We have learnt that speaking in tongues happened to people who were baptized by the Holy Spirit; that is something that seems to be generally agreed upon by most Christians who believe in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, whatever other beliefs might be. From there, however, various beliefs ensue, as some believe tongues are always the first sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, or at the very least are of major importance in a Christian's life, while some actually believe that a person must speak in tongues to be a Christian. In other words, no tongues, no Heaven.
Let's first have a look at this extreme believe about tongues equalling Salvation. Here are a few verses that some Christians use to support this belief.
John 3:5 has Jesus talking to Nicodemus about being born again, and says, "Jesus answered, 'I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.'" and verse 8 goes on to say, "'The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.'"
Their reasoning of verse 3 is that "born of the Spirit" means being baptized in the Spirit, and since they believe speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of this, then they believe that if you do not speak in tongues, you have not been born of the Spirit and, therefore, cannot enter the Kingdom of God. However, there is nothing in what Jesus is saying here to suggest that the "born in the Spirit" He is talking about is anything other than simply becoming a Christian, and having the Holy Spirit dwell within.
Their understanding of verse 8 is that the "sound" that is heard is tongues (!), that if you don't speak in tongues, then there is no sound, but the Bible says the Holy Spirit has a sound. The wind here seems to just be another way of referring to the Spirit; remember, the Day Of Pentecost included a rushing wind.
Mark 16 is another passage they use to support their doctrine, and we have already studied that. Verse 17 of that chapter says, "And these signs will accompany those who believe...", and tongues is then mentioned. So their reasoning is that if tongues is not spoken, then the person isn't really a believer. But, as we discussed earlier, that would have to mean that people who cannot miraculously heal, or those who cannot pick up snakes or drink deadly poison, are not believers either. It is likely that that passage was talking to the disciples and apostles of the time. Or it was just talking generally about Christians. It wasn't saying that everyone would do all of those things. It certainly cannot be used to tell us that speaking in tongues has to be experienced to assure us of Salvation.
It is very imporant to balance scripture with scripture, and if we study the Bible, we can find verses that make it clear that we do not need to speak in tongues for Salvation.
Ironically, if the believers of this were to read John 3 a bit further, they would find possibly the most famous Bible verse of all - John 3:16; "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son. That whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." There is no mention there of needing to speak in tongues. We need to believe that Jesus died for our sins. The baptism of the Holy Spirit, as described in Acts, is not necessary for Salvation, and certainly not its associated manifestations.
Acts chapter 16 has Paul and Silas in prison, before God released them with the use of a violent earthquake. In verse 30, the jailer then asked them, "...Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" In verse 31, they replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved - you and your household." Again, no mention of receiving the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and no mention of tongues. Believe in the Lord Jesus. That is the only criteria for Salvation.
There are other Christians who do not believe it is necessary to speak in tongues for Salvation, but still believe it is an important thing for every believer to have and, indeed, something God wants every believer to have. We have already seen that 1 Corinthians 12 tells us that tongues, like the other spiritual gifts, are disributed amongst believers as God sees fit, and no-one will have each gift. However, many, like Jack Hayford, believe that the tongues mentioned in chapter 12 are different from the ones mentioned in chapter 14, and the ones mentioned in chapter 14, the self- edification tongues, are for everyone. We have studied that so far, but let's see what else The Bible can tell us about such a belief.
The belief is that, once we have the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, we have the ability to speak in these self edifying tongues, and God wants every Christian to benefit from them. It might be a good idea to go to our Lord Jesus Christ and His years on Earth.
Something we can say straight away - Jesus never spoke in tongues. Certainly, no-one can argue, "How do you know He didn't? Maybe He did, and the Bible just didn't say so." If speaking in tongues is so important, it is unthinkable to imagine that such a fact would be kept from us. The Bible mightn't tell us every time Jesus walked up a flight of stairs, but everything spirtually important was related to us. If Jesus had spoken in tongues, The Bible would have told us that. But it doesn't.
Another argument is that Jesus didn't speak in tongues because He wasn't baptized in the Holy Spirit. He didn't need to be baptized in the Spirit because He was (is) the Holy Spirit. It is, of course, true that Jesus is the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit was a part of Him while He was on Earth. But He was also a man, and while being baptized in water by John, Luke 3: 21 and 22 tell us, "When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as He was praying, Heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice ame from Heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." Then in the first verse of the following chapter, we read, "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan..."
We can also read Luke chapter 1, which has the angel telling Zechariah about the birth of his son, who was to become John the Baptist, and verse 15 says, "... and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth." And later in that chapter, Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, and verse 41 says, "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit." But neither John the Baptist or Elizabeth were ever mentioned at having spoken in tongues.
It was only after the Spirit coming upon Him like a dove that Jesus started performing miracles and begining His ministry. Jesus received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, like the people in Acts, but it was a different experience. There was no tongues of fire, and certainly no speaking in tongues. Jesus did all kinds of incredibly and miraculous acts from that day forward, but He never spoke in tongues. This must bring into question the need for self-edification tongues.
The Alpha Manual for Youths, in its section on the Holy Spirit and tongues, says that praying in tongues can be a great help when praying under pressure, like with exams, illness or worry. Let's, then, have a look at Luke 22: 39 to 44, "Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and His disciples followed Him. On reaching the place, He said to them, 'Pray that you will not fall into temptation.' He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 'Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.' An angel from Heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground."
If anyone was under pressure, it was Jesus Christ at this very time. The pressure was so great that His sweat was like drops of blood. But there is no mention of Him praying in tongues. It might be argued that Jesus didn't need to because of His close relationship with God, but if that was the case, why did He pray at all? The Gospels repeatedly tell us that Jesus prayed to His Father, despite being a part of His Father. If tongues were a necessary part of personal prayer, and they are always available after the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, then Jesus should have spoken in tongues throughout His ministry on Earth. But He never did, even during His most desperate moments.
However, we know that Jesus did pray "normally" throughout His ministry. Indeed, Matthew 6: 9 to 13 has Jesus telling His disciples, "'This then, is how you should pray: Our Father in Heaven, hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'"
Now, Jesus wasn't saying we should pray those exact words whenever we come to the Lord. That famous Lord's Prayer was a guide for our daily prayer lives. But there is no mention of tongues. Jesus told us how to pray in those few, wonderful verses.
The Bible is full of wonderful prayers to God. Both in the Old Testament and the New, from Jesus to humble men of God, there are beautiful, stunning and rich prayers to the Lord throughout God's Word. Now, not even the most staunch of self-edifying tongues believers would deny this, or believe that we should never pray "normally". But they still believe that self-edifying tongues, which cannot be understood by the tongues pray-er, should have a significant place in every Christian's prayer life. I once heard a speaker say that he prays in tongues three hours a day, while saying that a friend of his prays in tongues five hours a day. And yet, we see The Bible shows us an overwhelming support for praying with words we can understand and with a clear mind. All this, against a small, very difficult to understand part of 1 Corinthians.
Let's now consider a bit more what the advocates of self-edifying tongues believer the experience to be like.
According to Jack Hayford, foreign words come into the Christian's mind, and even though they are not understood, the Christian prays them with the belief that the Holy Spirit understands them, and is using the language to pray to God, for us. This is contrary to what some might believe, that tongues is an angelic language that just pours out of the mouth with no control of the speaker. Hayford, as do the Alpha Manuals, believe that the Christian is in control when praying in tongues. However, they also believe that the Christian does not understand what the words mean. It is for the Holy Spirit to understand.
It is curious here that, if the languages are always Earthly languages, why do they hardly ever seem to be a language that the speaker recognizes? Hayford argues that there are thousands of languages in the world, and even the most learned person would not know more than a fraction of them. That is undoubtedly true. He belives that the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 does not prove that all the people who heart the speaking in tongues actually understood all the languages. His belief is that the "private prayer language" that each Christian should have could be any obscure dialect from the Earth.
This seems very strange, however. Why would God decide to use a remote Earthly language, one we have never heard of and cannot understand, to help us with our prayer life? There seems to be no sense to this, and again, using 1 Corinthians 14, and the Day of Pentecost, to support such a belief, is very extreme.
Also in question is the belief that the Christian does not understand what the words mean. They pray the word without understanding. This seems to go against basic Biblical teaching. The Bible constantly tells us to use our minds in our lives. Romans 12: 2 says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." To allow passage to anything that comes into our mind that we don't understand seems to be a potentially dangerous practice. We are warned that there are "false spirits", and we are to discern them. To have someting in our minds that we don't understand, and to assume that it is from God, is not wise. In fact, the belief among some people that praying/speaking in tongues brings peace and strength, despite them not knowing what they're saying, almost borders on Eastern mysticsm. Rather like repeating a mantra, or saying "Hail Mary" six times to ask forgiveness. There is nowhere in the Bible that teaches Christians to pray without understanding. Yes, the Holy Spirit helps us to pray, but with our understanding as well as His.
We discussed earlier about what The Bible seems to teach on the subject of speaking and praying in tongues. It was a sign for unbelievers, it was one sign that seemed to show the infilling of the Holy Spirit, it seemed to be something that brought forward prophecy, it was used for praise, and was certainly for the edification of the church.
If we believe, then, that the supporters of today's tongues are, in most cases, false in their beliefs, that they aren't atually speaking in the same tongues The Bible speaks about, what are they doing?
There are probably a few answers to that.
It would be hard to deny that some people fake it. Either to show off, or because pressure from peers encourages them to pretend to speak in tongues so as not to be left out, there seems no doubt that some Christians pretend rather than have anything unusual happen. I know one Welsh fellow, who does not believe in the general, modern day belief of tongues, say that a church once asked the congregation to come forward singing in tongues, and he sung the Welsh national anthem!
However, we cannot say that many of today's tongues speakers are trying to pretend. It seems that they genuinely do believe they have the Biblical gift of tongues as they understand it to be, and we therefore must ask what they actually do have, if it isn't the gift God's Word talks about.
We saw earlier that some probably pretend because of peer pressure, but there are other people whose peer pressure results in them receiving what they genuinely believe to be the gift. Neil Babcock, in his book "My Search For Charasmatic Reality", speaks about desperately trying to speak in tongues like his church fellows did, and crying with shame when he couldn't. And in that state, he started saying a few words he didn't understand, and from there he believed he got the gift of tongues. I once read a Website from a girl called Julie who spoke about her friends gathering around her while she tried to force herself to speak in tongues. Eventually, she did. Babcock's book eventually speaks about him renouncing the movement and saying he didn't believe he ever spoke in Biblical tonges at all. What tongues these people actually did receive we do not know. It could have been that, from all the pressure and contant hearing of other people uttering repetitious, unknown phrases, they gained a kind of learned behaviour. An act of repeating things that are in their subconcious.
We saw earlier that there is nothing in the Bible to tell us that people started speaking in tongues by trying to "make" it happen, yet the two people just mentioned above started that way, and Joy Balk, in her book "Tongues: Yes Or No", says that she started speaking in tongues by repeating "Hallelujah" over and over again. It was suggested by a friend that she say the word "Hallelujah" because it was foreign, and that would give her a better chance of receiving a miraculous foreign language! These examples seem to be totally without Biblical foundation. We see that never happened in The Bible. Were the tongues these people received an outpouring of some subconsious knowledge? This is quite likely, or maybe they just started saying some meaningless phrases that felt good.
Another, darker possibility is that the tongues some people receive is from the Devil. That is something I would never want to accuse anyone of having, but we must remember that if we let our minds go and accept whatever comes into them, even if we don't understand it, who's to say that Satan won't try to bring His deceit forward? We are told to "test the spirits", so if something spiritually strange happens that we don't understand, we can't automatically assume it is from God just because it "feels good". We must also remember that there have been other religions, as well as Christianity, which have had reported cases of speaking in tongues.
We cannot say for sure what today's tongues usually are. We can see, however, from our study of Scripture, that what the majority of Christians experience today is not the gift of tongues shown to us in The Bible.
However, are there occasions that the tongues of today might actually be what The Bible tells us about? This then leads us to the question: Are tongues still for today?
We saw that, while 1 Corinthians 13:8 says, "where there are tongues, they will be stilled", we cannot use that to prove that tongues are not for today. That verse gives no date. There seems to be nothing in The Bible that tells us without doubt that the true gift of tongues is not for today, so we should be open minded to accept that it is possible for tongues to still exist today.
Ironically, Jack Hayford, in his book, "The Beauty Of The Spiritual Language", does tell of an experience which does sound like the genuine gift of tongues. He talks about speaking with a non-Christian in a 'plane, and how he (Hayford) suddenly had a few foreign words come into his mind, along with an urge to share them with the man. He did that, and the man told him that he understood the words and was able to relay what they meant. From there, while the man didn't suddenly become a Christian, he went away thoughtful and touched by the experience. This seems to fit into the "tongues are a sign of unbelievers" belief. Hayford could indeed have had a genuine tongues experience there.
We cannot write off the gift of speaking in tongues for today, because there is nothing in the Bible that definitely instructs us to do so. It was a clear gift that, at least sometimes, came with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, as told to us in the book of Acts, and it was one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that was a sign for unbelievers, was used for edifying the church, was quite possibly used for prophecy (meaning teaching), and also for praise. Paul wrote, "Do not forbid speaking in tongues" in 1 Corinthians 14: 39. But we cannot come to the conclusion, if we read all 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 in context, that tongues were meant for self-edification.
We also can come to the reasonable conclusion that the gift of tongues was not a gift of high importance. It certainly does not deserve the enormous amount of importance so many Christians bring upon it today.
If you are a Christian and do not speak in tongues, do not worry. The true gift of tongues is not something to rebuke, but it's not something to put on the top of your list of priorities either. The famous Welsh preacher Doctor Martin Lloyd-Jones once pointed out that Paul's letter to the Corinthians was so much a book of correction, that he probably wouldn't have mentioned tongues at all if it wasn't for the trouble the church was having with them. In other words, Paul wasn't instructing the use of tongues, but correcting it. It's not something we need to learn how to "do", or how to "get". God gives as He chooses. It's not something you really need to spend a lot of time studying, but if you have encountered this subject and are confused about it, or are hurting from it, then you do need to study it to come to your own conclusions. And the only way is to go to the Word of God.
If you are a modern day tongues speaker, then I implore you to take a close look at Scripture and see what God really does say about the subject. If you believe you do have the true gift of tongues, then an indepth and patient study of the subject should be no threat to you.
Some people might be saying, "Alright, whether the majority of what we see today is the Biblical gift of tongues or not, why not just shut up about it and let people get on with it? They are benefitting from it, so just let them do it." That suggests the activity is harmless, but is it?
For a start, we have seen that some, and I imagine, many Christians today suffer because they are made to feel small by their peers because they do not speak in tongues. This suffering becomes even greater if they are told that they are not even saved if they do not speak in tongues. This is potentially severly damaging to the Christian, giving them great anxiety and pain when they should be enjoying the wonderful peace and love of God's saving grace.
Also, my mind goes back to the fellow I heard who spoke about praying in tongues three hours a day, and his friend who did it five hours a day. One would beg to offer the question, "When do they actually pray with understanding? When do they pray normally?" There are only so many hours in a day, after all. Prayer is essential to our Christian life. We need that regular conversation with our Father every day. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, "Pray continually." But if, during our times of prayer, many Christians are busy reciting words they don't understand and, therefore, not communicating with God at all, how much harm could that do to their Christian growth? Even if they say, "Oh, but I pray with understanding too," how much do they really do? How much of their prayer life is enroached by their praying in tongues?
I believe these are serious questions to be asked, and this issue of modern day speaking and praying in tongues is one to be thought about and studied on very carefully.
For the good of Christianity today. For our wellbeing, and the good of Jesus Christ.