Below I use the word “cessationist” (a person who believes speaking in tongues is not for today but a gift that has ceased) but I could address anyone who is skeptic about tongues and especially those who have produced “anti-tongue material” – like uploaded video clips on youtube. Sometimes I wonder if cessationists feel that if they can’t pray by the Spirit’s power, they assume that no one else can either and they therefore prefer to read the Bible accordingly. I don’t wish to cause bad feelings with what I write, but would like to defend the gift of speaking in tongues, and to make some clarifications concerning some common misunderstandings.
Speaking in tongues does not mean that the language is always understood, but actually the exact opposite
It’s very common for cessationists to base their views about tongues on Acts 2 alone, with hardly no aid from 1 Cor. 11-14 where Paul quite extensively describes tongues and the way to use them. If the agenda is to show that speaking in tongues has either ceased or nothing to strive for, people would likely try to ignore 1 Cor. 11-14 to avoid the clear information we can find there:
- we should be eager to get this gift
- tongues can edify YOU ALONE, which is something good
- NO MAN understands the tongues (unless interpreted)
- you’re not even addressing people with your tongues but you’re praying to GOD
- you should pray in BOTH ways; 1) with the spirit and 2) with your understanding
Acts 2 of course doesn’t contradict 1 Cor. in any way, but it’s still not a good approach to avoid the larger passages about tongues and focus on the very first experience alone. What if the very first experience was totally unique and a bit different than the experiences which followed? The Greek word “dialectos” is used only in the original Pentecost of Acts 2. The other occurences of tongues-speaking (Acts 19, Acts 10) was not in earthly dialects and “dialectos” is not found in the text. All we know from Acts 2 is that “every man heard them speak in his own language”. Notice:
- It does NOT say that each man understood ALL the languages spoken
- It does NOT say that each man understood every single disciple
- It does NOT say that no “gibberish” was uttered apart from the comprehensible languages
If tongues are always foreign languages, then there is no reason for anyone to ever do it alone (where no foreigners can hear) and yet we are told to pray privately:
1 Cor. 14:28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and LET HIM SPEAK TO HIMSELF, AND TO GOD
Also, there would have been no reason for the Ephesians (of Acts 19) or for Cornelius’ family (Acts 10) to speak in tongues since there were no foreigners there to understand it. If tongues were always understood, why is “interpreting tongues” a separate gift? And how come believers with the gift of speaking in tongues don’t automatically have the gift of interpreting? We are told to pray in two ways; 1) with the spirit (where we don’t understand what we are saying) and 2) with our own words (which we understand):
1 Cor. 14:19 I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding ALSO: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
1 Cor. 14:13 Wherefore let him who speaks in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret (so clearly not a gift always combined with speaking in tongues)
1 Cor. 14:17 For you verily give thanks well,[in tongues] but the other is not edified (because he can’t understand)
Since the Bible says that no one understands a person who speaks in tongues, it means that “gibberish” fits this description rather well. That people sometimes understand the tongues is likely due to that they are interpreted.
Speaking in tongues is for praise, worship, edification and not for evangelism
Tongues are for praise and nowhere are we told they are meant for evangelism. The Ephesians in Acts 19 and the Romans in Acts 10 (Cornelius’ house) spoke in tongues but there were no foreigners around to hear in a foreign “known language”. What purpose would a foreign dialect serve as they all already spoke the same language? Two portions from the book of Acts show that tongues are for praise rather than for evangelism:
1) Acts 10:44-46 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God
In Cornelius’ house there were no foreigners to hear what was spoken. “And Cornelius waited for them, and he called together his kinsmen and near friends.”Acts 10:24
2) Acts 19:5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. And all the men were about twelve.
Paul met some faithful Jews who believed in John’s baptism and when Paul told them of Jesus and laid his hands on them they spoke in tongues. But not to evangelize foreigners but they where simply prophesying (and we have learned that prophesying is mainly for believers). No foreigners were present.
When a cessationist says that pentecostals over-emphasize tongues; he is basically saying that Pentecostals over-emphasize prayer and praise. A good church service shouldn’t contain all the important aspects of a church service; teaching, song, praise, edification, etc.
1 Cor. 14: 3-4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church
Cessationists might say that tongues were only meant to judge the unbelieving Jews. This idea is proved false because there were no unbelieving Jews to hear the words of “judgment” at Cornelius’ house (Acts 10) or at Ephesus (Acts 19) as mentioned above. The Scriptures that cessationists use to support their idea is below (notice the absence of the word “judgment”):
1 Cor. 14:20-22 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men. In the Law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.
The OT quote within 1 Cor 14:20-22 (above) is from Isaiah 28, where God is telling Israel that they have been so wicked that He will allow them to be conquered by Assyria.
Isaiah 28:11 For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.
Therefore cessationists have come to the conclusion that hearing a foreign language is a judgment. However, the judgment against Israel in Isaiah’s day was not a strange tongue but that they would be taken captive. The strange language was not a judgment, but a consequence of the judgment. The consequence of tongues-speaking is that unbelievers (Jew and Gentile) do not understand what is being spoken and therefore to them it is just a “sign.” The Greek word “semeion” means a “sign” as in a “wonder” or a “mystery” or “perplexity.” This same word is used in a similar way in Rev. 12:1, Rev. 12:3 and Rev. 15:1. Paul, wrote 1 Cor 14 to show that tongues without interpretation does not benefit anyone except the speaker; therefore, do not speak tongues loudly in the church service (without interpretation) because for others it is just a mystery/sign. And just as the OT Jews were perplexed by the Assyrian dialect, so they are perplexed today by tongues, and it will not help them.
Paul wants to show that the church is made up of believers, and prophecy is for believers in the church-service for their instruction, and that prophecy can also convict a stray unbeliever that happens to be there. Therefore prophecy is better than tongues in the church unless there is an interpretation:
1 Cor. 14:24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.
Speaking in tongues is a sign that shall follow them that BELIEVE:
Mark 16:17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues
If speaking in tongues has ceased, then people who still speak in tongues would have to be faking them or being possessed by the devil. This would in turn lead to that a sure sign of an unsaved person would be if he spoke in tongues! That is the exact opposite of what Mark 16:17 is saying!
It is only during the portion of the church service that is set aside for prophetic speaking that the tongues-speakers should keep silence – if there is no interpreter. However, there are no verses which prohibit quiet tongues-speaking during the prayer/worship portion of the service. If you would normally pray quietly for yourselves in church, perhaps due to a common request from the pastor, then speaking in tongues would be one way to express yourself. There is a chance/risk that a person who sits beside you overhears your mumbling, but this is not against Paul’s teaching. Someone might also overhear another person praying in Spanish who sits beside him, and no one would be offended unless the prayers are inconveniently loud. It’s only when a person requests the attention of others that irritation can be the outcome. If a person stood up in an American church speaking in another language, then that would clearly violate Paul’s instructions, and it’s not hard to figure out why. A person who repeatedly shouts “Praise the LORD, Halleluyaaaa, Amen”…” etc, and jumps up and down, would equally disturb the church service and contribute to chaos. This could not be filed under “dangerous” but rather “silly” and “annoying”. Paul advised against speaking in tongues publically because no others would be edified, and outsiders would think you’re nuts. Not because it’s “dangerous”.
Yes, speaking in tongues is a GIFT freely provided by God
1 Cor. 12:11But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
It’s nothing controversial about the fact that speaking in tongues is a GIFT freely offered by God and something that you can’t earn, because this is generally accepted both inside and outside of the Pentecostal church. Sadly people misunderstand this to mean that we should just forget about this subject altogether since it’s God’s business to intervene in our lives and give us any gift he wants us to have. How is this “covet earnestly the best gifts” which we are told to do? Although it’s true that we certainly can’t give ourselves any gifts, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t approach God and ask for them, and be EAGER to get them. Sometimes we don’t get because we don’t ask (it’s still a free gift), and if we on top of this doubt that we might be the lucky recipients of spiritual gifts, then this might hinder us to get them. It doesn’t matter if God is standing there handing out gifts if we don’t even look for them or stretch out our hands to get them.
Luke 11:9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.10 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.—13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
Speaking in tongues is not a “less important gift”
1 Cor. 12:8For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;9To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 11But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.12For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
Paul never says that he is listing the gifts of the Spirit in a descending ranking order. If that was his aim, we would have to conclude that the interpretation of tongues is not as important as tongues-speaking, because it is listed below “tongues”. Yet, the “best gifts,” according to Paul in 1 Cor. are “prophecy” and “interpretation” because more people can be edified. Paul goes on to explain right after the verse above that all parts of the body are necessary and equally important. Also:
1 Cor. 14:5 I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied:For greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying
With other words, we are told to earnestly covet the best gifts, meaning that we should be eager to get gifts where as many people as possible can be edified. This means that we shouldn’t be satisified with only being able to speak in tongues, but we should also earnestly seek the gift of interpretation since this would lead to prophesying. Are you honestly seeking the gifts on Paul’s list as he tells you to, or have you brushed all these gifts aside? (Or even worse; are you spending your valuable time giving warnings to fellow christians to be aware of spiritual gifts, and hindering them as well from being eager to get them?)
Below we can see WHY the believing jews understood that certain gentiles had received the Holy Ghost. It was “FOR they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God”. We can trust that this reason is correct, maybe in combination with noticing good fruit. These gentiles had not yet been baptised in WATER but they had received the baptism of the HOLY GHOST. Also Peter was certain of that these gentiles were ready to be baptised also in water since he understood that they had been baptised in the Holy Ghost. No one involved seemed terrified that these gentiles maybe faked their tongues or that they were demon possessed. They didn’t feel it was “dangerous” at all, but they took what they heard as a sign for that the gentiles were true believers and ready to be water baptised since they had the Holy Ghost:
Acts 10:44While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them whichheard the word. 45And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. 46For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, 47Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
It is a spiritual power seen as manifestations of the Spirit which are demonstrated by the working of spiritual gifts. Acts 1:5, Acts 1:8 and Joel’s prophecy point to a filling of the Holy Spirit that is more than just a salvation experience.They speak of a “drenching, soaking” of the Spirit known as “baptizo”. The “baptizo” experience happening to someone who already has the Holy Spirit in him (because he is already saved) might be for him to attend a powerful prayer meeting, like the one in Acts 4:31, and this person would gain the power to prophesy through tongues, the word of wisdom etc. A power that the believers received when the Holy Spirit was poured out was the ability to praise God through the Holy Spirit. A true believer who has the Holy Spirit dwelling inside him can still be said to be “filled with the Holy Ghost/spirit/power” at a later stage in his life and on several different occasions. This can happen through prayers:
Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness
Luke. 24:48-49 ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high
Acts 2:16-17 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy”
Acts 1:5 For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost has come upon you
Acts 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
Eph 5:17 Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. 18And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;19Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; 20Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;
John 7: 37-39 If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified.)
The Apostle Peter was filled with the Spirit when Jesus breathed on him. He was filled again on the Acts 2 Pentecost. After that, he was at a powerful prayer meeting where the whole house was shaken. John was “in the Spirit” (as opposed to just a normal day when he would not be considered as being “in the Spirit”) when he wrote the book of Revelation. Stephen was “filled” when he saw Jesus at the right hand of God. Even though the Ephesians were already saved, Paul still tells them to be “filled” with the Spirit. At the moment that someone prophecies he is filled with an extra anointing of the Holy Spirit for that occasion.
“Baptism” has a primary meaning which is “to drench”, but the proper definition of the word “baptizo” (“drenching”) is something that not all Christians receive. For instance, there are many Christians who have never been baptized in water yet they may be said to be “baptized” in a more general sense. When Bible writers use the word “baptism” to describe the Holy Spirit falling on someone causing him to speak in tongues, they are not speaking of “baptism” in a vague sense; rather they are speaking of a Holy Spirit drenching that is a spiritual equivalent of a water-baptism.
Why do people get so scared when it comes to speaking in tongues?
Maybe because they have come across some of the material from people who have an agenda to scare people away from the Pentecostal churches and from the spiritual gifts. This might even inspire them to produce their own material and continue spreading the rumour that pentecostal churches are dangerous and filled with unruly people who speak with fake tongues which we would do well to keep away from. Why is this not slander? What if we would start a campaign where we claimed that MOST baptist churches are like the Westboro Baptist Church?
A common denominator among those who fervently speak out against tongues (and others who have a negative attitude towards them) seems to be that they are not members of a charismatic church and possibly haven’t made many visits in one either (I know there are exceptions). There are some who spend their valuable time to produce video clips, audio clips and articles where they write warning upon warning about the misuse of tongues. Some of them are cessationists and some of them are “just against the misuse” of tongues as they say. But in the latter category you will find some starting out saying “I’m not a cessationist, BUT…” followed by several pages of warnings and examples of negative things about tongues. Why not doing the exact opposite? Why not start out saying “I’m aware of that there is a misuse of tongues in some odd churches, BUT…” followed by page upon page with encouragement to speak in tongues, and with wonderful examples across the world where people have been much edified by them? If the idea isn’t to scare people away from speaking in tongues, and to run away from Pentecostal churches, then what do they think such scare-tactics material will do to people? Why not at least spend 50% of a video clip with encouragement to use the spiritual gifts? The risk is that viewers might believe the material and flee from tongues. This means that SATAN is the winner.
People who produce this type of warning-material, and compare the practice of pentecostals with pagans, might feel they are doing a good deed among christians. Instead they are causing a DIVISION about something that is neither common nor dangerous. Why not give warnings about doctrines or traditions which could harm your soul? There are plenty to choose from. (But maybe the same people refrain from doing this to “not cause a division”.) How “dangerous” would it be if I stood up in an American church and spoke in Swedish? It would be irritating at worst, and I would be wasting people’s time, but dangerous? Hardly. You might say that people wouldn’t know if I spoke with “demonic” tongues or not, but how many examples of “demonic” tongues do we really know from the western world, and how many examples inside a CHURCH? (Do give me a source with valid examples because it would be interesting reading.) Anyone could stand up in a church and say a curse in another language (not necessarily in tongues) but this isn’t very likely, and of course everyone would notice a person who is disturbing the church service. Besides, a “curse” wouldn’t make anyone lose his soul. Satan can’t touch a christian’s heart unless the christian person opens up for him. I’m saying this to show that it wouldn’t be “dangerous” to stand up speaking in tongues with no interpreter, but just dumb.
By scaring christians away from the spiritual gifts, Satan robs them of the many benefits of speaking in tongues and the power of the holy spirit. So instead of helping christians, this anti-tongue material is causing much harm and is a GREAT aid for Satan to diminish our strength. Keep this in mind if you think you’re doing something good by producing and/or endorsing such material.
Some pastors might feel that the subject of speaking in tongues is so controversial that they won’t raise up this topic at all in church, to avoid being charged for influencing the members in either direction. But do they reason the same way when it comes to the subject of Creation or Evolution, or other touchy subjects? There are even pastors who WARN members against speaking in tongues. Why not making videos and warn people against churches which are negative towards tongues? By speaking in tongues, Christians would be edified and get much power,joy and confidence, and yet these pastors try to prevent them from getting these benefits! If you are in a church where the pastor is speaking about the spiritual gifts in negative terms, then I hope you will consider leaving this church. It’s rather serious (and dangerous) if a leader of a church warns people against something that Paul encourages. Paul gave instructions about tongues and seemed to take this gift for granted in churches, so he would likely be appalled if he lived today and realized that this gift is totally ABSENT in many churches! I believe he would like to have word with the church leaders if he realized they have tried to put a lid on the holy spirit:
1 Thess. 5:19Quench not the Spirit. 20Despise not prophesyings. 21Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
You might hear cessationists say “MOST pentecostal churches misuse the tongues” and “the misuse of tongues is INCREASING” and “it’s dangerous” but they of course have no sources or statistics to back up their claims. By doing false generalizations like this, and painting with a broad brush, they just want to build up a scenario where they try to show that their warning-material is much-needed. Instead the misuse of tongues might not be common at all, and only tied to a small group of infamous preachers and their supporters.
I read on a thread on Facebook the other day: “Having been originally taught as a Baptist, tongues were not talked about hardly at all” and someone else said “As a Presbyterian growing up the Holy Spirit was never mentioned except in the doxology” and another person said “I would ask him why would we not believe the Bible on the issue of spiritual gifts, and his excuse was because some had abused the gifts”. No wonder that the gifts of the holy spirit is absent in so many churches!
People feel “pressured” to speak in tongues in Pentecostal churches?
One argument against the Pentecostal church that I’ve heard on several occasions, is that people might feel “pressured” and even “forced” to speak in tongues when they are in a Pentecostal church. I find this to be very strange considering that not all people inside the pentecostal church have this gift, which pentecostals are well aware of, and pentecostals are also aware of that you’re not supposed to speak in tongues with no interpreter. Do people feel bothered and pressured to speak in tongues because they overhear people who speak them? If my praise and worship to the Lord bothers someone else, then so be it. I shouldn’t have to feel pressured to reduce my time of praise in order to accommodate someone else. Naturally I shouldn’t be too loud, and I shouldn’t be disturbing the rest of the service by praising and praying in the wrong time. Not even misuse of tongues should have to cause a person to feel “pressured” to speak in tongues, unless he enters a church where pretty much everyone babbled in unknown tongues. Still, he shouldn’t be judging all Pentecostal churches based on one where they misuse tongues. What if a person enters a church and finds the members there sing beautifully, unlike him? Should the church members try to sing less beautifully, or reduce their singing, in order to not make the visiting person feel bad?
1 Cor 1: 4-7 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; That in everything ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ