Tongues, speaking in
Can we know what physically happens in the modern-day
Pentecostal experience of talking in a tongue? There is evidence, which we will
come to later, that there is often some degree of faking. But it cannot be all a
hoax -- they cannot be all faking? With the great majority, as in the case of
Pat Boone, something really happens. A good illustration to begin with, is the
testimony, back in the 1960s, of a Christadelphian who was brought up in a
Pentecostal atmosphere before he found the Truth. He wrote:
"When I was 16 I was encouraged to try and get this experience. One evening a
special prayer meeting was held for this purpose, and for about two hours
prayers were said, hands were laid on me continuously; there was much singing
and chanting. I concentrated my mind to the one single purpose and knelt with
hands tightly clenched, so very, very tightly, in an all-out endeavour to
receive this 'gift'. You see, I felt I had to get this gift; if not, I would
have felt I'd been rejected by God! A strange atmosphere seemed to build up. It
was a tension you could almost touch. And then, as far as I was concerned, I
blacked out. The only impression on my mind was a vision of two tightly clasped
hands. My next really conscious moment, it only seemed like seconds, was of
still kneeling with clenched hands and realising it was 10:30 pm, and being told
I had spoken continuously in 'tongues' for 2 hours! -- a "mighty blessing" I was
told! My sister, who heard me, said she thought I had 'gone bonkers'.
Another example of a description of what actually happens is
contained in the testimony of a Christadelphian who became involved with
Pentecostals and who "received the Gift" at one of their prayer meetings with
the laying on of hands. Sadly he was convinced this was from God. He wrote out
and gave me an account of what happened as far as he was concerned.
"It might be asked of what value was this 'gift' to me? Well, they told us to
use tongues in prayer and thus praise God in His language. I did this sometimes,
I never again spoke in tongues at church: only at home, by myself. I did not go
unconscious on these occasions. It is hard to explain what happens; it is as
though you throw a switch in your mind -- utterances come from your tongue
without making any effort to mentally control or direct what you are 'saying'.
It is all unintelligible of course, but there is no mental effort involved to
deliberately speak 'mumbo jumbo'. I suppose one is in a kind of light trance.
Since coming to a full knowledge of the Truth I have tried to do this sort of
thing on a couple of occasions without success. It appears God has cured me from
His 'Gift'!'' (Shield: 1971: 273,274).
"After sitting down for quite some time, praying, praising God, and asking for
the Holy Spirit (incidentally, which I had done in my own personal prayer of a
night for up to six months anyway), I determined that I was not going to speak
of myself or even try -- no jumping up in the air, no getting emotional and 'het
up'... I felt and knew it was there, a hot sensation, not unbearable (very
warm), a feeling throughout my stomach area. Then I realised what it was,
opening my mouth and then just speaking, not quietly, but loudly, and quite
clearly, conscious all the time of what was happening around me. No mesmerism as
I had my eyes closed, and certainly no excitation of the mind as some anti-Holy
Spirit expositors try to make out, but power from on
This brother was convinced by this experience, no argument
could penetrate his thinking and in those early days (this happened in 1966), we
were beginners at coming to grips with this issue. There was no doubt as to his
sincerity. The fact that he had prayed nightly for this power for something like
180 days showed he was convinced this power was available, and that it was a
matter of having enough faith, as far as he was concerned. This conviction
appeared to spring from his personal situation of being in a business
partnership as a builder who was a fervent Pentecostal. A graphic example of the
dangers of being "unequally yoked" (2Co 6:14). Two cannot "walk together except
they be agreed" (Amos 3:3).
Of those who claim this experience, nearly all speak of the
release of tensions which accompany their speaking in tongues. A popular book of
that period has many parallels with this brothers' testimony. . John Sherrill, a
reporter who investigated Pentecostalism and became convinced of the reality and
genuineness of it all, interviewed many people who had had this experience. Here
are some of the comments he puts on record ("They Speak with Other Tongues", p
"It was like being flooded with joy.""I started to praise God in the new
language I had been given. There was at the same time a feeling that my spirit
had taken wing; I was soaring heavenward on a poem."Now let us try to analyse what all these reports
mean. In every case I am intimately acquainted with, or have read about, the
person seeking "tongues" has prayed, seen others do this and desired, sometimes
with great mental effort, to emulate what he or she has seen in others.
"I started laughing. It was a strange thing to do, but I just wanted to laugh
and laugh the way you do when you feel so good you just can't talk about it. I
held my sides and laughed until I doubled over. Then I'd stop for a while and
start again. Laughing. Laughing."
"For the first time I discovered for myself why the disciples were accused of
being drunk at Pentecost. That's the way I felt at my own Pentecost: in the
highest spirits. Just drunk with joy."
"With me there was peace. Just a wonderful, quiet, steady, deep peace."
How very different at the first Pentecost! There is no
indication that the disciples anticipated at all what was about to happen. That
some thought them drunk (Acts 2:13) is true. But this was just the "mockers" --
the fact that visitors from many parts heard them speaking of "the mighty works
of God" in their "own native language" (vv 8, 11) is no evidence that they were
splitting their sides laughing! The claims to feel "peace" and "joy" have, of
course, much more appeal. But is this the effect that the "gift" had in the
first Century? Only by giving a slant to one or two isolated texts can this
inference be drawn.
What is the explanation? Pentecostalists are very anxious to
refute any suggestion that their experience is a kind of self-hypnotism. I
suggested this to the brother who became involved with them. He earnestly
rebuked me. I can quote his letter, "Hypnotism is a form of witchcraft," he
said. This way of seeing things led to the point in his written testimony that
it was "no mesmerism, as I had my eyes closed."
A leading international hypnotherapist has
"...the hypnotist started with the subject's eyes closed. To some people this
may be surprising, for it is popularly assumed that causing the subject to close
his eyes as a result of suggestion is an essential first step in the
inducing of hypnosis. Nowadays hypnotic induction relies mainly upon verbal
suggestion" ("Hypnosis: Fact or Fiction", FL Marcuse, 51,54).
Another interesting comment: "...the hypnotic subject may say
that during hypnotic induction he 'experienced being warm all over', or that 'I
seemed to be looking at a rapidly receding square of white light' " (Ibid,
Now this is an interesting parallel with the testimony quoted
previously -- "a hot sensation, not unbearable (very warm)", while the reference
to a white light is interesting in the light of Sherrill's description of his
"baptism" being preceded by a "light blazing through my closed lids"
We can perceive a definite parallel, after allowing for some
imagination generated by the enthusiasm of the memory of the event!
It is of added interest that Kurt Koch in his researches into
this subject cites examples of descriptions of "Spirit Baptism" made to him.
Three of the examples spoke of feelings of warmth ("The Strife of Tongues",
According to Koch, not one of the above examples remained in
Pentecostal circles. Two later renounced the experience as not of God; the other
two eventually lost all "assurance of faith" and had given away
- "He experienced a warm sensation going through him, and he began to speak
- Two friends prayed for the "Spirit" -- "After intensive prayer
it was as if something hot came over them. They felt very excited inside."
- "She then experienced a warm feeling that she regarded as the second
It is to be remembered that it was not claimed that all
hypnotic induction produced a warm feeling (Ibid, 81). Indeed, there is one
testimony to the opposite: "I felt cold and my limbs felt numb." Then again, not
all descriptions of the Pentecostal experience testify to warmth; the brother
who was brought up in their circles did not experience any warm feeling; but the
third description above much more nearly fits his situation.
One interesting feature of our brother's case was the fact
that, as he testified, he went completely unconscious while speaking in tongues.
The relationship of this with hypnotism is clearly suggestive while not being
conclusive. The hypnotherapist Marcuse states, "Roughly, however, it
may be said, considering limitations, and evaluating results of thousands of
reported cases, that about five to 20 per cent of hypnotic subjects reach the
deepest depth (somnambulism), and that another five to 20 per cent are not at
all susceptible to hypnosis. The remaining 60 to 90 per cent are said to be
capable of entering light or medium hypnosis" (Ibid, 78).
There are areas of disagreement between hypnotists of the
definition of "light hypnosis" -- mostly such people are not good subjects.
"Light hypnosis has been said to be present even though the hypnotized subject
is unaware of being hypnotised" (Ibid, 67), but this is a theory not all accept.
I formed the tentative conclusion that the case of the one who went completely
unconscious while speaking in tongues was a deep "somnambulist" trance in which
his subconscious mind copied what he had witnessed in others. One could further
conclude that the other experiences are a form of light self-hypnosis, such as
that indicated by the testimony that he was "conscious all the time of what was
happening around me." I have discussed this with practitioners a few times over
the last 30 years and all have indicated that these are reasonable
We can tie up this parallel a little further. The outstanding
claim of modern Pentecostalists is the wonderful "peace" their "experience"
brings. Dr. Ainslie Meares, who was a universally acclaimed Melbourne
psychiatrist, has researched in many countries on the subject of hypnosis. He
"There have been many theories as to the nature of hypnosis.
All of these past theories have explained some particular aspects of hypnosis,
but none of them have explained all the phenomena of the hypnotic state. In 1957
I published a paper outlining a new theory... it has gained considerable
acceptance among many workers in this field. This theory offers a satisfactory
explanation of the state of mind in both yoga meditation and auto-hypnosis... In
hypnosis it (the mind) slips back, as it were, and works at a more primitive
level. Our logical or critical abilities are lost or work in less degree; and we
become very suggestible because suggestion itself is a primitive mechanism of
the mind. When the mind has regressed a little in this way, it tends to lose its
integration so that different elements of the mind come to function
independently in what we know as disassociation. It is this process which
produces many of the obvious phenomena of hypnosis. In auto-hypnosis the
individual learns to let his mind regress and it comes to function in this more
primitive way. This accounts for the absence of anxiety and the feeling of calm
and ease which we experience in auto-hypnosis" ("Strange Places and Simple
Truths", p 37).
These facts are very interesting. Perhaps we should not call
them facts in the normal sense of the term, but as a widely accepted hypothesis.
However, we can take them one step further. Auto-hypnosis when coupled with
"auto-suggestion" can, we suggest, produce the modern-day phenomena we are
witnessing. D. Robert Lindberg, an American Presbyterian pastor, has recorded
his experiences when he sought and received the "gift". At the time he felt
something of the joy and thrill which others claimed; he was later caused to
re-evaluate what it all really amounted to. He affirms that he does not wish to
deny that some have had a transforming experience as a result of the "gift". But
he is now convinced that it is not of God, but rather "has at its heart a false
mysticism which is contrary to the word of God" and that what we see today is
the result of "auto-suggestion, self-induced -- piously, yes, but wrongly and
unscripturally" (Presbyterian Guardian, Feb 1965, p 19, as quoted by AA Hoekema
in "What about tongue speaking?").
This view is remarkably parallel with the testimonies of the
Christadelphians quoted previously -- as to their feelings associated with their
tongue-speaking experience. This is the result of possessing a dedicated desire
to emulate what is believed to be a Biblical experience under the absolute
conviction that it is available today. This leads to a state of mind in which
auto-suggestion, coupled with self-hypnosis, (usually, but not necessarily)
under emotional conditions, produces the Pentecostal "experience". It is also
worth noting that hypnotism in its early forms often relied on "passes" (ie,
bodily stroking with the hands) as part of the means of achieving hypnotic
induction. This is so similar to the "laying-on of hands" as practiced today.
This sounds Scriptural, but one cannot imagine it being necessary for the
apostles, for example, to have laid hands on the converts in Samaria for some
two hours before they received the Holy Spirit.
But is it possible that there are some genuine gifts
today? Is there a danger of going too far in denying that no gifts whatsoever
operate today? We have to keep our own prejudices in check if we are to
convincingly search out all truth. To answer as fairly as possible, we need to
explore the matter of experiences further and then make a careful analysis of
Scripture, which so far we have not attempted. There is much scope for comment
also on other practices of modern Pentecostalism, or charismatics as most prefer
to call themselves, in particular practices relating to the acts of "healing"
which would appear to be the next most desirable "gift" that is sought