There are some very strange noises coming out of the church, and I don’t mean aunt Edna’s singing! They’ve got some kind of over-excited chatter going on that is like jibber jabber or enigmatic babbling! And everybody there is doing it, or at least that’s the way it seems. What does it all mean? In case you don’t know, it’s what they call “Speaking in Tongues!” It’s as catching as a virus and seems to infect the whole place!
But the church is quite divided about the Holy Spirit and His manifestations. Not everyone in the church is hip on tongues. Doesn’t the Bible talk about Tongues? Aren’t tongues speakers simply following the great apostolic tradition which began at Pentecost where the Spirit fell on the whole place and they all spoke in tongues? As I remember it, both Jews and Gentiles spoke in tongues in the book of Acts, as did the Corinthian Church. Shouldn’t we follow their example?
Now that’s the whole catch to it, isn’t it? Are we really following their example? Are the “tongues” spoken today really the tongues of the Bible? Every one of us needs to address this. Because if they are, we ought to do it, but if they are not, we must get back to the biblical pattern! Just what were tongues in the Bible? Here is the very first occurrence:
Now there is some tongue speaking, I’ll tell you! Pentecostals get their name from the day of Pentecost. They teach that the evidence of the Baptism or filling of the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues just like the Apostles did. So what are these tongues they spoke in? It’s pretty clear from verses 5 and 6:
Those tongues were languages. In fact, Acts 2 mentions some sixteen different, specific foreign languages or tongues spoken by the Apostles and their followers. And the confusion did not occur because of jibber jabber or enigmatic babbling like it does in the church today. The people were confused back then, not because they could not understand them, but because most of Jesus followers were uneducated, unsophisticated Galileans who had never before in their lives spoken a word of a foreign dialect and could not have possibly learned all these languages! Can anyone say “Google translator?” They didn’t need one! Those foreigners understood every word!
For nearly 2000 years the gift of tongues was defined as a supernatural ability, given by the Holy Spirit to some Christians, enabling them to speak in previously unlearned foreign languages. After the age of the Apostles, tongue speaking was rare. Occasionally history recorded a person here or there who preached a sermon or witnessed to foreigners in a language he had not learned. It was not until the late 1800’s and early 1900’s that the modern phenomena of tongues took off!
Charles F. Parham, an American preacher and evangelist, was one of the central figures in the development and early spread of speaking in tongues. He eventually called glossolalia a heavenly prayer language. But at first, “Parham …claimed that tongues were actual foreign languages given to a special set of missionary end-time believers to be used to preach the Gospel in foreign lands. On January 1, 1901, Agnes Ozman was the first to be baptized in the Spirit with the expected sign. Within a few days, about half of the Bethel students experienced Spirit baptism and tongues.
But then an unexpected event happened. Alfred Garr, a Pentecostal missionary to India in early 1907 discovered that he could not speak Bengali. He was daunted to learn that his tongues were not languages at all! He was the first in print to make the jump from tongues being actual foreign languages to their being spiritual prayer languages.
Did you catch the transition and the reason for it? Since the tongues they spoke didn’t work like the tongues of the Bible, they came up with another way of looking at them! They borrowed language from 1 Corinthians 13 and 14 in order to explain their new type of tongues! They called them the “language of angels;” (“though I speak in the tongues of men or angels…” 1 Cor 13:1). They called it a “heavenly prayer language;” (“he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him” – 1 Cor 14:2… “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding.” 1 Cor 14:14-15).
If tongues were really spiritual prayer languages, why did Paul insist that no one should speak in tongues or foreign languages unless there was an interpreter?
- 5 – You should not speak in tongues “unless indeed (you) interpret, that the church may receive edification.”
- 13 – If you speak “in a tongue pray that (you) may interpret.”
- 27 – “If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret.”
- 28 – “If there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church”
- 33 – “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”
Genuine speaking in tongues was never mere gibberish. It was always a clear and understandable foreign language. Paul’s comment about tongues was this, “There are …so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance.” The confusion brought about by this new kind of tongues has led many to seek some special endowment God is not offering!
William J. Seymour was a close associate of Parham. He was very concerned about the tongues speaking that he and Charles promoted. He was concerned about the possibility of counterfeit tongues. Seymour asserted that “if you get angry, or speak evil or backbite, I care not how many tongues you may have, you have not the baptism with the Holy Spirit …some people to-day cannot believe that they have the Holy Ghost without some outward signs: that is Heathenism.”
He had that right! God is the God of order and peace, as in all the churches. The solid truth is that It is our love one for another, not some spectacular gift that draws people to Christ.