Tongues of Fire

This year the powerful planners of camp meeting called upon me to teach a class on the Holy Spirit. This subject fascinates me as a former Adventist preacher’s kid, turned Pentecostal, turned Adventist pastor. My background creates morbid fascination for a lot of Adventists who become titillated when they discovered I spoke in tongues during my time in a charismatic church. Their reaction is usually widened eyes, a nervous smile and a shifty gaze around the room before leaning in and asking me, “What was it like?”

I tend not to answer that question for people who aren’t in my class or who haven’t tracked down my first book, Pride and Seek (now out of print), where I share my story. If you want me to tell you, you will have to wait for me to republish my book or attend a class or make a generous donation to my schooling … please?

However, what I will speak to here is the counterfeit tongues that concern many people in the evangelical world. Evangelist Doug Batchelor suggests that the charismatic phenomenon is rooted in the unclean frog spirits found in Rev. 16:13. He notes “the fact that a frog's main weapon is its tongue."1

Hank Hanegraaf of the Christian Research Institute suggests  "… socio–psychological manipulation tactics such as peer pressure or the subtle power of suggestion can induce ecstatic utterances wholly apart from the Spirit."2

Apparently Hank doesn’t have a hankering for the church to make the current Pentecostal practice of tongues evidence of the Holy Spirit.

Alma White, a contemporary of William Seymour (the preacher who launched American Pentecostalism), had some scathing things to say. In her lovingly titled Demons and Tongues, she opens with:

“'There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death' (Prov. 14:12). This Scripture came to mind as we thought of the condition of backsliders, and others, who have been caught in the satanic “Tongues” delusion, which, during the past few years, has swept like a pestilence over the globe … . Of all the calamites that could possibly befall a person this side of eternity, this appeals to us as being the worst" (p. 5).3

Alma was a bitter rival of Seymour, and she branched off to start the Pillar of Fire Church that entered into partnerships with the Ku Klux Klan. Sometimes demonizing others creates blind spots in our own spiritual vision.

Kinda reminds me of Jesus’ whole “take the plank out of your own eye” thing, which leads me back to a counterfeit tongue described in Scripture.

In the second chapter of Acts we read, "When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:1–4).

As you continue through the passage you discover that Jews from “every nation” were present in Jerusalem at this event. They all “came together” because they heard the story of Jesus being spoken “in his own language” (a phenomenon called xenolalia). Many scholars see this occurrence as a reversal of Babel (Genesis 11) and a renewing of the covenant.

So let’s recap: We have tongues of fire sent from heaven, to share truth that brings people together from a diverse background in order to create a new community of people who follow Christ. However beautiful this picture may be, the Bible talks about other tongues of fire.

The little book of James says, "And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell … no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing …" (James 3:6–10).

Here we have a tongue dividing, not uniting. This tongue is not kindled from heaven, but set ablaze by hell. The word for hell used here is “gehenna” — the place where, according to Hebrew Scripture, pagan religions sacrificed their children into the fire (2 Chron. 28:3, 33:6).

There may be counterfeit tongues operating in other churches — but what about the one operating in ours? How many souls have we sacrificed because of our gossip, harsh words and critical spirits? How many church divisions have been created, and how many faith communities destroyed, because our tongues cannot be tamed? How many positive, interfaith dialogues that could potentially witness to the truth don’t happen because we are too busy calling them demon-possessed or apostate?

We need a new Pentecost, not to witness the supernatural phenomena of xenolalia but to enable our words to represent the character of heaven.

  1. Doug Batchelor, "Understanding Tongues," accessed June 22, 2015, http://www.amazingfacts.org/media-library/book/e/84/t/understanding-tongues.aspx.
  2. Hank Hanegraaf, "Is Speaking in Tongues THE Evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?," The Complete Bible Answer Book — Collector’s Edition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), accessed June 22, 2015, http://www.equip.org/bible_answers/is-speaking-in-tongues-the-evidence-of-the-baptism-of-the-holy-spirit/.
  3. Alma White, Demons and Tongues (Bound Brook, N.J.: The Pentecostal Union, 1910).
August 07, 2015 / Perspective
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