All I ever hope to achieve in these little blogs is to shed a morsel of truth and encouragement to even just one person. That being said, one issue has been revolving around my head for the past couple weeks – something which has pushed a lot of people away from being a part of church, myself included. This is an issue not easily discussed. In fact, I’ve probably put off writing about it for a while. A lot of people who have a long history in the AG church probably have a firm understanding of it by now, but for those of you who don’t, this is for you.
Speaking in tongues: Pentecostals are fervent about members, especially youth, speaking in tongues. Oneness Pentecostals go to the point of requiring speaking in tongues for salvation – as if it takes human effort to receive the grace of God. In the last few years, I have had four classes that emphasize teachings on speaking in tongues. I’ve read a few dozen scholarly articles which debate for or against it. I’ve read all the arguments supporting it – all the different theories. I’ve read a handful of books on it. I’ve written several papers on it. I tell you this so that you may know that I do not write this to you without much research, dedication, guidance, lessons, time, teachings, and the likes. You can trust that I’ve made every effort to fully understand the truth. Firstly, I want to help you understand why the church believes so strongly in speaking in tongues, then I want to share with you what I think is the appropriate response to such a theological mandate. Here are my thoughts.
In studying this phenomenon, I’ve learned that speaking in tongues isn’t specifically related to Pentecostal tradition. Pentecostals themselves have only been around since about 1900. Many other denominations and religions actually practice speaking in tongues. Even Muslims do. Because of this, It becomes difficult to distinguish an authentic phenomenon of speaking in tongues…is it “Christian” or not. However, I will tell you: speaking in tongues is Biblically sound. Furthermore, it is applicable today. There is nothing Biblical that would lead me to believe that speaking in tongues has ceased and no longer occurs, or that if it does occur that it is somehow heretical. Speaking in tongues strengthens the individual’s relationship with God. It allows you to worship Him in ways that you cannot express normally. Additionally, speaking in tongues serves hand-in-hand with prophecy. It’s primary purpose with prophecy is edification – building up. It is shameful to think that we have let the gifts of the Spirit fade from daily practice; however, do not be deceived into thinking that just because we do not practice these gifts, that they are not still relevant. All of the gifts of the Spirit are alive today.
Though, Pentecostals, Assemblies of God in particular, argue that speaking in tongues is normative. In scholarly Biblical terms, this means that if something appears at least three times within a given text, it is a “norm.” In the book of Acts, speaking in tongues occurs three times following Spirit Baptism. Here is where I really want to help you understand what the Assemblies of God believe. This is something I never understood. I grew up all my life being pummeled with this idea that I have to speak in tongues to show that I’m one of those good Christians. I grew up going to summer camp after summer camp, Wednesday night after Wednesday night, thinking that I had to speak in tongues to prove myself worthy. I wanted it because I wanted to prove to people that I had it, not because I primarily desired the actual purpose of speaking in tongues. This tainted me to the extreme. It became something that when brought up, I immediately shut down. Any time any leader would talk about tongues, I would stop listening to them – the message wasn’t relevant to me. Here’s the distinction:
Assemblies of God believe that there is salvation, that there is water baptism, and that there is Spirit Baptism. Spirit Baptism is where I want to focus. This is what I did not understand until the last few years. Spirit Baptism is viewed as the “second filling” of God’s spirit. It is seen as the fulfilling of the individual. Following Spirit Baptism, Assemblies of God believes speaking in tongues always takes place. They derive this theology from Acts, where three of the five times that Luke mentions Spirit Baptism, he also mentions speaking in tongues. Because of this, Assemblies of God views speaking in tongues as normative to Spirit Baptism.
Alright, now that you hopefully understand what and why the Assemblies of God believe what they believe, here’s what I think about how we should respond to such doctrine. I will tell you up front that I do not agree with the Assemblies of God that this is normative. Three out of five times out of the entire New Testament is not good enough for me to base a whole denomination off of. Moreover, Charles Parham, the founder of this doctrine, only established it one hundred years ago. Does this mean that no other church from 1 AD all the way to 1900 AD had their theology correct? I do not think so. Furthermore, I personally do not see any benefit to the church or the individual by emphasizing the necessity of this phenomenon as evidence of Spirit Baptism. Additionally, I believe that unintentional emphasis that is placed on proving the receipt of Spirit baptism is flawed. I find nothing Biblical in proving personal salvation to men as opposed to God. God is the only entity which I care about proving my faith to. It is not my place to judge whether other men have received salvation or Spirit baptism, but to love them, serve them, and encourage them. God is the only true judge. Tongues as evidence of Spirit Baptism serves no fruitfulness to the Church as I see it.
The Assemblies of God has no doubt experienced a stifling of spiritual activity: especially regarding speaking in tongues. It is becoming more and more rare to hear people doing this in church services – even to the point that a lot of people do not know what it is. Those who have heard of speaking in tongues tend to be weirded out by it when they hear it. Though, this is not the case in other denominations. Other denominations are actually prospering in spirit activity. They are witnessing more and more of speaking in tongues and prophecy. Why is this? I believe it is because they do not focus on the necessity of it. They do not mandate speaking in tongues. They do not argue whether or not it is good. They just do it. They purely experience it. I think the Assemblies of God has gotten too caught up in theology rather than practice. Scholars will spend a vast majority of their time writing about why speaking in tongues is normative, why it is essential, what its purpose is, etc. Where is there room to actually practice it after all that energy has been exasperated into defending its theological implications? If speaking in tongues is a practice which leads the individual closer to God, it should lead them closer to the things of God as well – love, kindness, humility, gentleness, servitude. The people who have shoved speaking in tongues down my throat did not portray any of these attributes when they were attempting to indoctrinate me. Unfortunately, I have too many friends and family members who feel the same way. There is something inherently wrong with this. The worst part is, this leads people away from desiring the spiritual gift, which is what God most wants to give us.
Now, my intention is not in any way to bring a negative attitude towards the Assemblies of God. In fact, the opposite could not be truer. I hope to bring awareness to those who have been mislead and conviction to those who have mislead. For those of you who have been offended by the church because of speaking in tongues, I would urge you to forgive those who have hurt you. It’s not worth not experiencing God to hold a grudge over an individual who mistreated you. If you’ve stopped attending church altogether, here is my advice to you. Reevaluate why you’ve made that decision. Was it a list of things that all contributed to the decision? Was it a particular person in the church? Was it the general attitudes of the church? Was it how you were treated? I myself stopped going to church for a long while. I had determined it possessed no value. It did not permit any benefit to me. I had my Bible and my prayers, what else could I need? No one in the church had made a significant impact in my life, unless it was negative. I felt validated. I even wrote a satirical song about Sunday Christians. I could not stand the thought of “Christians.” I thought everyone I met was a fake. No one was truly real. I considered myself a Christian, but wished I could think of a different name for it since I had so much despised what it became. All of this was the result of a few negative experiences from specific individuals and churches. But I, as I hope you do, have come to gain a much higher understanding of the church over the last few years. It’s not just about what I can get out of the church. It’s not how it benefits me. It’s about the relationships that spur each other on towards stronger faith. It’s about being able to serve in a community. It’s about being there for complete strangers. It’s about coming together as One. The Bible emphasizes the idea of oneness over and over again. It discusses the idea of the church as the body of the Christ…the united body of Christ. I hope to encourage you to look into the value of church. Find a small group of people and get to know them. Don’t underestimate the power of relationships which God has provided. He can speak to you in ways that you could never imagine through other people, imperfect as they may be. As for speaking in tongues, I hope you become more concerned with the act of worship and edification through it rather than the evidence aspect of it. Ask God to guide you. Search for His truth, and if you remain pure in heart, He will remain faithful to you.