GLOSSOLALIA: SPEAKING IN TONGUES
No Christian can ignore the many questions raised by the phenomenal growth of "glossolalia" or "speaking in tongues." The Pentecostal denominations, which had their start at the turn of this century, now claim membership of over 2,000,000. Their ranks have swelled largely at the expense of the other denominations. Now in the past twelve years the charismatic movement has deeply infiltrated the historic Protestant churches. Even the heavily guarded precincts of Catholicism have not been spared. "Born-again Catholics who speak in tongues are not uncommon today. Then, of course, there are the "Jesus People" and the charismatic fellowships springing up on college campuses across the nation.
All have a common complaint, namely, the stagnation and hollowness of the mainline denominations which have stifled the working of the holy Spirit in the hearts of believers. Hence, there has been a mass exodus from these churches and also an inner revolt against the clergymen as these sincere Christians seek to experience the realities of the Christian life. Bible Students sympathize with this disenchantment over churchianity. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, the Apostle Paul listed the perilous conditions in the world that mark the end of the Age. Verse 5 describes the masses of professed Christians today, "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof," to which Paul adds, "from such turn away."
Actually Bible Students were the first in this exodus from churchianity. Shortly before the turn of the century they heeded the words of Revelation 18:1-4 and left the worldly churches of Babylon. Congregations of Bible Students continue to form throughout the world.
Completely independent of other Bible Students congregations or any man-made headship of Christ and the unstifled working of the holy Spirit in their hearts. As a result they experience the realities of the Christian life at the end of the Age.
There are hazards in fleeing clerical authority. The Christian's wily foe, Satan, stands ready to divert a good thing. There must be a final authority to which each, standing free in Christ, can turn. This authority cannot be an inner experience only, as it would render us vulnerable to Satan. It is disheartening to find some Christians who place their "charismatic experience" above Scripture. We trust these are the exceptions. Thank God, there is an absolute authority, the Bible, which is to govern and regulate every aspect of the Christian life. (2 Tim. 3:16 and 17; 2:15) Because we are concerned we raise the following Scriptural points relative to speaking with tongues.
Glossolalia, a Greek word that simply means tongues-speaking or speaking with tongues, was one of the miraculous gifts (Greek: charisma) of the spirit prevalent in the Church during the time of the Apostles. Many feel the holy Spirit is again miraculously bestowing the charisma of tongues on Christians. Glossolalia today generally takes the form of ecstatic, unintelligible utterances. The question of whether tongues-speaking as used in the Scriptures was ecstatic utterances or foreign languages will be considered in detail subsequently.
Speaking with tongues in the early Church had limited practical value. Therefore, the Apostle Paul saw the need of laying down certain rules governing the use of this gift of the Spirit in the Church. These rules are found in 1 Corinthians 14. If contemporary glossolalia is a blessing of the Lord, we would naturally expect it to function in accordance with these rules.
- First Corinthians 14:5, 27, 28. Tongues-speaking is only edifying in the Church if it is interpreted. "But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the Church." Note from the context that Paul includes both speaking and praying in tongues in this rule.
- Most tongues-speaking today is not interpreted as enjoined by Paul.
- First Corinthians 14:22. "Tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not."
The tendency of glossolalia Christians today is to impress fellow Christian believers with the need to being "Spirit-filled." Yet the Apostle said this gift was to be used primarily as a sign to unbelievers. The fact that the current usage of tongues largely ignores these two basic New Testament rules tends to cause this version of glossolalia to be suspect in the minds of many sincere Christians.
It is interesting to note how the New Testament ranks tongues-speaking as to its importance. In the 12th chapter of 1 Corinthians the Apostle Paul deals with the diversities of operations of the holy Spirit in the Church. Then he lists the gifts of the Spirit according to their importance. (1 Cor. 12:28). And what do we find at the bottom of the list? Speaking with tongues! Yet our charismatic friends seem to have a different sequence of importance today with glossolalia on or near the top.
First Corinthians 12:29-30 reveals that not all faithful Christians in the apostles' day were to expect to speak in tongues. Yet today many feel glossolalia is the badge of a Spirit-filled Christian.
The unwarranted premium placed on glossolalia today is reflected in an article which appeared in the February 28, 1975 issue of Christianity Today. The article entitled "A Plea to Some Who Speak in Tongues" was written by a pastor who opened the doors of his church to "both those who speak in tongues and those who do not." The following quotation contains some of his disappointments:
"Professing to be filled with the Spirit of humility and holiness, these persons expressed the opposite. The subtle but real spiritual conceit became more apparent until the words 'Spirit-filled' came to have a regrettable taint. Other pastors with whom I have talked have had similar experiences. There is often a 'know-it-all' attitude among those who speak in tongues that exactly contradicts what they protess in testimony. They definitely give the impression that those who do not speak in tongues have not 'arrived' spiritually, do not have the sensitivity to interpret the Scriptures, do not have prayer power that can bring results. These persons are insensitive to the concept of Christian discipline. In many of them, habits of worldliness remain while the tongues-speaking flourishes. They are unteachable. Again the spiritual superiority complex rears its ugly head. The tongues-speakers apparently believe that they know it all."
It is hoped that the extremes mentioned in this article are only characteristic of a minority. However, the article does reflect the unscriptural importance attached to glossolalia today. Disconcerting things are heard in charismatic circles, such as; non-charismatic Christians are not to be raptured but left to endure the "seven-year tribulation." Another example is the following quotation from an address given at the Presbyterian Charismatic Conference by George MacLeod, former moderator of the Church of Scotland and member of the House of Lords.
"Only the charismatic communion in all denominations can hear all that God is saying in this age of the Spirit."
Again this may be the view of a minority. Nevertheless, these extremes are symptomatic of the charged atmosphere of partisanship in the Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal movements indicating a consensus that only glossolalic Christians are "Spirit-filled." An unwillingness by charismatics to accept that speaking with tongues was the lowest operation of the Spirit in the Church (1 Cor. 12:28) and that non-glossolalic Christians can be equally "Spirit-filled" (1 Cor. 12:30) cast serious doubt on this practice being an operation of the holy Spirit.
In 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul uses the term "spiritual gifts" in describing the miraculous gifts such as tongues and healing. A revealing statement concerning the purpose of these "spiritual gifts" is also made by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:11, "That I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established." Note the phrase "ye may be established." Remember the New Testament had not yet been given. Evidently the miraculous gifts of the Spirit were necessary at the critical juncture to establish the faith of the Church until the Bible had been completed. Further, the Church of Christ as a completely new operation in the plan of God required more tangible manifestations of its validity. The miraculous gifts provided this confirmatory evidence for the Church at its inception. But the gifts became superfluous (1 Cor. 13:8) after the Church had been established and the canon of the inspired writings had been completed. The Scriptures, the Apostle declares, are sufficient, "that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works." 2 Tim. 3:17
A distinction must be made between the spiritual gifts and the gift of the holy Spirit" promised to all believers in Acts 2:38. The Greek word for gift in Acts 2:38 is Dorea not Charisma. Dorea is any gratuity, but Charisma, when related to the holy Spirit, denotes a miraculous power. Therefore, Acts 2:38 cannot be used to prove that all believers down through the age would receive miraculous gifts.
It is interesting to note how the gifts (Greek - charisma) were initiated in the Church and how they were to cease. The gifts were conferred only by the apostles; however, there were two notable exceptions. These two exceptions occurred at the time of the baptism of the holy Spirit.
The one baptism of the holy Spirit (Acts 1:5) came upon the Church in two steps - both of which were indelibly marked by the miraculous manifestation of speaking in tongues. The first was on the Day of Pentecost, ten days after Jesus' ascension. The waiting disciples were baptized with the holy Spirit. How did they or anyone else know this nucleus of the Church received the holy Spirit? This significant event was indelibly marked in history by the phenomenon of tongues which accompanied the receiving of the Spirit. As a result, the Jews from many foreign lands gathered at Jerusalem for the holy days, heard the Gospel preached in their won language or tongue. Acts 2:1-11
The second step in the baptism of the holy Spirit occurred 3 and a half years later. It was the historic event of the first gentile, Cornelius, and his household coming into the Church. This notable event was also stamped indelibly for history with the miraculous speaking of tongues. (Acts 10:44-47) Acts 11:15 confirms that the Day of Pentecost outpouring of the holy Spirit, accompanied by tongues, only occurred again at the conversion of Cornelius. Acts 1:5, and Acts 11:16-17 are the only Scriptures that mention the baptism of the holy Spirit. They limit this baptism to the Day of Pentecost and the conversion of Cornelius. All other scriptural accounts of gifts reveal that they came not as a baptism from the Lord but now could only be conveyed through the Apostles. (Gal. 3:5; Acts 4:19-21, 29-31; Acts 19:1-6) This is further confirmed by Rom. 1:11 At the writing of Paul's letter to the Romans none of the apostles had visited Rome. From Rom. 1:11 we find that the Church at Rome had not yet received spiritual gifts. This was one of the reasons Paul desired to visit them - thus confirming that gifts could not come by prayer alone but only through the ministry of the apostles.
Simon Magus, though given a miraculous gift by the Apostle Peter, was reprimanded for trying to but this apostolic power of conferring gifts. Acts 8:17-23
When did the exercising of these gifts cease? If the gifts could only be conveyed by the apostles, then when they died the gifts ceased with the death of those Christians who had received these gifts from the apostles.