Use of Speaking in Tongues in Ministry

I’ve just put up a teaching page about using speaking in tongues as a tool in ministry. It’s adapted from our Hearing God’s Voice course. You can see it by going here.

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What did Simon the Sorcerer see in Samaria?

A traditional Pentecostal doctrine says that every case of baptism with the Holy Spirit must be accompanied by the ‘sign’ of speaking in tongues. They deduce this from the incidents in Acts where the two appear together.

Of course, the difficulty with this deduction is that tongues are not mentioned in all of the accounts of Spirit baptism. For example, there is this incident with Simon in Samaria, but there is also the baptism of Paul in Acts 9:17-19, where the only evidence reported after Ananias prayed for Saul to receive the Holy Spirit was that he stopped being blind. Of course, we know that Paul spoke in tongues – he tells us so himself later – but it would be an argument from silence to say it was when Ananias prayed for him. There are many instances in Acts where people became believers and the Holy Spirit is not even mentioned, which would be strange if the disciples had an understanding that Spirit Baptism accompanied by tongues was so essential to true salvation. I feel sure they made sure that all were baptised in the Holy Spirit. It was certainly vital for a believer then, as it is today. But they didn’t seem to see a need to mention it. It was just a normal part of becoming a follower of Jesus.

Receiving of the Holy Spirit was assumed as a normal part of the process and only remarked upon when a particular theological or historical milestone was reached, such as the conversion of the first Jewish belivers, the first Samaritan believers, and the first Gentile believers. This is similar to the only teaching on tongues being in Paul’s response to a behavioural difficulty that needed to be confronted in the one church in Corinth. Apart from this it is just normal Christianity – everyone does it and it needs no further mention. But again, some feel the need to build a whole doctrinal structure around that one aberration, and so again placing limitations on the freedom of the Spirit to move in the people they ‘serve’. In a very real sense, what was intended to be a wide-ranging spiritual ‘tool’ becomes redefined in terms that only relate to its misuse. All that Paul did not refer to because the Corinthians did not have a problem with it is now ignored, or even forbidden,  because Paul didn’t mention it. 

Back to Simon the Sorcerer. In Acts 8, after Philip had preached in Samaria and people believed, Peter and John were sent to them so they could receive the Holy Spirit. They placed hands on them and they were filled with the Spirit. Simon the sourcerer, who had also believed, saw this and wanted to buy the ability to bestow the Spirit, but Peter rebuked him for his wrong heart, and he repented.

What had Simon seen that got his attention? Many Pentecostals insist it must have been their speaking in tongues. The passage says nothing about this, but because they have a doctrine that speaking in tongues must immediately accompany filling with the Spirit, they can not see any other possibilities.

Even if tongues was the most likely answer to what Simon saw, this can not be used to make a doctrine. The passage says nothing, and it is just a guess.

Personally, I believe he could have seen a number of the manifestations we have seen when a person is filled with the Spirit, such as prohesying, praising God, shaking, falling over, perspiration, healing, and experiencing and describing real peace and joy. Quite likely it was speaking in tongues, which is more easily ‘seen’, but the peace and joy is also a good candidate. However, while this seems likely, and might even be a reasonable assumption, we can not actually know. So we should not use our guesses to fill a gap in the story so we can ‘prove’ a doctrine, which is what I have seen done so often to ‘prove’ that tongues is ‘the’ necessary sign of Spirit baptism.

Why does being baptised in the Spirit need a sign anyway? I knew when I was baptised in water because I got wet. I didn’t need a supernatural revelation. I knew when I was filled with God because I experienced his presence in a way I had not known before. Years later I found I could speak in tongues. But long before that I was already healing people, prophesying, having words of knowledge, casting out demons, playing keyboard in the spirit and making music that I could not play alone, teaching effectively, and giving wise advice far above my own knowledge or ability. All this despite being an introvert. Should I conclude that this wasn’t the Spirit because I hadn’t yet spoken in tongues?

By making a doctrine out of a denominational distinctive we risk limiting what can happen in our experience. This places unnecessary restrictions on what the Spirit will do among us, because we do not give him permission to do so. Perhaps this also explains why we do not see many people raised from the dead in our culture, whereas in some other places it is not so uncommon. After all, Jesus does expect us to do this too.

Another result of making tongues into a ‘mere’ sign’ is that we lose sight of its more important purposes. It has become one of the most useful tools in our ministry, as well as a reliable means of spiritual, emotional and even physical refreshment.

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Some Good Books on Tongues

While doing some research on the history of speaking in tongues I came across some good books. A few are old favourites of mine, while others are reissues of classics and some more recent works. Check them out:

I was surprised to find the books by Dennis Bennett and Larry Christenson still being re-issued, which just shows the value of first hand accounts from people who were there when it all began for us.

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J. Oswald Sanders on Speaking in Tongues – Part 2

Back in April we began looking at what J. Oswald Sanders had written about the gift of tongues in his book Spiritual Maturity. Here is the second part of that article.

Sanders does not agree with the common Pentecostal teaching that tongues is the essential evidence for baptism of the Holy Spirit.. As the doctrine is based on the occurences in the Book of Acts where tongues is bestowed, he examines what the real purpose for tongues might have been on those occasions. He gives three cases:

1. At Pentecost: The crucifixion, resurrection, and ascencion of Christ had taken place. Great crowds of Jews were now about to depart from Jerusalem. If they were going to be evangelised then something was needed to get their attention quickly. The language barriers needed to be crossed if the fifteen nations present were to be initially reached.

2. At Caesarea: Peter was reluctant to take the Gospel to the Gentile Cornelius. God gave the identical gift of tongues to the Gentiles to convince Peter and the Jerusalem church that he treated Jew and Gentile equally.

3. At Ephesus: The Jews in Ephesus knew nothing about the events that took place since John the Baptist. The gift of tongues linked them to both the Church of Jerusalem and the Gentiles at Caesarea.

So, in these cases the gift is not so much evidence of the reception of the Holy Spirit as it is of the identity of the source of blessing. It was unasked for and unexpected. In fact, if tongues was the evidence of Spirit baptism, then it would have to be the most important gift. Yet Paul clearly teaches in 1 Corinthians 14:19 that this is not the case.

So, what is the purpose of the gift of tongues? It authenticated and confirmed the inspired preaching while there was yet no written New Testament. It was God bearing witness “with signs and wonders” (Hebrews 2:4). It is also an important devotional gift, otherwise it would not have been given directly by the Holy Spirit.

The church, and particularly Paul, introduced rules to limit the misuse of the gift of tongues, because, according to Sanders, ecstacy, hysteria and self-hypnotism are difficult to distinguish:

  • The gift is given at God’s disgression and may not be demanded.
  • The greater gifts are to be more desired.
  • The purpose of any gift is edification of the church.
  • Public tongues must be interpreted.
  • Public use must be orderly and limited.
  • If the gift produces confusion it is not of God.

The reasons Sanders emphasises these rules he gives as:

The danger of spiritual Pharisaism, or what we today might call elitism.

Its openness to counterfeit. However, Sanders makes no mention that healing, deliverance, prophecy, teaching and even evangelism are also regularly counterfeited today, perhaps with even more serious consequences.

The tendency to divisiveness. Sanders points out this unfortunate trend among Pentecostals, but surely they did not invent it. Possibly all denominations have come about at least in some degree because of divisiveness. Also, it takes two parties for a division to take place – one of which wants to adopt something new and another which react against the change. Given that God’s purpose is never static but always moving forward, you can easily guess which side of the division I believe the fault more often lies!

Emotional excesses. The Holy Spirit is able to affect all parts of a human: body – leading to miracles; spirit – leading to ecstacy of feelings as in tongues; and mind - which results in prophecy. Because the feelings of ecstacy are great and lead to lack of control, excesses of emotion are likely. Sanders betrays a number of biases here. First, if he was experienced in the true gift of tongues he would realise just how little ecstacy is involved. Second, prophecy is just as ‘ecstatic’ as tongues, but for Sanders, prophecy perhaps equates merely to good preaching, which is a common evangelical mistake. Third, the intellect is just as capable of excesses, as evidenced in the coldness of much conservative evangelical practice. Fourth, is emotion really such an evil? What of love which leads to self-sacrifice? What of grief for the lost which produces tears?

Sanders then otlines ways in which we can “best help those obsessed by this teaching and prevent others from embracing it.” This is a noble goal, as long as the teaching in question is the mistaken one of making tongues essential to salvation, and not the truth that the gift of tongues is a wonderful, powerful gift from the Holy Spirit, the use of which is vital for the ministry of the church,  and without which the growth and effectiveness of any believer will be that much slower and made more difficult.

One thing is evident to me from my reading of Sanders and other conservative evangelicals – don’t try to be a teacher about a subject unless you have embraced the fullness of that subject in your own experience. This is not a criticism of Sanders. I believe he has tried to do this, and he says as much in his concluding paragraphs.

However, if you read the most rabid denouncers of tongues, and the most arrogant of its advocates, then you invariably find a wounded individual who has another, far larger agenda at work within him than the one on the surface. Try a Google search of this topic and see for yourself.

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C. H. Spurgeon on Spiritual Gifts

The famous Baptist “Prince of Preachers”, C. H. Spurgeon, is often listed among a number of others by C. H. SpurgeonDispensationalists to support there view that spiritual gifts ceased shortly after the beginning of the Church. It might be interesting to see what Spurgeon himself said about such matters. Here is part of a sermon he gave in 1790, entitled Receiving the Holy Ghost.

You know, dear friends, when the Holy Spirit was given in the earliest ages, He showed His presence by certain miraculous signs. Some of those who received the Holy Spirit spake with tongues, others began to prophesy, and a third class received the gifts of healing. I am sure that if these powers were given now you would all be anxious to posses them. You would want to be healing or to be speaking in tongues, or to be working miracles by which you would benefit your fellow men and glorify God. Now be it never forgotten that those works of the Holy Spirit which are permanent must assuredly be of greater value than those which were transitory. We cannot suppose that the Holy Ghost brought forth the best wine at first and that His operations gradually deteriorated. It is a rule of the kingdom to keep the best wine to the last; and therefore, I conclude that you and I are not left to partake of the dregs, but that those gifts of the Holy Spirit which are at this time vouchsafed to the church of God are every way as valuable as those earlier miraculous gifts which are departed from us. The work of the Holy Spirit by which men are quickened from their death in sin is not inferior to the power which made men speak in tongues. Why, sirs, men might have the gifts of the Spirit as to miracles and yet might perish after all; but he that hath the spiritual gifts of the Holy Ghost shall never perish: they are saving blessings, and where they come they lift the man out of his sinful estate, and make him to be a child of God.

I would therefore press it upon you this morning that, as you would certainly inquire whether you had the gifts of healing and miracle-working, if such gifts were now given to believers, much more should you inquire whether you have those more permanent gifts of the Spirit which are this day open to you all, by the which you shall work no physical miracle, but shall achieve spiritual wonders of the grander sort. If we come to weigh spiritual operations, they are by no means secondary in the judgment of enlightened servants of God. Have ye then received the Spirit since you believed? Beloved, are you now receiving the Spirit? Are you living under his divine influence? Are you filled with his power? Put the question personally. I am afraid some professors will have to admit that they hardly know whether there be any Holy Ghost; and others will have to confess that though they have enjoyed a little of his saving work, yet they do not know much of his ennobling and sanctifying influence. We have none of us participated in his operations as we might have done: we have sipped where we might have drunk; we have drunk where we might have bathed; we have bathed up to the ankles where we might have found rivers to swim in. Alas, of many Christians it must be affirmed that they have been naked, and poor, and miserable, when they might in the power of the Holy Spirit have been clad in golden garments, and have been rich and increased in goods. He waiteth to be gracious, but we linger in indifference, like those of whom we read, “they could not enter in because of unbelief.” There are many such cases, and therefore it is not improper that I should with all vehemence press home upon you the question of the apostle, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” Did ye receive him when ye believed? Are ye receiving him now that ye are believing in Christ Jesus?

 What he thought about the gift of speaking in tongues is not clear, however I believe it is obvious that he allowed for the continuation of any gifts as and when they are needed.

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J. Oswald Sanders on Speaking in Tongues – Part 1

In his book Spiritual Maturity, published in 1962, J. Oswald Sanders has two chapters on The Spirit and Speaking in Tongues.

Is tongues the sign of Spirit baptism?

He makes it clear that he disagrees with the standard Pentecostal doctrine of the time, and I believe still today, that speaking in tongues is the essential sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. While taking pains to point out that despite their eror on this point he believes Pentecostals are still sincere members of the body of Christ. He recognises the attraction of Pentecostalism as follows:

May it not be that hungry Christians and new converts have been driven into the arms of this group because it holds out the promise of something more vital, more satisfying, more dynamic than the type of Christianity they encounter in our churches? As they compare the zeal and fervor of the early church with the lukewarmness of most churches of our day, have they not grounds for following something which promises a repetition of early church power? Has our teaching in this connection been inadequate or defective? We do well to be challenged by the virility of the Pentecostal movement around the world, both in its home ministry and its missionary outreach. (p 176)

Who could reasonably disagree with this? However, regarding tongues, he compares what seems to be a Pentecostal “spiritual infatuation” with the “cold and logical argument” of the Evangelical (p176).

The “promise of the Father” of Luke 24:49 was not the gift of tongues but an enduement of power from on high, and the two are not the same. Being an effective witness was to be the sign of this power. About Acts 2:4 he says that although the enduement with power was accompanied by speaking in tongues, the ability to speak in tongues was not the gift, nor even its most significant evidence.

Are the tongues known or unknown?

Sanders raises an interesting point about the Greek language of Acts and 1 Corinthians. Nowhere does the Greek speak about “unknown tongues”. This is only in the English translations. Where the A.V. translates “unknown tongues” in 1 Corinthians 14, the A.S.V. correctly says simply “tongues”. “Other tongues” only occurs in Acts 2:4, and this does not mean “unknown” either, just different.

Are there one or two kinds of tongues?

Is there a difference between the tongues of Acts and of Corinthians? Sanders belives the tongues of Acts were human languages, but those of Corinthians were not necessarily so, and on pages 177 and 178 he quotes a commentary of E.H. Plumptre as saying the following:

At Pentecost all spoke in tongues (Acts 2:4). This was not true of the believers at Corinth (1 Cor 12:30).

At Pentecost the tongues were understood by all (Acts 2:6). At Corinth they were understood by none (1 Cor 14:2,9).

At Pentecost they spoke to men (Acts 2:11,17). At Corinth they spoke to God (1 Cor 14:2).

At Pentecost no interpreter was necessary (Acts 26). At Corinth speaking with tongues was forbidden if an interpreter was not present (1 Cor 14:23,28).

At Pentecost speaking with tongues was a sign or credential to believers (Acts 11:15). At Corinth it was a sign to unbelievers (1 Cor 14:22).

At Pentecost speaking with tongues brought salvation to others (cts 2:41). At Corinth it edified those who spoke (1 Cor 14:4).

At Pentecost strangers were filled with awe and marvelled (Acts 2:7,8). At Corinth Paul warned that if all spoke with tongues in a church assembly, strangers would say they were mad (1 Cor 14:23).

At Pentecost there was perfect harmony (Acts 2:1). At Corinth there was confusion (1 Cor 14:33).

It would seem that some of the confusion of today, on both sides of this argument, stems from trying to treat two different phenomena as if they were the same.

So, what are these two phenomena? The “other tongues” of pentecost were understandable, real, human languages not known to the speaker, but known to the hearers (unless, of course, the hearers were being given a miraculous gift of interpretation, which is also worth thinking about). At Corinth, they were exercising languages, no less real, not necessarily known to any human, except through the gift of interpretation.

Are tongues an ecstatic phenomenon?

Sanders, in common with William Barclay and many others of his time, insists on describing them as “ecstatic, vocal utterances, fervent and rapturous expressions” (p 178). They may sometimes be such, but our experience is that, like true prophecy, the gift of tongues is exercised in a far more matter of fact way, and is always under the control of the speaker. The degree of “rapture” varies with the circumstances of the speaker and the reason for speaking.

I believe this common expectation of “ecstacy”, as if something overcomes the speaker, is another source of misunderstanding that has caused great harm to the church. On the one hand, it leaves a person who uses the gift in such a state vulnerable to its being counterfeited by unholy spirits. On the other, it leaves the person who can’t achieve such ecstacy wondering what is so wrong with their faith that the lord won’t give them the gift. This later misunderstanding of the nature of tongues kept me from being able to exercise it for decades. Once I understood truly what I was seeking, the gift came relatively easily and is now one of my most effective ministry tools.

Sanders does not mention the possiblity of a third way of using the gift, that of exercising it either in the assembly during worship, or privately, without the need for interpretation. We will return to this another time.

A Point Sanders does make (p 179) is that since speaking in tongues, in an ecstatic manner, is common also in Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism and Spiritism, what does this say about it being a necessary sign of Spirit baptism?

Can there be tongues today?

Sanders outlines the arguments of his day against tongues being a gift for now. For example:

  • Tongues only appear in Acts and Corinthians, and not in the later Epistles, proving they had ceased.
  • The signs were initial and incomplete, to get Jerusalem’s attention, and were never repeated. 1 Corinthians 13:8–10 supposedly supports this, if you ignore the fact that the perfect that is to come is the return of Jesus, not the completion of Paul’s writings.

Sanders had used the same arguments himself, but to his credit, in the face of such scriptures as:

“Forbid not to speak in tongues” (1 Cor 14:39),

“I would that you all spoke with tongues” (1 Cor 14:5),

“I speak with tongues more than you all” (1 Cor 14;18),

he had to admit that some speaking with tongues must be allowable. He does say that most modern tongues speaking is only “jargon and hysteria” (p 181), and its fruits have not proved to be the fruit of the Spirit, but he quotes one experience of its use in public worship where the result has been “a spirit of gentleness, humility, sobriety and love” (p 181).

Sanders decided that its main use was to be in private, unexpectedly, without seeking it, for the purpose of adoration and worship. This happened to him a few times, but it ceased and never recurred.

I can’t help wonder whether the Spirit of God was gently trying to gain his attention, but he was not willing to engage with it, and so, sadly, the Spirit left, grieved.

Next we will look at Sanders’ second chapter on this subject of The Spirit and Speaking in Tongues.


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Popular Writers on Speaking in Tongues

I believe it would be helpful in our study of speaking in tongues if we see what popular writers of the past have said about this gift.

I’ve been going through my library, and the library at Beth Tephillah Ministry Centre, and have found a number of older books that touch on tongues. When I have exhausted these I will probably check out Whitley College Theological Library and the Joint Theological Library at Melbourne University. I remember from my years at Whitley encountering a number of writers who were extremely negative about glossolalia, and very few who saw any value in it. I would be interested in seeing if and how the attitude of this Baptist college has changed over the years.

The first three writers from my library I will comment on are J. Oswald Sanders – beloved of conservative evangelicals, and John Sherrill and Michael Harper – pioneers of the charismatic movement.

Watch this space!


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Speak in Tongues blog moved to WordPress

I have moved this Speak in Tongues blog from Blogger to WordPress to allow for extra features and better control of its future.

All of the posts are there (here), but the URL of the blog has changed to

If you have put this blog into your favourites or have linked it from a website, would you please change the link to this new address.

I will leave the old Blogger blog up for a while, but all new posts will be on the new one.

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Tongues five years on

I’ve been neglecting this blog. This was brought to my attention in two ways. First, it keeps coming up in Google Analytics as having a constant stream of visitors, so someone must be interested. Second, and more importantly, a prayer ministry colleague recently referred to an article I wrote years ago about Tongues – making it happen, on the Healing Prayer Ministries Network website. He said it was the best thing on the subject that he had seen and wanted to put it on his own site. I thought I’d better go and see what I said!

While it’s hardly the definitive exposition on speaking in tongues, I find that I still stand by what I said. However, I have learned much since that time and clearly a new overview of the whole glossolalia phenomenon is overdue.

I often see Google ads relating to tongues on my websites, and when I check them out the greatest number seem to be from people or groups who disapprove, sometimes quite vehemently, and sometimes even try to use their arguments to spread suspicion about other groups who have little or no connection with the topic at all. Obviously, speaking in tongues is still a topic that divides the church, at least on the Internet. This is particularly significant as I write this, on the day that Pilate confronted Jesus with his famous comment, “Truth! What is truth?”

I don’t know whether I will be able to shed any light on the subject, but I plan to try my best, and I am sure the Holy Spirit will keep me on track, or correct me when I lose it.

My own background is that of growing up in a church that effectively taught against anything to do with the Holy Spirit, including tongues – not so much out of doctrinal conviction, but more out of fear of intellectual weakness (read pride of mind), or fear of what might happen if they allowed God to do whatever he wanted. I never found their arguments convincing. As one of the members once exclaimed in frustration at a leaders meeting, “You talk all the time about living a holy life, but you never tell us how to do it!”

Since that time I have learned and experienced a great deal that contradicts that early teaching. I now know that the main reason people are reluctant to allow their experience to shape their theology is lack of trust in Jesus when he says that he will send the Spirit, who will lead them into all truth. They think they have to work it all out first with their minds before they can risk trying something out, and since most people are not capable of doing a thorough job of this (though they might think they are), they instead rely on the secondhand ‘knowledge’ of authorities other than Jesus. How often have these authorites also done exactly the same thing?

Instead, I have pursued everything that Jesus promised his followers, and tested each gift out for its validity and effectiveness, while at the same time seeking out the Biblical basis for each experience. Jesus has not let me down, and Diana and I have been able to move in an effectiveness of ministry I could once only have dreamed about.

Some warned us about being deceived by demons (sometimes the same people who say there are no demons!) Instead, we have found that demons are never the primary issue, but instead can be made, unwillingly of course, to serve the purposes of God. The authority Jesus gives to a believer is far greater than that of any demon, if only they would take hold of it.

Others say tongues speaking is irrational. I’ve often thought that the Western version of rationality was highly overrated anyway. But seriously, isn’t that the point of tongues – to offend the mind and allow the human spirit to act without its interference?

I will write more on these things, but let me conclude for now by saying the journey I have been on with Jesus is one I wouldn’t have missed for all the intellectual prizes in history. As a result of trusting him in this even my mind works better, and is more satisfied with the wonders that I have discovered about the true nature of God’s creation.

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Testing BlogJet

I have installed an interesting application – BlogJet. It’s a cool Windows client for my blog tool (as well as for other tools). Get your copy here:

It allows you to edit posts for your blogs while you are offline and publish them later.

“Computers are incredibly fast, accurate and stupid; humans are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant; together they are powerful beyond imagination.” — Albert Einstein

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