An examination of tongues as the ultimate sign – warts and all
This article by Drew Dixon was restored from the Please Consider archives.
The following article touches on the core issue of Revivalist doctrine, that is, the unchallenged assumption that ‘tongues’ are the ultimate sign and confirmation of someone being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’. Not only do I challenge that assumption, but I shall also develop my argument to show why we simply cannot not look to tongues as the ‘sign’.
Some of what I shall write may be considered by some to be a little ‘irreligious’ but it should not be taken that way. It is simply an open account of the things that took place. I would also remind those reading this article that I still maintain the legitimacy of tongues as one of the gifts in our current day and age, perhaps just not as widespread as I once would have thought.
Despite arguments to the contrary, the Revivalist focus is unashamedly ‘tongues’ before anything else. All hangs upon the possession and display of this one phenomena. If you speak in tongues, you ‘might’ be allowed to fellowship (dependant on your adherence to certain rules and regulations set by the particular group). If you cannot display this phenomena, you are judged to not have the Holy Spirit, and if you wish to fellowship with the group, your are required to ‘seek’ for this experience. Revivalists may respond that they are not seeking for tongues but rather, for the Holy Spirit, however, their line of reasoning is a rather circular one as no one is considered to have the Holy Spirit unless they speak in tongues (no matter how powerful an experience one may encounter pre-tongues). Therefore, no matter what, one cannot stop ‘seeking’ until they have tongues and so tongues becomes the focus and desire. For Revivalists, one can be assured of having the Holy Ghost if tongues are present, even though little change is noted within or without (as some have testified). However, if no tongues are spoken, one definitely cannot have the Holy Spirit, even if a great change has taken place both within and without.
It is also important to consider, that due to the general lack of the Revivalist tongues throughout a great deal of Christian history, Revivalists would consider that virtually all who have gone before were somehow inferior and ‘without’ the Holy Spirit. In reality, they would declare that these people, millions of whom were slain for their faith, were not even Christian (including the very men that put together the King James Bible that Revivalists adhere to).
This is a significant ‘judgement’ made by the Revivalists.
Based on some of the above observations, and the fact that for Revivalists, an individual’s stand before God in this day and age does not even make first base unless tongues are present, one would assume that the qualification and assessment of what is and is not a legitimate tongue, would be fundamental to the Revivalist doctrine.
From my experience, this is not the case.
Indeed, in my time in the Revivalist groups, it was virtually an unwritten law that you don’t ‘question’ another person’s tongue, ‘it is what it is’ one could say. In reality, to question another’s tongue was to breach the old parable that ‘he that lives in a glass house should not throw stones’.
This may soon become evident.
Time to examine
I often think that those who should be the most diligent to examine the whole aspect of tongues, are often the ones most afraid to do so, that is, the tongues speakers themselves. But as we grow in our Christian faith and maturity, I think it becomes a necessary journey for all current and former Revivalists, no matter how painful it may be, to truthfully examine this aspect of their faith. The tongues speaking Corinthian Church were found to be spiritually immature, and part of this immaturity was their over emphasis on specific spiritual gifts, one of which was of course, tongues.
The unassailable tongue
While in the Revivalist groups, I can never actually recall anyone really broaching the subject of whether someone could duplicate or ‘learn’ to speak in tongues. Indeed the whole aspect of ascertaining whether someone actually spoke in tongues or not, upon reflection, was actually a little odd. Basically, someone’s tongue was never openly questioned (some of my fellow pastors did comment on the odd person’s tongue, but that was as far as it went).
How does one differentiate between a non-tongue and a true tongue? The reality is, it is impossible. Even when out on our ‘witnessing campaigns’, if we came up against someone that claimed to speak in tongues, we would never doubt their claim, but more often than not, rebuke them as a disorderly brother in a fellowship not preaching the ‘truth’ (which was obvious to us, because no-one preached what we did). When they said they spoke in tongues, then fair enough, who were we to disagree. The reality was, how could we disagree? There was simply no way we could question their declaration. We would never ask them to speak in tongues and prove it, for as we knew deep down, it would not matter what they ‘babbled’ we had to accept it as tongues.
It was the most subjective judgement one could possibly make, but if someone said they spoke in tongues and ‘had’ the Holy Ghost, then that was that.
Before continuing, it is not my intention to call into question any person’s specific tongue, that is between them and God. What I do intend to call into question however, is the almost total non-recognition by Revivalists that tongues may be copied or learned.
A study on Glossolalia (speaking in tongues)
I would first like to present the introduction to a study conducted at the Carleton University Ottawa. It is from an article in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology 1986, Vol. 95, No. 1,21-23 and is entitled “Glossolalia as Learned Behaviour: An Experimental Demonstration” (for a full copy you would need to perhaps visit your local hospital / medical library).
“Sixty subjects listened to a 60-s sample of glossolalia (defined to them as pseudolanguage) and then attempted to produce glossolalia on a 30-s baseline trial. Afterward, half of the subjects received two training sessions that included audio- and videotaped samples of glossolalia interspersed with opportunities to practise glossolalia. Also, live modelling of glossolalia , direct instruction, and encouragement were provided by an experimenter. Both the trained subjects and untreated controls attempted to produce glossolalia on a 30-s post-test trial. About 20% of subjects exhibited fluent glossolalia on the baseline trial, and training significantly enhanced fluency. Seventy percent of trained subjects spoke fluent glossolalia on the post-test. Our findings are more consistent with social learning than with altered state conceptions of glossolalia.”
Nicholas P. Spanos, Wendy P. Cross, Mark Lepage, and Marjorie Coristine
In the above report, several aspects should be highlighted.
1. After the sixty subjects were all exposed to a short 60 second session of tongues, 20% (12) were able to immediately reproduce a similar fluent phenomena. This would seem to bear an uncanny resemblance to the percentage of Revivalists who receive on their ‘first attempt’.
2. After further exposure and some ‘practice’ for 1/2 of the sixty people, seventy percent of these were then able to fluently ‘speak in tongues’.
3. None of the ‘tongues’ represented in the above tests had anything to do with the Holy Spirit.
So here we have a completely ‘non-spiritural’ generation of something very similar to tongues. Of course, from a ‘language’ perspective, it would be impossible to judge between a ‘real or false’ tongue. So the reality is, a person can learn and / or duplicate ‘tongues’, and the % success can also relate to the environment and the process undertaken.
It is quite common knowledge that some Pentecostal groups literally train some of their converts to speak in tongues, which really throws the whole ‘proof’ aspect into disarray. However, most Revival groups would strongly deny any form of training or coercion, but they would be wrong. I would agree they do not deliberately train people, but in the end, the process and outcome are often the same.
The new converts training process
Most Revival groups are keen not to fall into the open ‘tongues training’ that some others do. However, the reality is, that over the years they have developed (perhaps unconsciously) a very neat little ‘training’ system adopted by almost all assemblies.
A new prospect is quizzed about their faith and this can take various forms, but it usually boils down to ‘do you speak in tongues’. The main focus is that ‘God will prove himself to you’. It matters little if a person declares they already have the Holy Spirit, if they don’t have tongues, then they are told they are not saved. The old King James is often pulled out and a few choice ‘out of context’ scriptures are linked together and presented as the ‘story of salvation’. The texts would often include the main tongues ones, such as Mark 16, Acts 2:4, Acts 2:38 and Acts 10. The reality is, that virtually any topic can be either proved / disproved via this form of scriptural wrestling, but if the receiver of the lesson is not aware of these things, the case presented can look quite convincing. The prospective convert’s own faith and salvation has now begun to be undermined by a very confident ‘testimony and scripture presentation’. They are invited to a meeting or some local fellowship group. From here on in, the focus for the fellowship relating to the new prospect is generally two fold, get them into the tank for baptism and get them seeking for the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ himself is really only mentioned as a side issue, more in the context of the giver of the Spirit, rather than the focus of salvation. The meeting itself, the new convert’s first real introduction to the people and the group, is in reality, a very controlled event, with most assemblies in a given fellowship running a very similar pattern. When giving their testimonies, Revivalists are ‘encouraged’ to speak always of the positive and victorious life post-tongues, with problems and difficulties being shelved. Tongues are always to be mentioned as the ‘turning point’. Indeed in the Brisbane assembly, if someone failed to mention tongues in their testimony, the MC was usually quick to point out in his summary that this person did actually speak in tongues when they ‘received’ the Spirit and was baptised by full immersion. Again, all the new prospect hears is all this positive stuff and that really, tongues (Holy Ghost) will solve all your problems. In this manner, a very biased and unbalanced view of ‘life after tongues’ is presented.
Soon to follow is the ‘operation of the spiritual gifts’, a process supposedly following to the letter, the instructions given by Paul in 1 Cor 14. Here the new prospect hears tongues (usually for the first time). Often, three tongues are given, each lasting between 5 to 30 seconds. This gives the new prospect the chance to hear the general form, accents, highs, lows and breathing pattern that is common to many tongues. Whether conscious or unconsciously, the new prospect now knows what is ultimately ‘expected’ from him if he is to enter into the ‘salvation experience’ according to the Revival Doctrine. The Revival talks are usually directed at the ‘spirit-filled’ and the new convert will often be left to feel he is an ‘outsider’. At the end of the talk, often one or two of the tongues scriptures or Acts 2:38 are again presented and a call for baptism is made.
At the end of the meeting, the offer is made for the new prospect to attend the seekers meeting, a place set a side for those to go and pray in tongues or to seek for the Spirit. This is where things get a little strange, with absolutely no scriptural basis what-so-ever. The new convert, accompanied by one or two Revivalists, enters the room where there may already be a number of people already speaking in tongues (some of them quite vocally). As far as seeking goes, the new prospect is encouraged to just repeat a fixed word or phrase, the word of choice is generally alleluia. At the same time, they are told to just think on the Lord and ‘ask / seek’ for the Holy Sprit. So the new convert sets off on his focused repetition of alleluia, with his helpers speaking in tongues right next to him. Often the helpers will encourage the new convert with such phrases as ‘just relax’ or ‘if you feel your tongue changing just let it go’. The helpers themselves will often slip ‘in and out’ of tongues, thus giving the new prospect repeated examples of how the ‘change over’ may sound (unintentionally of course). All this is of course ‘training’ via one of the most pointed and pressure orientated methods possible (all without people actually realising what they are doing).
All this is also done with the new prospect under the immense pressure of possible eternal damnation if they don’t get it!!
From here on, the new prospect has been coached into accepting that tongues represents the Holy Ghost, and any experience other than tongues they may have previously encountered is automatically dismissed as non-important and definitely not the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, after all, isn’t that what the Bible says??.
Over my time, I have heard some pretty ‘hyped-up’ sessions. As the new prospect gets faster and faster with their alleluia, the helpers get faster and louder with their tongue, while encouraging and pushing the new prosect along harder and harder. A typical session may go as follows, keeping in mind a number of tongues running in the background (new prospect in red, helpers in blue)
“alleluia alleluia alleluia, that’s it, just praise the Lord, alleluia alleluia alleluia, focus on the Lord, just ask him, allelu allelu allelu, if you feel your tongue change, don’t fight it, just let it go, arla arla arla, that’s it keep it going, just let it go, harla harla harla, relax and think about the Lord, la la la la da da da da……………..”
If the new convert makes it to tongues, the group acceptance and change of attitude toward the person is instantaneous and significant. The sense of inclusion is also both significant and apparent, ‘salvation’ has come to this lost sinner and the tongues ‘proves it’. Unfortunately though for the individual concerned, they may just have lost their sense of Christian objectivity forever as well as their ability to survive outside a ‘tongues’ group.
Many testify of a change within when they speak in tongues. While this may be legitimate in many cases (though totally unprovable from an outside perspective), one must also consider the incredible emotional release that comes at this time for the new prospect. If they have accepted the Revival doctrine, then in that one tongues moment, in their own thinking, they have ‘achieved salvation’, ‘God has spoken to them and them alone’, they are now one of the ‘elite few’, all of which are exceptionally emotive precepts.
Also, one should keep in mind the very act of ‘letting go’ (as people are encouraged to do with their tongue) can be (and is) a significant emotional step in a person’s psyche as they relinquish control over what is a fundamental human activity (speech) and brings with it a highly charged emotional reaction when done for the first time. As has been demonstrated, the natural equivalent of tongues is not hard to duplicate. I would perhaps offer that ‘some’ people, when they begin seeking for the Spirit / Tongues, deliberately try not to speak in tongues (i.e. let go), because they don’t want to be ‘duped’. However, as the seeking time goes on, the pressure mounts, the repetition of words (alleluia) plays on the mind, people get tongue tied, breathing patterns become irregular (due to the rapid repetition of words). Eventually, under instruction from the helpers, some people ‘may’ just let go and slip into what is simply a natural (perhaps a little odd) human phenomena, all accompanied by the significant emotional releases as mentioned above.
No matter what happens, all these factors combine to create a huge emotional ‘pivot point’ for an individual already under significant external pressure and makes the person extremely vulnerable in accepting any explanation of the moment that seems to fit. In the Revivalists case, it is universally and uncritically accepted as the Holy Ghost.
Objectivity is very difficult in moments such as this.
If the new prospect does not get to tongues (i.e. receive the Holy Spirit), then the condemnation is increased, as there is only one reason for failure…..an unrepentant heart. The new convert is told to try again later. I have seen some pretty low states of condemnation as a result of this failure to receive, with some walking away never to return.
Of course every process will have its variations, but the general theme and method remains the same, and is, to put it quite bluntly, a training process. In my last few years within the Revival groups, I became rather sensitive to this form of coaching and ceased the practise it myself. It soon became rather obvious to me how hard it would be to ‘get’ someone to receive the Holy Spirit (the Revivalist way), if we didn’t get their tongue motoring first.
To this day, I still fail to see why someone needs to be ‘alleluiaering’ (and very repetitively at that), just so God can fill them with the Holy Spirit. It is quite simply ridiculous and totally outside the bounds of Scripture. I also fail to see why someone has to ‘let go’ of their tongue (and voice control) before the Holy Spirit may gain access?
Over the years, I have heard some very borderline comments that re-enforce the view that some people ‘may’ have reached tongues as a learned / forced behaviour rather than via the Spirit.
- When I was seeking I felt my tongue starting to change, but it just didn’t quite happen
- We were not sure if I spoke in tongues so the pastor prayed with me to confirm it
- When I was seeking I got tongue tied and had to stop for a while
- After I spoke in tongues it still took me a few weeks to realise what I had
- I got a stammering tongue at first, but after a while it got more fluent
At the risk of being irreverent, a number of people (including myself) can also quite easily ‘imitate’ other peoples more ‘unusual’ tongues.
These, and other such statements, demonstrate the very subjective nature of tongues. It is especially frightening when children are involved. Revival children hear tongues in a meeting situation up to three times a week and also get plenty of exposure at home. Very young children are sometimes heard to try and imitate their parents when they pray. Within these groups, children well understand that if Jesus returns before they get the Holy Spirit / Speak in Tongues, then they will miss out. They may never see their friends and family again. Knowing then that tongues can be duplicated, it is not hard to see how these very impressionable children may be coerced into a learned habit rather than their salvation in Christ. This is a phenomenal pressure on a young child and literally forces their emphasis off Christ, and onto tongues.
But what of our unity through tongues and the Spirit?
Many Revivalists will lay claim to the supposed unity in the ‘Spirit’.
Sadly, it is generally non-existent.
Within each fellowship, there is a certain amount of unanimity, but this has more to do with the groups forced isolation, in combination with their adherence to specific rules and regulations. The only people who remain in each specific group are those who can accept / adhere to the prevailing set of rules and regulations, all dissenters eventually fall off the merry-go-round. This of course creates an illusionary ‘unity’.
Tongues fellowships as a whole, are probably more noted for their divisionary history than anything else (the Corinthians also appear to have had a similar problem). This is especially true of Revivalists, as in the last 50 years we have had numerous groups, springing from Lloyd Longfield’s doctrine, most of whom will not fellowship with each other and each holding to various beliefs. The only ‘unity’ among them is their disunity and mistrust of each other along with their adherence to ‘tongues’ as the definitive sign.
Bad fruit, bad root.
As a sign, the Revivalists ‘unknown tongue’ is incredibly subjective. By its very nature, this tongue is impossible to either confirm or deny when viewed in isolation. Of course, this was not the case with the tongues on the Day of Pentecost. These were totally quantifiable and identifiable as they were known tongues of the local gentile dialects, that was also their intended function. Unknown tongues were not a sign at Pentecost, nor were they present. Revivalists tongues are not the Pentecostal tongues, plain and simple. Neither do Revivalists (or anyone else for that matter in this day and age) share the same ‘day of Pentecost experience’ that the twelve disciples did, which beside the known Gentile languages, also included tongues of fire on each person along with accompanying wind.
The Scripture makes this delineation quite clear.
Ultimately, as a Revivalist, if someone said they had the Holy Spirit and tongues, we simply had to accept that they were telling the truth. Many will then say that they know they have the Holy Spirit, not just because of tongues, but because of the change that took place within as the Spirit came, their inner ‘born again experience’ so to speak. This is a fair statement and one that cannot be denied by a third party, it would also seem to be more in keeping with the Biblical witness on these matters. My question to Revivalists then is, why do you deny the same right of passage to millions around the world, who can powerfully and truthfully testify of the change within, the ‘born again experience’ that came with their faith in Christ? Why do you judge them as unsaved and without the Spirit, just because they did not experience a phenomena that can readily be shown to be learned experience under the right conditions in any case?
Revivalists, who simply cannot prove the authenticity of another person’s tongue, will accept without question this person’s adherence that they have had the inner rebirth of the Spirit, even if the fruit of the Spirit may be lacking, yet these same Revivalists refuse to accept the testimony of another Christian, claiming to have the fullness of the Spirit AND displaying the fruits of the Spirit, simply because the person does not display a phenomena that is completely unprovable to the Revivalist in any case……strange indeed.
The Revivalists method of seeking for the Spirit is found nowhere in the pages of the Bible and is simply a received tradition, a tradition that achieves the results required by the Revivalist doctrine. For this reason, it becomes a self-reinforcing exercise and comes to be seen as the ‘norm’. I believe it can legitimately be seen as a training process that achieves various forms of tongues. I am sure their are many along the way that may receive the true gift, but I am equally sure there are many who did not, and sadly, they are placing their salvation upon an event that they have been convinced to see as Salvation, but is no such thing.
The Bible tells us that as Christians, we will be ‘known by our fruit’. The sad reality is, there are many current and former tongues speakers that simply do not, and never have, displayed the fruit of the Spirit. This alone should raise sufficient concern as to the legitimacy of tongues as the sign.
Tongues speakers will claim an inner experience, but the fact remains, they have no idea if a fellow tongues speaker really did have a change. It must be taken on face value. The fact they also cannot prove the legitimacy of a fellow tongues speaker’s tongue, should also be a cause for reflection. Fortunately, the Bible gives a far more useful and practical yard stick for those that profess allegiance to Christ and the Christian faith.
Scripturally, an individuals claim to a spiritual gifting should never just be accepted on face value, the risk of ‘duplication’ was always present. Prophets were always measured up and ‘tested’, if not our modern day astrologers and prognosticators could lay claim to a prophetic gift from God. Just because an individual teaches, does not mean they have that Spiritual gifting. People that claimed Apostleship were weighed up and found wanting. What of gifts of helps, does this mean that anyone with a lean to this activity is automatically assumed to posses such a gifting (in or out of the Church). How about the gift of leadership (Rom 12:8), just because someone assumes this role and function in a fellowship, it does not mean he has this gifting.
The list could go on.
If it is obvious that all these other giftings are not necessarily to be accepted on face value, why is tongues, a gifting that also has a natural ‘counterpart’, to be excluded from investigation?
At the end of the day, the Bible gives a several methods of examination depending on the situation, but one of the most important and best places to start is the fruit of the Spirit shown in an individuals life. It is both a Scripturally correct Biblical ‘yardstick’ and is also infinitely less subjective than the ‘unknown tongue’ that some place so much emphasis on.
 It should be noted that this call for baptism of people, who by Revival standards are still, ‘unbelievers’ is against the Scriptural precepts and highlights the Revivalist lack of understanding on these matters. The NT Church did not baptise ‘unbelievers’ as this defeats its declared purpose.