I remember the first time I ever heard about the gift of tongues. I was in Sunday School Class and we were studying the Book of Acts. The story of Pentecost was read and the account states that all the disciples were in an upper room praying. While they were praying a sound of a mighty wind was heard and tongues of fire were seen to come down and rest on all present. The disciples began to speak in tongues, meaning that they were praying and prophesying in languages that were unknown to the disciples. In other words, they were miraculously empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak in these unknown tongues.
It was at this point of the story, that my Sunday School Teacher interrupted the lesson. He got a very serious look and he spoke with a raised voice (he never spoke with a raised voice). He sternly warned us that the gift of tongues was a one time event for the apostles. He continued, telling us that if anyone told us that THEY spoke in tongues, that they were lying. He said people who speak in tongues today, are doing so by the power…..of the DEVIL!!!!!!!!!!
Oh no!!! Not that guy again, I hadn’t thought much about him since sweating it out over my Eternal destiny, the previous summer. But this intrigued me, this idea that there were Christians who were being led astray by the devil and doing black magic stuff by speaking gobbledygook and shouting “Praise-the-Lord, Hallelujah,AMEN!” I guess my teacher’s warning worked, anytime someone started talking about that crazy black magic stuff, I hightailed it or suddenly got sick and couldn’t go to their “Youth on Fire” event. I avoided the Charismatic world all the way through my High School years.
At college, I began to meet Christians from all sorts of churches, including Charismatic and Pentecostal. And you know what? They were decent Christian folks who certainly didn’t act like the devils spawn. Intrigued, I began charismatic church hopping with a very good friend who had gone full force into the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and tongues experience. I was still scared that maybe the Devil was just fooling me….but I tried to keep an open mind.
I ended up spending the better part of my first college break, reading scripture and trying to figure out if I was supposed to speak in tongues or not? The Scriptures sure seemed to speak highly of tongues, so I told God, if he wanted me to pray in tongues, he could do it. Laying there in bed after my prayer, I opened up my mouth and tried to pray in tongues. And to my surprise, I was able to mutter some words that sounded like the soundtrack of a Japanese film. Though, in fairness to Japanese films, I seemed to repeating the same phrase over and over again.
At the time, I became convinced that I had been Baptized in the Holy Spirit and was speaking in an unknown tongue. I was ready now, watch out world…..I’ve got a secret tap of that Holy Spirit power flowing through my tongue! It’s funny to me now, because I can look back and see how I got caught up into a very emotionally based experience to try to validate my faith in God. But back then, I was completely earnest in my belief that this tongues thing, was empowering me and drawing me closer to God.
I went to every Charismatic church and prayer meeting I could muster. It gave me an almost gnostic drunkenness when I spoke in tongues. I really felt that it was the key to many of my spiritual and every day challenges. I remember leading a Young Life bible study (Young Life wasn’t all that comfortable with the Charismatic thing, so I kept it pretty quiet) and excusing myself to go the bathroom so I could pray in tongues. Brings new meaning to the phrase “Going into the prayer closet”-more like babbling in the water closet. I went in there to pray, because I was nervous about leading the study. I was convinced that this would help me overcome my fears and see it bear fruit as a Christian.
Another random tongues moment, is when me and a Charismatic roommate decided to watch Evangelist Robert Tilton on TV. He told us to put our hands on his hands (meaning the image of his hand on the TV) and start to pray in tongues. We did and started praying, but the camera angle had changed and now we were laying hands all over Mr. Tilton’s face. He didn’t seem to mind, so we kept praying until we were prayed out. Proof positive that I was becoming a little whacked out.
As the years followed, I would occasionally pray in tongues. But the emotional charge it gave me at first, began to wear off. Realistically, I think it served more as a nervous release of emotion but was of no spiritual significance. I never saw any prayers answered, heck, I didn’t even know what I was praying-if at all! It started to seem just as ritualistic as saying the “Our Father” or “Hail Mary”. Charismatic ritualism, but ritualistic none the less.
Now that I no longer have faith in Jesus or the Holy Spirit, there is really no reason to speak in tongues. But ironically, I still can. Which I think points to the fact that tongues is just a human experience. Not a spiritual experience empowered by God ( or Satan-like I was warned in Sunday School).