Speaking of tongues

20 Apr

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).

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9 Responses to “Speaking of tongues”

  1. randallslack April 20, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    1 Corinthians 12:3: “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” (NKJV)

    If this teacher would of know the Word, he would of never called this gift a manifestation of the Devil.

    Having said that, there is a real gift and a false gift as well. Too many evangelicals place a great deal of importance on speaking in tongues, yet their lives remain powerless to change (positive change). The real manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is Love (Galatians 5:22-23 – The fruit of the Spirit is love…).

    I too have been to several charismatic and Pentecostal churches. Often the service is more like a circus act than a church service. And when it comes time to speak in tongues (usually at the end of the service) the pastor whips everyone into a frenzy and they stand around making noise.

    And then there is television. Years age I saw Robert Tilton on television. My first thought was that God was going to judge him. Turns out, He did and his empire has since collapsed.

    Honestly, with all the emotional excess and hype surrounding the abuse of this gift, its no wonder no one wants anything to do with it. Sad to see the gift of God abused in this way.

    • christianagnostic April 20, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

      yeah…I never really liked Tilton. He seemed money hungry. But at the time I was experimenting and trying to be “open” to the Spirit.

      Circus act is a good description of many services I saw. Ironically, the one thing that drew me to PDI/SGM back in the day, was their Charismatic worship, minus all the tongues and over the top emotionalism. It was Charismatic-lite…

    • graceone April 21, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

      I agree, Randall. I’ve been in services too that have seemed more like a circus act with people laughing hysterically or rolling around on the floor. I think it can be difficult to actually be open to the real deal after seeing, letting alone experiencing the abuse. I know I certainly struggle with the whole thing.

  2. D'Ma April 20, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    The argument about whether speaking in tongues marks you as baptized by the Holy Spirit is about as old as Christianity itself. Paul(or whoever actually wrote these books) had to clarify that to the early church as well. Some do, some don’t – it’s okay.

    YoungPastor at Small Town First Baptist Church taught us that the gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy went the way of the diciples. It died with them. I’m sure he cherry-picked some passage of scripture to support it.

    At any rate I was always uncomfortable with all the charismatic stuff. I was a member of the church of the chosen frozen. Heck, we were hard pressed to clap during a particularly lively song special. For most of my time there we were even admonished not to clap afterward because we were giving glory to the specialist, not God.

    • christianagnostic April 20, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

      You said

      “I was a member of the church of the chosen frozen. Heck, we were hard pressed to clap during a particularly lively song special.”

      Ok, that is funny….you can be glad you missed the Charismatic experience. Clapping on beat we could do, living in reality…uh, not so much.

  3. Freedom April 20, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    Another great post! Your Sunday School teacher had one correct point – the story of speaking in tongues refers only to the first Christians given a gift to be able to go retell the stories of Jesus to people that spoke other languages. Considering that the vast majority of the first Christians were the probably only spoke one language fluently and possible market place Greek so they could trade in the trade centers, it makes sense that they would need to be able to communicate with the other languages of the time.

    There are no references in the Bible (any of the versions of The Bible) or any of the documents that became the Bible (nor the documents that weren’t canonized) is anything called a “special” prayer language.

    The whole “prayer language” is something that started with the Pentecostal movement. They way I see it, it was created by some people that felt that they deserved this “power” they read about in Acts. They wanted their own experience, they wanted what they read others had and in an act of entitlement (I deserve this), convinced themselves that it was really happening.

    What they did what create a manufactured emotional experience through emotional songs, emotional speech, emotional prayer in an environment that people are emotionally manipulated into feeling something. In this case, an extreme emotional response where people feel something. That is the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” part. The second part “Evidence of speaking in tongues” is easy to make happen once that first emotional response has occurred – people are already in an emotional state so when the leader tells them to do the action, they just start with baby talk and then feel like they are really speaking in tongues.

    Other may feel the peer pressure to try it alone, or read about it and then try it to see if it is real.

    And then it spread though people wanting to feel the power of God in themselves, wanting to give themselves proof that God exists. That’s my take on it.

    CA – I think you are correct when you talked about it being a way to validate your faith in God. It seems you have been looking for a way to validate what you have been taught for a long time and now are able to be honest with yourself about those questions you have had for years.

    • christianagnostic April 20, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

      Yes, I was certainly trying to validate my faith. To be fair to my former self, there is an awful lot of scripture about the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. I was trying to be consistent with Scripture.

  4. limey May 9, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    I can’t remember very well my first tongs experience but I do recall much confusion and differing of opinions. Everything from its not right to you’re not a Christian if you don’t.

    One big thing I remember is the teaching of two types of tongues. One for private and one for public. The latter requiring an interpretation.

    I’ve never really bought into the idea that they are wrong. Afterall, if the holy spirit is real and goes us gifts, why can’t tongues be one of them?

    • christianagnostic May 9, 2012 at 7:41 pm #

      Limey-

      you said

      “I’ve never really bought into the idea that they are wrong. Afterall, if the holy spirit is real and goes us gifts, why can’t tongues be one of them?”

      I agree, I kept reading Acts and how the Holy Spirit was doing this or that with tongues…I never ran across the verse that said God no longer did these things. That’s why I became open to the idea of tongues and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

      The whole interpretation thing is just odd to me…why would God send a message in a different language? Why not just send one in the mother tongue of the congregation…why all the hub-bub of having a babbler and then an interpretation?

      Seems so strange in retrospect…

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