Today we are beginning to investigate and search the Bible as it relates to the topic of speaking in tongues. As we begin, ask yourself this question: "How intimate with Christ do I really want to be?" And as you ponder that question, consider the wonderful possibility that we can communicate with our Heavenly Father in a way that is totally unlimited by our own finite minds.
If this appeals to you, let me encourage your to listen with an open mind, and with an open Bible as I share with you one of the most cherished elements of my Christian life. I am talking of the practice of "speaking in tongues."
Even though the topic of speaking in tongues has raised a degree of controversy within the church, more and more Christians are discovering the life-changing power that comes through communicating with God in this manner. Fully 90% of the church's growth in the world today is in Pentecostal/Charismatic churches. The latest church growth experts estimate there are now more than 600 million (2008). They have also estimated that nearly 200 million Pentecostals died during the 20th century. They also estimate that by 2025, there will be nearly 1 billion people living who believe in and experience speaking in tongues.
With the Charismatic Renewal of the 1950's and on, a number of honest investigators within the church began to see the impact of what has happened during the early 20th century. And a number of those originally from non-Pentecostal backgrounds correctly saw this move of God as something different that both the Catholics and Protestants.
In John Sherrill's book, They Speak With Other Tongues, on page 28, he quotes Dr. Van Dusen, then president of Union Theological Seminary, not known to have Pentecostal or Charismatic teaching. Dr. Van Dusen makes a huge statement.
"I have come to feel … that the Pentecostal movement with its emphasis upon the Holy Spirit is more than just another revival. It is a revolution in our day. It is a revolution comparable in importance with the establishment of the original Apostolic Church and with the Protestant Reformation."
I especially appreciate the honesty of Roman Catholic Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, who became one of the first churchmen from non-Pentecostal churches to acknowledge the significance of this movement. He placed it on equal footing with traditional Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. In his book, The Household of God, he wrote:
"Catholicism has laid its primary stress upon the given structure, Protestantism upon the given message….It is necessary, however, to recognize that there is a third stream of Christian tradition which….has a distinct character of its own….its central element is the conviction that the Christian life is a matter of the experienced power and presence of the Holy Spirit today."
He continues by asking and then answering his own question:
"To the question 'Where is the Church?' We must ask, 'Where is the Holy Spirit recognizably present with power?' …for want of a better word I propose to refer to this type of Christian faith and life as the Pentecostal."
I ask the questions again: How intimate with Christ do you really want to be? I, for one, want each day to be one that is more intimate with Christ than the day before. Let me begin our quest in understanding the topic of speaking in tongues with a true story.
I know of a man name Kostya who is pastor of a large Russian Pentecostal church in Moscow. He has not learned to speak English. But, Helena, his wife, studied at the Bible school in England, and does speak English. A pastor friend of theirs from the Unites States was asked to speak at Kostya's church. At the beginning of the church service, Kostya stepped to the microphone, raised his hands and began to pray - in clear, unaccented American English, "Holy Spirit of God, we welcome you here today……"
The American pastor says that as Kostya continued to pray, his mouth dropped open. Yet Kostya had never studied English. After the service, the American pastor talked with Helena and said, "I thought Kostya didn't know English. He was praying in perfect English during the church service!" Helena smiled, "Oh! He doesn't know English. That's his prayer language. He didn't understand anything he said." Helena went on to explain that when she and Kostya were dating, she would always know what was on his heart since, when the prayed together, he would pray "in tongues" in English and she, knowing English, could understand everything he was praying.
While many Christians today speak negatively about the topic of tongues, the Bible, I believe, has always spoken very positively about this gift.
In Acts 2, every one of the 12 apostles spoke in tongues - as well as the other 108 that were there.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul thanks God that he speaks in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:18), and expresses his desire that all Christians speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:5).
We are told that speaking in tongues will edify or strengthen our spirits (See 1 Cor. 14:4; Jude 20).
In Ephesians 6:18, we are exhorted to pray in the Spirit on all occasions.
The New Testament was written by people who spoke in tongues. In the New Testament Church, speaking in tongues was considered normal activity for all Christians. And because the New Testament so stresses the importance of tongues, we should examine carefully the biblical teaching about this topic.
For those who do not speak in tongues, the gift of tongues is often a mysterious and sometimes frightening thing. Some people fear that if they speak in tongues, they might lose control and speak in tongues at inappropriate times. We will address this issue. Others have asked me whether a person loses consciousness when speaking in tongues? They wonder if a person goes into a trance when speaking in tongues.
On the other side, Pentecostals see a close relationship between baptism in the Spirit and speaking in tongues. Classical Pentecostals - like Assemblies of God, Foursquare, Church of God, Open Bible, Apostolic Faith, Church of God in Christ, and others, hold firmly to the position that the initial physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is speech in "other tongues."
Since this lesson is meant to be a general introduction to the subject of speaking in tongues, we will address the subject of why some believe tongues is the initial evidence in a later lesson.
I would like to underscore one fact above all others about the matter of speaking in tongues. Jesus is the One who introduced the subject of spiritual language. I think that fact is important, something that deserves and needs to sink into the collective mindset of the church. By that, I mean no one less than our dear Savior Himself first spoke of tongues - promising this blessing to his followers.
Mark 16:15-18 NKJV
15 And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues;
18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."
This is where tongues - spiritual language - starts in the New Testament. Jesus mentions speaking in tongues among 5 signs that are to follow those who believe. As we investigate what the Bible says about speaking in tongues, I want to address a series of basic questions, like:
1. What is speaking in tongues - how would you define or describe it?
2. Are tongues real languages?
3. Does a person "lose control" when speaking in tongues?
4. Is the gift of tongues given to enable the speaker to preach the gospel in foreign languages?
5. Is tongues something to be feared?
6. Is speaking in tongues available to everyone?
7. Why did God choose tongues as one of the gifts?
8. What is the value of speaking in tongues?
9. Will tongues ever cease? If so, when?
10. Did Jesus speak in tongues?
11. What about those having great ministries without speaking in tongues?
12. Have tongues speakers reached Christian utopia?
13. Is praying in the Spirit the same as praying in tongues?
14. Are tongues speakers better Christian than those who do not speak in tongues?
15. John, do you believe tongues really is the initial physical evidence to the Baptism in the Holy Spirit?
As we attempt to answer these many questions, I will try not to be in any hurry. These are important questions requiring a well defined answers. In our time together today, we will probably not answer many of these questions.
Before we get into answering the list of questions, there are a couple of more items that need to be discussed first. The first item takes us back near the beginning of the Bible - specifically Genesis 11. Why did the Holy Spirit evidence himself on the Day of Pentecost with speaking in tongues? Is language that important?
Genesis 11:1 (NIV) tells us:
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.
This verse tells us that for the first 1,700+ years, the entire world spoke one language. In a minute, we will read a few verses from Genesis 11. I think we will find some comparisons in what happened in Genesis 11 and the speaking in tongues that began on the Day of Pentecost. The background to chapter 11 is found at the end of chapter 9. In Genesis 9, we read the ending of the account of the Great Flood of Noah's life. In Genesis 10, we have what is called "The Table of Nations." This chapter breaks up the lineage of Noah's three sons - Shem, Ham & Japheth. And it delineates 70 different family groups that ultimately each became tribe of people.
Then we come to Genesis 11. After the flood, God had given the descendants of Noah the command to multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1).
But within three generations, the people had not obeyed God to fill the earth. They all migrated to one place. I say "within three generations," because in Genesis 11, we have the account of many, but one man in particular - Nimrod, the son of Cush, the son of Ham, the son of Noah.
Genesis 11:4 (NIV) tells us:
4 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."
The tower that is mentioned here is most commonly know as the Tower of Babel. Here are the verses that follow.
Genesis 11:6-9 NIV
6 The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.
7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."
8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.
9 That is why it was called Babel - because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
The scene at Pentecost in Acts 2 is a magnificent reversal of Babel. Notice some of the comparisons between what happened at Babel and Pentecost.
1. Instead of gathering in disobedience, the 120 came together in obedience at Pentecost.
Those at Babel disobeyed God, trying through human efforts to unify themselves, while those at Pentecost were unified - in one accord - in obedience. Christ had commanded his followers that they were not to "go into all the world," until they had first gathered in Jerusalem to wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit.
2. Those in Jerusalem were not trying to reach God (heaven) through their own efforts, but waited for God to come down to them.
And He did come down, this time with a rushing might wind that filled the whole house. Also, tongues of fire came to rest on each of them. Like the fire of God at the Burning Bush of Moses, God's fire did not consume that which was burning.
3. Instead of the Babel's disunity and confusion, here at Pentecost, the new languages created unity and harmony once again.
At Pentecost a heavenly word was spoken into a fallen, sinful, earthly situation, bringing back the spiritual unity and harmony that sin had destroyed at Babel.
4. The people spoke in new languages at both Babel and Pentecost.
The difference in the two scenes is that in Babel they misused language to make people believe that which was not true. And their inability to understand each other's new tongue was an indication of their deterioration within.
But at Pentecost, it was not people babbling their rebellious words to each other and to God. Rather, the people were waiting humbly in obedience, waiting for God to speak His transforming words through them! Then they began to speak in other tongues as the Holy Spirit empowered them. This enabling of the Holy Spirit enhanced their language beyond normal human experience. And rather than disobey God, they began to magnify God in their new languages.
The Bible tells us in multiple places that our tongue and the words it forms, has the power to bring life or death (Proverbs 18:21). The power of language can be used to create or to destroy. And one will lead towards Babel - and the other towards Pentecost.
One thing I thought about, as I was considering the impact of Pentecost on the world, was this: The confusing of the languages by God at the Tower of Babel caused people to disperse throughout the whole earth. The 6,000+ languages that exists today in the world have evolved since that day at Babel some 4,200+ years ago.
What happened at Pentecost enabled believers to have the Spirit's power to now go to all the regions of the earth in obedience to Christ's command to "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." (Mark 16:15) And, though Satan meant Babel for evil, and God judged them at that time in History, through God empowering His followers, He is turning it around for our good and His glory
And when people across the world believe the gospel and are washed in the blood of Christ, though we are dispersed and scattered around the globe, we immediately have a kinship - a bonding, a unity - that was destroyed at Babel. And this unity is not abstract but concrete.
There is one more item of discussion prior to our studying about speaking in tongues. There are some - not many - who propose a different take on what happened on the Day of Pentecost. They present an opinion that the miracle of tongues on that day was not that of the 120 speaking in other languages, but rather that they all spoke in their native tongue, and the miracle was that all the people hearing them were able to do so in their own language. The miracle, they say, was in the hearing, not the speaking.
How would you answer such a proposition?
There are several things that come to mind.
First, this Day of Pentecost was the birthday of the Church. When the Holy Spirit fell (or was poured out - Acts 2:33), it was upon the 120 in the Upper Room. It was to believers, not unbelievers, that Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:2 tells us that the Holy Spirit filled the place where the 120 were sitting.
Second, when Acts 2:4 tells us that they 120 were filled with the Holy Spirit and, as a result, they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. It was the 120 that spoke as the Spirit gave them utterance. As we read just a few minutes ago, in Mark 16, Jesus says one of the signs following those that believe is they will speak in new tongues. No, the miracle was not in the thousands of unbelievers on the Day of Pentecost, but, rather, was something new among the believers.
Third, if the miracle was in the hearing, not in the speaking, then why would the Gift of Tongues need to be interpreted.