Dr. Peter Masters

The following report is from O Timothy magazine, Volume 5, Issue 7, 1988. David W. Cloud, Editor. The following is chapter four of The Charismatic Phenomenon, Peter Masters and John C. Whitcomb, copyright 1982, used by permission.
Whenever anyone becomes puzzled or confused about the apparent "gifts" being manifested in the charismatic movement, it is vital to point out that these "gifts" are nothing like the sign-gifts which were experienced by the apostles and churches of New Testament times. Many Christians (and particularly young believers) seem to accept without question the claim of charismatic teachers that the outbreak of tongues which has occurred in this century is a reproduction of what took place in the first century.

But the kinds of tongues, healings and miracles which we hear about today are altogether different from those of two thousand years ago. In those days speaking in tongues meant speaking in a real foreign language which had not been learned, whereas now it means speaking in a strange, unheard-of language, which is often described as an ecstatic or heavenly language.

As we have already observed, today's healing cannot be compared with the wonderful healing acts of New Testament times either. The healings of those days were instantaneous, organic, and seen by all. Furthermore, no apostle, once he had been moved by God to heal, ever failed to do so. Today, by contrast, healings are claimed for only a tiny proportion of the people who are "treated" by spiritual healers, and the kinds of conditions that are said to be healed are of a far simpler order than those healed in Bible times.

To defend the present-day kind of tongues-speaking, charismatic teachers maintain that both real and "spiritual" languages were spoken by tongues-speakers in the early churches. To support their teaching they generally refer to I Corinthians 13.1 where the apostle Paul uses the expression, "If I speak with the tongues of men and angels." This verse, they say, confirms that tongues-speaking may involve heavenly or angelic utterances, but a brief look at the passage shows that this is an obvious mistake of interpretation because Paul is using hyperbole or exaggeration to make a point. He says--If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Even if we could do the impossible (that is--speak angels' languages), without love we would be spiritually empty.

Paul uses the same method of argument several times over in these verses. He says, for example, If I ... know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

It should be obvious to us that no Christian will ever know absolutely everything while on earth, nor be able to physically move mountains. It is therefore clear that Paul is using hyperbole to express his point as forcefully as possible.

He draws a picture of a person who has the kind of faith, knowledge, and language which is only possible in Heaven, and so he proves that however lofty our spiritual attainments, they are worthless without love. It is very poor interpretation to wrench these words out of their context and to use them in support of the idea that believers on earth may speak angelic tongues.

We know that the tongues spoken in the Acts of the Apostles were real foreign languages because foreigners could understand them (Acts 2.6). Eight years later, Peter describes another incident of tongues-speaking as being exactly the same as the incident on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 11.15-17). We also know that the tongues-speaking discussed by Paul in 1 Corinthians was the speaking of real foreign languages, because Paul says so. In the course of his teaching he explains that all tongues-speaking is a fulfillment of prophecy by Isaiah, that one day the Jews would be taught by God using foreign lips and strange languages (vv. 20- 22). Isaiah 28.11-12 is the prophecy.

It was partly fulfilled when the Babylonians took the Jews into captivity. Through "foreigners" God chastised His ancient people. But Paul says that the real fulfillment was the sign which God gave in New Testament times. Tongues were therefore real languages--Gentile languages--given as a gift to certain Christians, and designed by God to strike awe into the hearts of doubtful and cynical Jews, and to warn them that He was behind the new church.

Bearing in mind that Luke, the inspired author of Acts, and Paul were close companions, it is not possible that they would have used precisely the same term--tongues--to describe totally different gifts, one being the ability to speak a foreign language, and the other the inspiration to utter mysterious, extraordinary words, unrelated to normal language. Luke or Paul would never have perpetuated such confusion, and neither would the Holy Spirit of Truth, the divine Author of the Scriptures.

We do occasionally hear today that someone has heard of a case in which a person spoke in a tongue which turned out to be the language of a remote, little-known nation or tribe. But such reports are never substantiated by credible evidence. It is quite certain that no charismatic gathering anywhere today witnesses the amazing phenomenon of believers ,speaking in real and identifiable foreign languages which they have never learned, like the disciples in Bible terms. What passes for a tongue today is usually induced by a little training! There is a technique to be learned in order to get started--but we do not read of this in the Bible.

Most instruction given by charismatic teachers runs along these lines: people are taught that they must stop thinking and praying in their own language. Sometimes they are advised to visualise the Saviour to help them to keep out of normal word-thinking. Then they must lift up their voice in the confidence that God will take the sounds and form them into a divine tongue. If it helps (or so it is commonly taught) then they may repeat certain elementary sounds to themselves. As they begin to utter simple repetitive sounds, a mysterious, ecstatic utterance will emerge.

In New Testament times, however, tongues were real languages which the speakers themselves were able to understand (as we shall see later), and a gift of interpretation was simultaneously given to another person to corroborate the amazing event. This genuine manifestation of the Spirit's power was something which could never be counterfeited, and which could stand up to the most cynical scrutiny.

The most "exclusive" Jew was left confounded, amazed and marvelling whenever the sign was manifested (Acts 2.6-7). While it could not provide saving faith, it provided overwhelming evidence of God's power upon the newly-formed Christian church at that time, and it warned that the period of Jewish privilege was at an end. It had a clear and definite message. Such tongues-speaking is not seen anywhere these days.

The charismatic best seller The Holy Spirit and You by Dennis and Rita Bennett shows just how far from the New Testament modern tongues-speaking is. In this book Dennis Bennett says that many people have spoken in tongues without even knowing it. He writes that when he tells people about speaking in tongues, someone will occasionally say, "Oh, you mean that funny little language which I have spoken ever since I was a child, is that it? It make me feel happy and close to God."

Mr. Bennett speaks of a "pleasant little Dutch lady" who told him that she had spoken in tongues once and wished she could do so again. When he asked her why she did not try, she replied, "I wouldn't dare to try! You see, I have a little play language that I talk for my children when we're having fun together and we have a good time, but I'm afraid if I try to speak in tongues, that little play language would come." Mr. Bennett smiled and explained to her that this "play language" was her tongue. It was what the Holy Spirit had given her.

These writers are among many leading charismatics who believe that the gift of tongues often goes unrecognised. In other words, God's wonderful sign of New Testament times has today turned into such a tiny voice that a charismatic counsellor may have to tell you that you have the gift.

Mr. Bennett's total lack of clarity on this subject is also seen when he discusses the question--What are we supposed to feel when we speak in tongues? He tells us: "At first, you may feel nothing at all; remember this is not an emotional experience. You are trying to let your spirit have freedom to praise God as the Holy Spirit inspires. It may be a little while before your spirit can begin to break through to your feelings, giving you a new awareness of God within you. On the other hand, you may experience a sudden breakthrough, and feel as if you were carried right up into the heavenlies. You will say, `Praise the Lord!' It is wonderful to do that, to become suddenly aware of the fullness of Christ in you and to be carried up by it. Many people just sense a lightness and a reality down in their spirit as they begin to speak."

While Dennis Bennett says that tongues-speaking is not an emotional experience, he describes it in purely emotional terms. There is nothing here (according to his description) which edifies or touches the understanding, or which speaks a message for others, and so his view of tongues-speaking bears not the slightest resemblance to the experience of New Testament believers. Mr. Bennett gives the telling example of a young pastor who was--"determined to receive the Holy Spirit." This young man visited Mr. Bennett's study where they quietly prayed that he would receive the fullness that he was seeking. Soon he began to tremble very violently and then, "to speak beautifully in a new language. He continued for perhaps two or three minutes and then stopped." At this point he looked rather disappointed, thanked Mr. Bennett for his help, and left.

The next day he telephoned to say, "I am really very grateful to you for trying to help me, but you know, I didn't receive anything." Mr. Bennett records that he was on the verge of saying, "Too bad; better luck next time," when he felt that would be foolish. Instead he said, "Look here, my friend, I saw you tremble under the power of the Holy Spirit and I heard you speak beautifully in a language you do not know. I know you know the Lord Jesus as your Saviour, so this must have been the Holy Spirit. Stop doubting and start thanking the Lord for baptizing you in the Holy Spirit." An hour later the young minister telephoned again to say that he was "riding high." He said, "When you told me to do that, I began to thank the Lord for baptising me in the Spirit and wow, the joy of the Lord hit me and I am now on cloud nine."

Was this a genuine experience of New Testament tongues? By the standards of the New Testament we can only answer that it was not. The language was not a genuine foreign language; there was no meaning, message, or interpretation; there was no one present who needed the sign-authentication value of the tongue. Therefore there is no reason to believe that this "ecstatic" utterance was anything different from that spoken in numerous non-Christian cults. Whatever Mr. Bennett may think, it was an emotional tongue experienced by a sincere young man who was at the time wrongly convinced that this was God's way, and was very anxious indeed to manifest this strange "gift."

Today's gifts, by contrast with those of New Testament times, have absolutely no authenticating quality. Being totally different from the original gifts, they are powerless to confirm that God is uniquely with His people. The apostles and their helpers had gifts which no one could imitate or equal, whereas the tongues and healings performed by charismatic evangelicals today are no different from those which are manifested in the non-Christian religions and cults.

Any number of false religions can do exactly the same things, but many charismatic adherents have no idea of this fact. Tongues- speaking such as we know today is engaged in regularly among Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, Moslems, Shintoists, spiritists, and voodoo devotees. Going back a little in time, many Quakers, the Irvingites, Jansenites, and American Shakers, all spoke fluently in unidentifiable tongues just as many evangelicals do today. In recent years many Bible-denying liberals have taken up tongues- speaking, as have very many Roman Catholics, not to mention the extreme "hippie" and commune groups.

One scholar, writing for a prestigious American sociological institute, found tongues-speaking was practised by the Hudson Bay Eskimos, as well as by the priestesses of jungle tribes in North Borneo. So there is nothing uniquely authenticating in the kind of ecstatic languages spoken today. Any number of cults can do it. Similarly the kind of healing that we get today in evangelical circles is not more effective that the healing ministries of other non-evangelical organisations. It is not healing of an infallible and uniquely authenticating kind, as in the New Testament.

Indeed, various medical authorities tell us that tongues-speaking is occasionally manifested in connection with certain mental health conditions, such as disassociation, hysteria, epilepsy, and schizophrenia. Tongues-speaking has also occurred under the influence of LSD. Obviously, no drug could counterfeit a true spiritual gift. One writer on this subject draws attention to a report by Jung in which he describes a spiritualist medium who spoke in tongues "fluently, rapidly and with charm. She spoke with bewildering naturalness, and when she had finished there passed over her face in incredible expression of ecstatic blessing."

Some years ago the newspapers carried a report from the common room of a school in the north of England where the sixth formers had been entertaining themselves by hypnotising one another. On being threatened by the headmaster with expulsion from the school if anyone else was found wandering around in an hypnotic trance, they turned their attention to another mysterious phenomenon. They tried speaking in tongues. None of them were believing Christians, but they managed to speak in tongues very successfully, and did a number of performances for the press.

So between cults, various heretics, the pagan religions of remote tribes, certain health disorders, the sixth-form common room, and charismatic groups, there is nothing uniquely authenticating about tongues-speaking. However, the tongues of New Testament times could never be duplicated by all these people because they were not ecstatic languages, but real ones. When we consider that tongues-speaking is held up by charismatic teachers as evidence that a person has been baptized in Spirit, it is a pretty poor kind of evidence, because it can be counterfeited or duplicated by people who are far away from any experience of the Spirit of God.

Today's gifts are therefore completely different from those seen in the New Testament, and because they are not unique to evangelicals they cannot be regarded as being a sign of God to authenticate spiritual experience.

(The previous is chapter four of The Charismatic Phenomenon, Peter Masters and John C. Whitcomb, copyright 1982, used by permission.)