This study looks at the men and movements that have given definition to the pursuit of God’s glory. This series of teachings is an inquiry of these men and women’s lives, their impact on Christian culture and the times they lived in. For the sake of relevance we will focus on the people, places and events whose legacy still lives and influences us today. This installment of this study looks at the life of a little known English apostle named Edward Irving.
Edward Irving: 1792-1834
Edward Irving was an early pioneer who lived in the dawn of the Victorian era. He championed the subject of spiritual warfare, the five-fold ministry and the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues as well as the other gifts of the spirit. Edward Irving was born a year after the death of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church. The point being that in each generation over time the Father has raised up a carrier of the glory to bring forward his emerging purposes.
In the early 1830’s Irving, a Presbyterian minister became pastor at the Church of Scotland in London England. Irving was well known even popular at first with a strong emphasis in his teachings on the coming of the Lord and the end-times.
The church he pastored in London boasted among its membership members of Parliament, authors, insurers, bankers and such. Leading religious figures in the United Kingdom would visit there when they were in London. This church was also known for its infighting and fierce determination to control the pulpit and the pastor. They were racked with strife with more than the usual share of wars between cliques. Irving did little to resolve the churches’ problems; indeed his emphasis on spiritual warfare and Christ’s return threw fuel on the fires.
Irving was not a forceful man except on the pulpit where he could sometimes be quite intimidating. He soon started classes regarding the power of evil in the world and spiritual warfare. As part of the course he instructed the people to seek the Holy Spirit, promising that in so doing the Spirit would become manifest in them. Soon (and unexpectedly) his students began speaking in unknown tongues and giving words of knowledge. Before long even the Sunday services were dominated by what we know of today as full blown Pentecostal manifestations. At first he tried to get those going through the experiences to go outside before letting loose, so as not to disturb worship (and get him fired). He did this despite the fact that this behavior was the direct result of his teachings.
It didn’t take long before things got totally out of hand. Irving tried to be uncharacteristically tough even telling one poor lady not to return until she could control herself. In the spring of 1832 he had decided to stop fighting it and allow these manifestations to show themselves in the Sunday worship services. Predictably this got him thrown out by the affluent lukewarm “old guard” in the congregation. He and a bit over half his flock left and formed the “Catholic Apostolic Church”. Irving did not become the new church’s leader however; that role was given (out front at least) to a man by the name of John Cardale. Irving stuck to preaching and teaching while certain members (including several notable politicians and prominent banker Henry Drummond) held all the power and severely limited Irving’s role in decision-making. A veritable exile from his own congregation he died at the end of 1834 from pneumonia while on a preaching tour of his native Scotland.
Irving was a thoughtful and caring man who gave up one of the most prominent pulpits in the western world to go on with God. His ministry was attended by great power and manifestations of the Holy Spirit in his meetings. He also taught passionately on the return of Christ and some hold sparked modern interest in the rapture teaching as we know it.
Irving’s belief in the imminent coming of Christ was also linked to his personal belief regarding doctors and medicine. Although he did not command his parishioners to be this way he himself rejected medical help. He saw great healing miracles in his ministry and was known as a compassionate champion of the impoverished and less fortunate who suffered immensely in pre-industrial age England.
Most of the people under his care never completely understood or appreciated this man or his anointing. His untimely death of exhaustion far from his home pulpit is a reproof to a people who failed follow their leader to the fields of the Lord, nor support him with their prayers and encouragement.
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