Bothering With Tongues

Speaking in tongues-some embrace it; some reject it; others just ignore it. Why we must take a thoughtful look at this controversial Pentecostal phenomenon

There are few subjects that excite more curiosity, interest, joy, animosity, debate or doctrinaire posturing than speaking in tongues. To even address it may raise the question, "Why do you bother with this?" Some feel to avoid tongues is safer, fearing they will be thought other than scriptural, sensible, truly practical or even sane.

My answer is that on all four of those issues, "bothering" is worth it because speaking in tongues: (1) is scriptural (predicted by Jesus and practiced by the apostolic church); (2) is sensible (when biblical teaching is observed); (3) is practical (valued in much of today's church); and (4) is sane (neither gibberish or mindless).

Why I bother. My private practice of praying both "with the understanding" and "with the Spirit also" (see 1 Cor. 14:15) is rooted in my discovery of their intensely practical benefits. In fact, to my view, it is precisely the value of this exercise that occasions the adversary's smoke screening the subject. He uses debate and dogmatism on both sides of the issue to attempt pre-empting people "bothering" because he knows how tongues can ignite intercession, enrich private prayer and enlarge personal worship.

So, I keep "bothering": (1) by bringing teaching at appropriate times (via avenues such as my book, The Beauty of Spiritual Language); and (2) by mentoring pastors at my School of Pastoral Nurture. Other "bothering" occurs as well, such as the time it took to be involved with a denominational group studying how to preserve and present this value in their movement.

Seeking to avoid bigotry. The commitment of these Pentecostal denominational leaders impressed me as they evaluated their stance on speaking in tongues (especially as it related to a believer's initial experience of being "filled with" or "baptized in" the Holy Spirit). Their quest to avoid apparent bigotry or dogmatism, while passionately maintaining the value of speaking with tongues, evidenced that they feel as strongly as I do about two things.

First, that speaking in tongues is a spiritual resource/benefit intended for and available to every born-again believer who will ask for and be open to it. Second, that these benefits are so great, every pastor ought to be equipped to teach, inspire and lead in ways that advance a life of "Spirit-fullness" that includes an ongoing exercise of these Spirit-given languages.

What I like best about these leaders is the absence of any attitude of copping out. No one is seeking an escape from the stigma of being "speakers with tongues"; they want to advance the values and the biblical intention for this experience. But they know they are vulnerable to being misunderstood by any Pentecostals or charismatics who would see any reevaluation of their own doctrinal statements as heretical--especially in the wording of speaking in tongues as "the initial physical evidence" of a believer's "baptism in the Holy Spirit."

The irony is that, notwithstanding their history and existing statements of faith, many Pentecostal and charismatic churches already back down on the issue. This is not always due to an embarrassment over the subject; many leaders lack practical training for teaching or leading people to an understanding and experience in the practical benefit of speaking with tongues.

Still, bottom line, those who fear that a recast doctrinal statement would erode convictions in their groups labor with a moot point. So often, the majority of their own people aren't practicing their doctrine anyway! So, critics have no just footing for berating these "convinced and practicing" leaders who are seeking a means to clarify Bible terminology and focus on the values and pursuit of speaking in tongues for their biblical benefits. Not only is there no risk in such reevaluation, but there is also much to be gained.

My own pastoral practice. For all 45 years of my ministry, I have practiced, taught and led people to expect to speak in tongues when they receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit. But beginning 30 years ago, I found immeasurable gains in results of my teaching when I started focusing on tongues as a "benefit available" as believers open to Jesus, the Baptizer with the Spirit.

I found people ceased feeling saddled with the burden of manifesting tongues "as a proof" as they warmed to God's Word and sought Jesus--seeking Him for all the fullness of blessing He offers. Thus, the focus moves from tongues to worship--from doctrinal requirements to practical benefits. (I do note how this attending benefit continued in the church; see Acts 10:44-48; 19:1-6.)

The result has been that between 85 percent to 90 percent of our members receive these truths, are open to Jesus the Baptizer, are filled with the Holy Spirit and also speak in tongues. This fruit has abounded, even though our doctrinal statement does not have an "initial physical evidence" clause; instead it reads that, when receiving the baptism in (or fullness of) the Holy Spirit, "the believer may have every reason to expect His incoming to be after the same manner...as in Bible days...'the Holy Ghost fell on them as on us at the beginning'" (see Acts 11:15).

We passionately minister in a way that people not only desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but also with unsurprising consistency receive the beauty of spiritual language for their prayer, worship and intercessory life. God has blessed with fruitfulness this movement from "demanding a sign" to "teaching a value"; yet virtually all to whom we minister willingly open to and do speak with tongues.

I offered a brief for use in the discussion of those denominational leaders inviting my participation. It summarizes biblical/theological issues; doctrine that results in practical pursuits. We have verified that such an approach isn't backing down, nor does it reduce anything, for we've seen tens of thousands open to Jesus' command to receive the Holy Spirit and also receive the Spirit's enabling with supernatural languages.

So, again, I have "bothered"--but for a reason. I deeply believe the Holy Spirit is seeking to bring broadened understanding today, with an approach that will help even more to open fully to this aspect of believing life. Seeing Paul's affirmation, "I thank God I speak with tongues more than all of you," would seem reason enough for all to lay aside doubt and hesitancy--and for every leader to live, teach and encourage this practice (see 1 Cor. 14:18).

At its very beginning, the whole church received this resourcing: "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4, NKJV, emphasis mine). I don't think God was thereby obligating us to repeating a "proof," but He was presenting us with an abiding benefit.

As you review the following summary of what I offered that committee, I would welcome knowing what you think. That is, if it seems worth "bothering." Simply e-mail your response to Ministries Today at ministries@strang.com, log on to my Web site www.jackhayford.com or e-mail editor@jackhayford.com.

The proposal. Regarding the baptism in the Holy Spirit, we hold:
*that Jesus' multifaceted ministry notably features His role as the One who "baptizes with the Holy Spirit" (see John 1:33), and that this is revealed as a distinct and separate ministry from His role as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (see John 1:29).

Thus, we distinctly minister Christ as both our Savior from sin and as our Baptizer with the Holy Spirit.
*that being filled with (or baptized in) the Holy Spirit is an experience distinct and separate from a person's regeneration; and while one's new birth and baptism in the Holy Spirit may chronologically occur in immediate proximity, these experiences are neither simultaneous or synonymous (see Acts 9:17; 10:44-48).

Thus, we receive the promise of the "seal of the Holy Spirit" as offered after we believe (see Eph. 1:13), and do not see new birth and the baptism in the Holy Spirit as one and the same.
*that the day of Pentecost ushered in the timeless "promise of the Father" Jesus prophesied, saying they would be "baptized with the Holy Spirit" (see Acts 1:5); that the continuing purpose of this baptism is to provide spiritual power for living, serving and bearing witness to Christ; and that this baptism is accompanied by supernatural signs--an expectation that continued in the early church as confirmation of the Holy Spirit's fullness, presence and power (Acts 10:46; 11:15-18).

Thus, we are unswerving in our passion for pursuing this experience to which Christ calls and commands us to receive, that we might be enabled to minister His life, truth and power to our world; and we are unequivocal in our expectation of the Holy Spirit's manifestation of signs "as at the beginning."
*that since the New Testament text commonly links believers' speaking in tongues to their being "filled with" or "receiving" the Holy Spirit, we expect this facet of the experience as: (a) a worthy expression of praise to God (see Acts 2:11); (b) fulfilling one of the signs Jesus said would characterize believers (see Mark 16:15-19); (c) timelessly available (see Acts 2:4; 10:44-48; 19:1-6); and (d) as continually nurturing and practical (see 1 Cor. 14:3; Jude 20). Thus, we urge every believer to receive the blessing of speaking in tongues that the multiple benefits of this Holy Spirit-enabled resource may edify their daily life; thereby prayerfully drawing on the Spirit's power that Jesus' promised "rivers of living water" may continually flow out of a life filled with, praying in, serving by and witnessing with supernatural ability (see John 7:37-39).

*that the New Testament clearly distinguishes between: (a) the "gift of tongues" as a public exercise not granted to all believers (see 1 Cor. 12:10, 30) and always to be accompanied by an interpretation (see 1 Cor. 14:5, 26-33); and (b) the benefits of speaking in tongues "to God" (see 1 Cor. 14:2), enabling prayer, praise and worship (see 1 Cor. 14:14-18) as well as spiritual warfare (see Eph. 6:18-20) and self-edification (see Jude 20). Thus, we do not confuse the public gift and the private exercise of the spiritual language, maintaining liberty with order regarding tongues in our congregational life and constancy with fervor regarding tongues in our devotional life.

*that the actions of the apostles reveal the early church's priority for seeing believers initiated in Holy Spirit fullness (His being "received" or "coming upon them"); that converts not yet having received were taught and ministered to in ways that assisted each one to desire and receive this experience (see Acts 8:14-19; 19:1-6).

Thus, we place great importance on teaching and leading believers to seek Jesus for their own experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and to desire, expect and welcome His incoming "as at the beginning."

*that the truth and passion seen in God's Word are the source of our zeal in urging every believer, when they seek Jesus as the "Baptizer with the Holy Spirit," to open to "speaking with tongues as the Spirit gives utterance" (see Acts 2:4); not as a requirement to verify one's experience or spiritual worth, but as a biblical expectation for each of us--a grace intended as an abiding part of our daily walk in the life and power of the Spirit. Thus, we are not passive over ministering the fullness of the Holy Spirit or in teaching the desirability of speaking in tongues--a priority, pursuit and practice fostered by the revelation of God's Word, not as a dogma requiring tongues as a proof, but as a dimension provided for every believer as a daily resource in Christ.

*Therefore, we conclude: our quest and our expectation regarding teaching and leading believers into the fullness of the Holy Spirit is rooted in God's Word:

1. as we call every believer to "receive the promise of the Father" and be "baptized in the Holy Spirit"
2. as we invite all who are filled with the Spirit to freely expect to speak in tongues, teaching that what is initiated "as at the beginning" is not experienced as a climax, but received as a commencement--intended to begin a "walk in the Spirit" (see Gal. 5:16, 25) and to launch a pathway of continually being "filled with the Holy Spirit...giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (see Eph. 5:18-20).

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