Tongues and the Church Today

A Guest Post by: David Fuller (Non-Cessationist)


The gift of tongues in Acts is always associated with the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The promise of the Father, baptism with the Holy Spirit, filled with the Spirit, and references to the Holy Ghost being poured out or falling upon believers are terms used interchangeably in Scripture with one exception which R. A. Torrey notes: Baptized with the Holy Spirit, is nowhere used in the Bible of any experience but the first and suggests an initial or initiatory experience.(65) He suggests we therefore use this term only to describe the initial filling of the believer with the Holy Spirit.

This point is generally agreed upon even by those who reject tongues, since the New Testament clearly and repeatedly admonishes believers to be filled with the Spirit. The points of contention are whether the initial filling necessarily happens to every Christian at the moment of regeneration, and whether or not tongues should still be expected as a necessary sign of it. This debate necessarily narrows down to the purpose of speaking in tongues. Given Luke’s relatively cursory mention of this gift, one could ask what his purpose is in mentioning it at all?

Luke’s purpose in writing, as stated by himself in Luke 1:1-4, was to set down an orderly account of those prophesies concerning the Messiah and His church which had been fulfilled before their very eyes, in order to strengthen the faith of Theophilus. In Acts, he shows how the church fulfilled not only O.T. prophecy, but Christ’s commission as well. Since Jesus Himself, in referring to the enduement with power as the promise of the Father, as well as Peter in Acts 2 and Paul in 1 Cor. 14:21, each indicate that the gift of tongues is a fulfillment of O.T. prophecy concerning the church and the last days, Luke includes it in his account; documenting its part in the fulfillment of Christs commission as well. Thus, the fulfillment of prophecy and of Christs commission are the only two purposes for tongues with which Luke is concerned, since this is the focus of his writing. An extensive treatment of the purpose of tongues in collective worship or the spiritual life of the average believer of that day would be a departure from his point.

Also, since he is writing for Theophilus, not for us, he naturally would have excluded extensive information about subjects with which Theophilus would undoubtedly have been all-to-familiar, such as the structure and events of a typical early-church worship service.

We know from Paul’s testimony in 1 Cor. that apparently quite a number of the believers in Corinth spoke with tongues, as did Paul himself. That the Ephesian believers spoke with tongues is indicated by his admonition that they should pray in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18 cf. 1 Cor. 14:15). The fact that Luke mentions only three major instances of tongues, and relates them to the spread of the gospel to the major people groups, while neglecting their mention in ch.8 and the many other salvation accounts, does not mean they did not occur in these instances. Luke may have just been avoiding redundancy (especially in light of that days paper costs) and sticking to his purpose, which was to chronicle the fulfillment of prophecy and Christs commission.

Luke also chooses not to teach us of the Eucharist in Acts, so we base our understanding of it on Christs command and Paul’s teaching on the meaning of and procedure for observing it, given to the Corinthians because of their abuse of this ritual. Likewise, we must look elsewhere for detailed treatment of the gift of tongues; and we find it from the same sources. In Mark 16:17, Jesus states that tongues are a sign that will be manifested in those who believe. Luke leaves us wishing for the testimony of one who was there as to what part, if any, tongues played in the individuals spiritual life and collective worship at that time. Paul gives us exactly this, and again his most detailed treatment is directed toward those who were abusing it. Thank God for the Corinthians! Is it not comforting to see how God can use even our shortcomings to the benefit of His church?

What does Paul tell the Corinthians (and us) about the correct purpose and use of the gift of tongues? Citing Isaiah 28:11, he says that tongues function as a sign. Just as the strange tongue of the Assyrians was to be a sign to Ephraim of Gods judgment, so the gift of tongues in the N.T. served as a sign to the Jews of Gods involvement in those events as well. There is, however, a further purpose for tongues. Paul says the gift, when properly used, is intended to edify the individual and, when interpreted, the church body.

But how is this accomplished? What is the point, after all, of speaking a language even you yourself cannot understand? Paul answers this question in 1 Cor. 14:2, For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God. In verse 14, he states, For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth (emphasis mine) and continues in verse 15 with, I will pray with the spirit and, I will sing with the spirit. In verses 16 and 17 Paul indicates that tongues are used to bless and give thanks to God. Instead of being in the form of a message directed toward the church, which is always the case with prophecy, it is intended to be a form of worship and prayer. This worship and prayer interpreted generates participation on the part of other members of the body, and thus it becomes a means of edification equal to prophecy, In prophecy the edification springs from the Spirit-quickened Word, while in tongues and interpretation the edification springs from Spirit-quickened worship and prayer.(Brandt, 55).

The speakers in tongues in Acts 2:11 were proclaiming the wonderful works of God. In the house of Cornelius, they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.(Acts 10:46). In Acts 19:6, who were the speakers in tongues addressing? Paul, who witnessed the event, tells us that he that speaks in an unknown tongue speaks not unto men, but unto God. Furthermore, he encourages the Ephesians to pray in the Spirit(6:18), and Jude likewise tells us to build ourselves up in our faith by praying in the Holy Spirit.

According , then, to both the record of Luke and Paul’s teaching, the gift of tongues serves two primary functions. It is a sign to the unbeliever of Divine presence and activity, and a means of building up the believer and the church through Spirit-inspired prayer and worship.

Although some contend that the gift of tongues was meant only for the early church, Scripture nowhere states that this is so. In fact, there are two quite strong statements to the contrary: Paul’s command in 1 Cor. 14:39 to forbid not to speak in tongues, and Peters statement in Acts 2:39, For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call (emphasis mine). Taken together with Christs statement in Mark 16:17, as well as the various admonitions to pray in the spirit throughout the N.T. , I see no scriptural reason for believing the gift tongues is not meant for believers throughout this church age.

Works Cited

Brandt, R.L. Tongues, the Greatest Gift?; Bridge Publishing, c.1981

Torrey, R.A. Baptism With The Holy Spirit; Revell, c.1897

Link to R. A. Torrey


Filed under Christianity, Church, Guest Posts, Prayer, worship

28 responses to “Tongues and the Church Today

  1. it is always good to hear differing opinions. While I am not a Cessationist I find, as I believe Paul found in Corinth, that the gift of tongues has become far to important in some circles than it was meant to be creating haves and have nots, elitism and a desire to make one’s self look more important

  2. Hi David
    Nice to see you here at bro Anthony’s place. I am a Cessasionist myself, but as was pointed out by Anthony, heated debates on it are pretty useless. I did have a concern I have seen and wondered if you could address it. I don’t see it everywhere but have seen it several times and it concerns me. In fact, I did not to long ago. I was visiting folks, witnessing, and inviting them to church. One lady told me she had just given up, as when she was young she never spoke in tongues, and became firmly convinced that she simply would never be saved because if it. I think this sort of fits with David’s comment above, in that there is sometimes such an emphasis that some misunderstand the teaching and link this to one’s salvation.

    • OUCH!!! That’s horrible!!! I’m glad you’re the one she met, Wally!

    • That’s a sad story, Wally. And it’s sadder how many people seek their redemption in anything other than the blood of Christ. How many believers are beaten into depression and ineffectiveness by the accuser. How many denied the sweet, simple truth of the gospel by mental or emotional walls erected by the enemy. And anyone teaching others that their salvation is secured by any means other than the blood of Christ, is actually placing themself in danger of some pretty intense curses spoken by both Paul and Christ Himself.

  3. I am not a Cessationist either, but I do believe some put too much emphasis on spiritual gifts, as if our very salvation is dependent on it. I’m a “nothing but the blood of Jesus” kind of Christian, so literally nothing else, including our good works or our spiritual gifts, are in any way related to our salvation.

    On spiritual gifts too, I think it needs to be said that we call them “gifts,” we assign them value as if they represent something superior or better. We forget that prophets where often to be found naked in the wilderness eating bugs and honey, not selling fortunes for 19.95. Some gifts are heavy burdens for people to bear, they come with a great price. Tongues are not one of them, I hope, it’s just something to keep in mind about spiritual gifting.

    • I totally agree with you brother. “My hope is built on nothing less(or more), than Jesus’s blood and righteousness.” I speak with tounges because, short version, I asked the Lord if He still does that today would He please do it for me, and He did. But I was already regenerated. I already knew Him. I wanted to know Him more. And please understand, I was asking specifically for Holy Spirit baptism and the gift of tounges, but I was not seeking those things. What I was seeking was a closer, more personal relationship with Jesus. I wanted to know Him more, love Him more, trust Him more. Obviously the Holy Spirit was already in me doing this work, since Jesus said the Spirit would glorify Him. It wasn’t the only time I had asked. But the time that I received, all I was really seeking was to be closer to Him, and if that was one way that could happen, then yes, please. No one is more special before God for any reason. His amazing, inexplicable love is the only explanation I have for why He pays me any kind attention at all.

  4. hope855

    This is a very interesting article! I’d like to look up these verses. When I was a toddler, I had nightmares for a good while. Mom’s best friend was over one night, and called me over. She prayed in a tongue over me. I didn’t know what she said, but I calmed down. I’m grateful she did. 🙂

  5. I literally came across a post from a friend on Facebook this evening where the man was desperately asking for prayer – that he might be able to pray in tongues. All I could think of was Paul’s wish that all would rather prophesy.

  6. Tongues is more than a’s a gift…but that does not mean Spirit’s baptism is the proved when speaking in tongue…and yes…there has never been any proof that Acts and Luke were written by Luke as well…it’s just a mere speculations

  7. I actually think it’s kind of a shame that tounges unavoidably becomes the central theme in discussions of Holy Spirit baptism. It really misses the point. I came across this beautiful testimony of a Mennonite sister, who doesn’t even mention tounges.

  8. I appreciate this post, especially the scripture references. Many years ago, I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, with the evidence of speaking in tongues. After learning that the majority of Bible believing Christian denominations believe that tongues is not for today, I have prayed very earnestly for the Lord to take tongues away from me, if it is not of Him. Yet I still pray and sing in tongues.

    I have prayed in tongues during times of great imminent danger and had miracles happen. But my salvation is not from tongues. I am saved by the blood of the sinless Lamb. Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, is my Savior and my Lord. Because I believe in and serve Him, I have eternal life — NOT because I can pray and sing in tongues.

    When I am with people who do not believe in tongues, I simply keep it to myself. This gift is not meant for show, and it is not intended to divide His church. If we are His, we are one in the Spirit, regardless of denomination, and regardless of our beliefs about glossalalia.

    • This is the spirit that all should have, and I thank you for having it. I am one of those who have disagreements with how the doctrine is taught and practiced, but my disagreements do not hinder or detract from my love for my brothers and sisters in Christ.

    • Thank you for sharing your testimony as well. I grew up Baptist, so if it’s not in the Word, or it doesn’t agree with the Word, then I’m done listening. There is an unfortunate lack of clear, biblical teaching on this subject, from either side of the issue. And I agree it is not meant for show or division. The body of Christ is designed for interdependence. Could it be that God has given to some of us to preserve and cherish the truth of His Word, and others to equally cherish the truth of His Spirit, that we might need and feed one another?

  9. I’m a shouting, hair falling, rolling on the ground, stomping, speaking tongues Pentecostal! Strongly believe in the Holy Ghost because it is in me. I’ve seen it do miraculous things! Heal, delivered, set people free from bondage and etc. The Holy Ghost is a gift for all that believes in Jesus. The Holy Ghost is right in the palm of God’s hand for anyone with a willing and open heart who believes on Him to accept it. The best feeling in my life and I habe not been the same every since. The Holy Ghost is a teacher, comforter friend and many more. 💖

  10. marriagefelicity

    It was clearly meant for the Jews, and the old Covenant. There’s nothing that you have to read other than 1st Corinthians. To speak in the spirit in Hebrew and two different meanings in Aramaic, meaning at least two different translations. The writer of this blog seems to give a great argument, but go into a Pentecostal Church and see the testimony, and Ministry of the few or many that speak in tongues as you have newcomers to Christ comment or curiosity to Christ and then walk out 6 minutes later… For there is no Ministry in that. Now just as Paul says speak two words that are intelligible rather than… What I believe he means the entire gospel in tongues is worth far greater testimony to those who are seeking Christ. My experience 4th semester theology, a common argument. However we cannot ignore the fact that the ministry of those who have spoken in tongues to me as well as the Behavior of Christians and Hall the worst experience I’ve ever had was somebody speaking in tongues to me as I was genuinely asking questions.
    Six months later I wasabagnostic borderline luciferian for 18 years of my life and this started at 12 so that’s 30 years of not knowing Christ, the Holy Spirit, cleansing the baptism gives.
    ABC song what does 1st Corinthians say if you are to speak in tongues there must be a translator interpreter two Witness, but the Jews we’re the ones who received the Pentecost, and the Jews are the ones, were, the ones that continue it.
    In all due respect, you yhave great theological arguments but you need to go to the literal the figurative Hebrew, Aramaic or what a non Theologian would cost Greek. To get the actual answer.

    • Dear (?), thank you for stopping by, and especially for leaving a thoughtful comment. Now that you have read this post (from a guest blogger), read the one I wrote right after and let me know what you think.

      By the way, I went to check our your blog and there is not a lot of content. Are you a new blogger? Also, you mentioned a few different things in your comment that made me curious – I’d love to hear your story.

      Have a blessed one,

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I agree with you and Anthony that the gift of tounges is widely misunderstood and abused, and undoubtedly frequently faked. Before I received, when I attended a Pentecostal church, they seemed unable to answer my basic questions. I had to search their church library, which I sensed was little used. My greatest question, as a person having no opinion either way, which is what I used to be, is how do I know which whose translation/interpretation is the correct one? People with the Spirit of Truth in them have studied these writings for long before me, and have these differing positions, with reason and scripture and word studies to back them up. They can’t all be correct, so who actually is? Am I left to pick the view I find most comfortable, or most exciting, or the church with most interesting service? What standard should be used for discerning the accuracy of either position? Should it be my experience with those who hold it?

      • All I know is that there is no “private interpretation” of Scripture…there’s a correct interpretation, not multiple. When it comes to difficult passages all we can do is keep digging, depend on the Spirit, and rest in His grace. I guess what concerns me is that when it comes to the subject of tongues, too many have literally said (and I’ve been told this), “Well, I don’t know/care what the Bible says, this is what I’ve experienced.” Experience should never be the final arbitrator of truth.

  11. I wasn’t sure how to comment, other than to share the following, which was written by Samuel Chadwick (sorry about length):

    When Andrew Murray was led to write on “The Temple of the Holy Spirit,” he said with reverential awe: “I will meditate and be still, until something of the overwhelming glory of the truth fall upon me, and faith begin to realize it: I am His Temple, and in the secret place He sits upon the throne.” Then, when he had written, this prayer rises like incense: “I do now tremblingly accept the blessed truth: God the Spirit; the Holy Spirit; who is God Almighty dwells in me O my Father, reveal within me what it means, lest I sin against Thee by saying it and not living it.”

    Hour after hour, since I wrote the headline of this chapter, my mind has been held in the same reverential awe. I have written and preached much on the Holy Spirit, for the knowledge of Him has been the most vital fact of my experience. I owe everything to the gift of Pentecost. It came to me when I was not seeking it. I was about my Heavenly. Father’s business, seeking means whereby I could do the work to which He had called and sent me, and in my search I came across a prophet, heard a testimony, and set out to seek I knew not what. I knew that it was a bigger thing than I had ever known. It came along the line of duty, in a crisis of obedience. When it came I could not explain what had happened, but I was aware of things unspeakable and full of glory. Some results were immediate. There came into my soul a deep peace, a thrilling joy, and a new sense of power. My mind was quickened. I felt that I had received a new faculty of understanding. Every power was vitalized. My bodily powers were quickened. There was a new sense of spring and vitality, a new power of endurance, and a strong man’s exhilaration in big things. Things began to happen. What we had failed to do by strenuous endeavour came to pass without labour. It was as when the Lord Jesus stepped into the boat that with all their rowing had made no progress, “immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.” It was gloriously wonderful.

    The things that happened were the least part of the experience. The wind and the fire and the tongues excited most comment, but they vanished, and it was the realities that remained that were most wonderful. The experience gave me the key to all my thinking, all my service, and all my life. Pentecost gave me the key to the Scriptures. It has kept my feet in all the slippery places of all sorts of criticism. The things that are stumbling blocks to so many are steppingstones to me. The inexplicable becomes plain when we recognize the Presence and Law of the Spirit. It balances scholarship, and gives discernment beyond all human learning. Indeed, learning without the Holy Ghost blinds men to the realities of Divine truth. The man who thinks he can know the Word of God by mere intellectual study is greatly deceived. Spiritual truth is spiritually discerned. The soul sees with the eyes of the heart, and they are opened by the Holy Spirit. The knowledge He gives is something more than information it is knowledge that leads to trust, knowledge that brings life, and knowledge that inspires love. The same Spirit gave me a new understanding and experience of prayer, and with these gifts there came a new enduement of wisdom and power. From the first day of my Pentecost I became a seeker and a winner of souls.

    Samuel Chadwick – The Way to Pentecost

  12. I agree, Anthony. . Consider, however, when Jesus healed a man born blind, the Pharisees didn’t believe him, and he said, all I know is I was born blind and now I can see. And they threw him out. This not only fits scripture, it fulfilled it, just not their understanding of it.
    Peter, who is forbidden by scripture to eat unclean animals, has a vision where God tells him to do just that. This illuminated the Word, that God pronounced his creation very good, the eating rules were for an unsanctified people, and that God is reconciling All things to himself through Christ, so that to the pure, all things are pure. And Peter’s experience at the house of Cornelius illuminated and confirmed the scriptures which state that Christ would also be the savior of the Gentiles. The 120 in the upper room, without scriptural direction or precedent to follow, obeyed the words of Jesus and experienced the promise of the Father. Experience should not be the final, much less the only standard, but it seems to me that if you exclude it, private interpretation is all you have left, since humans, on their own, are inherently only capable of a biased interpretation. The apostles’ teaching was based on both the authority of scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit.
    Also, Jesus said, “now you are clean through the words which I have SPOKEN to you”, but “the words that I SPEAK to you, they are spirit, and they are life. And “he shall take what is mine, and show it to you”. And we are told build ourselves up in the faith by praying in the Spirit, who intercedes for us with groanings that words cannot express.
    Jesus’s audience knew being filled with the Spirit as something granted to a select few, and not necessarily permanently, yet he opened their understanding when he told them, “will not your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask?”.
    I think our understanding of Truth should come from scripture, the Spirit, and the body, in whom he lives and works, which is why I’m posting; not to argue, but to see what the Lord has revealed to others.

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