The Legacy of Edward Irving: An Apostolic Pioneer
Discover the legacy of Edward Irving, an apostolic pioneer whose views resulted in his being found guilty of heresy and deposed from the ministry. Edward Irving was an apostolic pioneer. He was invited to be the minister of Caledonian Chapel in London, July 1822, when he was almost thirty. He had recently completed all the stringent requirements to obtain a "License to Preach" in the Scottish Church and was ready for service. Most people, however, in Scotland did not like his flamboyant style, but in London it was different.
Within nine months, the congregation grew from fifty to more than one thousand. Because of the vast crowds, a ticket system for attending was introduced, because the building was only designed to hold five hundred. People from all walks of life flocked to hear Irving denounce the evils of his day. In 1824 the congregation moved to a new church in Regent Square, then the largest in London.
Later that year Edward Irving was invited to be the speaker at the annual meeting of the London Missionary Society. Irving regularly preached long sermons but this was longer than usual, the service lasted three and a half hours. They expected an inspiring account of their work which would encourage liberal future support. However, Irving gave a detailed exposition of missionary work in the New Testament showing how the disciples were sent out by Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, without any money. He argued that these methods should still be used today. His hosts were annoyed, further, when Irving later published an even more detailed account of his views entitled, "Missionaries after the Apostolic School."
It is interesting to note, as a result of the outpouring of the Spirit at the start of this century, many missionaries went out as Irving advocated. Most of them found, however, they needed the backing of an organization to survive. Edward Irving's fundamental approach to the Bible was very different from the liberal view of many who embraced the teaching of Schleiermacher, a Calvinist theologian, regarded as the father of modern Protestant thought.
As a result of studying the Bible, Edward Irving was convinced that Jesus Christ was able to resist temptation because the Holy Spirit dwelt in Him. This was contrary to the generally accepted view at the time that taught that Jesus did not sin because He was divine. Most of Edward Irving's congregation agreed with his interpretation of scripture because it showed them that they could resist sin, just as Jesus did. On earth, Edward Irving taught, Jesus was exactly as they were.
The religious establishment disagreed strongly with Edward Irving who aggravated the situation even more by his actions. The result was, in 1830, Irving was found guilty on four charges of heresy by the London Presbytery and declared to be no longer a member. At this time, Edward Irving still had the support of and oversight of his church.
Edward Irving's study of the Bible had also convinced him that all Christians should be baptized in the Holy Spirit, and, as evidence, they would speak in other tongues. Further, there should also be prophecies and healings. (The general view was that these outward signs of power had ceased after the death of the apostles and the baptism was now limited to the inward gift of sanctification and fruitfulness.) During 1830 there were claims that people in the west of Scotland were manifesting these signs that Irving taught. After careful investigation, Edward Irving was convinced they were genuine and this was the start of the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit before the return of Jesus Christ.
Prayer meetings were held in London for God to pour out His Spirit. Soon, speaking in tongues and interpretations were a regular occurrence. To maintain some order, Edward Irving insisted people should only speak in tongues during two specified periods, in the prayer meeting but never in the Sunday services. In the morning service, Sunday, 30 October 1831, a lady felt an irresistible urge to speak in tongues. Trying to observe the restrictions of the minister, she ran into the vestry. Then another lady feeling the same urge, ran out into the street. After careful consideration, Edward Irving decided to allow tongues and interpretation in the Sunday services.
This was too much for the trustees and so they took legal advice against Edward Irving. Two eminent lawyers advised them to remove Irving by complaining to the London Presbytery as required by their trust deed. This raised several problems, but the result was that, on 26 April 1832, the London Presbytery found Irving guilty of deviations from the doctrine and discipline of the Church of Scotland. Those who gathered at the church for the early morning prayer meeting on, Friday 4 May, found the doors locked against them. On Sunday about 800 people, mainly from Regent Square, joined Edward Irving for communion in a hired hall nearby. After some months they moved to Newman Street and the organization that developed became known as, The Catholic Apostolic Church, nicknamed the Irvingites.
Edward Irving was particularly interested in prophecy. He predicted there would be a widespread outpouring of the Holy Spirit and that the Jews would return to their own land. These both happened in the first half of the twentieth century. Edward Irving thought, however, it would be much sooner. He believed the Millennium would commence in 1867. For many people, his prophecies convinced them he was a crank.
Irving claimed he came under the jurisdiction of the Presbytery in, Annan, Scotland, from which he received his ordination to the Church of Scotland. The annual assembly in 1832 commissioned the Annan Presbytery to try Irving as soon as possible. On 13 March 1833, he was found guilty of maintaining the sinfulness of the Savior in His human nature and was deposed from the ministry. (Although Irving referred to the human nature of Christ as, "That sinful substance" he also affirmed that Christ never sinned.)
Edward Irving not only believed in divine healing but also that sickness came as a consequence of sin. Sadly, three of his four children died at an early age. Edward Irving believed that God would heal them when they died he said it was God judging him for his sin.
Later Edward Irving discovered that he had consumption. When his illness became worse he concluded God was again judging him, although there was no apparent justification for it. Irving died, 7 December 1834, at the age of forty-two and was buried in a crypt at Glasgow Cathedral. Edward Irving clearly anticipated many of the Pentecostal beliefs although no one has been able to trace any direct connection. He made many mistakes and Pentecostals could learn from them. Hopefully, we will not follow the observation of Hegel, "History teaches that people never learn anything from history."
© Jonas Clark
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