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Pentecostals, it is said, believe that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The charismatic gift was at the center of Charles Parham's Bible school revival in 1901 and William Seymour's Azusa Street phenomenon in 1906. It is, after all, one of the main reasons for the name Pentecostals (see Acts 2). But in an October survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, at least 40 percent of Pentecostals in six of the ten countries surveyed said they had never prayed or spoken in tongues. Only half of U. S. Pentecostals had spoken in tongues.

That's not to say that tongues have ceased. Expect to hear much about it—or at least the phrase "private prayer language"— as the Southern Baptist Convention's June annual meeting draws closer. Following the International Mission Board's ban on missionary candidates who practice a private prayer language, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has told staff they may not "endorse in any way, advertise, or commend" charismatic practices, "including [a] private prayer language."

The lone board member to vote against the policy—with 36 votes in favor—was Dwight McKissic, whose August seminary chapel service message in which he said he sometimes prays in a private prayer language ignited the controversy. As a tongues-speaking member of a denomination not historically identified with Pentecostalism, McKissic is classified as a charismatic. But globally, the distinction between Pentecostals and charismatics is unclear. In Brazil, Pentecostals are far more likely than charismatics to speak in tongues (there, charismatics are as unlikely as the general population to do so). In India, charismatics are more likely than Pentecostals ...

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December 2006

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