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SPEAKING IN TONGUES. HOW TONGUES-SPEECH EMPOWERED EARLY PENTECOSTALS. The gift of tongues. The traditional assumption about the failure of tongues as human languages

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how tongues speech empowered early pentecostals



the gift of tongues
The gift of tongues
  • The traditional assumption about the failure of tongues as human languages
    • The expectation at the Topeka revival (1901) and the Azusa Street revival (1906-9)—the ability to speak in unlearned languages at will
    • Pentecostals returned to the New Testament to discover that tongues is really prayer in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26-7; 1 Cor. 14:2).
    • By 1908, Pentecostals no longer believed in tongues as a gift of languages for missionary preaching.
the gift of tongues1
The gift of tongues
  • This raises two major questions:
    • Why didn’t Pentecostals mention their having to return to the New Testament to find the biblical meaning of tongues? Some allowance for embarrassment must be given, but this doesn’t adequately provide the answer.
    • Why weren’t Pentecostals (generally) traumatized

by the disappointment and leave the fledgling movement en masse?

early pentecostals and tongues
Early Pentecostals and tongues
  • Throughout the earliest years of the movement, Pentecostals noted two functions with speaking in tongues:

1. Preaching (?) in unlearned languages (Acts 2:5-6): “Godly Jews from many nations . . . . were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.” Also: 1 Cor. 14:22: “Speaking in tongues is a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers.” (Isa. 28:11-12)

what really happened
What really happened?
  • Praying in tongues: Acts 2:11: “And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done;” Acts 10:45-6: “The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles, too. And there could be no doubt about it, for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.”

Also 1 Cor. 14:2: “For if your gift is the ability to speak in tongues, you will be talking to God but not to people, since they won’t be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit, but it will all be mysterious.”

what really happened1
What really happened?
    • Announcement by Alfred G. Garr in an April 1908 issue of Confidence (U.K.) that he had “not seen any one who is able to preach to the natives in their own tongue with the languages given with the Holy Ghost.” (Special Supplement to Confidence, May 1908, p. 2)
    • Reflects late 19th-century quest for the power of the HS
what really happened2
What really happened?
    • Recognition of tongues as more than a linguistic tool for missions; a transforming experience. Presbyterian missionary to India, Max Wood Moorhead: “God has brought one into the sphere of the supernatural, the sphere of the Holy Ghost who can now work in and through one’s being much more effectually.”
what really happened3
What really happened?
  • Pentecostals listed the following dynamics:

1. Rapturous joy and love

2. Heightened sensitivity to the promptings of the HS in personal prayer, corporate worship, and ministry.

3. The prerequisite to be a channelof the charismatic gifts (1 Cor. 12:7-11)

4. Invigorated boldness to witness for Christ

5. Control of the “unruly member”—the tongue (Jas. 3:8-10)

6. Ability to cast out demons

what really happened4
What really happened?
  • For the most part, Wesleyan-holiness and Higher Life believers would have said they received all this as well when they were baptized (or sanctified) in the Holy Spirit, and that without speaking in tongues.
unusual expectancy
Unusual expectancy

Let’s look again at what happened:

  • Love—willingness to cross cultural barriers as demonstrated in the Book of Acts. This was “easier said than done” among 20th-century Pentecostals. Nonetheless, though without a perfect grade on their scorecards, they marked important progress by 2007.
prayer in the spirit
Prayer in the Spirit
  • Intercessory prayer and praise

Rom. 8:26b-27; 1 Cor. 14:2

  • If not in unlearned human languages, then in the languages of angels. 1 Cor. 13:1
ministry of hs
Ministry of HS
  • Early Pentecostal literature reveals a more textured theology of Spirit baptism than previously acknowledged, focused not just on “doing,” but on “being” as well. Even as first-century Christians received divine power to speak the “wonders of God” in “other tongues,” Pentecostals believed prophetic speech as a charism would increase their Christlikeness through individual prayer and corporate worship. It was precisely here in their vulnerability of stepping beyond the rational into the Christian mystical arena of speaking glossolalic
ministry of hs1
Ministry of HS

utterances that they told of an augmented intuition in the spiritual currents of their hearts and learned to obey the Spirit’s promptings as God bestowed gifts for the building of his church. This subsequently re-formed them into being “partners with the Holy Spirit” in mission.

the central issue
The central issue
  • How can the church be renewed to accomplish God’s mission in the world?
  • Donald Gee: “In the final analysis, the Baptism in the Spirit is not a doctrine, but an experience, and the test of whether I have received is not a cleverly woven doctrine that will include me within its borders, but whether I know the experience in burning fact in heart and life.” (Untitled note, PE, August 11, 1923, p. 3.)
  • Pentecostal spirituality only survives with a revival every generation: Are we preparing a new generation of seekers?
recommended reading
Recommended reading
  • Michael McClymond, ed., Encyclopedia of Religious Revivals in America, 2 vols. (2006)
  • Anthony D. Palma, The Holy Spirit: A Pentecostal Perspective (2001)
  • Roger Stronstad, The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology (1999)
  • Gary B. McGee, “’Brought into the Sphere of the Supernatural’: How Speaking in Tongues Empowered Early Pentecostals” (forthcoming in Encounter—AGTS online journal)