order and the vitality of the Spirit. The board of trustees demanded that Irving not allow the manifestation at all, which they believed only interrupted the worship service. He would not. Irving allowed the gifts of the Spirit to be exercised during the prayer meeting and during both the morning and evening Sunday worship service. He also began to teach on the baptism with the Holy Ghost during the mid-week service.

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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). Twitter: @DerekVreeland

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