The Controversial Gift1
By Dr Christopher Peppler
I grew up in a conservative Methodist home and during my childhood years would sometimes hear disparaging comments about ’holly rollers’ who, I was told, were Pentecostals who rolled wildly on the floor talking in tongues. At the age of thirty I ‘got saved’ and my wife and I started attending an Assemblies of God church. I didn’t see anyone rolling on the floor but I did hear tongues, both spoken and sung. The singing was beautiful and inspiring and I had no idea at that stage that speaking in tongues was a contentious issue for so many Christians.
Some six months later we joined a small charismatic Methodist church near our home. By interacting with the leaders I started to understand that many folk in the traditional non-Pentecostal denominations felt that tongues-talkers saw themselves as superior Christians. Some of those I spoke to even told me that they had been told that they weren’t even saved because they didn’t speak in tongues.
I started reading into the issue many years later and discovered that there are several grouping of views concerning tongues. Among Pentecostals and some charismatics there are those who believe that all Christians need to experience ‘the baptism in the Holy Spirit’ and that this is evidenced by speaking in tongues. A minority of Pentecostals hold the view that unless you are baptised in the Spirit, and thus speak in tongues, then you are not saved; but this is a very small group. Most believe that the baptism in the Spirit is an empowering experience necessary for Christian life and ministry. Among these folk there are those who teach a one-off experience, while others contend that the initial experience needs to be followed by constant ‘infillings’.
Among non-Pentecostals there are three main groupings. A small number of mainly Calvinistic and dispensational believers believe that tongues were limited to the initial day of Pentecost experience that signified a reversal of the Babel dispersion in the establishing of the church, and possibly the period before the canon of scripture was established. A much larger group hold that tongues are biblically valid yet not applicable to them personally as God has not chosen to give them that ‘gift’. Charismatic and third-wave Christians, on the other hand, see tongues as both biblically valid and normative for believers.
This article is about tongues and interpretation of tongues and I have written it from the perspective of a member of the third of the above grouping in that I see tongues as biblically valid and therefore currently normative. Two fundamental presuppositions underpin my thinking. The first is my belief that the Bible is divinely inspired and authoritative. The second is that Christian doctrine and practice must be determined by a responsible and honest interpretation of the scriptures.
1 NOTE: Although the subject of Tongues is controversial the purpose of the article is to reduce the potential for division by treating the subject from its biblical perspective as a means of praise, thanksgiving and intercession.(ed.)