Ministry Today | Serving and empowering church leaders

Tongues 101

The church needs to look at tonges as a gift, not as a cause for endless theological debate.

It's been five years since this page contained a column titled, "Why Bother About Tongues?" In it, I wasn't suggesting we not bother, but that we acknowledge the significant number of pastors who do, in fact, see tongues as "a bother." I described my own private practice of daily praying and worshiping—singing and speaking with both "the spirit," and also "with the understanding," as Paul affirmed of his own practice in 1 Corinthians 14:15.

Now I stand on the brink of entering my 52nd year of pastoral ministry, and I still lament the entrapment into which many sincere leaders fall when tongues are discussed. It's called the "initial physical evidence doctrine," or the dogma that asserts (with biblical justification) that if a person has truly received the baptism or infilling of the Holy Spirit, the sign confirming that experience will be that he or she "speaks with tongues as the Spirit gives them utterance" (Acts 2:4, NKJV).

The entrapment, as I describe it, is that equally sincere leaders argue there is equal evidence in the Bible of people being filled with the Holy Spirit without mention of their speaking with tongues. Of course they are correct, which has led to a century-long debate that has driven the focus on when people are filled with the Spirit instead of whether or not they are being filled (as Ephesians 5:18 exhorts). Further, it traps all caught in this doctrinal snare into debating the necessity of speaking in tongues as a proof, rather than examining the blessings of praying with tongues as a benefit or resource.

While I have never opposed the initial physical evidence doctrine, neither have I felt I was charged by God to be a judge and decry the testimony of anyone who said they had been filled with the Holy Spirit but had not—or not yet—spoken with tongues. So while I have always practiced, taught and led people to expect to speak with tongues when they are "baptized with the Holy Spirit" (see John 1:33; Acts 1:5), I have urged that expectation as a welcoming of the Spirit's enablement to enlarge my worship of God Almighty. The result has been that at least 80 percent of the members of the congregation I serve have received the blessing of tongues.

Perhaps the best thing about this approach is that it doesn't encourage the idea that the first experience of speaking with tongues is a climax. Rather, it is seen as a commencement into an abiding practice, not a seal of evidence for a required proof. I have sought to show thousands of pastors and other leaders how to lead people toward this fulfilling entrance to the fullness, flow, liberty and language of the Spirit of God.

So this springtime—at the 101st annual observance of the birth of that remarkable, earthshaking awakening called the Azusa Street Revival, I want to offer three possible resources to pastors interested in this ministry.

The first is The Spirit and the Glory, an 80-minute DVD in which I provide introductory instruction and guidance for believers desiring to receive the fullness of the Spirit. It can be ordered through

The second is "A Brief on 'Tongues' and the Baptism with the Holy Spirit." Thousands of pastoral leaders have used this resource to help communicate an even-handed yet biblically passionate pursuit of ministering this truth to people in a way that becomes fruitful, non-divisive and empowering to their personal life of prayer and service. It is also at and is free of charge.

The third is The Beauty of Spiritual Language, a book presented in a manner that has found a welcome among leaders in every denominational environment. It's still in circulation more than 10 years after its initial release. It can be ordered through conventional outlets.

I want to encourage—at the very least—that pastors explore the matter. I cannot believe the Holy Trinity was dabbling in providing a spectator-sport by "allowing" so dramatic an exhibition as took place in Acts. Since Christ introduced this grace of spiritual language, and caused all who were present to experience it on the day He was introducing His church at its birth, it seems dubious the phenomenon of speaking with tongues was meant to be a one-time curiosity, an endlessly inflammatory debate, or a flamboyant display of heavenly showmanship to impress a crowd.

If the Bible is clear on anything, speaking with tongues is a heaven-designed benefit. Interestingly, Paul is the primary advocate of tongues-speaking as a devotional resource for one's private prayer life. So, after his model, my dealing with the subject is in no way a quest to see the triumph of a doctrine. Rather, it is to see the blessing of congregations with a growing band of people who graciously, unpretentiously and faithfully "pray with the spirit and ... also pray with the understanding." Such a church will be blessed in a way Jesus intended His own to know. And such people will be enabled for worship and intercessory prayer in a way that can enhance every disciple and expand each of our prayer lives.

Jack Hayford is the founder of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, Calif., chancellor of The King's College and Seminary and the president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

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