Today I want to speak to the Pentecostal (and/or) Charismatic audience. If the case for Pentecostalism is truly Biblical, then should we not be fully submitted to Scripture? The 5 Solas of the Reformation serve as a return to the Bible as the only source for Truth. It doesn’t mean that the Protestant denominations fully achieved it, nor does it mean they preserved it, but at least we affirm Sola Scriptura. I grew up as a Christian under the Pentecostal tradition. Sure, the names change and not every Pentecostal denomination calls themselves Pentecostal, but the doctrinal distinctive relating to the Gifts of the Spirit remain.
I’d like to begin by plainly stating that those of the Pentecostal and Reformed camps do a poor job of characterizing each other’s doctrines. Honest research is exceedingly and exhaustively replete with ad hominem attacks, straw-man arguments, and mockery… from both camps. Both sides engage in some proof-texting while accusing the other of the same. I’ve read a great deal researching Lutheran and Reformed theology from sites like Monergism.com. Pentecostalism isn’t nearly as historic, only dating back to early 1900s, but one resource for that movement’s history is Dixon Pentecostal Research Center. For all of the zealous antagonism between them it can be easy to forget their commonalities: both camps point to the same Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Both acknowledge God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. Both understand that salvation comes by grace, through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and both hold to the same Bible as the Word of God. There are major differences, and they are not negligible; therefore, we should address them humbly, faithfully, lovingly, and truthfully according to the Written Word of God.
Is the Pentecostal “Speaking in Tongues” the same thing that happened at Pentecost?
No, it isn’t. Pentecostals point to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that took place on the day of Pentecost, and the filling of the room by the presence of the Holy Spirit is central to their form of worship. Let’s look at what took place at Pentecost just before Peter’s sermon:
Acts 2:1-12 (ESV)
1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
The non-Christians (though devout Jews) understood what they were saying. What where they speaking? They were declaring the mighty works of God. They were proclaiming the testimony of God. Some have argued that this miracle was of interpretation, that God opened the ears of the hearers so that they could understand what was being spoken. That doesn’t fit the text. While one of the gifts of the Holy spirit is indeed interpretation of tongues, the Holy Spirit hadn’t fallen on the masses, He filled the saints, the Christians, who were following the Lord’s last instructions before He ascended into Heaven. The miracle here, is in the speaking not in the hearing. Notice in Peter’s sermon when he quotes Joel 2:28-32a:
Acts 2:16-21 (ESV) 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
What happened on the day of Pentecost was not how modern-day Pentecostals should claim as “speaking in tongues”, for Peter recognized it as prophecy. What did they prophesy? The mighty works of God. What did Peter preach?
Acts 2:36-40 (ESV)36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”
Of whom did Peter bear witness? of Jesus the Christ. What was his exhortation? Repent and be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The key here is not in some hidden meaning of “other tongues”; rather, in that the others understood what the Holy Spirit was speaking through His disciples, the Word of God, Testimony of God’s greatness, leading to the Testimony of Jesus Christ. As we are told in Revelation 19:10 (ESV), “Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.“
Notice that in all of Acts 2, the only thing being taught is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Everything else in that section is descriptive, a testimony of what God the Holy Spirit did on that day. God moved through His people, to give testimony of His Son, Jesus. If you want to prescribe any Christian doctrine from this text, let it be the testimony of Jesus Christ found in the sermon uttered by Peter who was filled by the Holy Spirit. To God be the glory.
What is the Pentecostal “Speaking in Tongues”?
What the Pentecostal refers to as “speaking in tongues” comes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapters 12-14. How does the Apostle Paul describe it? Let’s look briefly in 1 Corinthians 14.
1 Corinthians 14:1-5 (ESV) 1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
So, in a sense, the Pentecostal should desire to prophesy as Disciples did on the day of Pentecost. However, that is not to say that every time the tongue fires off in unintelligible speech that they are prophesying. In fact, if there is no interpretation, they are decidedly NOT prophesying, for no one is being built up. Paul goes on to say that if the Holy Spirit doesn’t grant them understanding of what the Spirit is saying, then their mind is unfruitful. Therefore, Paul explains that he prays both with his mind and in his spirit.
Now, here is the part where today’s title comes into play. While I can see in God’s Written Word the basis and the instruction for the Gifts of God the Holy Spirit, I find it difficult argue on your behalf in most cases. Why? Because of the very same abuses Paul was addressing in his letter to the Corinthians. We cannot wave the first half of 1 Corinthians 14 as a banner of justification while simultaneously ignoring the latter portion of the very same chapter.
Help me, Help you.
While I do plan on eventually addressing doctrinal concerns I have with Reformed and Lutheran theology, but given the current state of the visible church and the pervasiveness of Mysticism and False teaching, I need to first address (biblically) the most obvious problems.
1. “Speaking in Tongues” in a loud voice for all of the congregation to hear (sometimes in a microphone) is NOT prophecy without the interpretation. The church is NOT edified by it. God is NOT glorified by it. It only serves to draw attention to the speaker, whose mind is unfruitful if he is not granted the understanding of what was uttered.
1 Corinthians 14:13-19 (ESV) 13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
2. Understanding is not a matter of a level of faith; therefore, there is no benefit to pretending you understand what is being uttered without interpretation. It’s not “a faith thing”. Either God is speaking, or He isn’t. We don’t just accept it as the Word of God without testing it against Scripture. The first test is this, “is there an interpretation?”. If there is an interpretation, is it Biblically sound? Does it point to Jesus Christ?
3. Pandemonium, chaos, and sensuality do not bring Glory to God or edify His church.
1 Corinthians 14:26-32 (ESV)26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.
Why did I include sensuality? Well, it’s the only way I can cover things like the “drunk in the spirit” or the “high on Jesus” or the “holy laughter” manifestations. It is a craving for an experience measured by the senses rather than by the Word of God. I’ve witnessed the full gambit of these experiences growing up, and I’ve never seen discernment exercised. I’ve been in church services where the preaching of the Word of God was cancelled due to 3 hour “Praise and Worship”, where the worship was either the same song being played over and over with long instrumentals, or a lot of “spiritual (tongues) worship” is sung or spoken or declared without interpretation. I’ve seen what amounts to “open-mic night” where everyone is claiming to prophesy, well beyond the two or three limitation provided. Sure, some might say “well, that’s why we have special services apart from church”. Paul didn’t say “when you meet on Sunday mornings”, he said “When you come together…”.
4. God the Holy Spirit is not the only spirit; however, He is the only True God. There are evil spirits, as well as the fact that our flesh is sinful and actively works against the Spirit of God. Even within Christians, the war wages on between our flesh and the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5). The ONLY way we know we are hearing from God is by His Written Word. Your emotions are tied to the flesh, and the flesh is weak and sinful. Faith is a gift from God, and comes by hearing the Word of God. God has given us His Written Word. Start there. You cannot skip over the written Word of God and expect to just “know” or “recognize” the voice of God or to feel which spirits are of God and which are of error. You cannot rely on goose bumps… pagan films can elicit the same response. Without interpretation, you have no idea what is being said “in strange tongues”… none; therefore, you have no way of knowing if it is indeed the Holy Spirit or if it is man, or demon. If it is of the Holy Spirit, He will submit to the Written Word of God, for He is unchanging. John 1 tells us that in the beginning the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh, Jesus Christ. This isn’t “putting God in a box”, this is identifying what might be God by comparing it to what we know is God (His Word). Refusal to submit to Biblical discernment is a HUGE red flag.
5. God will not reveal something of Himself now that He hasn’t already revealed of Himself in Scriptures. When Jesus walked the earth, He fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, and then He established a New Covenant with His Apostles before ascending into Heaven. He granted John the final Revelation and then warned not to add to or take away from that Book. Any prophecy that makes a completely new claim about God, His Son, His Spirit, or His return that cannot be found in Scripture is false. That excludes the vast majority of prophetic visions turned into marketing campaigns for profit we see today. God the Holy Spirit is sovereign, and may grant a word of wisdom, knowledge, or insight for a specific people. Such a word, however, MUST point to Jesus as God and Savior and must be tested to see if it is true. If it doesn’t come to pass IT WAS NOT GOD. If it does come to pass, but the prophet preaches a different gospel, IT IS NOT OF GOD. If it comes true, is biblically sound, and Jesus Christ is glorified, then rejoice in the Word of the Lord and proclaim His kindness and mercy.
6. God’s primary language isn’t KJV. I say this, because I have heard a lot of “prophecy” spoken in King James English despite the speaker NOT quoting scripture. If you are quoting scripture and you’ve memorized most of it in KJV, fine… but if you aren’t quoting Scripture and are speaking words given to you by the Holy Spirit, why the KJV? It would be like an Arabic-English interpreter putting on an Australian accent to let folks know which words he’s translating from Arabic, and then dropping the accent to signify that he’s speaking of his own accord. Just odd. Additionally, just because a scripture was quoted does not mean it’s God providing the prophecy. Satan quoted scripture in his temptation of Jesus Christ. His twisting of scripture was quite subtle compared to what we hear these days. Which brings me to my final point.
7. If the person claiming to be anointed of God, His prophet, His apostle, or messenger demonstrates an inability to rightly handle Scripture, then we have no reason to believe he is speaking prophetically. The Written Word of God IS the Word of God. One who has mishandled the written Word of God cannot be trusted to rightly handle the spoken word of God. Now, God is still God, and He is still sovereign over His gifts and callings. Yes, God opened the mouth of Balaam’s donkey, but the donkey didn’t deliver the Word of the Lord, the Angel of the Lord (Jesus) did.
Lately, I’ve come to realize that the vast majority of the Pentecostal / Charismatic church has lost its way. Before writing this, I spent some time reading through the Way articles from 1906, and saw so much focus and attention on the “gifts” and so little on Jesus Christ. I read through popular charismatic teacher Facebook pages, and saw so very little scripture. Lots of appeals to “trust the spirit” and “experiencing power” and “soaking in His presence” but so very little teaching from the Scriptures. Is that what Paul would support based on his teaching in 1 Corinthians 14?
The reformed camp has its problems, too. If Pentecostals struggle with mysticism and winds of doctrine, then the Reformed struggle with legalism, particularly of the Law ► Gospel ► Law variety. They preach law to convict of sin, then Gospel for the forgiveness of sin, and then burden the Christian with Law to prove themselves “true” Christians. The error in both camps ends is the same, the error of Peter on the water, the error of taking our eyes off of Jesus Christ and placing them on ourselves, our works, or our own righteousness.
This ended up being much longer than I had intended. If you feel I’ve misrepresented Pentecostalism, feel free to contact me. In closing, I leave you with the exhortation of the Apostle Paul in the closing of his first letter.
1 Corinthians 16:13 (ESV) 13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.
May the Lord Bless you and keep you,
In Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior,