Where There Be Tongues, They Shall Cease...

1994 Eric Francke

            To the objective observer, it is apparent that the church of Jesus Christ has always been prone to follow certain cultural trends and fads.  For nearly two-thousand years, we have not been immune to adhering to certain features of the contemporary society.  In American culture today, evangelicalism has been permeated with a mind set that exalts and gives preeminence to "experience"  above "objective" or historical fact.  What this has led to, is a gospel that is valid only inasmuch as it "delivers" personal experiential benefits to it's hearers.  Some church growth experts say that churches must offer tangible and personal incentives in order for people to come.  No longer do many Americans participate in church because they are told to do so in Scripture (Hebrews 10:25), but because they enjoy some experience that fulfills certain self-oriented needs.

        Another unfortunate byproduct of this phenomenon is that most Americans seem to build their theology around their experience, rather than the other way around.  We have heard the atheist declare that he knows God doesn't exist because he has never experienced Him.  Likewise, many Christians will base their theology on their experience.  This is especially true when it comes to the controversy surrounding the "Pentecostal" or "charismatic" experience.  Many Christians give credence to the doctrine of the "baptism in (a.k.a. infilling of) the Holy Spirit" because they have personally experienced it and feel they have benefited from it.  Yet the same people may not be able to demonstrate that it is indeed a Biblically valid  experience.  The converse, however, is also true.  Many Christians who deny that the modern "Pentecost" is authentic do so not out of objective scriptural and historical inquiry, but merely because they themselves have not had such experience. The question that must be answered is whether there is a "second blessing", a special infilling of the Holy Spirit subsequent to salvation is elucidated in Scripture.  If there is, we need to examine whether or not it is still available today.  In our examination, we will look at some of the claims of Pentecostal as well as anti-Pentecostal authors.  In particular, careful attention will be given to the ex-Pentecostal preacher George Gardiner and his book The Corinthian Catastrophe. 

        When manifestations of the "new Pentecost" began sporadically appearing in this country around 1901, it created quite a stir.  There had been very limited and unsubstantiated testimony of incidents involving "tongues" and "prophecy" as well as other spiritual gifts up until this time.  Now, the class of Bible students at Charles Parham's Bethel Bible College in Topeka had been "baptized" in the Holy Spirit and were speaking in tongues.  It didn't take long before the teaching about the new Pentecost had spread across the country.  Most notably, in California, were the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles was the place of incredible revival and demonstration of this new practice in 1905. The attention given this phenomenon by the press immediately gave rise to critics and detractors in the more well-established and conservative churches.  Even from the very beginning, there were those who called it at best fraudulent, or at worst, demon possession.  Even one of Parham's own students who was there at the outset withdrew from his small Bible school in 1901 and called the whole event a fake.  On a national level, the most outspoken critics of the Pentecostal movement were Fundamentalists such as Dr. R.A.Torrey,  H.A. Ironside, and Dr. Cambell Morgan , who referred to the movement as the "last vomit of Satan."  Denominations such as Baptist, Nazarene, and Christian and Missionary Alliance took strong stands against the claims of the Pentecostal Movement.  The opposition from these pulpits usually emphasized several main points as an indictment against this movement.  These points, which are still reiterated today, are as follows:

 1.  Tongues, as well as the other "spectacular" spiritual gifts, were withdrawn and ceased with the end of the apostolic era of the Church.  Many cite 1 Corinthians 13:8-10  as being evidence that God had only a temporary purpose for such gifts.  Some cite the completion of the Bible as the event that marks the end of these gifts, others, the  death of the last apostle, and most interestingly, Gardiner cites the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as the event that consummated the end of "tongues."

 2.  The use of tongues is discouraged and denounced in certain parts of the New Testament.   The use of tongues is cited as being the cause of much confusion in the Corinthian church, and it is suggested that speaking in tongues in a congregational setting actually could bring reproach upon the churches of God. ( 1 Corinthians 14:23)  

 3.   The practice of "speaking in tongues" can be found in ancient pagan rituals.  Many non-Christian religions have recorded incidents of "ecstatic" speaking in tongues.  This opens up the possibility that such behavior is merely a carry-over from ancient  heathenism.         

 4.  Many modern-day Pentecostals and Charismatics teach and practice things that are contrary to sound Biblical teaching.  It has been witnessed that some Charismatics, while "in the Spirit", have gone in to frenzied fits that could hardly be characteristic of being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Doctrinally, matters such as the necessity of speaking in tongues as the initial evidence of the being filled with the Spirit ( one of the Fundamental Truth of the Assemblies of God) is also clearly contrary to scripture (1 Corinthians 12:30). 

        These four issues are the main points of contention against the Pentecostal and charismatic churches.  As Gardiner points out, the Pentecostal churches do have a rebuttal against such statements, yet the answer to this dilemma must lie beyond the common rhetoric and partisan theology that American's have become accustomed to.  What is necessary is an honest and critical look at the theology of all factions involved, a unbiased interpretation of Scripture, and a thorough knowledge of early church history.  With these tools we shall take a closer look at the issues in question.

   #1.   Tongues have been withdrawn and have ceased.   The only scripture that is used to support this is 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, which states: 

            "If there be prophecies, they shall be abolished, if there be tongues they
            cease, if knowledge, it shall be abolished.  For we know in part,
            and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect thing comes,
            that  which is in part will be caused to cease.  ( KJII)

        This text clearly teaches that spiritual gifts, namely tongues and prophecy, are temporal, and are only for the church's use until that which is perfect comes.  The pertinent question here then would be, what is "the perfect thing"?  By honestly assessing the text, one can only conclude that the verse has eschatological overtones, and pertains to the Coming of Christ and our meeting with Him.  Verse 12 states that now

            We see through a mirror in dimness, but then face to face.
             Now we know in part, but then I will know fully as I am fully
             known.      (KJII)

        Even the most ardent Baptist must concede that the context of the verse precludes any possibility that "the perfect" is nothing other than Christ Himself.  It is a very imaginative stretch to teach that "the perfect" referred to in this verse is the canon of the New Testament.  Such a interpretation has no Biblical support at all.  Furthermore, such an interpretation would have some historical ramifications.  If the gifts were abolished in A.D. 90 ( or whenever one might put the completion of The Revelation), we could expect the historical record of the early church to confirm such an event.  It is this fact that has proved to be problematic for the detractors of Pentecostalism.  The gifts of the Spirit continued without abatement well after the completion of the New Testament and the death of the Apostle John.  John's own disciple, Ignatius, opened all of his epistles by calling himself the "God-inspired", a title he took because of his renowned prophetic giftings.  Likewise, he encouraged a younger disciple of John's, Polycarp, to "seek heavenly visions."  Polycarp was also known as a prophet.  Furthermore, the Didache (ca. A.D. 140), one of the most highly regarded books of the early church, (It was included with the canonical books in many instances), deals extensively with proper treatment of itinerant prophets and proper recognition given to "ecstatic utterances".  It is no secret that the Montanists operated in the "spiritual gifts" in the late second century and early third century A.D.    When Irenaeus, the great champion of orthodoxy, addressed the issue of such practices with the Montanists, he did not claim that the gifts had ceased, but merely objected to claim of some Montanists that they had exclusive rights to the gifts.  Irenaeus declares that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were poured out upon all believers in this last age, and that those who rail against the gifts addressed in Paul's letter to the Corinthians were in danger of committing the unforgivable sin of sinning against the Holy Spirit. (Against Heresies III, 9).   Tertullian ( ca A.D. 220), who is considered the first writer to detail Trinitarian theology, himself broke with the church at Rome and joined the Montanists.

        It is very easily verifiable that the early patristic Christians, many who were taught by the apostles themselves, considered the spiritual gifts a normal part of the Christian experience.  (Click HERE for an examination of exactly what the Patristic writers said about the charismatic gifts) What then happened to those supernatural gifts between then and the contemporary phenomenon of this "new Pentecost"?  We can document the slow disappearance of the supernatural gifts as being in direct proportion to the rise of the traditional church of Rome.  By the beginning of the fourth century, the quality of character of the leadership of the church  was greatly diminished.  The heroes of the faith who risked their lives for the truth disappeared with the appearance of the "State-Church".  Men and women of character, who once served as examples to the flock by their courage, endurance, and  faithfulness, were replaced by paid clergy who were appointed to the post by the imperial government.  Prophets were replaced with Popes.  Doctrines like  salvation by faith alone, and the universal priesthood were replaced with a "merit" system of salvation based on observing certain rituals, and a priesthood that mediated for the "laity".  By fifth century, it was well recognized that the church was quickly apostasizing.  It was "falling away" just as Paul had predicted.( 1Tim 4:1,2; Acts 20:24).  John Chrysostom, ( d. 407 A.D.) called the "Golden mouthed" because of his eloquent and fiery sermons, makes a candid statement about the condition of the church in the fifth century, as well as the existence of spiritual gifts (charisms):

            The charisms are long gone...the present church is like the woman
            who has fallen from her former prosperous days.  In many respects,
             she retains only the symbols of her ancient prosperity.
                                                              ( Commentary on 1 Corinthians)

        To Jerome, a contemporary of Chrysostom, the church at Rome was a "whore decked in purple"  (On the Holy Spirit PL:39:103)   It is evident from history that the only thing that caused a lapse in the supernatural manifestations of the Spirit of God was the backsliding of the people of God.  It is verifiably untrue, then, to insist that the spiritual gifts were withdrawn at any point of past church history.  All available evidence contradicts such a theory.  Nor did such a teaching exists until recently, when certain Protestant bodies had to provide a rationalization as to why God was not moving in their services. 

        The other argument that is used for explaining why God withdrew the gifts from the church after the apostolic age is that God only used such gifts to "confirm His word" and validate the church to the world.   It is reasoned that since the church is now established and the canon settled, such confirmation is no longer necessary.  There are two serious flaws in this hypothesis.  First, it implies that the Gospel needed supernatural confirmation then, but it does not need it today.  The fact of the matter is that the world is far more pluralistic and "competitive" ideologically now than it was in the first century.  If God deemed it necessary to provide supernatural signs back then to make sure that the Gospel was not swallowed up by a diversity of opposing theologies, how much more should we expect such validation to happen today.

        Secondly, the events surrounding the day of Pentecost would seem to contradict the idea that the gifts had only a temporary "validating" purpose.  When the disciples were filled with the Spirit on that day, and Peter rose up to explain the phenomenon to the other Jewish pilgrims in Jerusalem, he quoted Joel 2:28-32 as the text that God had fulfilled before them that day.  He said:

            This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: "In the last days"
             says God, "I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.  Your sons and
            daughters will prophesy.  Your young men will see visions and your old
             men will dream dreams. Even upon my servants, both men and women,
             I will pour out my Spirit and they will prophesy.  I will show wonders in
             the heavens above fire and billows of smoke.  The sun will be turned to
             darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and
             glorious day of the Lord.                  ( Acts 2:16-20)

        Since the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was to be a sign post that they were in the "last days", it is improbable that the gifts were for only the beginning of the church age.  Peter saw the miraculous gifts as manifest evidence that the "Day of the Lord" was near.  This is incomplete opposition to the "validating only" hypothesis about the gifts.

       It is apparent that there is no explicit evidence in scripture, nor any reasonable philosophical argument to explain why the gifts of the Spirit may have been withdrawn from the church in the early second century.  History itself unanimously declares that these gifts , including tongues, miracles and prophesy, continued in the church and gradually waned because of the immorality and backsliding of the church.  God never denied men access to the power of His spirit, but rather, that power was ignored and latent until any believer happened to seek that enduement from on high. 

        #2.  The use of tongues is discouraged in Scripture.  Obviously, there is no actual scripture that discourages the use of tongues.  There are several places where  Paul offers rules of regulating tongues in a congregational setting to correct abuses (i.e. 1 Cor. 14:19, 27,28)  but generally speaking, tongues are definitely encouraged. Gardiner finds himself in a dilemma by attempting to present the case that the Corinthian church was rebuffed by Paul for seeking spiritual gifts, rather than exhorted by Paul to do so.  He states in The Corinthian Catastrophe regarding 1 Corinthian 12:31 ( "but covet earnestly the best gifts") that          

           a study of the word covet (Zelao) will show that it usually has a bad
            connotation- a sense of self-seeking that Paul is correcting.  ( pg. 28)

        It is unfortunate that he had to invoke the "Greek-really-means" idol to come to his aid.  I have learned that nine times out of ten, "Greek-really-means" statements are at best weak arguments, and at worst, scholastic fraud.  It is a sad fact that much bad theology is perpetuated because of bogus "Greek-really-means" defenses that no one has actually investigated.  Without belaboring the point, Gardiner, in this case, is purporting a non-negotiable un-truth.  In other words, a bold-faced lie.   According to Trench's Synonyms of the New Testament, the word was frequently contrasted with envy, and used in a positive sense. 

            Aristotle employed zelos (root form of Zelao) exclusively in the
            nobler sense of the word...Aristotle contrasted zelos with envy...
            Thus zelos is both proper and concerns proper things...The church
             fathers followed in Aristotle's footsteps.  ( Page 104)

     The most pertinent question is: "how did Paul employ the word?". If we were to count every place that Paul used the verb, we would find that out of eight times that the word appears in his writing, seven of the uses have very positive applications.( 1 Cor. 12:31, 14:1, 39, 2 Cor. 11:2, Gal. 4:17 {twice}, 18).   One does not even need to know Greek to see the similarity that zelos has to the English word "zeal".  In only a minority of times is the either the noun or verb used to mean "jealousy" or "envy".  The context of 1 Corinthians 12:31, 14:1,39 leaves us with no other possibility other than Paul's exhortation for the Corinthians to continue in pursuing all of the spiritual gifts, particularly those that would edify the church.

 #3  Some pagan religions also practice speaking in tongues.    This accusation against Pentecostals is probably the only one that actually is not an accusation.  If there are pagan religions that "speak in tongues", that really has no bearing on the Pentecostal practice of speaking in tongues.   The argument is one that hopes to indict Pentecostals on "guilt by association" rather than an objective observation of Pentecostalism per se. 

        The crux of the problem is that if we can deride the practice of speaking in tongues just because we can find an ancient heathen religion that has the same practice, than we also must admit the vulnerability of numerous other Christian practices and doctrines.  For example, it has been widely documented that numerous pre-Christian religions practiced baptismal ceremonies. For the worshipers of Isis of Egypt,  Mithras of Persia, Wodan of Scandinavia, and Chalchivitlycue of Mexico all were initiated into their religions by means of baptism.  Moreover, they all associated the baptism with being "born anew".

          What also would we do with all the evidences of ancient pagan trinities in existence?  The ancient Assyrian empire displayed their supreme deity as having three heads (with the middle one being predominant and older, i.e. the father), the body of the figure comprised of a symbol meaning "the seed" (the son), and the tail and wings of a dove ( the Spirit).   The ancient Hindus worshipped a triad.  The first recorded religion in the world, that of the Sumerians, was centered around a triad.

         Perhaps we should then dismiss baptism, the trinity, and a myriad of other specific biblical events and narratives because we can find them in earlier heathenistic religions?  This, of course, is not the case.  Just because we see these things in early pagan religions does not mean that the biblical representation is borrowed from them.  Rather, as the early Christian apologists did (taking their lead from Paul and his Mars Hill discourse), we can explain the occurrence of such things in pagan culture as evidence of God's preeminence and self-revelation (though incomplete) in the nations where there was no direct revelation.  When we read of the parallels between Gilgamesh's epic of the world-wide flood and Noah's narrative, we should not immediately discount the story of Noah on the grounds that it was "borrowed" from paganism.  Instead, we feel that the biblical narrative is actually strengthened, because non-biblical mythology confirms that a world-wide flood did indeed happen.  Justin Martyr (d. 155 A.D) argued that the parallel truths in pagan mythology and philosophy were evidence of "seeds of truth" that God had sown in all cultures from time immemorial.  Therefore, the indictment against Pentecostals of the existence of tongues in pagan religions does not detract from the phenomenon of tongues today.  If anything, it strengthens it.    

 #4.  Many Pentecostals teach and practice non-Biblical things.  This is a serious charge that Pentecostals and Charismatics must reckon with.   There is no doubt that some of the abuses that were found in the Corinthian church can still be found in modern Pentecostal churches.  I have witnessed personally events such as when an outburst of tongues has been disruptive to a worship service.  No one would deny that such an event is contrary to biblical teaching, in opposition to the mandate that "all things should be done decently and in order."( 1 Corinthians 14:40)  However, would it not be true that it is equally contrary to biblical teaching to deny the previous verse to this that declares "do not forbid speaking in tongues."? ( 1 Corinthians 14:39)   If the gifts still exist, then it is just as a grave error to forbid the legitmate expression of those gifts, as it is to abuse them in a congregational setting.  The answer to the touchy question of the use of spiritual gifts in church is not to ban them, but to harness them under proper scriptural parameters.  That is the spirit of chapter 12 and 14 of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.  It is a serious and invalid overreaction on the part of many ministers to simply outlaw the movement of the Holy Spirit, instead of regulating the gifts as prescribed by Paul. 

       What about the doctrinal excesses purported by some Pentecostals?  I contend, as briefly mentioned in the beginning of this paper, that doctrinal errors from both sides of the argument are mainly a result of to weight given to apparent "observation" instead of honest evaluation of what the Bible says.  The most offensive teaching to non-Pentecostals is the belief held by classic Pentecostals ( Assembly of God adherents most notably)  that one must speak in tongues to be truly filled with the Holy Spirit.  Pentecostals claim that the initial evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues.  Yet most Pentecostals do not know how the Assemblies came to such a doctrinal stand.  When the doctrine was first defined, it met a significant amount of opposition.  One of original executive presbyters of the Assemblies of God, F. F. Bosworth, would eventually resign his position with the church over this controversy.  When the issue came to the forefront of a convention in Waco, Texas in 1907, it was determined that a test case should be made.  Pentecostal workers on their way to a mission work in San Antonio decided to encourage believers to seek the baptism in the Holy Spirit, but not mention anything about evidential tongues.  Although the seekers were not told to expect it, many received the Holy Spirit and burst forth in tongues.  According to the Assemblies own official history, "Such test cases as this helped confirm  the worth of the 'initial evidence' view among early Pentecostals." (Anointed to Serve, pg. 125). 

        Such divisive doctrines are usually the fruit of observed phenomenon, when it supplants the honest exegesis of Scripture.  Even if the early Pentecostals observed that 100% of believers who were "filled with the Spirit" spoke in tongues, it still would not justify dogmatizing the "initial evidence" theory into a Fundamental Truth since it is without explicit Scriptural support.  This is an example of where a "test case" won out over God's Word.  On the other hand, since tongues is so frequently mentioned in scripture as being associated with the infilling, neither should we deprecate the experience nor belittle it as a mere "motor response" or psychological reaction. 

How Does Pentecostalism Fit in Today?
       It is apparent that the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement is not just a passing fad.  Since 1901 it has been a significant player in evangelicalism world-wide.  It's most aggressive foe, Dispensationalism, has been waning in influence in seminaries and churches for a number of years now.  Also the distinctions between Pentecostals/Charismatics and other conservative Christians has become somewhat blurred in recent years as definitions have changed in what it means to be a Christian, charismatic or otherwise.  Since most of the rhetoric between the two camps has cooled off in the last few years ( Gardiner's Corinthian Catastrophe being an exception), there has been an increasing amount of dialogue and cooperation between the parties. 

        The past tension between the factions involved has in some cases proved ugly, with both parties having to assume blame for such division.  What we do seem to forget is that the dichotomy between the "charismatic" versus the "institutional" elements in God's people has a very long history.  Looking back into Israel's history, there was a similar tension between the "prophetic" and the "priestly" offices in ministry.  Likewise between the "judges" and the "monarchy" of Israel's government.  The only thing of which we can be sure is that the tension between the parties should be a constructive one; not a destructive one.  Both parties can exist concurrently, each recognizing that the other provides the necessary balance to counter it's own extremes.  The only enemy in this issue is the sectarian "party-spirit" that seeks to fractionalize the Body of Christ and set one part of the Body into conflict with another.  What is necessary instead is a spirit of humility which seeks to fully understand God's Word on this issue, and honestly respond to God's leading, rather than some inflammatory polemic.  If we truly are "filled with the Holy Spirit", I think we can expect to exhibit these virtues of long-suffering, meekness and tolerance for one another.  Until we all do come into the unity of the faith, and knowledge of the Son of God, unto the fullness  of the stature of Christ. When that happens, and the perfect come, we shall know even as we are fully known.  Prophecy shall be abolished, and where there are tongues, they shall cease.


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