A Case For Speaking in Tongues For the Church Today – A Research Paper

“1Let love be your highest goal! But you should also desire the special abilities the Spirit gives–especially the ability to prophesy. 2For if you have the ability to speak in tongues, you will be talking only to God, since people won’t be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Spirit, but it will all be mysterious. 3But one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them. 4A person who speaks in tongues is strengthened personally, but one who speaks a word of prophecy strengthens the entire church.

5I wish you could all speak in tongues, but even more I wish you could all prophesy. For prophecy is greater than speaking in tongues, unless someone interprets what you are saying so that the whole church will be strengthened.”[1]

I have counseled at, helped lead in the execution of, directed, and participated in well over 100+ youth and young adult camps over the past 20 years of ministry. As a result, a few observable qualities that are common amongst all of them stand out.

First, students want to enjoy their time at camp. They want to have a positive experience with both their friends and, if possible (whether they know it or not), God. It is this desire for a good experience that sets the table for a God experience!

Second, young people, if properly taught, desire to experience power encounters with the very real presence of the Living God. This is not to suggest that students are or should become experience junkies for the sake of experience. Rather, this is to encourage church leaders to back up their preaching with action by facilitating opportunities to encounter the presence of the Holy Spirit in very real and tangible ways in the worship experience. We say “God loves you,” so why not allow students, or any aged person for that matter, to experience that love in daily worship and preaching of the word in camp and church settings? We say “God can heal your deepest hurts,” well then, should we not wait on the Lord for those emotional and physical healing moments? What better place than at camp or fall or winter retreat to focus in on the very real and tangible presence of the Holy Spirit? Too often it seems we quench the Spirit because we don’t wait on Him. If anything, those who embrace the power of Pentecost for today have historically been kinetic contemplators. In other words, there’s more of God to be known and to be known by God when we linger in His manifest presence.

Again, please allow me to risk a few more words to explain what “camp experiences” with God have to do with speaking in tongues. Simply put, modern life is plain, flat out, hyper-busy! To “be still and know” that Jesus is God[2] seems to be a rare exception to the rule instead of the rule of spirituality. If we’re honest with ourselves, modern life, and in truth, technological advancements have created more distractions away from healthy spirituality than toward a healthy spirituality. I’m sure this postulation could be debated with some of my brothers and sisters in Christ who are skilled at harnessing technology for Kingdom purposes, so let me make it clear I am not against utilizing technology for the purposes of advancing the Kingdom of God. Rather, I propose we need to often unplug from the secularized uses of technology in order to plug in to the power and wonder of the Holy Spirit. Again, for the purposes of this paper, it is necessary to highlight the importance of a life-transforming encounter with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, separated from distractions common to modern American life, in order to understand both the opportunity and the necessity of the personal edification of speaking in tongues, which in turn strengthens the Christ-follower’s faith.

I realize for my brothers and sisters who do not come from a Pentecostal perspective in their spirituality background, this all may sound a little too “touchy-feely.” Please bear with me for a moment. If you listened to me talk long enough, you would hopefully hear that I place my full faith and life devotion in the Person of Jesus and His Holy Word, the Bible. Once you drew that conclusion, if you were a believer, you and I would perhaps, and hopefully be, encouraged and we could have a jolly good time swapping faith stories and church experiences. However, if you were an unbeliever, I had better have a convincing argument for the reason for the faith I possess (1 Peter 3:15), otherwise I will lose your interest real quick! It is in this moment of crisis of convincing the unbeliever that I wish to make my premise for the gift of tongues, not just as a legitimate gift within the early church and today’s modern church, but also a gift that can be bestowed upon every believer who would seek to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by speaking in tongues.

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:5, “I wish you could all speak in tongues,” and then he goes on to encourage believers to edify one another in prophecy. At the risk of sounding one sided in the matter of spiritual gifts, please understand my perspective allows for the practicing of all the spiritual gifts as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:11-13, and Romans 12:6-8. I am by no means a cessationist (that is, a person who does not believe the gifts are for the modern church).

In his book Tongues: To Speak or Not To Speak, Donald W. Burdick highlights three observable purposes for tongues, or commonly referred to as glossolalia.[3] First, tongues in the early church served an Evangelistic purpose in that it helped overcome the language barrier as the Gospel spread throughout the known world into many different people groups and languages. Burdick also notes that since the two main languages throughout the known world were Aramaic and Greek, a supernatural language of tongues may not have been necessary since most all people could communicate using those two languages in the preaching of the Gospel. Burdick is basically asserting that tongues was used for evangelism strictly in earthly language contexts. Tongues is mentioned throughout the book of Acts and 1 Corinthians as more than merely human languages (Greek and Aramaic, or any other human tongue) however. This begs the question then, why did God choose tongues on the Day of Pentecost to help give birth to the Church? I believe Burdick’s first assertion is accurate, tongues did and does serve an evangelistic purpose, although not in the exact methodology he asserts. Tongues has a much more mystical purpose and dynamic than mere human language and meaning. The gift of tongues, as described in 1 Corinthians 12, wells up from deep within the soul of the believer uttering the tongues.

Assemblies of God Superintendent, Reverend George O. Wood answers this question quite thoroughly. Referencing John 7:37-39, 2 Corinthians 11:26, Revelation 22:1, and even Matthew 7:37, Dr. Wood pulls out the meaning of the Greek word potamos in each of those passages, which is translated as “rivers.” Dr. Wood writes,

“Jesus said that when we have drunk of the Spirit, then out of our inner being will flow not a small trickle of water, not even a stream, but a surging, powerful river of water. Somehow the Spirit of God takes our personality and does something marvelous—allowing the personality and the power and the character of Jesus to flow from us.”[4]

Dr. Wood goes on to propose that God chose tongues for four main reasons. First, he asserts that “the tongue gives definition to what we experience”[5] as believers. He asserts that speaking in tongues allows us to express the absolute glory of God, declaring the reality of the Spirit of God being poured out on His church in heavenly language.[6] Second, Dr. Wood states “the tongue gives us the ability to communicate readily.”[7] In essence, we are enabled to talk to God about His wonders. Third, “the tongue expresses what is in the heart.”[8] He references Romans 8:26, which says, “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”[9] Wood references these “groans” as our “longings, heartaches and aspirations that cannot be imprisoned within the confines of our own vocabularies.”[10] In essence, tongues allows the believer to pour out their heart before God without hindrance and with total abandonment to the Person of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Fourth, Dr. Wood says, “Tongues is part of the promise of the Father.”[11] He goes on to reference Jesus’ words from Acts 1:4-5, as well as Acts 2:4, Acts 2:33 and Acts 2:39 to substantiate this claim. Ultimately, even though some tongues remain for the one speaking the tongue and may not be interpreted in the moment, rest assured the Spirit is praying through the one speaking the tongue and strengthening that believer, just as the Apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 14:4.

Before we move on to Burdick’s second identifiable purpose for tongues, it should be noted that the Apostle Paul also makes a case for tongues being evangelistic, that is for the “unbeliever.” Paul states in 1 Corinthians 14:22, “22So you see that speaking in tongues is a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers. Prophecy, however, is for the benefit of believers, not unbelievers.”[12] The Life Application New Testament Commentary proposes that while the tongue might be a sign for unbelievers in order to capture their attention, there still needs to be a word of prophecy, that is the preaching of the word of God, or at least an interpretation of the tongue for an unbeliever to be convicted and repent of their sins and worship God as 1 Corinthians 14:25 says would happen when tongues and prophecy are properly understood and executed in the church.[13]

This evangelistic perspective of tongues is further substantiated by my own personal observations as a youth pastor. Through the years on staff at various interdenominational churches, as well as in leadership at ten or more interdenominational youth camps, I have always been careful to follow the 1 Corinthians 14 mandate for orderly conduct in church settings when it comes to the gifts of the Spirit, especially tongues and prophecy. I am not one to push the gifts, or tongues for that matter, upon any person. My pastor growing up, Rev. Greg Bryant always explained that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman and will not force Himself upon a person, but that we merely need to be open to His anointing and the rest would follow. In one instance, I recall praying over one of my students in tongues. I then waited on the Lord and had an interpretation for the glossolalia and an encouraging word for the student. Another one of my students, Allison, who was new to Christianity and our church, unbeknownst to me, was observing me with wide-eyed wonder and amazement as I spoke over this other student in tongues and prayer. She had never heard speaking in tongues before and she was excited and interested to learn more about the manifestation of the Spirit in that way. In essence, speaking in tongues opened the door of interest for Allison to receive Jesus into her heart. Tongues, as a sign to an unbeliever, caused her to believe that “surely God was amongst us.”[14]

Another recent student of mine, Hannah Avila, who now attends Vanguard University and is in her early twenties, shared that speaking in tongues has helped her grow and mature in her spiritual experience and has sharpened her soul’s communication with Jesus. She states that she “uses tongues a lot” during her times if intercessory prayer for others and when she’s by herself praying. Hannah goes on to say, “I think it’s allowed my faith to grow in regards to the Holy Spirit. When I don’t know what to pray I speak in tongues and that causes me to feel even more bold at times because I firmly believe the Spirit is speaking through me!” Based on Paul’s scriptural assertions and these last few modern testimonials, I think it is safe to say that the gift of tongues is an important, legitimate, and even interactive gift which strengthens the spirituality of a Christ follower today.

Donald W. Burdick’s second proposed practical purpose for speaking in tongues is one of a Devotional purpose.[15] Burdick references 1 Corinthians 14:14-17 and verse 28 (I’ll add verse 29) to substantiate his statement. He states that the one speaking in the tongue has three basic devotional pathways. The first is in the public setting where a tongue is spoken and that if it is spoken, it should follow with an interpretation for the other present believers to also be edified by the utterance. Next, according to the Apostle Paul’s writings, Burdick states that a person who prays in a tongue for others to hear should do so in a human language that those around him/her can understand (see also 1 Cor. 14:15). Lastly, if a tongue is spoken but has no interpretation of its mystery or is not in an understandable language of humans, then it should be restricted to personal prayer to God and not for the whole church to listen to.

This last point seems to be the most devotional in nature, and therefore strengthening to the individual who speaks in the tongue. The Apostle Paul also states in 1 Corinthians 14:18, “18I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.”[16] This is an interesting statement that taken on its own could seem somewhat spiritually prideful. But taken in context we see that Paul is both affirming the gift of tongues in its devotional aspect based on his own life example, while also providing constructive instruction in order to help the Corinthians better utilize the spiritual gifts, specifically tongues and prophecy, for the strengthening of the Church as a whole.

Third, and lastly, Burdick states that there is an Evidential purpose to tongues.[17] Utilizing Acts 2:6, 2:6-8 & v. 12, 2:16-21, and 2:41 as reference points, Burdick reveals how first, “the phenomenon of tongues attracted a crowd (v.6). Second, people were amazed at the fact that many Jews were speaking in languages they previously did not know personally, but were understood by others from those particular regions of the world. Third, the Day of Pentecost served as a launching pad for Peter’s message when 3,000+ were saved. Tongues served as evidence that God was pouring out His Spirit in and on all flesh just as the Prophet Joel spoke of in Joel Chapter 2, and as Peter referenced in his message. Lastly, the manifestation of the gift of tongues “played a significant part” in the Spirit-led result of that sermon when 3,000+ devoted their lives to this Jesus, the Messiah! Furthermore, Burdick asserts “Peter explicitly used the miracle of tongues in an evidential manner (vv. 32-36).”[18] Hebrews 2:3-4 goes on to declare the evidential purpose of tongues. We read:

“3So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? 4And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.”[19]

These “signs and wonders” were considered “miracles” because they were/are the result of supernatural power, or dunamis as the text passages read in the original Greek.[20] From a New Testament perspective, it is perhaps more difficult to argue against tongues than it is to argue for tongues in the life of believers who put their faith in the Spirit of Christ. The evidence for the gift of tongues this side of heaven is clearly present in Scripture.

Since I have spent so much time making a case for the gift of tongues from Scripture for the Church today, please allow me to address two prominent arguments against tongues for today. The first argument against tongues simply comes from what I and many scholars believe is a misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:8, which says, “8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”[21]  At first glance it would appear that the language “will pass away” denotes that tongues will one day not be needed, and I believe this “one day” will come, just not this side of heaven. Following observable logic, since some have not observed nor experienced tongues in the church in the modern era, or even perhaps have observed tongues misused and therefore concluded it is a contrived and man-made and/or man-driven “gift” due to the error of, well, men, it then makes sense that one should conclude that the gift of tongues is not meant for today. Using that logic however, I must conclude then that all other gifts are not for today (and, to the detriment of the Church, many have concluded just that!). This flow of “logic” stumbles however when somebody uses their spiritual gift of leadership in the church, or their spiritual gift of administration to help direct the daily affairs of the church, or their spiritual gift of wisdom to help make godly decisions either for themselves, or in partnership with another believer for their edification. Or how about the spiritual gift of discernment of spirits, that is one’s God-given ability to sense when evil spirits are attempting an unseen attack of satanic deception in a church or upon an individual, whether saved or unsaved. If we get rid of tongues, merely based on 1 Corinthians 13:8, then we also need to remove the complexity of knowledge, since that too is in verse 8. We should also let go of prophecy, which 2 Peter 1:20-21 declares comes from God, which is God’s Word, which we now refer to as Scripture, or, more commonly referred to as The Bible.

In my estimation, those who not only deny the gift of tongues in their own life, but the lives of other believers as well, to both their lack, have fallen for the classic error of proof-texting the scriptures. Ironically, many who hold to this cessationist view (in that they believe the spiritual gifts have ceased to operate in the modern church), claim that the gift of tongues today is based more on experience than Scriptural authority. For example, at his recent conference called “Strange Fire,” Dr. John MacArthur, a self described cessationist, but one whom I have viewed as a valid teacher and preacher of the Word of God through the years, boldly stated this:

“Endless human experiences, emotional experiences, bizarre experiences and demonic experiences are said to come from the Holy Spirit…visions, revelations, voices from heaven, messages from the Spirit through transcendental means, dreams, speaking in tongues, prophecies, out of body experiences, trips to heaven, anointings, miracles. All false, all lies, all deceptions attributed falsely to the Holy Spirit . . .”[22]

While I do see Dr. MacArthur’s point about unscriptural claims such as “messages from the Spirit through transcendental means” or “trips to heaven,” which are not directly outlined in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, or Ephesians 4 (Scripture passages which I earlier referenced with specificity regarding spiritual gifts from God), I think he throws the proverbial baby out with the bath water. I even will grant him the claim that there are “bizarre experiences” that are claimed to be given by God in many gatherings, but in truth are not. That’s why we hold true to the scriptures and as 1 John 4:1 exhorts us to “test the spirits, whether they are of God.”[23] That said, to test the spirit of something, or a teaching, don’t we need the spiritual gift of discernment found in 1 Corinthians 12:10? It seems like an academic crazy cycle to claim there are no gifts for today, but that the very same gifts that are claimed to not be “for today” are the same gifts that were used to help established one’s church or para-church organization (leadership, administration, wisdom, knowledge, generosity, faith, etc…). In truth, such arguments make the church look more confusing than the common claim that the gift of tongues does (albeit, a misuse of the gift of tongues most certainly does make the church look foolish, just as the Apostle Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 14:6-12).

Again, it is in this misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:8 where I propose many believers are robbed of an opportunity to mature and grow in one aspect of their spirituality when we say that the gifts, specifically tongues, are not for today. Let’s look at the 1 Corinthians 13:8 passage again, except this time, let’s add verses 9-10:

“8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.”[24]

 

It is verses 9-10 which bring verse 8 into context. Verse 10 specifically states, “but when the perfection comes (that is when Jesus returns in glory), the imperfect disappears.” In other words, it can be concluded that Jesus has not yet returned and His Church is still advancing the Kingdom of God on earth, and therefore the imperfection of prophecies, knowledge, and yay even tongues have not yet disappeared. Rather these gifts, in conjunction with the many other spiritual gifts, all bathed in 1 Corinthians 13 love of God, are for today and absolutely necessary for the advancement of the Gospel around the world until Jesus Christ does return!

Again, lest I be misinterpreted by the reader, tongues is not the end all and be all spiritual gift, nor is it the pinnacle of all spirituality. In truth, 1 Corinthians 13 love would and should be the pinnacle of all Christian spirituality! Those of us who claim spiritual gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit in that regard ought to also pay close attention to the fruit of the Holy Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-26. Oh that the Church would consistently love with a 1 Corinthians 13 type, Jesus-centered love, and act with a Galatians 5:22-26 elemental DNA of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and walk in the authority and dunamis (power) of the Holy Spirit through tongues and prophecy and spiritual gifts and was not divided over these matters, how much more good could be wrought on the earth through the Church!? I believe this combination is what revivals are made of!

The second main argument against tongues for today is the claim that glossolalia was almost entirely removed from the Church by the end of the First Century and that it completely disappeared after the Third Century. In his book What Meaneth This? Carl Brumback combats this assertion by stating it “rests entirely upon an ignorance of the facts of Church history” and that the gift of tongues “recurs in Christian revivals of every age.”[25] Throughout the course of Chapter 6 in Brumback’s book, he points out times and places where the gift of tongues wasn’t only practiced, but instrumental in spiritual revivals throughout Church history. We even have record in German history books that the great Reformer, Martin Luther himself may have been “a prophet, evangelist, speaker in tongues and interpreter, in one person, endowed with all the gifts of the Holy Spirit,” according to a citation Brumback makes from Souer’s History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, p. 406.[26] If the gift of tongues cited during the Reformation isn’t enough evidence to point out the gift being present throughout Church history, please afford this paper one more historical reference from the Great Awakening. According to Brumback, “The Encyclopedia Britannica (Vol. 22, p. 283) tells of tongues among the Jensenists and early Quakers, the converts of Wesley and Whitefield, the persecuted Protestants of the Cevennes, and the Irvingites.”[27] In fact, after a church leader, Dr. Middleton, during the First Great Awakening wrote, “After the apostolic time, there is not, in all history, one instance either well attested, or even so much as mentioned, of any particular person who had ever exercised that gift (tongues)…”[28] John Wesley, in protest against Dr. Middleton’s statement refuted, “Sir, your memory fails you again…It has been heard of more than once, no further off than the valleys of Dauphiny.”[29]

Getting back to my opening paragraphs, why are youth camps and retreats, and even extended worship gatherings on Sunday (or whatever day you meet for your main service) in general important? I simply contend camps and retreats are an important aspect to our spirituality because it is at those camps and retreats that we are able to quiet our minds and hearts enough to hear from God through His Holy Word, and yes even, through the utterance of the gift of tongues from the Holy Spirit. When we remove ourselves from the distractions of modern life, it is in those settings I believe we have the opportunity to experience God in Biblical, and new and fresh ways in order to be strengthened so that we can in turn strengthen and edify Christ’s Church. Tongues, as a dynamic experience of spirituality, both for the present day and historically, is a blessing from Jesus unto His Church, both for our personal strengthening and, with proper interpretation, strengthening in partnership with the gift of prophecy within the Church.

As the Apostle Paul expressed to his Corinthian brothers and sisters, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues (glossolalia), but I would rather have you prophecy.[30] If I were an apostle to the churches in our modern world, I would exhort the Church the same as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Until 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 is fulfilled and “perfection comes” and “imperfection disappears,” may we exercise a spirituality that eagerly seeks the presence of the Holy Spirit of Christ and may we welcome any and all gifts He may give, even the gift of speaking in tongues.

[1] The Holy Bible. New Living Translation. PocketBible Online Edition, 1 Corinthians 14:1-6.

[2] The Holy Bible. New International Version. PocketBible Online Edition. Psalm 46:10.

[3] Burdick, Donald W. Tongues: To Speak or Not To Speak. Moody Press, Chicago, 1969. Pages 23-31.

[4] Wood, George O. Living in the Spirit: Drawing Us to God, Sending Us to the World. Gospel Publishing House, Springfield, MO, 2009. Pages 85-90.

[5] George O. Wood, Page 88.

[6] George O. Wood, Page 88.

[7] George O. Wood, Page 89.

[8] George O. Wood, Page 89.

[9] The Holy Bible. New International Version. PocketBible Online Edition. Romans 8:26.

[10] George O. Wood, Page 90.

[11] George O. Wood, Page 90.

[12] The Holy Bible. New Living Translation. PocketBible Online Edition. 1 Corinthians 14:22.

[13] Life Application New Testament Commentary. Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, IL, 2001. Laridian Electronic version. 1 Co. 14:22.

[14] 1 Corinthians 14:25 and this account took place at the High School ministry of Peoples Church in Fresno, CA on a Tuesday night youth service in an altar response setting in 2001.

[15] Donald W. Burdick, Page 24.

[16] The Holy Bible, New International Version.

[17] Donald W. Burdick, Pages 26-27.

[18] Donald W. Burdick, Page 26.

[19] The Holy Bible. New Living Translation. PocketBible Online Edition. Hebrews 2:3-4.

[20] A Concise Dictionary of the Words in The Greek Testament; with their renderings in the Authorized English Version by James Strong, S.T.D, LL.D. King James Version Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Laridian Electronic Publishing, 2004. Key Word “miracles” from Hebrews 2:4 Strong’s Greek #1411.

[21] The Holy Bible, New International Version.

[22] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock/2013/09/john-macarthur-accuses-half-a-billion-christians-of-blasphemy-against-the-holy-spirit/

[23] The Holy Bible, New International Version.

[24] The Holy Bible, New International Version.

[25] Brumback, Carl. What Meaneth This? A Pentecostal Answer to a Pentecostal Question. Gospel Publishing House, Springfield, MO, 1947. Page 89.

[26] Carl Brumback, Page 92.

[27] Carl Brumback, Page 92.

[28] Carl Brumback, Page 93.

[29] Carl Brumback, Page 93.

[30] The Holy Bible, New International Version & Strong’s Greek #1100 for the word “tongues”.

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