The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Speaking in Tongues: Its Power and My Dilemma

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.

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Well, I agree with much - of what you said. And shared this on another similar post - you shared here recently.

Well, I can relate to what you say.

  • My Protestant mom - now deceased at 92.5 years old - was born with a gift of prophesy.

  • I hung around for years, with the healing mass and services…of Roman Catholic priest Father A. Who has the gift of healing and hearing the voice of God.

Nice sharing And very excellent schools. My Greek Orthodox friend Dora, received her PhD in Biblical Archaeology - from Oxford at 26. One of her sons, is a tenured professor at Harvard. And one of the world’s foremost authorities on genetic modeling. I know where you are coming from.

Perhaps a song, to emphasize the theme - of the thread?

Allow me to provide some suggested context, from a charismatic viewpoint, for the question of Tongues:

The Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Although every believer has the Holy Spirit living inside him from the moment of conversion, not every believer has been baptized with the Holy Spirit.

The baptism in the Holy Spirit is normally subsequent to, and distinct from, conversion.

Baptism Terminology: Confusion and Clarification–

In the study of Scripture, confusion can arise from misread terminology and misunderstood grammatical constructions; this can occur when distinguishing the Baptism in the Holy Spirit from other baptisms.

To help rectify the misunderstanding, please recognize that in the performance of any baptism, there is always

  • The Candidate who is to be baptized
  • The Element in which the baptism occurs
  • An Agent who does the baptizing

The New Testament refers to several different baptisms, three of which are:

  • Baptism into the Body of Christ (performed by the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor. 12:13)
  • Baptism in Water (performed by a human agent)
  • Baptism in the Holy Spirit (performed by Jesus Christ)

Of these three, the real confusion comes in differentiating between “Baptism into the Body of Christ” and “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” In order to successfully make the distinction, the key question to answer is: “Who is doing the baptizing?”

In the case of the disciples at Pentecost, although the Spirit was already living in them, His supernatural manifestation was not yet flowing out of them (seen through speaking in tongues) until after the Spirit was poured out from on high; until after they were baptized (immersed) in the Spirit.

This clear impartation to them of the Spirit by Jesus

John 20:19-22
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.”

–was distinct from their later baptism in the Holy Spirit by Jesus, which he accomplished from on high at Pentecost (Acts 2). In the first experience, there was no manifested outflow of the Spirit; in the second, there was.

Significantly, at Pentecost the Holy Spirit took the visible form of tongues (glossa) of fire. It can be recognized that the Spirit was subsequently flowing out of these disciples by the miraculous speaking in tongues (glossa) --as the Spirit gave them utterance.

If I recall my Bible correctly…during the days of Pentecost…the disciples were not only speaking in tongues…but those of different tongues or languages, could understand what they were saying. I would put more emphasize, on contemporary speaking in tongues…if those of other languages, can comprehend what they are saying.

Paul said that the message must have an interpreter to be of benefit to the congregation. The interpretation is also, Paul says, a ‘gift’ - in other words, the interpreter does not know the language of the tongues-speech, but is given the ad hoc ability to interpret it.

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I must call into question your memory of being forced against your will. That has certainly never been my experience, either initially, or in my subsequent times of praying in tongues over the years. To the contrary, to initiate tongues has always involved an act of my will.

I would argue that God is always gentlemanly, and never coercive. And regarding the use of the Gifts, I offer this relevant passage to corroborate that:

1 Cor. 14:
Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.
29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

We’re on the same page.

That’s saying a mouthful. Considering I’m studying Japanese right now. Rather than Subject-Verb-Object they have Subject-Object-Verb. And markers to indicate whether something is a direct object, subject, etc. Implied subject from the context. Three different writing systems, all working together - in a cohesive whole. And 1 of those - Kanji - is just Chinese characters borrowed. Then there’s levels of politeness, in the Japanese language. So if someone is praising - in Japanese. And there is no alphabet. And someone who just knows English…or one of the European languages (i.e. German, French or Spanish - where I know 2 out of the 3)…can comprehend it with NO training…then they are either a super genius, language specialist…or there’s something supernatural going on.

Ya think?? :slight_smile:

Show me an example (s), of an English speaking person…with NO training…who can tell you what someone in Japanese or Arabic is saying. Even this kid can’t do that - without SOME training…

I did not say that the interpreter understood the language - I think the scriptural approach is that the interpreter is GIVEN the message. Paul says that it is ‘better’ to prophecy, but in lieu, tongues and interpretation are also decent and in order.
If you’re saying God cannot do this, well, that’s something else. I don’t think you’re saying that.

I would agree with this.

I believe at the time of Adam and Eve - before the fall - they could do all the mystical stuff, in the world’s religious traditions. Now one needs to live a spiritual life, in order to revive them. Unless one is evil and unethical and resorts to demons, evil spirits, etc. Here is a list of mystical abilities, from the Yogic tradition: The Twenty-Four Personal Powers Of Naguals and Siddhas

And I’ll leave everyone, with a good article - from today’s Patheos Evangelical newsletter (I also receive the Catholic newsletter):

And who will remain alive, in the horrible aftermath - of the vision? Perhaps:

The tongues in contemporary languages in Acts 2 are NOT normative for later manifestations of this gift. That eruption is identified as prophecy (2:17-18, citing Joel 2:28), but speaking in tongues is subsequently distinguished from prophecy (19:5-6; 1 Cor 12 and 14). The tongues in Acts 10:44-47 and 19:1-6 are neither understood nor interpreted. In Greco-Roman parallels speaking in tongues (Greek: “glossai”) is understood as ecstatic gibberish that needs a prophet for interpretation. Paul prefers to view this non-human gibberish as angelic language (1 Cor 13:1) and labels tongues speakers as “zealots of spirits (14:12),” a phrase that means “zealots of angels (see Heb 1:7).” Jews in Paul’s day embraced the possibility of interpreting angelic languages (e. g. Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai and Testament of Job).

The key to understanding 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 is the recognition that this church is offending outsiders who visit and witness uninterpreted glossolalia during corporate worship. Otherwise, speaking in uninterpreted tongues is permissible at public gatherings (e. g. Acts 10:44-47 and 19:1-6). In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul distinguishes messages in tongues that need interpretation from praying in tongues which does not (14:14) and should be practiced privately (14:28). It is no doubt private prayer in tongues that Paul has in mind when he celebrates tongues by proclaiming: “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you (14:18).”

I want to relate an event that took place at Calvary Temple in Winnipeg, one of the “Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.” This denomination corresponds to “The Assemblies of God” in United States.

My sister, who was attending Calvary Temple at the time, related this incident to me. A man stood up and began to “speak in tongues.” When he had finished, he remained on his feet. The pastor then asked, "Is there an interpreter? Dead silence. The pastor then said the the man, “Sit down, Brother. You are out of order!” The man sat down, and the meeting continued in its usual manner.

After the meeting was over, a man of Chinese descent approached the pastor and asked, “Who was that man that was speaking Cantonese during the meeting?” The pastor was shocked, “Huh? Who? What?”

The Chinese man said, “A man speaking Cantonese, told me how to trust in Jesus and be saved. So I did!”

During the next church meeting, the pastor addressed the congregation saying, "I was totally wrong in my assessment of that brother who spoke ‘in tongues’ last Sunday. Please forgive me. The brother spoke under the influence of the Holy Spirit. He spoke the gospel in Cantonese, and a man who understood it, gave his heart to the Lord as a result!

Paidion, what a coincidence! I grew up in Calvary Temple and recall a similar rebuke, but not the later vindication. I wonder if I knew your sister! In any cases, much of what I have and will report in this thread either happened in that church or in programs sponsored by it.
Even one of my reported humorous church incidents happened there!

(1) Modern speaking in tongues can at times express modern languages. At age 19, a street witnessing organization called “Youth with a Mission” [YWAM] came to Calvary Temple and I joined them in their bus journey through Toronto and Montreal. YWAM’s founder, Loren Cunningham, drove the bus and he shared this testimony with me. He and his group were traveling through the Amazon with a translator, who did not understand the language of a tribe they encountered. At one point, Loren was approached by a woman with severe cataracts and he was given a message in tongues in her language and she was instantly healed! Loren said that this miracle opened an evangelistic door there, but I don’t recall the details of how this developed.

(2) At Calvary Temple, I learned about a similar example of xenoglossy in a sister church in Saskatchewan. A family received a message in tongues in Swahili, the language of the remote tribe where their daughter had been very sick, but could not be contacted. An African present in the meeting confirmed that the message in tongues was in Swahili. It confirmed that the daughter was OK and would return home soon.

(3) In his book “Jesus in Beijing,” NYT reporter David Aikman reports a message in tongues in Hebrew in a Pentecostal church in Amonte, CA. The preacher’s wife who gave the message didn’t know Hebrew, but the message was understood by a visiting American Jew. It called Dennis Balcombe to be a missionary to China. After a military stint in Vietnam, Dennis learned Cantonese and got involved in Bible smuggling into China. Eventually, he agreed to secretly visit house churches there, at time being carried in a coffin and at other times disguised in woman’s clothes. The result? 80 million illegal Chinese charismatic house church Christians in one of the greatest revivals of all time. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit just fell on the Chinese without prayer or the laying on of hands and they just burst into tongues! Such examples could be multiplied.

But as I said, I’d estimate that only 10% of tongues manifestations are authentic, and so, this manifestation has not fared well in scientific linguistic research into this phenomenon. Most of the time, Pentecostal churches lack the linguistic diversity to determine whether human languages are being uttered. But that is not the decisive factor that determines whether speaking in tongues is authentic. It can be gibberish from our perspective or, as Paul believes, angelic speech.

Just a plug for the TV show of Katie Souza Ministries, from the UK. I find her interesting and she appears occasionally, on a TV ministry. She is heavily into, the gits of the spirit. And came out of prison, as a former drug user.

Katie was a career criminal most of her life, was convicted on a number of felonies and sent to federal prison for twelve years. While serving what would be her final prison sentence, Katie encountered God in a way that forever changed her life. In 2003 the Lord miraculously released Katie from prison 7 years early. A year later she married her husband Robert and together began building what is now an International Prison Ministry serving over 3500 prisons and more than a half million inmates world wide!

Here’s an article from today’s email:

Expanding on this point of two types of tongues: first, there is a “Gift” of Tongues, imparted to few, used to prophetically communicate from God to man (needing interpretation into the vernacular language); and second, there is a “devotional” tongues, adjured for all, used to communicate from man to God:

Two Categories of Tongues-Speaking

  1. Tongues-Speaking as Prophecy

Also referred to as “The Gift of Tongues,” this manifestation of the Holy Spirit allows God to speak to man. In other words, the communication is coming down from Heaven to earth.

This gift is always to be accompanied by the Gift of Interpretation of Tongues. The pair of gifts, in concert, is functionally equivalent to the gift of prophecy:

1 Corinthians 14:5-6, 13
He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.
Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I [successfully] bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction [down from Heaven to earth]? … 13 For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says.

If there is no one with the Gift of Interpretation present in the assembly, then the person with the Gift of Tongues is not to raise his voice in utterance; he is to be quiet. His use of this gift by itself is inappropriate, and would cause confusion.

As is the case with the other gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Gift of Tongues is not given to all Christians:

1 Corinthians 12:11-12
All these [gifts] are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.

  1. Tongues-Speaking as Prayer

In complete distinction to tongues-speaking as prophecy, when people pray in tongues, they are praying directly to God in the Holy Spirit. This gift allows man to speak to God with supernatural fluency. In other words, the communication is going up from earth to Heaven.

Resident in all believers who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit is this self-edifying capacity to pray perfect prayers, beyond our natural understanding, through the supernatural aid of the Holy Spirit.

When we pray in tongues, the language used is unknown to us, perhaps precisely to prevent our intellect from being an obstacle to God’s Spirit engaging with our spirit (although we should certainly have a sense of our own focus in prayer and thanksgiving, viz. 1 Cor. 14:15; Eph. 6:18). Stepping out in faith for the initial manifestation may require an extra measure of grace—and humility.

Of this type of tongues, Paul makes this clarification,

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you [in private]. But in the church…(1 Corinthians 14:18-19).

Consider well: probably the greatest Christian leader of all time was the chief tongues-speaker of his day. Does his frequent self-edification by praying in tongues perhaps account for his biblical eminence?

This blessed capacity to pray in tongues is also referred to as “praying in the Spirit.”

Christians are commanded:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:18)

And elsewhere:

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. (Jude 1:20)

Speaking to God in a tongue unknown to us is the same thing as “praying in the Spirit.”

For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God (1 Corinthians 14:2).

If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? (1 Corinthians 14:16)

Clearly, there still exists today the same confusion as at Corinth—confusion which prompted Paul to write and clarify the distinction between the appropriate use of tongues as prayer, versus tongues (with interpretation) as prophecy!

To reiterate: The terms “praying in tongues” and “praying in the spirit” are synonymous.

PLEASE take note: “…If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays…” (1 Cor. 14:14).

My sister’s name was Lorraine.

I am familiar with YWAM. My friend Jürgen Schmutz was involved with them. But that was not so long ago, so you probably have not met him.

I have shared the life-changing contribution that praying in tongues has made in my life. But here is another neglected function of this gift:

“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we don’t know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words (Greek: “stenagmoi alaletoi”)….The Spirit intercedes for us according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27).”

The Latin equivalent of “stenagmoi alatetoi” can be determined by the Latin translation of 8:26 in the Vulgate. One of Paul’s contemporaries, Lucan (Civil Wars), uses the Latin equivalent of this phrase as an allusion to the groaned gibberish uttered by the prophetess of Delphi that needs a male prophet’s gift of interpretation to be expressed as a coherent divine message. So prayer in tongues is a way to “pray in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18) and thus a way for the Spirit to guide the flow of our incoherent prayers, so that we pray for what God wants us to pray rather then for our notion of God’s will at a given moment. In this way, praying in tongues can makes intercessory prayer more effective.

The meaning of obscure ancient Greek expressions must be determined by the use of such phrases in the culture of the period. I presented an academic paper on this in a NT doctoral seminar and my [non-Charismatic] professors agreed with my thesis.

Consider this argument that Christian should strive to speak in tongues. How to do this striving will be the subject of another post.

  1. Paul twice commands us to “strive for spiritual gifts (12:31; 14:1)” and, in both cases, then focuses on the gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy. The obvious implication is that speaking in tongues is one of the gifts that must be an object of our spiritual striving.

  2. But does 12:29-30 imply that gifts like tongues and prophecy are not available to every believer? No, Paul is simply alluding to actual participation in these gifts. Indeed, he goes on to say, “Strive…especially that you may prophesy (14:1)” and “you can all prophesy one by one (14:31).” Similarly, Paul wants us all to speak in tongues (14:5) and adds, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all (14:18).” In other words, we should strive to speak in tongues and prophesy because those 2 gifts are for every believer. Paul’s expressed preference for prophecy applies only to the context of corporate worship in which outsiders are present who might take offense at speaking in tongues (14:5).

  3. Paul commands us to “pray in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18),” i. e. pray with the Spirit’s direction, and praying in tongues is his example of what this means (1 Corinthians 14:15).

  4. In 1 Corinthians Paul commands us: “Be imitators of me (4:16).” Such imitation includes demonstrated spiritual power: “I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people, but their power. For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power (4:9-20).” Paul has in mind the power that derives from exercising spiritual gifts, not from personal charisma.

  5. To avoid Paul’s directives about these spiritual gifts is to risk blasphemy against the Holy Spirit by acting as if some of the Spirit’s gifts are of little value.