Part 1 – Not everything that claims to be ‘tongues’ is actually tongues! 

In the 26 years since my baptism I’ve found that members of a number of churches I’ve come across have a particular favourite topic they love to discuss, study or debate. That topic is ‘tongues’. I have struggled to relate to these people even for years after my baptism. My personal bible study and a few books/articles I’ve read combined with personally studying the bible with pentacostals and charismatics and talking to one English witch have helped me immensely. I have found some of my most profound insights in the most unlikely places! 

There are two definitions of tongues. First, in modern times, ‘tongues’ is assumed to refer to a multi-syllabic babble emitted by those believing themselves to be under the control of the biblical person of the Holy Spirit. This happens most frequently in pentacostal churches. 

The second is the biblical definition and comes from a combination of passages using one of two Greek words with similar meaning. These are the word ‘glossa’ meaning language in a broad sense (eg. Acts 2:4, 11; 10:46; 19:6) found in the New Testament 50 times (27 times describing or teaching on the subject of the miraculous gift) and the word ‘dialekto’ (eg. Acts 2:6, 8) meaning language in a human and perhaps more local sense found in the New Testament 6 times.

I was a member of a Pentecostal Church in 1990. I was one of only three white persons in the congregation. At that time I did not see this to be a problem. I have no problem with having friends from other ethnic backgrounds. The truth was that at that time, only a couple of years after I moved to London, I still had no black friends. I still had no Asian friends. I attended this pentecostal church because a lady at my workplace promised me that if I attended I would ‘speak in tongues’. I had been trying to do this for over a year at the charismatic group that I was attending. My understanding and definition of tongues was based on the charismatic interpretation that they had the biblical ‘Pentecostal’ type of tongues. I had travelled to France and attended meetings in different places in England but I still could not connect with this experience. The first night that I attended this pentacostal church there was an altar call and I went forward in tears. I was embarrassed and desperate. One of the other two white members was the husband of the lady that had invited me. He and another member were tag preaching and very confidently stating the God had someone in the crowd who badly needed the sores on their heart to be healed. The whole congregation were singing loudly and had been doing so for some 15-20 minutes. When I reached the front I was instructed to kneel and two men placed their hands on me, praying for me and shaking me, commanding demons to out of me and commanding me to shout out to God the words ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Praise You Jesus’. During this time, very suddenly I felt a presence descend on to my head and shoulders and my lower jaw became very loose and I uttered some sounds which I could not understand. My ears had popped and so I couldn’t fully hear what I was saying. The two gentlemen were certain that this was biblical tongues and jumped ecstatically into the air claiming that I had been saved and received the Holy Spirit. I was immersed in water a couple of days later. I found it impossible to repeat the experience over the weeks that followed and became disillusioned. I continued to smoke and take drugs as if nothing had happened. 

Since those days in 1990 I have attended several pentecostal churches to visit and observe and I found that the experience of tongue speaking is identical in most of these churches. The charismatic groups that I attended and was a member of growing up and also those I attended here in London in the late 1980s also had the same manifestation. One problem with this similarity is that the pentecostal church that I was attending in 1990 where this happened was a ‘Jesus only’ pentecostal church. The ‘Jesus only’ pentecostals are condemned by mainstream pentecostals as being a sect and having a false gospel. The reason that mainstream pentecostals condemn ‘oneness pentecostals’ is that oneness pentecostals believe that holy spirit baptism (as they call it) is in the name of Jesus only. Mainstream pentecostals believe that holy spirit baptism (as they call it) is in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These two teachings are perceived to be mutually exclusive. The problem here is that the supernatural manifestation experience is very powerful and is common to both groups. The two groups are condemning each other’s doctrines but the outcome for the individual members is exactly the same in that they have this same experience which they interpret as receiving the Holy Spirit.

This picture is further complicated by the fact the there is another group of pentacostals called ‘apostolic pentacostals’ who believe that the Holy Spirit baptism and tongues must occur as someone emerges from water baptism. In addition, Charismatics in the Catholic Church believe in their infant baptism as saving. This makes four groups with mutually exclusive doctrines of salvation ALL of whom have the very same babbling manifestation! 

The result of all this confusion is that it can be hard to understand the issue of tongues and how, if at all, it is connected to receiving the Holy Spirit. 

The phenomenon of “tongues” can be understood in the wider biblical context so that the specific purpose and nature of this miracle can be grasped. If we look in Genesis chapter 11 we can see how language was to play a role in God’s plan for the salvation of man. We can see that God used language to restrict the unification of humanity and the centralisation of man’s power. God is a God of centralisation and he has allowed human development into cities and governments and countries. However, God restricted centralisation at this time due to the proliferation of sin. The passage reads as follows,

Gen 11:1-9 The Tower of Babel

11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 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.”

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 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.

God is a God of order and he would only do something like this if it was for the greater good. I can imagine if I look at the principles in many other scriptures that God would not have split up family units at the lower levels of society, so the divisions of language were most likely in tribes or clans. It must have been very strange though, for the people working on the tower to suddenly find that they weren’t able to co-ordinate their construction as various workers and managers in the project could not understand what one another were saying, and then as time went by, hours and days led to groups of people leaving (sort of like mini exodus’) where perhaps tens of thousands of people left in caravans to find new places to build new cities with people who spoke the same language. The harshness of this punishment pales into insignificance when one realises that the answer to this problem was given almost immediately by God in the very next chapter which reads as follows,

Gen 12:1-3 The Call of Abram

12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth I will be blessed through you.”

Here we see that God picked a man of faith from one of the new cities to bring salvation to all the peoples. In Genesis chapter 11 we see the curse that was necessary  to stop man from sinning above a certain limit and we immediately then see in the revelation of scripture God’s plan to work around this, and to use it in his design for salvation. We can see here the design of God. God has worked pragmatically with man. Man has free will and where God has had to bring punishment, He maintains the integrity of His plan of salvation to have a relationship with man by the design of his plan of salvation. God’s plan is intricate enough to survive man’s sin. Each nation of the Earth is defined by its own national language. God expands his promise to Abraham specifically mentioning these nations in Genesis chapter 18.

Genesis 18:18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.

Now we come to the fulfilment of the prophecies made to Abraham. Some 16 centuries later in Jerusalem in the country of the Jews,  the Holy Spirit is sent in a new way (Jn 7:37). It is important to understand the true nature of Pentecostal tongues. When one truly understands Pentecostal tongues it is easy to see that there is no church today in the world that has this experience. This was an experience reserved for a moment in time when God made a powerful connection between two events over 16 centuries: a connection between the confusion of humanity’s languages at the Tower of Babel and the ushering in of salvation for all the nations. Let’s look at exactly what happened in Acts chapter 2.

Acts 2:1-13 The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost

2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

I often ask my ‘Pentacostal’ and ‘Charismatic’ friends the following question after reading this passage.

‘Name’ your church is Pentacostal, let me ask you please, if you were here on this day of Pentacost, what would you be hearing at this point?

I asked a young man I have started studying with recently. He imagined something like what he was hearing at his family based pentecostal church. He was a little surprised when I showed him the three seperate places (v 6, 8 and 11) in the above passage that show that every individual present heard the message preached in ‘tongues’ in their own regional language simultaneously! This miracle is known as Universal Translation. The concept of Universal Translation has been around in science fiction for some time. Technology has only just managed to mimic some semblance of Pentacostal tongues in the last few years using ear phones and translation software. 

The tongues that were spoken on Pentacost were heard as actual language. No church today has these Pentacostal tongues. They came once for the Jews and then for the gentiles (the rest of the nations). There cannot be a Pentacostal church because there is not the conditions of the first century Pentacost. No tongues. No actual fire. No supernatural violent wind. I have not seen or heard anything in churches that call themselves Pentacostal to convince me that today’s Pentacostal churches and anything other than groups of often well meaning and ethnocentric individuals claiming to be something they simply cannot be. They do not have Pentacostal tongues and they do not teach the salvation formula that Peter preached on Pentacost. 

The question must then come,  ‘if they are not experiencing the out pouring of the Holy Spirit,  what,  in fact,  are they experiencing?’. I could not answer that question to my complete satisfaction until a chance encounter with a young witch in Camden Town around about 1997. I will discuss this in Part 2.

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