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Loss of spiritual gifts for Tertullian
Loss of spiritual gifts for Tertullian
A most remarkable witness to the cessation of heavenly gifts in the church, and especially of prophecy, was the celebrated Tertullian, the first and in many ways the greatest of the Latin Fathers. He seems to have been a convert—joining the church at about the age of forty in Carthage—and was one of the greatest lawyers of his day. Tertullian was not a man to be fooled; he wanted to know things for himself, and he made himself the foremost authority on the nature and institutions of the original Christian church. Like Clement and Justin Martyr before him, he was predisposed by long and laborious study in the schools of the pagans to recognize and appreciate those special characteristics of the Christian teaching which set it off sharply from all other doctrines. He knew, as they knew, that philosophers, administrators, journalists, scholars, orators, and teachers, if not quite a dime a dozen, can be trained up in any desired numbers. But not so with prophets! The gift of prophecy was for Tertullian the strongest recommendation of the divinity of the Christian church, and it was only when painful experience had convinced him beyond a doubt that the main church no longer possessed that gift that he did an amazing thing: Tertullian, commonly called the Puritan of the early church, the man who placed zeal for salvation above all other considerations and who showed by word and deed that no sacrifice was too great provided only he gain that salvation—Tertullian left the church! In doing so he did not change his mind about the gospel. What he did was to join the Montanists, a strictly orthodox sect which differed from the main church in one important thing: They preached that the gift of prophecy must be found in the church if it is the true church. That was what Tertullian was after. At the time of his going over he wrote a remarkable work in which he accused the main church of having supplanted the authority of revelation by the authority of office and numbers. Because they have the teaching (doctrinam) of the Apostles, he reminds the clergy, it does not follow that they have their authority (postestatem). All men are governed by discipline, but power comes only from God by the Spirit. The Apostles worked not by the formal operation of discipline but by direct power from God. "Show me therefore, you who would be apostolic, some prophetic examples, and I will acknowledge the divinity of your calling." It is true, they have ministerium, an official calling, but that is not imperium, the actual possession of power. The spiritual power of the church is that exercised only by Apostles and prophets, for "the Church is the spirit working through an inspired man; the Church is not a number of bishops. The final decision remains with the Lord, never with the servant; it belongs to God alone, not to any priest."17 Tertullian says much more in this vein. Whether one agrees with him or not, he shows us that the issue was clearly drawn at a very early date. Already there were two factions in the church, those who precluded office by spirit, and those who supplanted spirit by office. The only solution to the problem, as Tertullian clearly sees, is the presence of the power of prophecy in the church.
- Hugh W. Nibley, The World and the Prophets, 3rd edition, (Vol. 3 of Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987), Chapter 28, references silently removed—consult original for citations.