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Tongues, evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit

Posted: Tue 19 Jun 19 2012 7:32 pm
by Daniel Wee
Brief history of the development of the doctrine

Many Pentecostals and Charismatics hold on to the teaching that tongues are the evidence (or in some cases, the "initial evidence") of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. This was popularized by William J. Seymour (of the Azusa Street Revival) around 1906 when he preached this doctrine - that tongues were the (some say "initial") evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Seymour picked this teaching up from Charles F. Parham, a Holiness (movement) preacher who had taught this out of his discipleship school Houston where Seymour attended.

At that time, Parham taught that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was available to Christians who would enter a "third blessing", a level of higher sanctification. Along with people like Benjamin H. Irwin, they taught that after a Christian was sufficiently sanctified (freed from sin in those days, a.k.a. doctrine of "entire sanctification" or "sinless perfection"), they would become eligible to receive such a baptism which is evidenced initially by the speaking of tongues. In this sense, then, their doctrine of tongues is quite different from what mainstream Charismatics hold today - that any believer would receive the Holy Spirit, and that would be evidenced by the speaking in tongues. Parham also believed that the gift of tongues was specifically for the empowerment for missionary work, and that these would be actual foreign languages. This is yet another departure from mainstream Charismatic doctrine of tongues today.

When the Assemblies of God (denomination, formed 1914 in Hot Springs, Arkansas) adopted this doctrine, theirs was a somewhat different variation than what Parham, Seymour, and the early pioneers had originally conceived. The AG church believed that without the speaking of tongues, a person cannot be said to be filled with the Holy Spirit "in the New Testament sense". For them, speaking in tongues is literally THE evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. While there may be other accompanying gifts, tongues is the defining "proof" or evidence as it were [#8 of the 16-Statement of Fundamental Truths assented to by the Assemblies of God churches]. Some non-AG churches have since then also adopted such a position tacitly or explicitly, and many Charismatic Christians assume this to be the the official "orthodox" doctrine on tongues.

Examination of the doctrine

This is the doctrine that we now propose to examine in the light of biblical teaching.

Before approaching the biblical position on this, it is necessary to mention that even though we have articulated the official AG doctrine on this issue, there are many variations of it that people actually hold. Some believe that it is AN evidence, but not THE evidence. Others feel that it is one of many possible evidences, and so on. Depending on who you talk to, they may or may not exactly represent the AG-position. Some won't even know the history of the doctrine or what it actually says, electing to have a loose understanding of the issue. In this study, I want to look specifically at the doctrine as held by the Assemblies of God and not some of the more personal variations of the doctrine.

Secondly, there is an associated doctrine held by the AG that pertains to this issue, that is #7 of their Statement of Fundamental Truths - that the baptism of the Holy Spirit (by which they mean the infilling of the Holy Spirit and not merely the endowment of the charismatic gifts) is a separate and subsequent experience following conversion.

The question we want to ask is if it is possible for a Christian believer to be filled with the Holy Spirit (or to be baptised in the Holy Spirit in AG parlance) but not speak in tongues. He/she may possibly exhibit any of the other spiritual gifts or none of them. The AG would say "no." Keep in mind that no one is disputing tongues as a spiritual gift nor its continued practice today. Neither are we disputing that tongues can accompany the infilling of the Holy Spirit. We are only concerned with one central issue - can a believing Christian be filled with the Holy Spirit and not speak in tongues.

The first thing we need to establish is whether in fact the infilling of the Holy Spirit (of the baptism of the Holy Spirit) is a separate and subsequent experience to conversion, as asserted by the AG. In John 7:37-39 Jesus taught concerning the Holy Spirit when he comes. In v.38 Jesus says, "He who believes in Me ... out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." He then went on to explain that this was in reference to the Holy Spirit. One might paraphrase this, "He who believes in Me ... out of his heart will flow the Holy Spirit." In the following verse, v.39, he further elaborates, "But this he spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive ..." I think there is no question from these verses that Jesus fully expected all believers to have the Holy Spirit.

Now, we do not want to base this off one single passage so let us also look at some other passages on this issue. Paul in Eph 1:13 says, "... having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise." Here again there it seems to be a given that believers will receive the Holy Spirit. It was not an optional matter, or even a secondary or subsequent experience. In Romans 8:9, Paul teaches, "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him." Unless we want to argue that the Spirit of Christ is somehow different from the Holy Spirit, here again we have a verse that speaks plainly and succinctly on the issue - every believer has the Holy Spirit. If you do not have the Holy Spirit, you are in effect NOT a believer. Not just Paul, Peter in Acts 2:38 preached, "Repent .. be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ ... and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Again and again we find this to be the NT norm - any believer, as indicated by water baptism, will receive the Holy Spirit.

Okay, so we have now established that this isn't a spurious idea that every believer must necessarily have the Holy Spirit, we need to deal with the issue of Acts 19 where Paul ran across some of John's disciples. In Acts 19:1-6 there were some "disciples" (presumably of John) who had never heard of the Holy Spirit (being that John didn't major on that topic but on repentance) whom Paul asked in v.2, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They did not! The AG would then point to this verse as proof text that the infilling of the Holy Spirit is actually a subsequent experience. However, when we look further at the passage's wider context, we begin to see what was actually transpiring. Paul's immediate response was (v.3), "Into what then were you baptised?" You can almost imagine the surprise in Paul's reaction - he had assumed that every baptised believer would have received the Holy Spirit, and this was why when the disciples of John said that they had not received the Holy Spirit the first thing that came to Paul's mind was their water baptism. Even without going further, it is quite apparent that Paul assumed that all water baptised believers would have received the Holy Spirit. As it turned out, Paul's suspicion was correct - these guys have never been water baptised in the name of Jesus which was the definitive sign of a believer. We need to remember that back in the NT days (as it should be now) the concept of believing without being water baptised in the name of Jesus was an anomaly. [We would do well to keep this in mind too, regardless of how inconvenient it may be or how we feel about it.] The moment those disciples of John became Christians by way of water baptism, they IMMEDIATELY received the Holy Spirit (v.6), and in this case with both tongues and prophesying as manifestations.

At this point, I would like to submit, on the basis of biblical witness, that every believer of Jesus, as indicated by water baptism in the name of Jesus, will automatically and immediately receive the Holy Spirit. There is no biblical grounds for a second or subsequent infilling of the Spirit as held by the AG.

Now, we can properly approach the question of whether tongues is THE evidence (or even the initial evidence though the AG don't seem to necessarily hold this view) of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Assuming that we are agreed that the bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is given to every believer, the AG's doctrine must therefore imply that EVERY water baptised believer MUST speak in tongues because that is THE evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Is this what the bible teaches?

Let us begin with the fact that in Acts 2 (and possibly all of Acts), tongues was in fact the speaking of other actual languages. In order to open up the debate, we will confine ourselves to Acts 2 where it is unanimously agreed that the tongues referenced here is not the "modern" form but actual languages of the land. Even the AG today will not dare make the claim that the evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit is that we will all receive the gift of speaking in other languages. I point this out because when the defenders of that doctrine turn to the bible, they conveniently ignore that fact. They would want to use part of the text (Acts 2:4) that speaks about tongues, but ignore the part that says that those tongues were other languages. That kind of selective bible reading is flawed as an argument so even if we were willing to grant them their interpretation, which we are not, it would still not stand on its own.

Consider also the fact that in John 20:22 we are told that the resurrected Jesus had already "breathed" the Holy Spirit upon his disciples. "Receive the Holy Spirit" they were told. There is no question (unless we think Jesus failed) here that the disciples did receive the Holy Spirit at this juncture, 10-days before Pentecost, and there were no tongues mentioned at this point. In fact, we could say that Acts 2 was more of an empowerment, rather than an infilling, for these disciples and we find that the language of Acts 1:8, "you shall receive power" possibly suggesting such a possibility. In any case, in the very first giving of the Holy Spirit after the resurrection, there was no such thing as tongues as any kind of evidence. Those who argue that Acts 2 is prototypical, typically ignore this fact.

Let us look at Paul's own conversion experience in Damascus. When Annanias went to meet up with Paul in his blinded state (Acts 9:11-12) Paul was not yet water baptised. In Acts 9:17, Annanias approached Paul and stated his intentions - to pray for Paul "that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." This Annanias did and we may reasonably assume that Paul, upon his water baptism (v.18) received the Holy Spirit. Nowhere in the rest of the passage does it indicate that Paul immediately began to speak in tongues as evidence of what we are explicitly told happened. It is true that Paul later on spoke in tongues but that is nowhere indicated here, much less as evidence. One might have thought that given the importance of Paul's conversion, such an "evidence" would have been recorded but it wasn't. The AG would have to argue that Luke made a glaring omission here.

Then we have the passage in 1Cor 12:27-30 where Paul teaches about the body of Christ and why we all need each other. The point is that no one can do everything on their own, that no single individual has all the gifts of the Spirit on his/her own. In connection with this, Paul asks a number of rhetorical questions to which the implied answer is "No" to all of them. He asks (1Cor 12:29-30) "All are not apostles, are they? [No] All are not prophets, are they? [No] All are not teachers, are they? [No] All are not workers of miracles, are they? [No] All do not have gifts of healings, do they? [No] All do not speak in tongues, do they? [No] All do not interpret, do they? [No]" I have inserted the implied answer for clarity. An "yes" answer to any single question would require "yes" answers to all of them. That is how the rhetoric work here. Paul is abundantly clear here that not all speak in tongues.

Well, who was Paul addressing? He was writing to the Corinthian church - the church with many gifts of the Spirit. He was writing to some who might be apostles, prophets, teachers. These were obviously water baptised believers, and yet Paul is saying that not all of them speak in tongues. I'm not sure how much clearer the bible can be on this matter and yet there are Christians out there who insist on holding or teaching a position that is contrary to plain biblical narrative. As far as I can tell - the AG are wrong in their understanding of tongues as the evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. They can soften their position but they would have to change the wording of their statement of faith if they want to be intellectually honest about their stand vis-a-vis biblical teaching.

How then does the Holy Spirit give these gifts? Paul says in 1Cor 12:4 that there are varieties of gifts from the same Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can manifest himself in many different ways and we should not confine or limit what the Spirit can or cannot do. In fact, Heb 2:4 specifically tells us that God bears witness through many signs, wonders, miracles, and GIFTS, "according to His own will." It is perfectly reasonably that the sovereign God would give "gifts" (which are given and not demanded or entitled, by definition) according to His good pleasure. The AG's mistake is a classic philosophical error of generalizing from one or two examples into a universal rule. At the end of the day, their biggest problem is that this is a doctrine that the bible never teaches. It is a doctrine of man that they're forcing upon believers. As a result, biblical evidence will never be on the side of that doctrine.


Some of you may be asking, "What then is the evidence of the Holy Spirit?" Without going into the doctrinal arguments, I'd say off the top of my head that "a life lived in obedience to the Lord" is the ultimate evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Do Christians speak in tongues? Yes, I believe so. Are there baptised believers who do not speak in tongues? Without question, yes. You may even know a few, especially of the non-Charismatic persuasion. [AG's might not say it outright but they are implying that the Baptists, the Presbyterians, etc. are not filled with the Holy Spirit. That's extreme arrogance.] Should we desire the gift of tongues? Yes - and not only that gift, but every good thing that God wants to give you. Is it possible that tongues may be the first gift a baptised believer receives? Yes. Absolutely. We're not limiting God here. Must it be the first? No. Not necessarily.

My challenge to you is not simply to accept what I say here, but to go back and examine the bible for yourself and arrive at your own conclusions. When you've done that - come back with your questions and find strength in having read the bible for yourself. Do not blindly follow popular movements.

References ... eymour.htm ... ctrine.cfm ... ongues.cfm ... tal_Truths

Re: Tongues, evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit

Posted: Tue 19 Jun 19 2012 9:07 pm
by Daniel Wee
It is not uncommon for AG-position apologists to try to argue that in 1Cor 12, Paul was not talking about "tongues" as we practice it, but to some public form of tongues. This argument holds no water because:-

1. That argument is pure conjecture. There is not one shred of teaching that suggests anything like that and was conceived for the sole purpose of defending an untenable position.

2. The other gifts, such as the gift of interpretation, are the same gifts that accompany tongues in other places. One might argue that this only refers to "tongues" as xenolalia (other languages). If so, what is our argument for our "non-biblical tongues"? You can't have it both ways.

3. Tongues have never been considered a ministry gift, with the exception of xenolalia in Acts 2. Paul teaches that it benefits one self. To argue for "public" tongues is to really turn Paul's teaching on its head.

The simple fact is that the AG are trying to make into a doctrine what the bible never teaches as a doctrine. People have bought into this and continue to perpetuate it without ever examining what the bible itself has to say about the issue. As a result, they have to jump through exegetical hoops to make their argument stand.

Re: Tongues, evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit

Posted: Tue 19 Jun 19 2012 9:35 pm
by Daniel Wee
Additional question

Is it possible for someone to receive the Holy Spirit BEFORE water baptism? Yes, apparently so.

This is rare and not a norm in the NT but it did happen once so we have to grant that it is possible. This takes place in Acts 10:44-48. It is hard to say if this was a special sign or something that became normative. What we do know, however, is that this is the only occasion where this has happened. It might be argued that this was something out of the ordinary in order to convince Peter and the Jewish believers concerning God's intent for the Gentile believers.

Obviously this opens up another can of worms about whether Christians can receive the Holy Spirit before water baptism. I would say, without partiality and as objectively as possible, that this was not the norm in the NT. It is the norm in the church today but that doesn't make it automatically right. I think the church at large has a really weak understanding of the roles of water baptism, infilling of the Holy Spirit, and so on.

Re: Tongues, evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit

Posted: Wed 20 Jun 20 2012 4:56 pm
by Daniel Wee
Is Acts 2 a prescriptive or descriptive narrative?

The proponents of the initial evidence doctrine tend to argue that the Pentecost experience of Acts 2 is normative and prototypical for all subsequent reception of the Holy Spirit for all believers for all time. An example of such a position can be found in "Foundation of Pentecostal Theology" by Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave. On p.320 they write:-

"The manifestation of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was the original outpouring of empowerment of the Church. It was the pattern for the Pentecostal experience. What the disciples did when they were first filled, we reasonably expect all to do who are filled in the same sense."

The problem with people who hold such a position is that they will, in the very same breath, tell you that Acts 2 is prototypical but not the sound of the rushing wind, not the tongues that looked like fire, not the fact that they actually spoke in different languages. In other words, they are engaging in dishonest exegesis, choosing only to regard as prototypical what suits them, and rejecting the rest. This is the typical weak biblical theology that many such Charismatics exhibit. If only they would be more honest in their reading of scripture, I think many such controversies could be avoided.

Others do a bit better - such as J. Rodman Williams in his "Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective" where he says in Vol 2, p.211:-

"Next it is clear that the primary activity consequent to the reception of the Holy Spirit was that of speaking in tongues. We focus on the word "primary," because although other things were mentioned, speaking in tongues was first."

While Williams softens it a little with his use of the word "primary", he is unwilling to state more clearly that it isn't THE evidence. He says that it was the evidence, but only in Jerusalem for Acts 2. Nevertheless it is refreshing to see some sign of honesty in biblical exegesis.

Re: Tongues, evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit

Posted: Wed 20 Jun 20 2012 5:24 pm
by Daniel Wee
One reception, many infillings/empowerments

We have argued that the Holy Spirit is the unconditional promise (Acts 2:33) to every true believer (as indicated by water baptism in the NT). Proponents of the initial evidence doctrine would turn this promise into a conditional offer from God, thus distorting the character of God in this regard.

What then do we make of the giving of various gifts according to the will of God? I would suggest that the biblical picture is one of many subsequent empowerments. In Acts, we find the term "filled with the Spirit" to correspond to this idea of subsequent empowerments. For example:-

Acts 2:4 - And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Acts 4:8 - Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them ....
Acts 4:31 - ... and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
Acts 13:9 - then Saul ... filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him ... <rebuked the sorcerer Elymas>

In each (and every case) where the disciples were described as being "filled with the Holy Spirit" it was followed by a specific empowerment for a specific course of action in a situation that required it.

Re: Tongues, evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit

Posted: Tue 26 Jun 26 2012 1:11 am
by Daniel Wee
Practical Ramifications

If we accept that the reasoning and exegesis here is correct, it should have some practical ramifications. We should not then teach that tongues is THE evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit, but one of the possible empowerments.

I think the motivation behind seeking an "assurance" or "evidence" of the infilling of the Holy Spirit, while itself understandable as fulfilling a human need, does not necessary stem from biblical mandate. It is the same when people talk about the "assurance" of salvation - and eventually pin that down to having said the sinner's prayer. All of these formulations fall short on a few counts in that they are primarily man-made doctrines with weak biblical substantiation, and that they don't work, ultimately.

How does speaking in tongues assure anything when it can easily be falsified? A preferred "evidence" or "assurance" of such inner work of the Holy Spirit should always take into account the whole person, and not just a "gift". Furthermore, if as we have shown, that tongues is more of an empowerment and one of many possible empowerments, then teaching it as THE evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit can create confusion.

Re: Tongues, evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit

Posted: Thu 19 Jul 19 2012 12:47 pm
by Daniel Wee
Contemporary Tongues as Worship

When we look at the practice of contemporary tongues, they are often used in the same context as that of worship. In fact, even in Acts 2:11 where the first instance of xenolalia (other languages) was recorded, it was precisely in the act of praising God, an act of worship.