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Why do many churches believe in
speaking in tongues?

Pentecostals and Charismatics make up the main body of churches who embrace speaking in tongues as a part of their official doctrine. They represent about 10% of all American congregations.

Speaking in tongues has long been considered a controversial issue among many churches. Often blamed for creating division, or attributed to heresy or fanaticism, the practice has been banned entirely by many churches. This seems somewhat ironic since the primary author of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul, possessed an abundant gift of tongues (1 Cor. 14:18), encouraged all believers to have the same experience (1 Cor. 14:5), and warned the church to not forbid persons from speaking with tongues (1 Cor. 14:39).

Some have sought to discredit the modern day validity of speaking in tongues, claiming that it vanished with the other Charismatic gifts at the close of the apostolic era. However, any good student of church history realizes this theory is baseless, as numerous references to tongues and other gifts are consistently seen in the writings of church leaders for twenty centuries. The History of the Christian Church, by Philip Schaff records that speaking in tongues occurred among the Camisards, the Cevennes in France, among the early Quakers and Methodists in the Irish revival of 1859, and among the Irvingites in 1831. The Encyclopedia Britannica states that glossolalia (speaking in tongues) has recurred in Christian revivals of every age — among the mendicant friars of the thirteenth century, among the Jasenists and early Quakers, the persecuted Protestants of the Cevennes, and the Irvingites.

The idea of speaking in tongues originates in the New Testament book of Acts. At the height of the Jewish festival, Pentecost, the post ascension disciples of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit and manifested this unique phenomena of speaking in other languages (glossolalia).

Acts 2:1 "Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
2:2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
2:3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.
2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."

Prior to His departure to Heaven, Jesus had instructed his followers to wait in Jerusalem until they received this promised blessing (Acts 1:4). The baptism with the Holy Spirit, as He described it (Acts 1:5), would give them special power (Greek, DUNAMIS, miraculous, dynamic power), enabling them to proclaim the Gospel everywhere. "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

The day of Pentecost marked the beginning of the Holy Spirit's outpouring upon the church, but it was not the conclusion. Other followers also experienced this infilling of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by the same manifestation of speaking in other tongues. In fact, it appears that speaking in tongues became viewed as the initial, physical evidence which proved the infilling of the Holy Spirit. This was first seen by the events which occurred at the house of Cornelius, a gentile, to whom God sent Peter to minister. Until this time, most believers (who were mainly Jewish) thought the baptism with the Holy Spirit was exclusive to the Jews. However, Peter was amazed to see Holy Spirit given to Cornelius and his family. How was he able to recognize this? He cited, "For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God..." (Acts 10:46).

This pattern was repeated again when Paul ministered at Ephesus. Once more tongues accompanied the gift of the Holy Spirit. "And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied" (Acts 19:6). However, when Peter and John ministered at Samaria, the Holy Spirit was given again, but this time nothing is mentioned about tongues. "Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:17). Verses 18 and 19 say that an observer, Simon the Sorcerer, "saw" the reception of the Spirit by the Samaritans, and whatever he witnessed motivated him to offer money to purchase the same ability to bestow the Spirit. It's speculated that he probably saw them speaking in tongues.

The fifth century church father, Augustine of Hippo, was very insightful about the beliefs held by the early church regarding speaking in tongues and supported this view. From his comments about Acts 8:17-19, it was his assumption, due to his own experience in such matters, that Simon must have seen the Samaritans speaking in tongues. Augustine wrote, "We still do what the apostles did when they laid hands on the Samaritans and called down the Holy Spirit on them by laying on of hands. It is expected that new converts should speak with new tongues."¹

Most Pentecostals and Charismatics generally agree that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is evidenced by speaking in tongues, and is separate and distinct from the birth of the Spirit (John 3:7), which occurs when faith is placed in Christ for salvation.

Furthermore, they believe that speaking in tongues is involved in three distinct functions: (1) As the initial, physical evidence of the baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:46), (2) as a spiritual prayer language which is used for personal edification (1 Cor. 14:4, Rom. 8:26-27), and (3) as a special utterance gift to the church, which when interpreted, serves to edify the body (1 Cor. 12:10, 14:6). Paul indicated that not all persons would have the latter "gift of tongues" used to edify the church (1 Cor. 12:30), but desired for all believers to be able to speak in tongues for personal edification. "I wish you all spoke with tongues..." (1 Cor. 14:5).

¹ Augustine, Vol. 4

This article is from the book, What People Ask About the Church, authored and copyrighted © by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1990-2015, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA - Nashville, TN. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple use permission form. Many of our writings are also available as free pdf tri-fold pamphlets, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us. A newer revised version of this book is available from Amazon. If you have appreciated these online materials, help us reach the world with the Gospel by considering a monthly or one-time tax-deductable donation.