Worldwide, more than 7,000 languages are spoken in 195 different countries (Genesis 11:7). Wonderfully, the Bible--or portions of it--has been translated into more than 3,000 of these tongues; in some form, Christians are found in most of the nationalities. They dress differently, speak a myriad of languages, and worship in their own cultural ways. Even so, a Holy Oneness binds all of us together into a single, worldwide Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). In this union, the division and misunderstanding of these 7,000 languages disappear. For this reason, God does not have to learn our human tongues to speak to the Church. Believers in Mongolia, Ireland, Paraguay, etc, pray in their own understanding and He replies in words they comprehend. Similarly, God has also provided for believers in all 7,000 languages to speak to Him in the same tongue. What He confounded at Babel, He has restored in Christ. Let me illustrate:
Years ago I was the final speaker at a Conference in Sierra Leon, West Africa, where more than seventeen different tribal languages were in use. Creole-English was also spoken. The huge Miatta Center, site for the Conference, was filled to capacity. At the end of my message the congregation rose and began to worship. The singing was intense and hungering for God. Then, something astonishing happened: The Holy Spirit fell on the people and everyone was soon singing in “tongues of men and angels” (1 Corinthians 13:1. 14:15). Each tribal language suddenly disappeared and it was no longer we who sang but the Holy Spirit singing through us. In that incredible moment all 17 African tongues, doctrinal differences, denominational identities, vanished and we were musically transformed into one Body of Christ.
The experience is impossible to describe; it was almost like being “out of the body.” In that awesome moment we were suddenly united to all other believers worldwide–some, a thousand miles away–others from a thousand years ago (I Corinthians 12:12,13). The best description I can give of that moment is to quote an old hymn:
“Earth receded, it disappeared,
Heaven opened on our eyes,
Our ears with sounds angelic rang!”
In that event of singing “in the Spirit,” I realized that the gift of tongues is God’s language for the Body of Christ world-wide (1Corinthians 12,13,14). In the Kingdom there are no Americans, Europeans, Orientals, etc. The Holy Spirit displayed that fact at the Miatta Center when the gift of tongues commandeered all African dialects into itself. Tongues is not a novelty a few Christians claim: It is the Holy Spirit’s mode of speech and the language of Heaven. Pastors who reject the Gift do not realize how they are stripping themselves, their churches, their ministries, of the authentic communication and power of God. I am not speaking of a mere “interpretation” of tongues that may come in a church service; I speak of the believers’ personal, internal God-empowerment that takes the form of revelation, motivation, and implementation. These benefits are light-years beyond a routine Sunday morning tongues-exhortation that addresses the congregation.
In the intent of God, every public message in tongues should release power into the whole church body. Many Charismatic and Pentecostal believers fail to realize the incredible force and true-nature of their gift. Unfortunately, there are synthetic-performances that sometimes come from an individual’s soul and convey no authentic spiritual-message.
This is vital-truth; please re-read the information above until you fully understand what I am saying. Ordinary singing could not have achieved what happened in Sierra Leone, preaching could not have done it, healing, and other miracles could not have done it. In His wisdom, God knew how to provide the perfect instrument of communication through worship. This allows language-separated believers to participate with those who might remain strangers forever. In Heaven, people out of "every tribe and tongue and people and nation" will join in singing a "new" song which none of us yet know (Rev. 5:9). If there is anything on earth that gets close to that heavenly song, it is the blessing of "singing in the Spirit” (1 Cor. 14:15).
Tim Taylor, son of Jack Taylor, one of my traveling partners for the past 20 years, told me about an incident he witnessed while doing missionary-work in Central America. Tim said, “People would speak in their native tongue, in most cases, English or Spanish, but the person to whom they were talking would hear it in their native tongue. No translator was required. This went undiscovered until the next day when an interpreter was suddenly required.”
On the Day of His Ascension, Jesus told the disciples on the Mount of Olives, "John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now ... You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you." Acts 1:5,6. In a single statement, He connected baptism in the Spirit to the imparting of His power. It is significant however, that on the evening of the Resurrection, before Pentecost occurred, Jesus suddenly appeared in the closed room with the disciples, breathed into them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:19-22). This was their first receiving of the Spirit. But this encounter with the Spirit was not their “baptism” or empowering for their gospel ministry. This first reception of the Spirit was their “new birth” and their personal regeneration. Pentecost was yet to come (Acts 2).
That wonderful event occurred forty days later when 120 disciples in the Upper Room received the miraculous blessing with tongues of fire blazing upon them. Even after Pentecost the disciples experienced many subsequent “fillings” of the Spirit. Scripture carefully explains that others who were not present at Pentecost received the empowering later. That included the Samaritans (Acts 8:14-17), Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:17), the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:44), and the Ephesians (Acts 19:1-7). Young Timothy followed the example (II Timothy 1:6). Identically, today, multiplied millions around the world have stepped into the Spirit's wondrous baptism. It is estimated that of the world’s two billion Christians–one-fourth–or five hundred million now believe in all the Holy Spirit’s gifts.
In my early ministry I regarded all claims to tongues as being fake and preached that publically. I was wrong! God has not changed His mind about Scripture and this authentic Bible gift is still available. It is real. Praying and singing in tongues transcends all human wisdom and logic. The gift defies explanation. Paul lists it with other spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14 and devotes much instruction about its proper use. Tongues is not a novelty, intended for the brunt of jokes and defamation (Acts 2:13). Instead, its first mission is to attack man’s ego and expose his pride; that way, God uses tongues to protect the other gifts. Ignore the critics who ridicule the gift! Pursue it! Tongues will bless you in incredible ways. Biblically, this is a serious matter.
Tongues connects us to the universal Body of Christ and releases power that can be gained no other way.
In 1977 I went through the ultimate crisis of my life and became aware that I desperately needed the power Jesus promised in Acts 1:8. At the time, I was nearly 30 years in pastoral ministry but was void of all New Testament ability. Not only was that true of me but of all my denominational churches. We were dying in epidemic proportions. Entire Associations (Synods) of our historic congregations were closing their doors and entire States were being emptied of them. Many were pre-Revolutionary War congregations. Watching that tragedy, I knew my own ministerial-death would also follow unless God came to my rescue. Our “denominational” gospel had no power and I knew it. Nor did I have answers for my personal crisis. My wife had been in a disastrous automobile wreck and I was trapped in horrific depression.
Our daughter Cecile was in college, living at home, trying to support her parents. I was desperate for help and in studying the Scriptures I realized the early church’s ministry had an anointing of the Holy Spirit that I did not have. With that example and the testimony of others, I began praying to receive the Holy Spirit’s empowering.
Even so, my crisis grew worse and I became convinced that suicide was my only escape. Driven by that fear, I returned to the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary where I was counseling a Christian-inmate. The year before we met he had been miraculously born-again, delivered from drug addiction, suicide, and filled with the Holy Spirit. In every way, he was a walking miracle–one which my Reformed Theology could not explain.
Though locked behind bars he knew facts about me which could have been learned only from God. His “words of knowledge” were beyond my understanding. Finally, one horrific day when I could survive no longer, I hurried to the Prison. If God did not rescue me, I would be dead before dark. The scene in the Visitors Room where we met must have been puzzling to the Maffia inmates and their wives who were watching nearby: I dropped my face down on the table and my prisoner-friend laid-hands on me. “Brother Charles,” he said, “The Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road as you came has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” He quoted Ananias’ words to Saul of Tarsus.
A few minutes later I left the prison unchanged, determined to crash my car into a bridge-abutment. Instead, I found myself pulling into my driveway at home. I went in and collapsed across the bed. What happened in the next ten minutes changed my life forever: The Holy Spirit fell on me (Acts 11:15). I felt Him physically and spiritually. I experienced deliverance from demons of depression and suicide. I felt them go. A moment later “Heaven came down my soul to greet and Glory crowned the Mercy Seat!” For twenty minutes I did not move, then cautiously rose from the encounter as a new man, a new pastor, a new husband, and a new father. Depression was gone forever. A new life and a new ministry awaited me. The prisoner’s “laying-hands” on me had rescued me.
But, I had a new problem: I did not speak in tongues. Now, I desperately wanted the gift but it did not appear. My years of ridiculing and scorning the gift of tongues demanded more repentance. Time passed and in the months following, I began to beg for it. Nor was this begging a mere, routine prayer. At times I lay face-down on my office floor weeping; other times I curled into a tight, prenatal position, crying out to God for forgiveness. In a very graphic way, God showed me I dare not call any provision of His grace “common or unclean.” And I had done that arrogantly in reproaching the gift of tongues.
Two years after my baptism, I was standing in my church office, praying alone when the room was suddenly filled with the Presence of God. Moments later, I found myself on the floor, hearing an unknown Oriental language flowing from me. It came poetically–beautifully– rhythmically–like a stream of music. In the next half-hour the tongue changed languages about seven times. In the end, I sang what I now believe was a Hebrew Psalm. As I lay there, I could not believe it was finally happening: That wonderful gift had come at last! In my University work I had studied, Greek, French, Spanish, and knew the tongues coming from me were real.
I quickly learned there are two directions of tongues. The first is from God, downward to the people. This comes as a public message to the congregation which requires interpretation (I Corinthians 14:27,28). When Paul asked, "Do all speak with tongues?," this is the one under consideration. The second direction of tongues is upward, from the people to God. This may be prayer, worship, or "singing in the spirit" as happened in Sierra Leone (I Corinthians 14:15). Of this message, we are told to ask for the interpretation–which may, or may not, be given (I Corinthians 14:13). Every Christian should expect this type of prayer to become an important part of his daily life. It not only reaches Heaven but connects us to the “Body of Christ” in more than 7,000 languages and 195 countries around the world!
That fact brings up this question: Why would any sincere Christian pastor such as I hold this gift in such low esteem? The answer is important:
Tongues is the only spiritual gift deliberately designed to attack man’s ego and pride; it exposes insincerity, self-centeredness, falsity, and other negative traits in believers.
Because of its unique assault on the human intellect, tongues remains God’s “watch guard” at the gate. In a very calculated way this gift protects the other gifts from exploitation (I Cor. 12). Many seek the gifts of healing, words of wisdom, faith, prophecy, etc., but will not endure the reproach of this strange gift of tongues. To this attitude, God says “No!” We must accept all grace-gifts as one package or we do not get any of them. Simply said: Unless you deal with pride and ego in your own life, become willing to endure the public’s humiliation and scorn, you will not be intrusted with other gifts.
Mitch Tillman, a Chattanooga native, sold his auto body business and moved to Mongolia where his father, a Baptist pastor, had established a mission. There, he helps build hospitals, feeds street children and preaches the truth of salvation. “Jesus saves! He changes lives! He sets believers free!” Mongolia is experiencing that wonderful change. For Christian missionaries like Tillman, Mongolia has an open door. Since communist rule ended in 1990, some 60,000 Mongolians have turned to Christ, "A lot of my friends were becoming Christian,” a student at Ulan Bator's Technical University explained. “I decided to learn something about the faith, I went on a weekend retreat to a Christian camp in the countryside ...” From there, it was history: he heard the gospel, believed, and was saved.
As Mongolia enters a new era of freedom and democracy, people are looking for something different," Pastor Tillman explained. He is a 53-year-old father of six, whose family includes three adopted Mongolian children. "They are looking for hope and a better life for their families. I think that Christ will give them that." But this has not happened without opposition from Mongolia’s largest Buddhist Monastery and its 800 Monks; they withstand all Christian work. The Tillman’s are seen as foreign-invaders who disrupt the current way of life. I understand. I have missionary-friends, Glenn and Jackie Shephard, whose work takes them to Nepal in the Himalayas and other sites around the world. Their story is the same: Extreme precaution. Two of my evangelist sons, conduct Christian revivals in Pakistan but have armed guards protecting them from Muslim violence. I do not tell their names for security reasons. One was held for half-an-hour with a pistol at his head while another partner pleaded for his life.
Other friends are Roland and Heidi Baker. This husband and wife-team arrived in Mozambique in 1995, the poorest country in the world, and took over a horribly dilapidated orphanage. They were responsible for eighty hungry children–had no support and the mission continued to fail. According to their testimony, they became frantic, had no anointing of the Holy Spirit, and in desperation, Heidi left Mozambique for the Airport Fellowship in Toronto; she knew the Holy Spirit had fallen there. Randy Clark laid-hands on her, she was instantly empowered, and returned to Mosambique as a woman-renewed. Today, their Mission has multiplied and grown phenomenally; daily, they provide food and shelter for more than 10,000 children and have another 10,000 churches under their watch-care. According to church historians, their’s is one of the greatest church-plant movements in the history of Christianity. Heidi and Roland were ready to quit when they received a life-changing touch from God. It happened at Toronto's "Catch The Fire!" Thousands of pastors and churches around the world have been impacted by it.
After the Apostle Paul received the Spirit's imparting through the laying-on-of-hands by Ananias, he later wrote an 84 verse treatise on spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 12,13,14). His explanation provides the most comprehensive, authoritative information we have on the subject. More importantly, it is the only resource bearing the seal of Divine Authorship. All conflicting opinions, no matter how cherished or long-established, are but human speculation and must be discarded. Scripture is our final, absolute authority.
My question to you is the one the Apostle Paul asked the church at Ephesus: “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” (Acts 19:2) If not, come with me to Sierra Leone, disappear into the congregation, join sincerely in the song and see what happens!