Speaking In Tongues Understood!


February 2006

Dear Ministry Partner,

Perhaps nothing in American Christianity seems to generate more controversy than the topic of "speaking in tongues". To many Christians, it seems strange, far-fetched, or even embarrassing. Many believers want Christianity to be "respectable" — and speaking in tongues does not seem to be professional or upper class. Some Christians have a theological belief that all "supernatural" ministry ended with the last of the original 12 apostles (or perhaps some later date). Is speaking in tongues — praying in an unlearned language — for today, and what should we think about it? Does the Bible definitely clarify this for us?

Addressing the controversial aspect of tongues, I know one pastor who said, "The unknown tongue has never caused a church split yet, it's always been the known tongue talking about the unknown tongue that caused churches to split!" There is a lot of truth to this. We Christians need to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. Frankly, I suspect that church board members disagreeing over the color of new carpet have caused as many church splits as the issue of speaking in tongues. We need to be able to have pertinent discussions about theology among Christians and in the church. If we Christians can't discuss this in the church, then who can and where? It is not an obscure or minor theological issue for us to study and discuss because the largest and fastest growing churches in the world believe in speaking in tongues.

At the root of the discussions and disagreements about speaking in tongues is the central issue of whether God still does "supernatural" ministry (or miracles) today in the world. Either He does or He does not. One interesting point that all evangelical ministers agree on is that a person being born-again has a supernatural experience (a miracle). Beyond that point is a growing volume of medically documented evidence of dramatic and instant healings of people through prayer. Additionally, intercessory prayer has shown to reduce complications in cardiac patients in two different classic double-blind scientific studies as documented in the Southern Medical Journal (July 1988) and the Archives of Internal Medicine (October 1999). So even God answering our prayers makes a "supernatural" difference in people's lives — so how can we say God is finished doing supernatural things on the earth if He still answers prayer?

As an objective person reads and studies supernatural healings, it becomes intellectually impossible to say these healings were somehow "of the devil" when the person in question prayed to God in the name of Jesus and gave God the glory for the healing. Consider this question — could sound theology say that God allows Satan to produce supernatural healings and "speaking in tongues" to mislead people, but God Himself is prevented from doing supernatural things on earth for the last 2,000 years? Addressing this point, all Christians agree that God performed miracles in the Old Testament, and the Bible says God does not change (Malachi 3:6) and Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

The Bible has a significant amount of scripture addressing the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" which we are told is what produces the ability to pray or speak in a language which the person has not learned. There are five examples in the New Testament of people being filled with the Holy Spirit, and it can be scripturally proven that they spoke in tongues in every instance.

#1) The best known case is the day of Pentecost where 120 believers were in the upper room and the Holy Spirit came upon them and they "began to speak with other tongues" (Acts 2:4).

#2) When this same Holy Spirit baptism came upon the Gentiles, "they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God" (Acts 10:46). In Acts 11:15-18, Peter addresses this same Gentile experience, saying "The Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord...you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

#3) In Acts 19:1-6, Paul traveled to Ephesus and asked some Christians, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And when Paul had laid hands on them, "the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied." Keep in mind these were not mature, knowledgeable Christians which God bestowed this experience on.

#4) In Acts 8:12-21, Peter and John went to Samaria to pray for the Christians that they might receive the Holy Spirit. "Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, 'Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.' But Peter said to him...You have neither part nor portion in this matter." The key issue here is the word "matter". In the Greek, it is logos which is also translated as utterance in 2nd Cor. 8:7 and Eph. 6:19. So what Simon was wanting to pay money for was the ability to produce supernatural utterance by the laying on of hands — clearly in context it was "speaking in other tongues" when they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

#5) After Paul's road to Damascus experience, Ananias prayed for Paul to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17-19). Later, Paul said he spoke in tongues (1st Cor. 14:18).

So we find that in every case in scripture of people being filled with the Holy Spirit, they prayed in other tongues. This prayer language is received by faith the same way we receive our salvation by faith. We don't earn it or deserve it, it is by the grace of God. It does not make the recipient "better" in the eyes of God than other Christians, but it is definitely beneficial. And this baptism or filling with the Holy Spirit appears in scripture to be available to every believer — none were excluded and there were no qualifications other than being born-again.

From my experience in the Body of Christ, I believe a lot of Christians have had a time in their private prayer life where they told God that He could baptize them with the Holy Spirit if it was His will — then nothing happened. But that would be like an unsaved person telling God He could save him or her if it was His will. Of course it is God's will for all to be saved (1st Timothy 2:4 & 2nd Peter 1:9). The issue is not whether it is God's will; the issue is whether the person truly desires something from God and then humbles himself and receives it by faith according to scripture.

Many people have a legitimate concern that they might get the "wrong thing" — something that is not from God, a "counterfeit gift" from the devil. Jesus directly addressed this in Luke 11:11-13 where He personally promised that if a believer asks to be filled with the Holy Spirit, he or she will not get a stone, serpent, or scorpion.

Additional evidence for the validity of the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues includes the experiences of people who have had strangers from other countries understand their praying in tongues (see enclosed examples of people I know personally which this has happened to). While it is true that we should not form doctrine based on our experiences, at the same time we should not ignore supernatural experiences that are happening all around us.

But why should a person want to be filled with the Holy Spirit and even have this ability to pray in another language? The list is long, but the first reason is the power that comes into a person's life — power to overcome and live their witness, power to witness to others, power to understand the scriptures in a brand new way, and power to experience God in a fresh new way. Additionally, the baptism of the Holy Spirit usually allows other special gifts of the Holy Spirit to occur in that person's life (1st Corinthians 12:1-11). The baptism of the Holy Spirit seems to allow a person to be able to "hear" the still small voice of the Holy Spirit better. And praying in the Spirit enables a person to pray more and pray the perfect will of God. Also, the Bible says praying in tongues "re-charges" a person spiritually (Jude 1:20).

In my teaching tape on The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, I give even more evidence for praying in other tongues; three kinds of speaking in tongues; other obstacles that can be overcome to receive the gift of praying in tongues; as well as six steps any person can use to help other believers receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues.

Filling Others with God's Spirit,

Dale & Judi Leander


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