Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Speaking with Tongues: Four Views

The 20th century saw an emphasis on the experiential aspect of the Holy Spirit unparalleled in the history of Christianity. This accent arose from two separate but similar movements, Pentecostalism and Charismatic-renewal. Against this accent, there arose a strident, reactionary stance among some evangelicals, notably those of the Baptist tradition, which minced no words in denying the legitimacy of Pentecostals and their sister Charismatics. Finally, as might be expected, there developed a more moderate middle-ground which, while not adopting the theology of Pentecostalism, at the same time refused to reject outright the phenomena of speaking with tongues as did the reactionary evangelicals. Following is a brief description of this history.


Arising out of the holiness movements of the late 19th century, particularly the streams of Wesleyan Methodism and Black Christianity, a new theology of the Holy Spirit was developed which focused upon the phrase “the baptism of the Holy Ghost.” The essential theological uniqueness of Pentecostalism is the belief that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a personal experience which is marked by the phenomenon of speaking in other tongues. While a minor stream of Pentecostalism (the Apostolics) assert that one must speak in tongues in order to be saved, most Pentecostals see the baptism in the Spirit as an experience which follows salvation. While it is usual for Pentecostals to affirm the Christianity of those who confess Christ but have not spoken with tongues, it is also usual for them to regard as underprivileged and underpowered such Christians who have not “received the baptism.” The following summary describes the central features of majority Pentecostalism as it developed in the early 20th century:



  1. There are two primary works of grace--salvation and the baptism in the Spirit. Salvation is for the soul, and the baptism in the Spirit is for empowerment to do the work of the church.
  2. The baptism in the Spirit has as its unmistakable authentication the phenomenon of speaking with tongues.
  3. The baptism in the Spirit is desirable for every Christian. The only prerequisites are purity of life and sufficient faith.
  4. When one is baptized with the Spirit, the recipient has at his/her potential disposal all of the nine spiritual gifts listed in 1 Co. 12:8-10. He/she should seek God for the manifestation of these gifts in the life of the church.
  5. Christians who have experienced the first work of grace (salvation) should immediately begin to seek the second work of grace (the baptism in the Spirit). Until they have experienced speaking in tongues (the sign of the baptism in the Spirit), they are usually treated by fellow Pentecostals as adolescent Christians who have not yet spiritually come of age.

Reactionary Evangelicalism

Pentecostalism and its emotional character was culturally unacceptable to much of the larger evangelical community. Some of the extreme physical demonstrations in Pentecostal worship were highly offensive. Added to this was the fact that Pentecostals regularly called for Christians to abandon their own evangelical denominations in order to join the new Pentecostal denominations. Non-Pentecostal evangelical churches were often characterized by the Pentecostals as being “dead,” “dry” and “unspiritual.” Evangelicals resented this attitude held forth toward them by the Pentecostals that they were some sort of second-class Christians.

Based largely upon the works of B. B. Warfield, the Princeton theologian at the turn of the century, many evangelicals and most Baptists adopted the position that speaking with tongues was a sign gift intended to authenticate the message of the apostles during the first century. It was a sort of temporary “voice of God” until the canon of the New Testament could be completed. However, when the New Testament message was complete, and the various books of the New Testament had all been written, the sign gifts were no longer necessary. As such, the modern Pentecostal phenomenon was a grand mistake. The Pentecostal practice of speaking in tongues was a deception attributed to psychological, emotional or even demonic deviation. Following is a summary of the essential stance of this reactionary stream of thinking:



  1. There is only one primary work of grace in the life of the believer—salvation. While God may perform many added works of grace within a believer’s life, there is no single one that should be categorized as a “second work” that is subsequent to and second only to salvation.
  2. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to all Christians at the time they believe the gospel. The work of the Spirit is primarily internal and invisible, not external and demonstrative.
  3. The sign gifts (particularly speaking with tongues) do not extend beyond the apostolic age. They fulfilled their function when the New Testament canon was completely written.
  4. Modern practices of tongues-speaking are both inappropriate and invalid, whether performed in sincerity or not.

A Middle Position

Under the leadership of its founder, A. B. Simpson, the Christian and Missionary Alliance (founded 1887) became the proponent of a more moderate position. After much study, Simpson felt compelled to reject the Pentecostal viewpoint. However, he was not willing to reject tongues-speaking altogether. He settled on the middle-ground that tongues might be an evidence of the indwelling of the Spirit, but certainly not the exclusive evidence. As such, tongues-speaking was allowed but not encouraged. Simpson’s dictum “seek not—forbid not” eventually became known as the “Alliance position.” It affirmed that tongues-speaking was a spiritual gift that could be experienced in any age of the church, but it denied that tongues-speaking was a necessary sign of the baptism in the Spirit.

This position, while largely in the minority for several decades between the early 20th century and its midpoint, gained ground rapidly after the 1970s. As one Baptist theologian. E. Glenn Hinson, stated, "....tongues has been neither as significant as Pentecostals claim nor as insignificant or as bad as some non-Pentecostals claim.” A major evangelical seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, has adopted this posture, and it is represented in various evangelical churches. The tenants of the middle position go something like this:



  1. There is only one primary work of grace in the life of the believer—salvation. While God may perform many added works of grace within a believer’s life, there is no single one that should be categorized as a “second work" that is subsequent to and second only to salvation.
  2. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to all Christians at the time they believe the gospel. There is no such thing as an “unfilled Christian.”
  3. The work of the Spirit is both internal/invisible and external/demonstrative. It guides as well as empowers with spiritual gifts.
  4. No spiritual gift may be relegated exclusively to the apostolic age. On the other hand, no gift is universal among Christians as though all or even most Christians should necessarily experience it. Gifts are given at God’s sovereign initiative, and they are not to be begged or demanded.
  5. Spiritual fruit, not spiritual gifts, are the measure of Christian maturity.
  6. Speaking in tongues, when it occurs, is better exercised as a private devotional praise to God rather than a demonstration in public worship.

Charismatic-Renewal (Neo-Pentecostalism)

Charismatic- renewal, though quite similar to Pentecostalism in its theology of the Holy Spirit, has a different historical starting point. Instead of arising within conservative Protestant Christianity, as did Pentecostalism, Charismatic-renewal arose within mainline denominations, both Catholic and Protestant, beginning in the 1960s. In general, it is a trans-denominational, ecumenical movement that affirms the importance of speaking in tongues. In its earlier period, it did not issue the call for “come-outism” that characterized the early Pentecostals. Furthermore, Charismatics did not arrive with all the stringent holiness baggage of behavioral codes and taboos that were so common among some Pentecostals. Theological differences were largely set aside in order to accommodate the freedom of charismatic expression in tongues and related gifts. Charismatics were free to remain in their own denominations, whether Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran or whatever, but were able to come together through secondary organizations, such as, the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International.

In the late l970s and early 1980s, a new phenomenon appeared in the rise of Pentecostal-charismatic churches. These were generally sovereign bodies without any denominational affiliation, and often enough, they were composed of remnants of classical Pentecostals along with those Charismatics who had left the mainline denominations. These churches are usually less ecumenical than were the early leaders of charismatic-renewal. On the other hand, they have avoided the more culturally despised practices and demands of classical Pentecostals. These churches frequently mushroom in size, though they maintain a fairly fluid constituency.

Summarizing the tenets of charismatic-renewal is more difficult than for the foregoing groups because of its trans-denominational, ecumenical character. Three general observations can be made, however.



  1. Demonstrative spiritual gifts in general and tongues-speaking in particular are an important form of public and small-group worship. Tongues-speaking is equally important for one’s private devotional life, and the private use of tongues-speaking is often referred to as one’s “prayer language.”
  2. There is no consensus among Charismatics as to whether or not tongues-speaking is the necessary authentication of the gift of the Spirit. Protestant Charismatics tend to say “yes,” while Catholic Charismatics tend to say “no.”
  3. Charismatic-renewal tends to view the human predicament as the misery of being dominated by the personal forces of evil (as distinct from historic evangelicalism, which views the human predicament as the misery of being captive under sin). As such, charismatic-renewal focuses on the need to combat the demonic adversary, and therefore, frequently engages in exorcisms.

Thus, modern Christians vary in their assessment of the issue of speaking with tongues. Scholarly works along with popular ones have arisen to defend and/or attack the phenomenon of glossolalia. By the early 21st century, the theological edges of the issue have softened somewhat, though in the background the above four broad perspectives still are maintained to greater or lesser degrees.



  1. Tremendous survey of the opposing positions, Dan. You may be retired, but you have not stopped being a teacher.

    I found your comments on the middle position and its historical rise - not from the charismatic movement, but from within more traditional conservative evangelicalism - very insightful. You even see the middle position among many of the "new Calvinists" - it is especially prevalent in the writings of Mark Driscoll and Wayne Grudem.

    I was also arrested by your observation that the charismatic movement views "the human predicament as the misery of being dominated by the personal forces of evil" and thus centers much of its theology on the language of spiritual warfare. I had not really thought of it this way, but I certainly think that this is true of those whose roots lie directly in the 1960s and 1970s charismatic movement.

    Today, there has been such an appropriation of Pentecostal and the charismatic worship into the independent mega-churches (and smaller mega-church wannabes) that the theology of the middle position is necessary to bridge the gap between their traditional evangelical theologies (most often Baptist) and their charismatic worship forms.

  2. I notice-and agree-that the oneness view of "tongues or hell" deserves only a one-line mention in a broad survey of Christianity.

    The term "apostolic" as used by pentecostals to describe their particular group or other groups of tongues-speakers, is an enigma. During my salad days--and perhaps the golden age of the UPC in the seventies and early eighties--the term was reserved for the hardcore radicals who left the UPC, most notably in the Murray Burr exodus. The Burr people accepted the "apostolic" label with pride, as it seemed to connote more hardcore "holiness" standards than the mainline UPC. The mainline oneness groups preferred the term "pentecostal." A noteworthy influence here was when the Alexandria, La. UPC church changed their name to "The Pentecostals of Alexandria." To use Dan's term, every "wannabe mega-church" in the UPC followed suit, even down to the "Pentecostals of Podunk Junction." Now, at least from my observations from afar, the UPC seems to be embracing the term "apostolic" more as mainline oneness pentecostals have seemed to shift leftward on so-called "holiness" standards. This may because of David Bernard's influence--I haven't studied the shift enough to know.

    Dan, you were right in noting the virulent reactionary response of mainline Baptists to pentecostalism in the first half of the twentieth century; especially in the south where the battleground was replete with plenteous troops from both camps.

    Ben Bogard (1868-1951) was the founder of the Missionary Baptist Church, KKK member,and the Baptist's most prominent polemicist in the golden age of religious debates. He is mostly remembered for his clashes with prominent Campbellites like Joe Warlick, N. B. Hardeman, and W. Curtis Porter. He did have a "debate" with Aimee Semple McPherson. I only mention that to quote Bogard's assessment of the pentecostal movement printed in the foreword to the written edition. Again, this was not a backwater Baptist preacher, but a nationally known leader in the early twentieth century.

    "Holy Rollerism, Pentecostalism, McPhersonism are essentially the same thing, differing only in small details. Modern Miracles, Divine Healing, Speaking with Tongues and such like are all exposed in this debate and the beauty of it is that the BEST REPRESENTATIVE they have has presented their side. The debate therefore becomes authority on this subject and it can be used successfully in combating the errors connected with the heresy all over the land.

    "The evil effects that come from this type of religion shows itself in the loose sex relations. All classes of them have a very large percent of sex immorality among them. They marry and divorce their husbands and wives. They are living in an atmosphere of emotionalism and it results disastrously in sex relationships. There is an unusual and exceedingly large percent of sexual promiscuity among their young people as they follow the example of the older ones. A visit to the Arkansas Training School for Girls confirmed this decision for the Superintendent, a very high class lady, told me that EIGHTY PERCENT of the fallen girls consigned to her care came from the homes of Pentecostals and other so-called Holy Rollers.