During the last century and the early part of this one, the Christian Church saw the rise of what has come to be known as Pentecostalism, one of whose characteristic marks is “speaking in tongues.” During the last ten to fifteen years this movement has spread into many of the old-line churches, particularly those with strong institutional structures and with a fixed liturgy for their services of worship. This neo-Pentecostalism has caused many problems within these churches, not only for the self-styled “liberals” but also for those who are fully committed to the historic and usually evangelical confessional positions of those bodies. While recognizing the neo-Pentecostals or “charismatics,” as they often call themselves, as fellow Christians, many Christians still have grave doubts about many of their beliefs, particularly those concerning the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In the September 14, 1973, issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, Clark Pinnock wrote an irenic article in which he sought to bring about some sort of rapprochement between the neo-Pentecostals and the evangelicals who are doubtful of the charismatic movement. I sympathize with this desire, but I cannot help feeling that Dr. Pinnock, who takes a stance generally in favor of neo-Pentecostalism and against those who raise questions, is altogether too optimistic when he feels that a few doctrinal readjustments on both sides will solve the problem. I cannot but feel that he, like some others, has ignored some basic questions.

Those who raise these questions by no means deny the sovereignty of the triune God, who does according to his will not only in the Church but in the world as a whole. Nor would they attempt to put limits on the working of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, throughout the history of the Church they have seen many movements of various types arise, claiming to be the renewers of the church and the instruments of the Holy Spirit, only to cause great divisions and then to fade away. The Laymen’s Missionary Movement, the Oxford Group, and others might be placed in this category. Moreover, they recognize that there is a spirit of unbelief, apostasy, and deceit working within the world today that may deceive even the elect (2 Cor. 11:14). Consequently they feel strongly that they must test everything rigorously by biblical standards, raising questions to ensure that this and all other movements are indeed truly “of God” (1 Thess. 5:21).

One of the first questions that comes to mind is the use of the term “charismatic.” It derives from the Greek “charisma,” which in the New Testament denotes the gifts of the Spirit conferred upon Christians. Among neo-Pentecostals it is usually applied to those who claim to have received the gift of speaking in tongues and sometimes the gift of healing, as they appear in the New Testament. The question that arises at this point is: By what right do those who claim to have these gifts insist that they are the “charismatic Christians”? Is this a truly biblical distinction? In the light of New Testament teaching can we say that there are “first class” Christians and “second class” Christians, i.e., those who are charismatic and those who are not?

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In a recent book on this subject by Ralph W. Harris, Spoken by the Spirit, the distinction is made between those who have been baptized by the Spirit and those who have not. While Christians all have the Spirit, according to Harris, there is the further step of “baptism” that goes beyond the basic Christian experience, and the sign of this baptism is speaking in tongues, not infrequently foreign tongues of which the speaker has no knowledge. This position he seeks to base upon the teaching of the Book of Acts.

But some have raised questions about the validity of such reasoning, pointing out that the baptism of the Spirit in Acts comes only by the imposition of the hands, or at least the presence, of the apostles. Even Philip did not bring about this baptism (Acts 8:17). Furthermore, we must note that this baptism came, or at least is mentioned, only at specific stages of the Church’s development: on the day of Pentecost, when Gentiles were formally accepted into the Church, and when the disciples of John became Christians (Acts 2:1–11, 10–44 ff.; 19:3 ff.). Following the precedent set in Acts, it would seem that the phenomenon of tongues-speaking in Corinth, which got out of hand, may have come through the Apostle Paul, although it is not stated how it came, and it is dangerous to draw arguments for or against this thesis, from silence.

Yet even in the case of the Corinthians it is well to note certain points that Paul makes. In First Corinthians 12 he indicates that the Spirit of God has given different gifts to believers, the last two mentioned being those of speaking in tongues and interpreting these tongues (vv. 7–11). Paul apparently did not believe that every Christian had to have the one gift of tongues, as though it were primary. In fact, he warns against such an approach, pointing out that as in the body no member can do without the other, so all do not have the same gifts. Are not those, then, who because of their claim to the gift of tongues call themselves the charismatics, doing exactly what Paul warns against (vv. 12–26)?

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Going beyond this, however, the Apostle ends the twelfth chapter by saying that he will now show them a more excellent way, and thereupon writes his great hymn on the three charismata, faith, hope, and love, the greatest of which is love. In this chapter he also states that prophecy will cease and tongues be stilled (1 Cor. 13:8). In chapter fourteen he seeks to regulate the use of tongues quite stringently, insisting that preaching is more important. He seems to have put tongues and their interpretation quite far down on the list of gifts. If this is so, how can those who claim to speak in tongues make this the test of baptism of the Spirit, particularly since we have no clear evidence of tongues-speaking in the other New Testament churches, although we have plenty of reference to their faith, hope, and love (e.g., 1 Thess. 1:3)?

Carrying this matter somewhat further, what about the Church from the close of the apostolic age down to the nineteenth century? During this interval of some 1,800 years, apart from the Montanists, there seems to be a paucity of evidence for tongues-speaking within the Church. Augustine of Hippo in the fifth century made it quite clear that he believed this gift had ceased to be given to the Church, and history shows he has been used mightily of God in the Church since his day. Did he not have the baptism of the Spirit?

We also have to explain the medieval Church. While it undoubtedly became very corrupt, there were certainly true Christians within it such as Bernard of Clairvaux. Yet if there were any tongues-speaking it would seem to have been among groups such as the Cathari, who from what we can gather were hardly orthodox in a biblical sense. The question then arises: Did not Christians experience the baptism of the Spirit in the millennium from Augustine to Luther?

Then what of the Protestant Reformation? The Reformers did not speak in tongues, so were they not baptized with the Spirit? Calvin, for instance, who was often referred to as the “theologian of the Holy Spirit,” regarded the gift of tongues as purely temporary. Yet anyone who knows anything about the history of the Church can hardly adopt the view that the Reformers did not experience the full working of the Holy Spirit in their lives and ministry.

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If we go a little further into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we discover that in the great evangelical revivals in Germany under Francke and Spener, in England under Wesley and Whitefield, and in America under Edwards, the “charismatic” experience of tongues was unknown. In fact, Edwards in his Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, on the basis of First Corinthians 13:8 ff., insists that prophecy and tongues were for the infant church and with the completion of the New Testament canon are no longer necessary. Anyone who has read the accounts of these great spiritual movements would hardly say that the gifts of the Spirit were lacking, or that those involved did not have the “baptism” of the Spirit. Even in the great revivals in China and Korea at the beginning of this century speaking in tongues had no place. Indeed, Dr. Jonathan Goforth, who was very much involved in the revival movement in Honan, was strongly opposed to all such typical “Pentecostal” manifestations. If speaking in tongues was not characteristic of these movements, why is it in the thinking of many “charismatic Christians” so crucial now? How did the Church ever survive for some 1,800 or more years without the baptism of the Spirit?

At this point we are faced with the question of the purpose of speaking in tongues today. Paul tells us they are given as a sign to the unbeliever (1 Cor. 14:22), but prophecy or preaching is for the believer. Yet we find that most current examples of speaking in tongues occur in gatherings of Christians. Furthermore, much is made by writers such as Ralph Harris of people’s speaking in foreign languages without knowing what they are saying. Paul, however, says that it is much better to speak with the understanding than with the spirit only (1 Cor. 14:13 ff.). Moreover, we can understand why in the days before the New Testament canon was complete the miraculous gift of tongues was necessary, particularly if that which was spoken gave new revelation. But with the completion of the canon this necessity has disappeared. True, some tongues-speakers claim to use other known languages to bring their witness to persons who do not know the speaker’s own language. Yet so often tongues-speakers seem to speak when there are no unbelievers present who could understand the foreign tongues. But here we also have to be very careful to make absolutely sure that these cases are genuine instances of speaking in foreign languages without prior knowledge, for the human mind can do very strange things at times, particularly under great emotional excitement.

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And what are the fruits of the “charismatic” movement? In some cases, as Dr. Pinnock and others have pointed out, there is a new joy in Christian faith and a new sense of liberty. But are these limited to those who speak in tongues? On the other hand, as we look at what is happening in many churches where the “charismatic movement” has gained an entry, we find division and conflict. Many faithful Christians are told that they do not have the baptism of the Spirit unless they speak in tongues—they are second-class citizens of the Kingdom of God. The result has been disruption of the work of the Church. Is this the work of the Spirit of God or of some other spirit? Also, many of the Roman Catholics involved in the “charismatic movement” still go to Mass and pray to the Virgin Mary without seeing anything wrong in so doing. Is this the work of the Spirit? We even find a movement towards “Spirit unitarianism,” as in the case of some Latin American groups who say that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are but different names for one divine person, thus reviving one of the oldest heresies in the Church. Did not Christ, however, promise that the Spirit’s testimony would not be concerning himself, but concerning Christ (John 14:25; 15:26; Acts 2:22 ff.)?

We must keep in mind that other spirits are also active in the world seeking to seduce the Christian from his allegiance to Jesus Christ (Eph. 6:12; 1 John 4:1). Indeed, we are told that Satan can come as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:13 ff.), and we must remember that those possessed of demons often acknowledged Christ to be the Son of God and the apostles to be the messengers of God (Mark 1:24; 5:7; Acts 16:17). Consequently we cannot simply take the word of those who claim to be baptized by the Spirit that they are. While we cannot limit the Spirit of God, who works sovereignly according to his own purpose and plan, we must be sure that the “charismatic movement,” or at least those involved in it, is indeed led by the Spirit of God. This means testing the whole movement by the Scriptures. As we do so many unanswered questions appear, and it is these questions that raise so many doubts in many evangelicals’ minds. Changes in phraseology and emphasis will hardly solve the problem.

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