The Modern Tongues Movement

The following constitutes chapter 8 (“Conclusion”) of the book THE MODERN TONGUES MOVEMENT by Robert G. Gromacki, a baptist minister and professor of Bible and Greek at Cedarville College. This material is reprinted by the permission of Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. The book is available ($4.50) from Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Box 185, Nutley, N.J. 07110 or at your local book-dealer.

“Throughout the history of the church, no spiritual gift has occasioned so much continual controversy as the gift of tongues.”1 We have demonstrated the truth of that observation. The modern tongues movement has increased this controversy and has stimulated much research on the phenomenon of tongues. We have attempted to evaluate this movement in the light of the Scriptures.

It was first seen that the phenomenon of ecstatic speech or tongues was not unique to Biblical Christianity, but that it was also found in pagan religions. This demonstrated that ecstatic speech could be Satanically or artificially produced. No occurrences of tongues were seen in the Old Testament. In the apostolic era, the Biblical phenomenon first occurred (Acts 2, 10, 19; I Cor. 12-14). No genuine manifestations of tongues were seen in the post-apostolic period through the Protestant Reformation. In the next three centuries, perverted manifestations of tongues occurred among heretical groups of different doctrinal persuasion. Modern Pentecostalism is a twentieth century movement with its basis in Arminian, holiness theology. It is this movement that has claimed the recovery of the phenomenon of tongues and that has penetrated the historic denominations in the past decade. Therefore there is no historical continuity of the phenomenon of tongues from the Biblical era to the present situation. Tongues did indeed cease!

The current tongues movement is being pushed chiefly by the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International and other related groups, such as the Blessed Trinity Society. All of the major denominations have been penetrated and influenced by this new emphasis. The movement is characterized by all types of phenomena—tongues, healings, visions, dreams, direct revelation, etc. These experiences are contrary to the Biblical pattern of true spiritual experiences. Although the movement claims to be of divine origin, its phenomena are best explained by Satanic origin, psychologically produced, or artificially simulated. In most cases, it appears to be a human effort to recreate or simulate a transitional Biblical phenomenon.

The true nature of Biblical glossolalia was that known, foreign languages were spoken by a believer who had never learned them and who was controlled by the Holy Spirit. The modem tongues movement claims that tongue speaking can be in either known languages or unknown sounds, with the latter being spoken much more than the former. Since speaking in unknown sounds is unscriptural, the modern movement has not recovered the Biblical phenomenon.

The modern tongues movement claims that as long as the great commission is carried out, speaking in tongues will occur (Mark 16:15–20). True faith In God will cause the phenomenon to appear in the individual’s life. However, the faith mentioned in this passage is faith for salvation, not faith to receive a gift. Actually, the passage teaches that everyone who believes in Christ will speak in tongues. This is contrary to the experiences of past generations of believers and of the modern movement itself. Since the passage has poor textual authenticity, it should not be used to prove any position.

The modern movement also claims that speaking in tongues was the initial, physical evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2, 8, 10, 19). However, they have misunderstood the Biblical doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the transitional nature of the Book of Acts. Speaking in tongues was the sign of the initial introduction of the Holy Spirit’s ministry to four different classes of people. It occurred then and only then for that particular purpose. These occurrences were never intended to become a pattern for the reception of the Spirit by subsequent believers. They could not because no two of the four are the same. Actually, the experiences of many Pentecostalists are contrary to their own formulated pattern.

The modern tongues movement claims that the spiritual gifts, including the gift of tongues, were intended by God to become a permanent part of church life and history. However, many of these gifts (including tongues) were temporary, designed to be used by the infant church until the New Testament canon and revelation were closed and the church was mature as the result of the apostolic, prophetic ministry. It was clearly stated that the gift of tongues would cease, and church history revealed that it did in the first century. The inward (love) and the outward regulations of the gift of tongues are not practiced by the modern tongues movement. It claims that the forbidding of tongues today is anti-Scriptural (I Cor. 14:39) and a limitation upon the sovereign will of God. However, the question is not whether God can give the gift of tongues today; It is whether God has purposed to do so. As Walvoord wrote:

It is, of course, impossible for anyone to prove experimentally that speaking in tongues cannot occur today. It may be demonstrated, however, that speaking in tongues is not essential to God’s purpose now, and that there are good reasons to believe that most if not all the phenomena which are advanced as proof of modern speaking in tongues is either psychological or demonic activity.2

What, then, is the modern tongues movement? First, it is the penetration and the presence of the old Pentecostalism within churches of historic Protestantism. Although they may claim to be Presbyterians or Baptists with a Pentecostal experience, in actuality they are now Pentecostalists holding membership in Presbyterian or Baptist churches. They support Pentecostal preachers (e.g., Oral Roberts), publications, and schools (e.g., Oral Roberts University) and find their best fellowship within the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship program. The charismatic movement within the historic churches is not a spontaneous movement from within, but rather an active recruitment from without.

Second, the modern tongues movement is an essential part of the ecumenical atmosphere. One key leader, Harold Bredesen, aHirmed: “Today this living, uncontrollable Spirit is sovereignly at work in the Roman Catholic Church and among Protestants, both liberal and conservative.”3 A Lutheran minister and tongues speaker wrote:

I have been having dialogues with Catholics and with Pentecostals and it has been a wonderful blessing. In Brooklyn we have two dialogue groups now, composed of Lutheran ministers of all flavors and young Roman Catholic priests. We meet and study the Scriptures together, pray together, talk about community problems, and discuss mutual involvement of our parishes.

Recently I attended a Roman Catholic, Episcopalian and Lutheran retreat. The Holy Spirit is moving in the Roman Catholic Church. I am convinced that the basic meaning of the Charismatic Renewal is the reunion of the churches. Not a reunion of compromise, of the creation of a super-church, but a renovation as to what the unity of the Spirit means.4 (Italics mine).

Whether all Pentecostal leaders support these claims is beside the point. It is a fact that this significance of the modern tongues movement is so stated by some of their own leaders. Liberals, conservatives, Protestants, and Catholics are being drawn together by the phenomenon of speaking in tongues. This may supply the inner unity that the ecumenical movement could not do organizationally. It is an inner unity based upon experience, not doctrine.

Third, the modern tongues movement reflects a confusion and ignorance of Biblical doctrine. It has its basis in Arminianism and in spiritual immaturity. Many of their experiences simulate the crisis encounter of Barthian neo-orthodoxy. All kinds of doctrinal foundations are accepted by them as long as the person has had the proper experience. Note the published testimonies by Roman Catholics (sacramentalism), Church of Christ (baptismal regeneration), Arminians, and liberals. Their emphasis upon extra-Biblical revelation and phenomena (visions, dreams, healings, tongues) is unhealthy and contrary to the witness of the Holy Spirit through the Word. Their doctrinal concepts of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the “latter rain” fulfillment must be rejected.

Fourth, the modern tongues movement is based upon experience, not doctrine. Someone once penned the maxim: “The man who has an experience is never at the mercy of a man who has an argument.” This is true to a certain extent, but a religious experience in itself can never be the final test of its genuineness. The Bible must forever be the basis of faith and practice. It must always judge experiences to determine their validity. Walvoord pointed out the errors of doctrine based upon experience:

Experience ever possesses two fatal grounds for error: (1) a misapprehension of the experience itself in its content and divine origin; (2) a faulty conclusion as to the doctrinal meaning of the experience. Hence. on the one hand, an experience supposedly of divine origin may be purely psychological, or worse, a deceiving device of Satan himself. On the other hand, a genuine experience may be misunderstood and mislabeled, as the common denomination of the work of the filling of the Spirit as the baptism of the Spirit.”

The modern tongues movement is guilty of both of these errors.

We conclude by quoting Paul, who said “Tongues shall cease” (I Cor. 13:8). They have.

1. Walvoord, op.cit., p. 180.
2. Ibid., pp. 185–186.
3. Harold Bredesen, “Return to the Charismata,” Trinity, II (Whitsuntide, 1962), 22.
4. Erwin Prange, “A New Ministry,” Full Gospel Business Men’s Voice, XIII (April 1965), 7.
5. Walvoord, op. cit., p. 174.