Guest Post by: David Fuller (Non-Cessationist)
As a follow-up to my previous post, Tongues And The Church Today, I thought it would be relevant to share my personal testimony, because I think I understand the perspective of those who view the Pentecostal movement as something strange, and maybe even regard it with some suspicion. I grew up Baptist. My parents and grandparents are Baptists, we attended a Baptist church, and I attended Baptist schools from 4th grade on. I’m extremely grateful for the upbringing which God provided me. Baptists tend to be sticklers when it comes to the Word of God, which unfortunately can, and did, lead to the errors of legalism, but it also basically meant that I spent my all of my developmental years in Bible school, resulting in my mind being inundated with God’s Word to the point that it became inextricably woven into every aspect of my thinking. I was also taught to use the skills of critical thinking as did the Bereans in the book of Acts, who “searched the scriptures, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). Spiritual gifts, however, is one area my teachers tended to shy away from. Generally, if someone was talking about speaking in tongues, it was because they were debunking Pentecostal teaching.
What I had gathered from the teaching I received, was that the gifts of the Spirit today consists of God bestowing on various people a supernaturally inspired disposition toward a particular virtue or area of service to the body. Since the Bible says that tongues and prophecy would one day cease, this was believed to have already occurred, assuming that “when that which is perfect is come” refers to the completion of the New Testament writings, and the compilation of the scriptures into a single volume, an interpretation which I think is debatable, since we still “see through a glass, darkly”, and not “face to face”. (1 Corinthians 13:8 – 12)
My earliest memories include being read the Bible and taught the gospel story. The first time I remember being consciously aware of God is when a man from a gospel group singing at our church prayed the prayer of salvation with me, and explained what it means to be saved, and be forever in God’s mighty hand. I was seven, I hadn’t actually asked to be saved, and I didn’t completely understand at the time, but I remember that encounter like it was an hour ago, and I don’t remember anything else around it. I believe now it was God’s way of personally introducing Himself to me. Knowing my understanding was incomplete at the time, when I was thirteen I asked my father to pray with me again, just to be sure it was my decision.
When I was 19, I worked at a dept store. One day a guy asked me where the men’s section was, and then asked if I was a Christian, and I said yes. He asked when I got saved, and when I told him I was young, he said, “Oh, your one of those.” He had met the Lord about a year prior, and proceeded to talk with joyful exuberance about how wonderful it was to know the Lord, and he felt sorry for those who had been saved so long they didn’t seem to share his excitement. I never saw him again, but I couldn’t help seeing his point, because I knew that my Christian life was more about believing the right doctrines, and keeping the right rules. It was not the experience of wonder and irrepressible joy that he seemed to exude, and that bothered me, so I began to pray about it. I wondered, should I feel that way? Was he just acting like a typical new believer, and some maturity would temper him down eventually?
Not long after, a coworker at the same store invited me to a young adults bible study group, hosted by a couple from a local Assembly of God congregation. I went, and got to know them, and began attending their church. Of course, I was all questions. What’s it like? How does it happen? Do you go into a trance? Do you know what language it is? What’s the point of it? Etc, etc. All I could squeeze out of them were dreamy looks and vague sounding descriptions of sublime feelings. I was prayed over a few times, and laid hands on, and even anointed with oil. I was told to just let go, that I might feel my tongue begin to move around in my mouth, as if it wanted to say something, and to just let it flow and trust God. I didn’t feel anything like that, or anything at all, really, but I tried anyway, tried to make the kind of sounds they were making, but I felt silly because I knew that’s all I was doing. I wanted answers.
So I checked out their church library, where I found a book called, “A Handbook on Holy Spirit Baptism”, by Don Basham. It was precisely what I had been looking for. The author, having traveled and spoken extensively, had naturally been confronted with all sorts of questions, and had compiled them into what was essentially a FAQ on tongues and Holy Spirit Baptism. The book was organized into several sections, with each question being a chapter heading, followed by an answer/explanation with pertinent scriptural and historical precedents, and designed so you didn’t have to read it in order. Near the end of the book, he had included a short prayer as a guide for requesting and receiving the Baptism.
I took the book home and perused it, starting with the questions I was most interested in, until I had read most of it. The section with the prayer had something similar to a plan of salvation series of steps, which included the author’s suggestion to read or re-read a particular previous section and look up the scriptures referenced. Now, I wasn’t kidding when I said I wanted answers. Consequently, what had begun as a growing sense that something important was lacking in my relationship with God, had merged with my curiosity about spiritual gifts, and the result was a kind of science experiment. I was not looking for vague answers supported by verses that were used out of context, or dubiously interpreted to fit a preset conclusion. I had never desired the gift of tongues or any second experience. I wanted two things. I wanted to be closer to the Lord – to know Him better, love Him more and trust Him more; and I wanted to know, as certainly as it was possible to know, whether God still poured out His Spirit in this way today, since a closer relationship with Him seemed the obvious result, if He still did that.
I feel it’s important to note, that though my new friends were quick to encourage all to seek the Baptism and the gifts, and I was inquiring about them, I was not seeking these. I was seeking the Lord. I was ready to receive whatever His answer was. If it turned out that tongues was not part of His plan for me, I was completely fine with that. That would just mean that I could put the issue to rest for myself, continue asking Him to draw me closer by whatever means appropriate, and not worry that here was some form of intimacy with my Lord that I was missing out on due to pride or ignorance.
Since I had already read the suggested chapter, and looked up all the referenced scriptures, I was at first inclined to skip this step. Then I decided, if nothing happens here, I’m not going to be left forever wondering if it was because of some step I was too proud or lazy to take. So I sat on my bed, alone in my room at my parent’s house, as the night crept into the wee hours of morning, and re-read the chapter, as well as the entire Bible chapter in which each referenced verse was located. Then I prayed.
I prayed, “Lord, if you still do this today, if it’s possible for me to know you the way Paul and the other apostles knew you, then please do this for me. And if you do this, please do it in such a way that there can be no shadow of any kind of a doubt, that it’s YOU doing it, and not some spiritual deception or work of the devil, or something I’m doing and deceiving myself. And if you choose to do this in me, please give me the gift of tongues as the sign by which I will know for sure that Holy Spirit Baptism is what I’m actually experiencing. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” I asked specifically for tongues, since there is apparently some debate over whether tongues is always the particular manifestation given with the Baptism, and again, I wanted to be as certain as possible. I didn’t want to wonder, did I actually receive the Baptism, only with one of the less obviously observable gifts? I wanted answers, not more questions.
I waited, the clock ticked, and nothing else happened.
Perhaps partly because of my Protestant background, or my own preference for authenticity in people and things, I’ve never had much use for recited prayers, but since the provided example prayer was the only remaining step I had yet to take, and I wanted to leave nothing undone, or any possibility of my own pride or presumption having hindered me, at about 4 in the morning I knelt beside my bed, alone in my room, and began to read the prayer in the book, and make it my own.
As I began to read and pray, my eyes inexplicably filled with tears, so that it became hard to see the page. By the time I was a couple of lines in, I was so choked up it was difficult to even continue, but I was determined to see this completely through, so I read through the river of tears and choked out the rest of the short prayer, and then let myself collapse beside my bed, where I sobbed and wept uncontrollably as if I had forever lost my best friend in the world, until my sides hurt and I could barely breathe. I can remember wondering why I was weeping. I had had bouts of teenage angst and depression before, but I hadn’t been depressed that day. I don’t enjoy crying, or feeling bad, so I reason my way out of it if I can (what am I really upset about? Is it really that bad, or do I just imagine it to be?, and so on). I couldn’t think of anything I was particularly upset about, certainly not anything that would have me holding my sides and wracked with sobbing tears. I remember thinking, “this is ridiculous, what’s wrong with me? I need to get a grip.” But I couldn’t. It was all I could do just to breathe through the tears and snot and choking sobs.
When it wouldn’t stop and I couldn’t take it anymore, I started asking God to help me. I don’t remember the change, or how, or the precise point at which it happened, but my praying changed from English to something else. It was effortless. Nothing at all like before, where I could come up with a few syllables of mimicking gibberish on my own, and knew that I was doing it. This just flowed, as if I were speaking a language I forgot I knew, though I didn’t understand what I was saying. I was still sobbing, but I was filled with joy like I had never felt before. I was aware that I was also still praying, but not with my understanding. At some point it just turned back into English, and I continued speaking to God, praising Jesus in more ways and by more names (all biblical) than I had ever even thought of in one day before, and I knew (can’t explain it) that what I was hearing from my own lips was the interpretation of what I had just spoken in an unknown language. It was beautiful. I remained on my knees praising Jesus, as it changed back and forth between tongues and the English meaning, for I’m not sure how long. I felt as if I would rather just speak in the new language, because it seemed to flow more easily than English, which seemed crude and inadequate by comparison, though the interpreted praises of Christ were themselves sublime, and certainly nothing I was coming up with on my own, either. I was by myself, but I had never felt less alone.
As with my first encounter with God, I remember these details as if it happened yesterday, but my memories of what immediately followed are less clear. At some point, I think, I must have become exhausted and went to sleep. I think the experience took place over an hour or two. The next day I would have been tempted to think it was just a dream, had I not, without even thinking about it, found myself randomly praying in the new language, still without effort, and also without the immediately following interpretations of the night before, which I believe were given to me in response to my desire and requests for certainty and the elimination of doubt, something difficult to achieve in a mind taught to maintain a healthy level of skepticism towards anything not concretely provable.
Barely able to contain my excitement, I told my parents what had happened, and they told me that “we don’t believe that still happens today”, and encouraged me to search the scriptures and seek God, presumably believing that my error would by this means be corrected. Others I tried to tell just looked at me like, ohhh kaaayy, you need help. So I left off trying to tell them about things they weren’t interested in. Since they were already believers, I left them in God’s hands, and cherished the new way He had given me to talk with Him, which I do all the time, everywhere, to this day. At work, home, church, the store, my car, everywhere. Often out loud (not loudly), sometimes not. Nobody ever seems to notice, or maybe they just think I’m talking to myself. I’ve felt the temptation to show it off, but I’ve always sensed that He frowns on that, and anyway, it’s too special to me. It’s a form of intimacy with Him which I prefer not to share with just anyone.
What’s it like? It’s wonderful! It’s a constant reminder of the reality of His presence and power. There have been times when my rational, practical, skeptical mind has wandered to a place where ideas like armies of horsemen coming out of the sky just seemed ridiculous, and I found it difficult to believe, then I find myself praying in the Spirit, who bears witness with my spirit, that truly “My Beloved is mine, and I am His” (Song of Solomon 2:16), and doubt flees away. How does it happen? By the power of the Holy Spirit. I can’t give you a scientific explanation. Do I go into a trance state when speaking in tongues? No. I always retain full possession of all my faculties. As I said above, it’s as simple and effortless as normal speech. Sometimes I “stir up the gift that is in me” (2 Timothy 1:6), but I frequently find myself praying in the Spirit when (perhaps because?), God and praying are the furthest things from my mind. Do I know what language it is? No. I have at times thought that it sounded like various different languages, and I’ve often wondered if someone with a different first language happened to hear me might they recognize it? But if anyone has even noticed I wasn’t aware of it. I do get the sense, as I sensed about the interpretations, that as a member of the body of Christ, the Spirit may at times intercede through me for people of various languages, in various places, whom I may never meet in this life. Also, Paul often calls it “speaking in an unknown tongue”, which could also mean unknown to anyone in this world, since he clearly refers to tongues of men, and tongues of angels (1 Cor. 13:1), and it seems reasonable to assume that if uncountable legions of angels were created before humanity, they would likely have their own language or languages. What’s the point of it? When I pray, I want to pray according to His will, and sometimes I don’t know how to pray as I ought, or words become inadequate, but the Spirit searches the deep things of God, and intercedes for us, so when I pray in tongues, I can trust that the Spirit knows how best to communicate my heart to His. (Romans 8:26, 1 Cor 2:10)
I should emphasize that this work of the Spirit in me did not eradicate the law of sin at work in my flesh, any more than His work of regeneration did. We will all receive that gift at the same time, when corruption puts on incorruption, and our last enemy is finally defeated. (Rom 7: 15 – 25, 1 Cor 15:26, 52 -54)
As beautiful as the gift of tongues is, Holy Spirit Baptism is much more than any particular gift you may receive, and obviously the greatest gift of all is the one I was actually seeking all along – an unending, ever growing intimacy with Jesus, the likes of which I had previously only heard about and dreamed of, which does not come from speaking with tongues, but from being filled to overflowing with God’s Holy Spirit. “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit” (1 Cor 6:17). What could be more intimate, than to be so closely united with the one you love that words of any kind become almost unnecessary? To know that not one tear escapes my eye, but that He feels the sting of it? And wonder beyond wonders, He shares His feelings with me also. It’s just as Jesus said, “My peace I give unto you”, “that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 14:27, John 15:11). It’s not all roses and rainbows, however. As He bears our grief, and carries our sorrows, we are also called to share in His sufferings, that we may also share in His glory. But empowered by His Spirit, His yoke truly is easy, and His burden is light. (Isaiah 53:4, 1 Peter 4:13, Philippians 3:10 – 11, Matt. 11:30)
While I could wish that those whom God used to draw me closer to Himself had been more knowledgeable or articulate, I now understand the dreamy expressions I sometimes saw when I asked them to explain. If you’ve ever tried to talk with someone who’s madly in love, about the object of their affection, then you might know what I mean. Their hearts had been captivated by Jesus and His amazing love.
And so has mine.
P.S. The book mentioned above is still in print, and you can Google it if you want to. Remember, though, the ONLY author who can give you the Holy Spirit, is the Author of our Salvation, Jesus Christ. Grace and peace to you.
Note: The above post is not a reflection of my personal beliefs. You will be able to read a response in the next post. – The Recovering Legalist