Who Are Speaking in Tongues?
“ONE day, here in my own living room, I was kneeling in prayer. Suddenly I had a feeling of great and uninhibited joy. I began to praise God in English, then changed to another language. It was a beautiful experience.”—A Baptist woman in Texas.
“Then it happened that my tongue became caught, and immediately I knew nothing, I knew nothing at all, but I did feel this impulse to speak. I wanted to stop talking, but my tongue was in this way impulsed. . . . then I hear my own words, I don’t understand them, but I keep feeling my tongue pushed to talk.”—A male member of an Apostolic congregation in Mexico.
“It expresses something that is happening in my heart.”—A Catholic man in Michigan.
What is it that they are describing? Speaking in tongues, or glossolalia.* During the last decade or two, literally millions of persons claim to have received from God the miraculous gift of tongues. This “gift” can be found not only in the “classical” Pentecostal churches but also in practically all the denominations in the charismatic* movement—Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian. According to a Christianity Today—Gallup poll, of the 29 million adult Americans who consider themselves Pentecostal or charismatic, about five million claim to have received the gift of tongues.
The “gift” is usually evidenced by an ecstatic outburst of unintelligible words and phrases. To the outsider, it may sound like meaningless speech, but to the sincere Pentecostal or charismatic, “it’s the most wonderful experience a Christian can have,” as one speaker in tongues put it. Why do many place such importance on the gift of tongues?
“First of all,” explains Felicitas D. Goodman in her book Speaking in Tongues, “it indicates the presence of the Holy Spirit in the person. . . . Secondly, speaking in tongues is viewed as a form of prayer, inspired by the presence of the Holy Spirit.” So to the sincere speaker in tongues, his gift is a sign that he has received the holy spirit. He may feel that his vocabulary is inadequate to express his gratitude to God. Hence, tongues are viewed “as a gift of the Spirit which allows one to pray more effectively” in “a non-rational, non-cognitive form of speech,” says Clark H. Pinnock, associate professor of systematic theology at McMaster Divinity School in Ontario, Canada.
But, really, does the gift of tongues ‘indicate the presence of the holy spirit in a person’? Should you seek the gift to help you to “pray more effectively” to God?
The word “glossolalia” comes from two Greek words, glōssa, meaning “tongue,” and lalia, meaning “talking.”
The word “charismatic” comes from the Greek word charismata, meaning “gifts.” The word is often used to refer to those persons in the more traditional denominations who feel that tongues and other extraordinary gifts are a normal part of Christian experience today.