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One of the most influential and controversial events in the twentieth-century American church was the emergence of the charismatic movement. With its emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit, the movement brought elements of Pentecostalism to non-Pentecostal churches. By the early 1960s, Catholics, mainline churches, and many non-Pentecostal evangelicals were experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit through prophecies, divine healings, speaking in tongues, and various physical phenomena. The movement generated much debate about the purpose of these gifts and experiences in the Christian life. Were they legitimate expressions of worship, or just frenzied spiritual emotionalism?

Today, evangelicals seem to have made peace with the charismatic movement, embracing many of its practices and agreeing to disagree on others. Indeed, it's not strange these days to find people lifting their hands in the most conservative of evangelical functions. Despite this evolution, many questions remain about the meaning of speaking in tongues.

The phenomenon of tongues (or glossolalia) is identified by many as the supernatural utterance of foreign human languages (Acts 2:4,6); others contend that it includes speaking an angelic language (1 Corinthians 13:1) or some other verbal expression requiring interpretation (1 Corinthians 14). For many years, speaking in tongues was seen as the distinguishing characteristic of the Pentecostal and charismatic traditions within the church. Some Pentecostal Christians, in particular, laid heavy emphasis on speaking in tongues as "initial evidence" of baptism in the Spirit.

That there was some connection in the scriptural record between baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues is apparent from at least ...

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March 6, 2000

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