The Divisive Nature of Speaking in Tongues…

As discussed in the previous post, the Holy Spirit “sign” gift of tongues is discussed by Pastor Billy Graham in his book The Holy Spirit more than any other gift that God gives to man. 

Why would that be?

One simple reason could be that the Bible has so many varied references to tongues in its pages.  When there is variation, that can lead people to different interpretations and even divisiveness.

One thing that Graham is sure about is this:  no gift of God should really lead man to divisiveness.  Evidence for this is in his words on page 220 of his book:  “Neither the Holy Spirit nor any of His gifts were given to divide believers.  That does not mean that we ought not have our own opinions about what the Bible teaches on tongues.  Or that we should not have local congregations in which prominence is given to tongues as well as those in which tongues are not prominent.  But I am certain about one thing: when the gift of tongues is abused and becomes divisive, then something has gone wrong.  Sin has come into the body of Christ.”

The historical background for this “sign” gift does exist in the Bible.   Most people who know Scripture point to Acts 2 when a band of Christians experienced the miracle of tongues.  A sound from heaven like a violent wind filled the house where they were gathered to worship.  Something like tongues of fire sat on each person in the room.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.  All of them spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave them the ability to do so.  

Here is the interesting part.  The tongues were languages known to people from all over the Roman Empire who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost but they weren’t known by the speakers.  Immediately this would lead to varied interpretations.  Some saw the miracle taking place in the ears of the hearers.  They heard the “tongues” and understood them.  Others say the miracle resides in the fact that people who could not speak a foreign language were given a language they did not know. 

However you see this, a miracle took place.

There are multiple additional references to being filled with the Holy Spirit in the Bible.   Acts 4:8 says that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit as he preached a sermon but the sermon was not in tongues.  John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit in Luke 1:15 but John never spoke in tongues.  When Paul was converted and Ananias came to him to restore his sight, Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues but his proclamations were not in tongues.

We don’t hear about tongues again until Acts 19: 6, when Paul was at Ephesus.  There he found believers who had heard nothing about the Holy Spirit, but when Paul laid his hands on them they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.  There were no tongues of fire or rushing winds.   There is no mention about the language spoken [whether the people speaking it or hearing it understood it or not].

First Corinthians has an instance of speaking in tongues.  In this instance, the Corinthians spoke a language that seemed unrelated to any language that anyone understood.  Many read this Scripture and conclude that this was some type of “ecstatic utterance” unrelated to any known human language.  Paul reports that this language was a gift that comes from the Holy Spirit.

What well-meaning Christians have done with all of this variation is to disagree about what speaking in tongues means and that is a shame.  Some feel that tongues is a sign that is given when a person is baptized; other don’t feel that way at all.  Some see the gift of tongues given to some but not to others.  Other even see tongues as a sign of spiritual maturity.  Paul has a lot to say about gifts in First Corinthians, referring to gifts as charismata.  The upshot of his comments is that every believer gets a gift but not every believer gets the same gift.   One gift is not common to all believers [i.e. tongues].  Maybe we ought to take Paul at his word.

Based on my experiences of speaking in tongues, conversations I have had and study I have done, I tend to believe Pastor Graham is right, that the Holy Spirit gift of tongues is a gift that God gives to further His kingdom, not to tear down His kingdom through divisiveness.  I found it interesting when Graham cites personal encounters with people who have spoken in tongues from his life.   He speaks of a pastor who was deathly ill and he prayed to God in a special language; he writes of a mother who spent an entire night praying in tongues that her horrible life burdens would be lifted.  The pastor recovered and the woman had better life circumstances soon after their times of speaking in tongues.  Graham felt both examples were legitimate communications with God in “God language” or tongues.  People around both of these people confirmed they could not decipher their prayers.  

Graham cites a Sunday school class that was interested in the Holy Spirit.  They began to study speaking in tongues because many people in their neighborhood around their church were interested in this subject and it had become a topic of discussion.  Not all agreed about the gift.  Graham recounts a person in the class who became preoccupied with speaking in tongues, doing little else for an extended period of time.  He did his best to make sure that others had the same experience he did.   Graham was not sure about this man’s experience, saying it could have been some “psychological influence” [maybe an obsession].  He later got over this fascination with tongues and become a gifted minister of the Gospel.

Lastly, Graham writes of a converted gang member fighter from a large city.  This person spent some time with the man above who was preoccupied with speaking in tongues.   He told others in the class that he recognized the language spoken; it was the same language his grandmother used when she earned her living as a spirit medium.  Graham says this could be an example of how Satan can use the gift of tongues for his own purposes, causing others to doubt the authenticity of the gift.

Accept tongues or not?

Who am I to say?

What is Billy Graham’s stand on this?  “While I do not pose as an expert on the subject of tongues, my opinions have come from my study of the Bible and conversations with many people.”

For me, the next statement is the most important.  I started this post with it and it is good to remember it regarding this controversial gift:  “Neither the Holy Spirit nor any of His gifts were given to divide believers.”

When people disagree about the gift of tongues, that is a “worldly thing.”   God knows if the gift of tongues is real and people who receive it know it is real.  Maybe our job is not to judge, but to take this gift on faith. 

The judgement about the reality or falseness of this gift?

Let’s leave that to God…

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1 Response to The Divisive Nature of Speaking in Tongues…

  1. I find that the man who instigated it to a larger part also said it would end and the help that was needed to get the early church moving was given and then spent.

    Here is an article I just wrote on Pauls view when reading in Chronological order


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