The Agora
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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'.

"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).
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.

"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 high.'
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 113).

"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."

"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."
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.

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 written:

"...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, 56).

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" (Ibid, 122).

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", 17,28,29):

  1. "He experienced a warm sensation going through him, and he began to speak in tongues."
  2. Two friends prayed for the "Spirit" -- "After intensive prayer it was as if something hot came over them. They felt very excited inside."
  3. "She then experienced a warm feeling that she regarded as the second blessing."
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 religion.

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 conclusions.

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 has written,11

"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 today.

(David Caudery)
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