I grew up in a Pentecostal tradition that places a fairly strong emphasis on the belief that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of being baptized in the Holy Spirit. Out of that emphasis has come many powerful testimonies, some head-scratching situations, and more than a few comical stories. Many of us who grew up in the tradition came to expect that when a young person was seeking the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the altar s/he was assured a high probability of encountering more than one apparent Holy Spirit experts.
I have a memory of being a preadolescent seeking the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the balmy altar of a late night service at summer church camp. On one side of me was an intercessory expert proclaiming, “You have to hold on!” On the other side was a prayer warrior yelling, “You have to let go!” And standing straight in front of me was a determined faith builder telling me, “Just say, ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus’ as fast as you can.” This story is so common among my friends and colleagues that at times I wonder if that memory is real, or more of a conglomerate of stories and experiences passed around and laughed about through the years.
Of course, those types of reflections only confirm in the minds of some doubters what they have suspected all along. That is, that speaking in tongues is nothing more than learned behavior or human manipulation or strange fire or a doctrine of demons. I do not intend to address those rejections. My personal experiences with the Blue Man have been enough to help me overcome my own doubts. I am a firm believer in glossolalia, xenoglossy and other divine gifts of tongues. However, there is something else that I want to point out here. All of the emphasis on obtaining the experience of speaking in tongues has a way of making glossolalia some sort of end result…a terminal degree…the end of the line.
Evidence is defined as that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof. The idea of initial evidence is that it gives the spiritual seeker the foundational ground to stand upon for
believing knowing that s/he is filled with a fuller presence of the Holy Spirit. It is a foundation from which one can launch and grow and continue and push through and overcome. Foundations are meant to be built upon: But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit (Jude v. 20). Yet, we have often unwittingly taken the posture that this experience is a mountain top on which we, upon reaching summit, take in the scenery, stake our claim and begin our descent back down.
When I studied at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary I had the opportunity to sit under the respected Pentecostal theologian, Steven Land. He was the one who first pointed out to me that there is much more to the spiritual journey than initial evidence. That we must continue to grow into the essential evidence and the ultimate evidence.
One can see this progression by reading 1 Corinthians 12-14. In chapter 12 we see the initial evidence of tongues and other spiritual gifts. But in chapter 13 we are shown the most excellent way. We see that the essential evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is not gifts, but love. It is love that allows us to continue to grow in the Spirit.
Eventually that love will help us move into chapter 14, where we will be willing to seek the edification of others more than the edification of ourself. That is why Paul stated that prophecy was superior to tongues: Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church (see 14:4). This willingness to prefer others over oneself is the ultimate evidence of the Spirit. It is a type of dying to oneself, or losing one’s life for the sake of others. It is the highest form of love. That is why Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Whatever your experiences have been with the manifestations of the Spirit know that the initial evidence is not the end goal. We must continue to grow into the essential evidence of love and the ultimate evidence of death–losing our lives for the sake of others. We do not have to fear that progression, which is why Paul continues on and ends his letter with the good news of the resurrection and proclaims: Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? (15:55). Speaking in tongues is a good thing. Whatever your thoughts are on initial evidence just remember this. Initial evidence is only initial evidence. Push on through to the other evidences as well.
I’ve never heard of that three-step progression before, but I like it. I just hope we never forget that step one will always come before step two and step three. Wow! That opens a can of worms, doesn’t it. Immediately we think of people who have shown love for their neighbor or who have even given their lives for someone else and have never spoken in tongues. But, we’re talking about the “gift” of the Holy Spirit. If we receive the “gift” of tongues, “the initial physical evidence” as the A/G puts it, we can have the “gift” of love and the “gift” of putting others before ourselves. Without the initial evidence of the gift of tongues, we can still learn to speak in other tongues (languages}, and we can still love people, and we can still sacrifice our desires for the sake of others, but the gift, the comforter, the promise of the Father, enables us to reach the essential and ultimate evidence.of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks for this blog, Jonathan.
Great thoughts, Lowell. Thanks for reading and sharing!
In the Lutheran tradition, we do teach much concerning the gifts of the Spirit, but speaking in tongues is much misunderstood; therefore, it is not widely talked about. I have not experienced someone speaking in tongues, at least not as far as I know. I have heard many stories from others but don’t know who to believe because several stories seem fairly unimaginable. The three step progression concerning evidence of the Spirit is something to consider and study. Thanks for the insight.
Thanks for the thoughts. And I really enjoyed your Lenten reflection today. Shalom!
amen my brother tongues is just a shout of the new birth (acts 2), but who wants to stay a baby? the shout is proof I’m’ his child….
Thanks for a good post and the Lord bless you
Keep the fire burning
Thanks for reading, Paul!
Timely topic for me. The non-demoninational church I attend places a high regard on speaking in tongues. Interestingly, we are currently involved in a pastoral search, a process from which I withdrew because it was clear the committee would not consider hiring a pastor who DID NOT speak in tongues. Is speaking in tongues not one of many spiritual gifts, and if so, how can we place a higher value on one gift than another?
Steven, it’s a good question. And it is something that is still debated to some degree. Within the Pentecostal tradition the majority answer to that question is that there are two different contexts for speaking in tongues. One is in your private prayer time, which is why many people refer to tongues as their “prayer language.” Those tongues are for personal edification. The other is in a public/corporate worship service. In that instance an interpretation is expected, and it is for the edification of the church.
Not everyone agrees with that interpretation, but that is the standard answer. Paul is addressing orderly worship in 1 Cor 12-14. So, it makes sense in that context. And that view makes these verses sensible, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Cor 14:18-19).
It appears that Paul is distinguishing between tongues that he speaks in private and tongues that are spoken in a worship service. And he seems to hold a low view of tongues in the context of worship, but does allow it as long as it is orderly and followed by an interpretation: “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two–or three at the most–should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God” (14:27-28).
Anyway, sorry for the long explanation! But the point is that many understand Paul’s discussion on tongues as a gift for some to be referring to this tongue speaking that was prevalent in the worship service, but tongue speaking in private prayer to be a free gift for all.
It would be interesting to ask the search committee whether one or both of these would be a requirement in their mind!
Reblogged this on stevenwwatkins and commented:
Really interesting insight on a controversial “religious” topic most people don’t talk much about.
Thanks for reblogging the post, Steven.
In my experience, its also very interesting that when you build yourself up in your most holy language, your vocabulary “in tounges” grows….. I have heard it preached and have experienced for myself that you start off with a small vocabulary, and as you grow in your faith, and continue daily in prayer your vocab becomes bigger and longer and deeper and more powerful…..I find myself wondering what it is that Im saying, because the power behind it is so real and strong. The Holy Spirit sure is a pretty fantastic guy!!!
That is very interesting, Cindie. I have never heard it taught that way, but can relate to that in my personal experience. Thanks for sharing. And yes, the Holy Spirit is a fantastic guy! Shalom!
If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!
Taking from Jonathan’s reference to the Pauline epistle to the Corinthian congregation, we read that Paul stated, (1 Cor 12:11), “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” What does the Spirit distribute as He wills? Why the gifts of the Spirit, of course!
Therefore, I put forth to you, the brethren, to examine this charge. IF the Spirit accords each spiritual gift as HE sees fit, then does one have to have the gift of speaking in tongues to be in-filled with the Spirit (to be baptized with the Spirit and fire)? MANY would say an emphatic, “YES!” However, I propose that this is not the case. The “initial evidence” to many may be the speaking of other languages, as evidenced in many cases in the Bible. However, not all cases of Spirit baptism were recorded with this initial evidence.
Sure, the 120 on Pentecost all spoke with “other tongues,” but does this set a written-in-stone approach to how God works??? I pray not. The Bible states that the Spirit doles out the gifts as He wills. I say all this because I knew that I was baptized in the Spirit and fire at a very early age “PRIOR” to speaking in tongues, which occurred at age 8. I also believe that people can function within the other “spiritual” gifts at varying times and not continuously. Again, I preface 1 Cor 12:9 that says the Spirit distributes them as He wills. Does this not also mean he can cease them as He wills, if necessary? (That is personal take.)
Another piece of evidence that refutes the “initial evidence” theory is the story of John the Baptist. The Bible clearly points out that John, “…will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15b) Here we have a prophet of God filled with the Spirit prior to his birthing. As an infant, toddler, and young child, John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit. The passage even goes on to say that when his mom, Elizabeth, heard the news of Jesus’ conception, she too was filled with the Spirit. No mention of her speaking in tongues is given. Granted these two examples are pre-NT, but Jesus was too for that matter. He spoke in tongues several times during his earthly ministry. Check for yourselves.
JD, thanks for sharing. You are certainly right about chapter 12 and its point on God distributing different gifts to different members of the body. For the standard explanation to this question see my response to Steven above.
The issue of xenoglossy (speaking in another human language unlearned by the one speaking it) is largely ignored by Pentecostal theology, even though, as I mentioned in my post, the phenomenon is somewhat prevalent within the movement.
The problem with the John the Baptist example is that, as you mentioned, it is a pre-Calvary example. Some have argued that one distinction between the post-Pentecost filling of the spirit with the OT filling of the spirit is seen in the baptism of Jesus. According to John 1:32 John the Baptist witnessed the Spirit descend on Jesus and “remain” (which, btw, is definitely the better translation of the word “emeinen” as opposed to “rest” on him). It is this “remaining” or ongoing empowering of the Spirit that was available after Pentecost for the first time in history.
To be clear, the Holy Spirit is received at the new birth of the individual. So every born again Christian “has” the Holy Spirit. However, Pentecostals have not always done a very good job of making this clear, and so we have appeared to outsiders to have an elitist attitude about the Holy Spirit. What we are discussing is the issue of being “baptized in the Holy Spirit” as predicted in the Gospels and described in the book of Acts. These two different “fillings” of the Spirit could possibly be seen in the fact that Jesus breathed on the disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22) after his resurrection and before his ascension. Yet they did not receive what we identify as the baptism of the Holy Spirit until the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.
And of course you are quite right about tongues not being explicitly mentioned in every case in the book of Acts. There are five incidents of persons being baptized in the Holy Spirit. Three times they spoke in tongues (Pentecost in Acts 2, Cornelius’s house in Acts 10, and the Ephesians in Acts 19) and two times tongues are not mentioned (the Samaritans in Acts 8 and Paul in Acts 9). Thus, the debate remains.
I think many people rely on their personal experience to make the decision. The problem for me is that my personal experience does not inform me very clearly. I sought the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a new believer and had a powerful experience in the altar of a revival service. However, I did not speak in tongues. The evangelist who prayed for me came up to me near the close of the service and said, “You were baptized in the Holy Spirit tonight. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.” Over the course of time I eventually began to speak in tongues intermittently in my prayer time, and increasingly over the years, but without any defining, watershed moment. So, like I said, the debate remains!
Thanks Jonathan for taking the time to not only post, but to help us through the comments and replies too! God bless you as you seek Him first and keep seeking!
Thanks so much, Deb!