Since age 21, I have only sporadically associated myself with Pentecostal or Charismatic churches and groups. I suppose there are 3 reasons for this avoidance:
(1) After a lifetime of exposures to their claims and experiences, I have reluctantly felt forced to conclude that only roughly 10% of their manifestations are authentic. Though that 10% includes the most life-transforming energies of Christian spirituality, I’m uncomfortable with the many spurious manifestations that are too often uncritically embraced.
(2) I don’t believe that speaking in tongues is a necessary condition for Spirit baptism.
(3) Most Pentecostal or Charismatic groups I’ve encountered are theologically Fundamentalist and I am not.
So this thread may seem schizoid to some as I explore my dilemma, but also the NT basis for pursuit of this gift. Exactly what is the benefit of authentically speaking in tongues to the blessed seeker? I will answer that question in 2 ways: first from the perspective of personal experience and then, in another thread from the perspective of Scripture.
By far he most powerful and important turning point in my life was an experience of glossolalia at Manhattan Beach Camp in Manitoba. I was 16 at the time and felt I had lost my faith. I was determined to give it my best shot to find God real, but not to succumb to wishful thinking and emotionalism. That fateful Tuesday, I went on a 7 mile walk towards Ninette, Manitoba, pleading with God to make Himself real to me. That evening, I did something I’d never done before. I fasted for dinner and put my dinner money in the offering plate. After the service, I stayed at the altar and prayed to be filled with the Spirit as I had previously done in vain. After almost everyone (about 1,000) left the open-air amphitheater, my heart still felt like stone as I tarried in prayer.
Then suddenly I felt a warm breeze, but it wasn’t the wind from nearby Pelican Lake; it was the Holy Spirit first warming me and then possessing me. I was forced against my will to speak in tongues at the top of my voice. More importantly, wave after wave of liquid love surged through my being with ever increasing intensity until I feared it might kill me. My ego seemed on the verge of collapse into the divine presence. I can only speak poetically and say that I experienced a hundred times more love, power, and the sweetness of intimate connection with God than I have ever experienced before or since. I have absolutely no doubt that if any of you experienced what I did that night, you would celebrate this encounter as by far the high point in your life.
A Lutheran pastor observed me, unseen, and quietly came and knelt beside me. He told me he was not Pentecostal and didn’t believe in speaking in tongues. He had only come to the camp meeting as an interested observer. He said he could tell God was doing a special work in me and he asked me to pray for him. At that moment, if a blind man had approached me for prayer, I would have had no doubt that he would have been healed. Such was my faith in that moment! I made no effort to explain or defend tongues. Instead, I just gently touched this skeptical pastor’s forehead, and the moment I did so, he just exploded into tongues like me. Another lady was sitting in the now darkened amphitheater and just staring at me. Self-conscious, I asked her why? She said, “Don’t you know? Your face is glowing in the dark!”
When it was all over, I realized that God had said to me clearly: “Son, you long for answers to burning questions. But answers aren’t good for you right now. They will make you live in your head, and I want to live in your heart. I want you to just live your big questions until they lead you to the center of my heart.” That message is the reason for my long educational pilgrimage. I became a Theology professor for 12 years at a Catholic university and then a United Methodist minister since 1994 until my retirement in July, 2015.
The experience also led to other gifts of the Spirit that at times provided as many questions as answers. I will post about my journey into other gifts of the Spirit on another thread.
But here is my most sobering takeaway from the impact of that holy night on my life. At the time I was so disillusioned with the Bible and so skeptical about any claims of divine connection that I now realize I would probably no longer even be a Christian, were it not for that night of supreme blessing. Decades later, I still draw comfort and spiritual nourishment from the very memory of that night.