The first sign of being baptised in the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. City News looks at what tongues is and its benefits, as well as arguments against tongues debunked.
If you have been following our series on Pentecostal distinctives, you would know that City Harvest Church is a Classical Pentecostal church, and that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is the second blessing—the first being the Holy Spirit coming at conversion to regenerate a new believer.
Speaking in tongues is the initial, outward sign of the Spirit baptism. In Act 2:1-4, the very first baptism in the Holy Spirit happened for the 120 in the Upper Room: the Holy Spirit descended on them like tongues of fire, and they began to speak in tongues.
BENEFITS OF SPEAKING IN TONGUES
Scripture reveals many benefits of this gift of speaking in tongues. First, it helps us in praising God (Acts 2:11). Apart from the initial 120 disciples, there were instances recorded of believers praising God with tongues, such as Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:46) who spoke with tongues and magnified God. Paul explained that by singing in tongues, Christians are really blessing God and giving thanks to Him (1 Cor 14:15-17).
Second, it edifies the believer. Paul also said in 1 Cor 14:4-5 and Jude 20) that through tongues, Christians are edifying themselves and building themselves up in their most holy faith. Tongues can be an earthly language of men or a heavenly one of angels (1 Cor 13:1). When we pray in tongues, we are speaking mysteries in the Spirit—we are not praying with our minds but with our human spirit, in the Holy Spirit.
Third, tongues helps us in prayer and intercession. When we pray in tongues, we are not praying for others to hear but we are communicating directly to the Lord. There are times when we need to pray but words fail us—tongues lets us release our heartfelt concerns to the Lord in prayer. As Romans 8:26 says, “the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.”
Fourth, tongues is a powerful weapon to use in spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6 tells us to “put on the whole armour of God and pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Eph 6:18). Speaking in tongues heightens our awareness of what is happening in the spiritual realm and what we are up against, so we can fight effectively.
A fifth way tongues helps believers is, when it is coupled with interpretation, tongues can help prophesy to people. While we speak in tongues in our personal devotion, we can also use tongues publicly to encourage and comfort the body of Christ. This often brings a touch of God to a meeting of believers. This is known as charisma.
Six, tongues also serve as a sign for those who don’t yet know God. Tongues create a spiritual atmosphere that raises an unbeliever’s awareness that something is happening in the spirit. In some cases, the tongues being spoken may even be understood by people who hear it, even if the one praying does not comprehend it. This was the case on the day of Pentecost, when foreigners who heard the tongues were surprised to hear their own language being spoken.
In 1 Cor 14:21, Paul wrote that “tongues are a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers, but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.” The purpose of a sign, in this case, is to create awareness and point people in the right direction—towards God. As a sign, however, tongues by itself does not convict the hearts of unbelievers, but when interpretation of these tongues happens, it touches people the same way prophecy does, and convinces unbelievers that God is real (1 Cor 14:24-25).
Finally, praying in tongues helps the believer rest and be refreshed. In the New Testament, the presence of unknown tongues was a sign of God’s blessings. In Mark 16:17, Jesus said, “And these signs will follow those who believe: In my name… they will speak with new tongues.”
ARGUMENTS AGAINST TONGUES
For Classical Pentecostals, speaking in tongues is a distinctive of New Testament Christianity. Tongues (along with the interpretation of tongues) is the only one of the nine supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit that is not found in the Old Testament.
However, there remains accusations against speaking in tongues. The first is that it ceased when the apostolic age ended in the first century following the death of Jesus. These critics believe that tongues were given only to the early church but they are no longer necessary, citing 1 Corinthians 13:8, which says that one day tongues “will cease”. However, 1 Cor 13:10 says this will only happen “when that which is perfect has come”, which is when Jesus returns. In fact, there is no specific passage in the Bible that states that the gift of tongues has ceased.
Another accusation against the speaking in tongues is that it must be in an intelligible language for the purpose of preaching the gospel. The reasoning for this is that on the Day of Pentecost, this was what happened: the 120 spoke in languages that the Jews from different nations could understand. However, the disciples spoke in tongues not to preach on the Day on Pentecost, but to give thanks, praise and worship the Lord, which remains a major purpose of tongues today.
A third accusation is that tongues must never be used publicly or corporately in a Christian gathering because it will cause confusion and disorder. The “support” for this claim is 1 Cor 14:19 where Paul said, “in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach other also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”
But Scripture reveals instances where corporate tongues took place and there was no confusion. On the Day of Pentecost, all 120 spoke in tongue publicly and corporately, and thousands heard them all speaking at once. It was appropriate for them to speak freely and spontaneously as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4) but when Peter spoke to the crowd (Acts 2:14-39) the other disciples stopped speaking in tongues. This also happened in Cornelius’ house and in Ephesus. All three times, the One they were speaking tongues to was God. All three times, their corporate praying in tongues was not confusing or disorderly as they were praising God.
There was no need for the gift of interpretation because they were not giving intelligible messages to the people around them. Tongues must be interpreted (1 Cor 14:26-28) when the message is for the people, not directed to God.
1 Corinthians 12:30 is commonly evoked by critics, who cite Paul’s question “Do all speak in tongues?” However, we hold that Paul was not talking about the baptism in the Holy Spirit but the gift of varieties of tongues, which was what he was talking about in the verses leading up to v30. V27-29 read: “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.”
Therefore, all are to be baptised in the Holy Spirit with evidence of speaking in tongues, but not all those who are Spirit-baptised regularly exercise the gift of varieties of tongues.
The Bible makes a clear distinction between dorea, which is the Greek word for “gift”, and charisma. In Acts 10:45 reads, “As those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter because the gift (dorea) of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.” This gift (dorea) is accompanied by the speaking of tongues.
The charisma, on the other hand, consists of all the supernatural gifts, including tongues. 1 Cor 12:4: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts (charisma) but the same Spirit.” Charisma refers to the gift of grace, that is, the power that is beyond one’s ability, enabling one to do God’s will.
Therefore, dorea blesses the individual while charisma is for the body of Christ, to edify the church.
Source: Introduction To Pentecostalism, CHC School of Theology