Speaking in Tongues Debate - 10 - Experiences

Chapter 10 


    In my personal experience it was the Apostle Paul himself, who gave me such a hard time with his implacable, Spirit-inspired logic. But there were still two points of resistance in my mind: one a big blockhouse and the other, a tiny fort. The blockhouse was a line of the Scripture which left me a glimmer of hope that Paul's absolute "does not speak to men" might have been watered down, though ever so slightly, by his quotation from the Old Testament, "I shall speak to this people..." (I Cor 14:21). I thought that since it was to unbelievers that God spoke by the gift of tongues, then the message must have been for men. My hope was short-lived, for my blockhouse was mined and it blew up all by itself. Of course God spoke to the Jews by this sign. But if the sign spoke to them, the words of this sign were for God, and God alone. One day an army general invited me to his office to speak to him about my faith. When I arrived, several people were already in the waiting room. I was the first to be called in. My interview was conducted with the general alone but my immediate entrance was a sign for the others of the honor bestowed on me. And so it is with the sign of tongues. Pagan tongues, having been granted this privilege, were henceforth admitted into the private chambers of the King of kings. It was to God only that they were addressed, but this gift was very significant for the others.

Lining it all up

    When I had only an immature understanding of the Bible, I was satisfied with vague opinions. I floated down the stream of commonly accepted ideas without taking the time to examine the Scriptures to see if what I heard was exact (Acts 17:11).

    Taking the passage on Pentecost as a basis, I unthinkingly accepted the teaching that tongues were given to communicate a message directly to men. In this case, the foreigners had such diverse tongues that a linguistic miracle had been necessary for them to hear what God wanted to say. I had been told that one single language would not have been sufficient; therefore the miracle of tongues was necessary. But when I opened my Bible, I was shocked to discover that it was not the Gentiles who were in Jerusalem at Pentecost, but Jews (Acts 2:4, 14) who had come from other countries and who spoke Aramaic as well as their mother tongue! If it were just a question of preaching to men, why was it necessary to have so many tongues (verse 15), especially when it was evident from these verses which follow that one would have been sufficient? If we want to find a message for men, we should look for it in Peter's preaching, not in the speaking in tongues. The passage clearly shows that everyone understood what Peter said, not in tongues, but in one language. The fact that everyone understood Peter's tongue means that it was perfectly superflous to add fifteen other languages. One was sufficient. What, then, was the reason for the fifteen others?

    The answer which helped me to line up all these ideas was to be found in the inspired writings of Paul where he says, "...anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God." (I Cor 14:2). In accordance with Luke's account in Acts 2, those men spoke to God in fifteen tongues to serve as a sign for the Jews (I Cor 14:21), in particular those coming from the fifteen countries mentioned in the passage. This sign showed them that access to God was no longer their private prerogative, that the Lord no longer preferred Hebrew to barbarian tongues, and that they were no longer to consider unclean that which God declared pure (Acts 10:15).

My second Line of Defense

    At this point I tried to defend my little fort. I say "little" because it was outside the Bible. It was the fort of experience which, when you come down to it, is talked about now-a-days more than the Word of God itself. However, nothing is to be dealt with more prudence and wariness than experience. That is why I did not want to rely on experience as an argument in this book. It is too much like quicksand.

    On my desk I have two kinds of books. The first kind, through a profusion of anecdotes, relates testimonies stacking up evidence that speaking in tongues is indeed a message addressed to men. The other, through a lot of counter-testimonies demystifies the whole affair. But in this area of experiences and anti-experiences, both sides are about equal. I will therefore stick with the principle "sola scriptura" (Scripture alone). Through speaking in tongues, prophecies have concerned me personally. Of course, I am not the only one who has shared this experience. Some can positively affirm that what was said was true and actually came about. Such experiences are undeniable. I have a friend who told me, "I heard a prophecy in tongues that had to do with me, and it came true!" We have all heard this kind of "truth". Since the prophecy was fulfilled, we assume that heaven has spoken. But can we really be sure? Heaven also speaks through the Scriptures and the Scriptures contradict this experience. Experience claims that the gift of tongues is heaven speaking to men, whereas the Bible says that it is men speaking to heaven (I Cor 14:2). Who is right, God or experience? Job seems to have faced this dilemma for he says (in French versions), "I bent my will to the words of thy mouth." (Job 23:12). Experience! We find it everywhere in life, but it does not prove much of anything.

Even the Occult!

    You know, the horoscope is not always wrong! Millions of people are ready to testify to it. That is experience. In Marseille the walls of the chapel of Notre Dame de la Garde are covered with small plaques attesting to miraculous answers to prayer. That is experience. Jeanne Dixon has predicted some amazingly true happenings; for example, the assassination of John E Kennedy. Do the crutches hanging on the walls of the grotto in Lourdes accredit the doctrine of Mary's intercession for believers? Divination can locate a lost object hundreds of miles away simply by holding a pendulum over a road map. That is experience. And when a diviner diagnoses your illness without examining you, doesn't that prove the validity of the experience? Thousands of people believe and practice these things because the reality of experience hinders them from seeing the occult and divinatory side of them.

Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone)

    But, I kept reminding myself, it is in the light of biblical and spiritual experiences that our search for the truth takes place! "Thy Word is truth." (John 17:17) kept coming to mind. Once outside the Word of God, Satan can furnish all the experiences we want. He can easily disguise himself as an angel of light (II Cor 11:24) and tell us all kinds of truths. If we believe that wherever truth is found no matter how little, it is the Holy Spirit speaking, what must we think of Acts 16? There, in the city of Philippi, a young girl with an extraordinary gift of prophecy began to follow two men whom she had never met before. She cried out to anyone who would listen that these men were servants of God and were announcing salvation (Acts 16:17). That was experience too. But it was a demon speaking, and Paul had do drive him out. As long as this slave girl could utter these truths she was held by the spirit of error. It was not until she could not say anything more that she was in the Spirit of truth!

Pharaoh also

    Experiences! Pharaoh had all he could want of them. His magicians changed water to blood, multiplied frogs, and changed staffs into snakes (Exodus 7). It was true. It was genuine. True also were the experience and testimony of the women in Jeremiah 44:17,18 who claimed, "When we burned incense to the Queen of Heaven, we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine..." Who can beat that? But what determines if something is true or false, our personal testimony or the Word of God? When God declares that he who speaks in tongues does not address men, must we renounce this part of God's Word or the testimony contradicting this Word? I was forced to make a choice between "experience" and the Bible. It was not easy, but I finally chose to side with the Scriptures and against these pseudo-testimonies. It is up to you who are reading these lines to make your own choice.

Not to Men but to God (I Cor 14:2)

    From there it was relatively easy to pass from doctrine to verification. With my mania to check out everything with the Scriptures, the opportunity was soon to be found. The guinea pig turned out to be one of my best friends, an enthusiastic pastor who invited me to preach several messages in his church. He told me about a woman in the church who, in a private conversation with him, had spoken in tongues. "In what she said," he explained, "I discerned a message for myself." The opportunity was ideal. I simply asked him, "How do you reconcile the idea of a message addressed to you personally with the biblical statement that 'For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God'? (I Cor 14:2) You are not God." It was like hitting him over the head. He was without a reply. He had just discovered a text that he had never seen before, or that he had never taken time to examine. I was embarrassed and felt sorry for him. I didn't tell him that these tongues addressed to men smelled of sulfur. I didn't tell him either that it was a trick or a hoax. I let him find out for himself that he was up against an obvious counterfeit. Everyone knows that, counterfeiting in other areas is liable to punishment. Is it less serious in spiritual things?

    What should we think of all these experiences of tongues which express a prophecy or an exhortation or a revelation-that is to say, a message to men, and which are, therefore, in open contradiction to the teaching of the Holy Spirit? How can we fail to recognize that they are counterfeits? Another friend, also pastor of an Assembly of God church, understood this truth and asked his church to apply it. He and his church were expelled from the denomination to which they belonged. When I mentioned this to another pastor friend, he did not seem very surprised. He was aware of the problem. He told me, "When this teaching of Paul began to circulate in our assemblies it was a veritable bomb. We could not accept it because we would have had to admit that all that happened in our Assemblies was FALSE." In other words, in order to make error seem as true as possible it should not be stopped! Tradition often takes priority over the Word of God. The history of the Church through the centuries demonstrates this in a humiliating and painful way.

The Martyrdom of a Text

    Torture is a shameful practice which continues, alas, even in our civilized societies today. It was even used on textes of the Bible. Tormentors are ready to use any means available to disfigure and cut Bible textes to pieces so that they seem to confess the opposite of their essential meaning, the opposite of what they really say.

    Let me insert a short parenthesis here that will be very helpful to us. No teaching of Paul's is clearer or more irrefutable than when he says, "There is one God and one mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ..." (I Tim 2:5). He is saying that since there is only one God there can only be one mediator, Jesus, and no one else. The Roman Catholic Church modifies this truth completely by holding it in light of the wedding of Cana in particular (John 2:1-10). Because Mary pointed out to her Son that the guests had no more wine, the following miracle is credited to Mary's glory, making her the Mediatrix of all graces. In doing this, the apostles' teaching is short-circuited and thus nullified.

    Under such duress, biblical texts will confess to anything, and mediators, great and small, will soon become legion. I am sorry to find the same procedure used by people from whom I have expected a more rigorous consideration of the Holy Scriptures. I must say, however, and this to the credit of my Pentecostal brothers, not one of them denied that speaking in tongues in Acts 2 was addressed to God and not to men. But Paul's clear affirmation that "anyone who speaks in a tongue speaks to God and not to men" (I Cor 14:2) is drowned out by voices trying to establish the contrary. Just as the passage relating the wedding at Cana has been used by Rome to color, annul and weaken the unique mediation of Jesus Christ, the passage in Acts 2 is being used to explain Paul's doctrine. Just the opposite ought to be done.

Slow-motion Movie Camera

    I would like to look at the "triple manipulation of Acts" in slow motion.

    First trial: "If the phenomenon of speaking in tongues was only addressed to God, it certainly would have been confined to the dimensions of the Upper Chamber."

    First answer: In all big meetings, whether it be on the day of Pentecost or in our own times, prayers to God are not, imprisoned in some secret place. Prayers, praise and thanksgiving are addressed to God as publicly and as, visibly as our preaching is addressed to the crowds.

    Second trial: "Since what they said was understood, the apostles must have been speaking to men."

    Second answer: In mass meetings both then and now, everyone understands what is said in prayer, and yet prayers are obviously addressed to God!

    Third trial: "They proclaimed, speaking out loud and did not whisper."

    Third answer: This is the case with all our public prayers, whether they be offered in churches, on the radio, on television or out-of-doors. They are just as audible as our preaching. The fact that our prayers are addressed to God does not keep us from adding the necessary decibels with amplifiers so that they can be heard and understood by those to whom we are not actually addressing the prayer!

A Necessary Precision

    Contrary to what is often hastily assumed, the tongues on the day of Pentecost did not convert anyone. Similar in essence to the prayers of praise and thanksgiving today, it was simply a declaring of the wonders of God (Acts 2: 11) and uttering the mysteries of God (I Cor 14:2). Of course, that captured the crowd's attention for what would follow. But the thing that brought them to repentance and faith was Peter's message which was not in tongues. If speaking in tongues had been a message for men, then why did Peter preach afterward? Hadn't the crowd asked, "What does this mean?" (Acts 2:12), showing that speaking in tongues was meaningless to them. It was the message that followed that gave them the key to this sign, "I will pour out my Spirit on all people..." (Acts 2:17), on all flesh, or in other words, on all tongues, all tribes and all people. So we see that the gift of tongues raised a question without giving an answer, whereas Peter's message gave the answer and brought the crowd back to its senses. "They were pierced in their heart..." (Acts 2:37) and were converted as we see in the rest of the passage.

    These thousands of Jews who, saved through Peter's message, were able to return to their own countries witnessing to salvation in Jesus Christ. At the same time they could affirm before the Jews in their homelands that people of other tongues were also to be saved, that they now had equal access to their Jehovah, and that because of this they would become brothers. Certainly they had not yet understood the extent of this great mystery, but the sign of tongues prepared them to accept the penetration of the Gospel into the Gentile world and not to oppose it as would certain other Jews. These first converts who were naturally opposed to the salvation of the Gentiles, would never forget the memorable hour when God the Holy Spirit spoke barbarous tongues for the first time. The sign was luminous. God accepted them to the point of even speaking in their tongues. From now on the Jews are going to have to put up with this fact. Whether it pleased them or not, God had decided in His sovereignty to unite in one body, by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Jews and people of foreign tongues (I Cor 12:13). Speaking in tongues was the only adequate sign.

A Choice

    In the back of my mind I have stored a painful memory of the day when my neighbor, an experienced Assembly of God pastor, asked me to participate in a debate on speaking in tongues. His opponent was a full-time minister within the Darbyist (Brethren) assemblies. Each one had his open Bible on the table. I thought that my pastor friend was very well versed in his own doctrine, but he really lacked weight. His arguments were swept away as if by a tornado. His opponent knew the Scriptures so well that I wondered if he had swallowed a Bible. I had the impression of being with Stephen whose opponents were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking." (Acts 6:10). I do not remember the arguments which disarmed my friend - and drove him into a corner, for I was too inexperienced to assimilate them at the time. But then he did and said something which really struck me. I shall never forget it. He closed his Bible, and putting it aside, said, "Biblically you are right, but I cannot deny experience!" This scene stayed with me for a long time. It was all there in his gesture and his words. The Bible was put aside and Experience was given first place. My friend had been beaten on his own ground, forced to recognize the truth. But to keep up a good front he had to choose between Experience and the Bible, to deny the one and keep the other. It was the Bible which was sacrificed for Experience. This far reaching subjectivity has invaded all levels of Christianity-subjectivity which gets rid of whatever bothers it, even if it is the Word of God, while putting a nice biblical label on its experiences. It is pulled off very smoothly. New converts and those with no biblical foundation are easily fooled.

    On the way home I was sad for my friend and would have liked to have been able to console him. But he didn't seem bothered in the least. He was happy and relaxed. After all, he had his Experience and he was satisfied. He reminded me of the Catholic priest who once told me, "If the Bible does not speak of purgatory, that does not bother me. Our church believes in it and that is enough for me." Just as the Church holds the place of divine authority in teaching for the priest, so does Experience hold for this pastor a place higher than that of the Scripture itself. The one has his "Church" as Authoratative Teacher, while the other has his "Experience" as Authoratative Teacher.

More Experiences

    In this area of experiences, I enjoyed the story of how several people were converted by listening to an interpretation of speaking in tongues that had been addressed to them personally. I thought, "Error cannot convert men to Truth. Since their experience led them to God, it must have come from God." This was apparently very logical, but it was not satisfactory. I discovered that the people of Philippi in Greece could have been saved by what the young slave, indubitably possessed with a demon, said about Paul and Silas, "These men are servants of the most high God who are telling you the way to be saved." (Acts 16:17). This woman while victim and servant of Satan, was also bearer of the pure truth. It took all the spiritual discernment of Paul to unveil the confusion. But can this truth, coming from the very depths of Hell, give credit to occultism? I have met Christians who have been brought to the Bible by Jehovah's Witnesses. But their salvation, initiated by the Jehovah's Witnesses, can in no way justify the false doctrines of this erroneous sect.

    The Apostle Paul tells us that certain people preached the Gospel by envy and rivalry, trying to stir up trouble for him. This preaching must have brought forth fruit because Paul says, "Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.."(Phil 1:15-18). Can the results recommend those evil motivations? Can we justify that kind of shameful preaching in the name of the results it produced?

Behold the Opera!

    I knew a servant of God who was saved in a theater. He had heard a quotation from the Bible and was gripped in his heart by the Spirit of God. There, where he was, he gave his life over to God. Not only did he never go back to the theater, but he never sent anyone there to be saved. Does the end justify the means? I am afraid that there is this worldly spirit that prevails with certain Christians.

    John Bost, the founder of the "Asiles de la Force" at Bergerac in France, was a pastor's son. He went to the opera to see a play. There he was touched by the Spirit of God. He rushed out quickly, going to his room, fell on his knees and gave himself to God. If the Opera can produce such lovely fruit why doesn't the path of consecration go through a theater box? Sacrilege! But now, wasn't this precisely the principle which I tried to defend when I wanted to justify speaking in tongues because of some rare good results? One day a friend of mine, a Colonel of the Salvation Army, came back from Africa and paid a visit to our worship service and there he praised the Lord in Lingala, a West African dialect. Then came an interpretation which had nothing to do, in any way, with what had just been said in his prayer. Now this imposture was biblical in that the pseudo (would-be) interpretation was as evangelical as the words of the slave girl in Acts 16. Someone in the audience could have very likely taken this interpretation for himself, but it would take a spirit other than the Holy Spirit to go so far as to justify such a counterfeit!

The Unusual

    While I was not yet enlightened on this subject, I had already noticed that for certain people, speaking in tongues easily became uncontrollable. They were sliding into practices that would have been severely reprimanded by the Apostle Paul. In the same manner, a brother who believed he had a gift of healing, or who wanted it at any price, told me that he accompanied his laying on of hands with speaking in tongues. Strange. I wondered in what part of the Bible he had found an example to justify this practice. Another gave special importance to speaking in tongues when he prayed for people possessed by evil spirits. According to him, a seance of exorcism with speaking in tongues became that much more effective. Stranger than strange. Others, of whom their conversion was not beyond doubt (this being said without a judgmental spirit) were only sure of having their sins forgiven and of being saved because they spoke in tongues.

    I saw that the ways used were different and certainly innovative, but all lacked the counsel of the Word of God. Is it not possible that the Apostle Paul, who condemned speaking in tongues outside of a prescribed pattern (unbelieving Jews and with interpretation), would have protested loudly at such deformations? (I Cor 14:19) Would he have not repeated what he said to the Corinthians? "Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe." (I Cor 14:20,22).