Speaking in Tongues Debate - 04 - A Jewish Sign of Judgment

Chapter 4 


    I did not have an answer to this question, and it bothered me for a long time. Up until then the explanations that I had heard for speaking in tongues had to do with exhortation, praise, power, evangelisation and especially with the sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. But associating speaking in tongues with judgment had never dawned on me. The problem began to clear up when, after reading in Proverbs 16:4 that God had made everything for His own purpose, I asked myself, "What was God's purpose in the giving of the gift of speaking in tongues?"

    It was certainly a great sign, but why this particular one? Why not, for example, the capacity to become invisible? Or the gift of being everywhere at once; or a permanent halo over one's head? In answer I thought to myself, that wouldn't make sense. And if there were no reason for speaking in tongues, that would be senseless too. But what could the reason be? It must have meant something to someone, but what and to whom?

    After considerable thought, I had to admit that speaking in tongues was neither the refining of human vocabulary nor a more elevated form of expression. I had been told that when one speaks in tongues one outdoes oneself. One goes beyond oneself into a sublime state until he joins the angels with their celestial language. I thought that was marvellous. When my human words were no longer sufficient to praise God, the Holy Spirit would transport me to unattainable heights and give me speech that would put Shakespeare (Voltaire in the original), to shame! I was troubled, however, to think that my own speaking in tongues could be just the same as that heard around me.


    Except for the ecstasy, there was nothing all that extraordinary about such a gift. The thing that often bothered me about what I had heard spoken in tongues was that it was always incomprehensible and that it did not really resemble a spoken language. Having studied several languages personally, I found that the sounds uttered were rather strange. I spoke about that to a qualified pastor who told me that it might be a dialect of some Indian tribes of South America, of the Matto Grasso, or of Central Africa. How did he know? I do not mean to sound irreverent but I wondered where in the world the Holy Spirit was taking us. It seemed just like too much to swallow. English (French in the original) is one of the richest, most wide-spread and most complete languages in the world. How could a rudimentary tongue with a vocabulary a hundred times more limited presume to express such exalted sentiments when English (French in the original) had proven insufficient? This obvious anomaly did not seem to bother my friend in the least. Ah! the simplicity of "just accepting by faith"! But I am not like that. I have to study things through for myself. Is that wrong, or could it be, in this case, God-given?

    At any rate, I could not deny the supernatural side of speaking in tongues. We have been told that some people were able to express themselves perfectly in Pakistani without knowing a single word of that tongue. Or that others spoke in ancient Greek with such fluency and purity that even a college professor would be impressed. I had to admit that speaking in tongues was a supernatural phenomenon, but I still had not grasped its meaning or its import.

First Questions First

    I went to one or two retreats that were not Pentecostal, with the hope of finding an answer to my quest for the true reason for this gift, and also to find out why the others did not speak in tongues, why they refused this particular gift of the Holy Spirit. Once again I found no satisfactory answer to my questions. Everyone was woefully ignorant of the subject. When I asked about the purpose of speaking in tongues, I encountered the same lack of biblical teaching as I had met among those who do speak in tongues. The first group spoke in tongues without really knowing why, and the second group was not quite sure why they did not. No one was really able to help me in my search. Oh, everyone was brotherly and courteous with me, but my questions really irritated them like a buzzing fly on a muggy summer evening.

The Grass Snake

    One day I was flubbergasted when a veteran preacher, well-known in charismatic circles, told me that with his age and battle fatigue from so much preaching, all he needed was a few minutes speaking in tongues to restore him physically. He felt completely renewed in his body. He even spoke about it from the pulpit. Many swooned with emotion listening to him, without even wondering if the Bible allowed such an explanation of his experience. Worst of all, I too, for a moment, like a sheep easily led (following others blindly), was ecstatic along with my fellow-hearers who nodded in agreement upon hearing this error which was given out under the guise of being from the Gospel. But I quickly got hold of myself "There it is," I said after some thought, "speaking in tongues is now put among the array of pick-me-ups and other tonics used in treating the problems of old age!" A verse of the Bible came to mind, "and they will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths" (II Tim 4:4).

The Crusades

    I felt sad for these people of God; so fervent, but who were like sheep without a shepherd. I thought of the Crusades and the poor Crusaders-sick, dying and discouraged on their way to the Holy Land. Their leaders used to try to encourage them with all sorts of incredible tales. At one time, one of their monks pretended to have found the point of the spear that had supposedly, several centuries before, pierced the Savior's side. And there they go again, renewed for a few days in their quest ... like the poor flock that mistakes the voice of a stranger for that of their Good Shepherd. That day, what was said in the book of Acts became precious to me, "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11).

    If the preaching of the great Apostle Paul was to be controlled by the Holy Scriptures, how much more are we responsible to try the spirits by comparing what is said with what the Scriptures teach.