Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
Pentecostalism – in the Light of the Word
by Robert Decker
The Pentecostal Movement
Perhaps no movement has made more of an impact on the church world than Pentecostalism. Certainly no movement has done so in the last ten to twenty years. ‘The growth of the Pentecostal movement in . . . the United States has also been impressive, particularly the increment in mission of the Assemblies of God, which is reported to be building one new church a day in America and to be supporting over seven hundred and fifty overseas missionaries on a missionary budget of over seven million dollars, in addition to maintaining the largest number of Bible schools in the world today.’ (Frederick Dale Brunner, A Theology of the Holy Spirit. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1970, p. 25) Brunner goes on to say: ‘In terms of simple numbers international Pentecostalism reports the largest number of adherents in the United States (about three million), Brazil (two million), Indonesia (one million), Chili (nearly one million), and South Africa (one half million) usually listed in that order. Numerically, at the very least, the young Pentecostal movement has plowed a broad furrow into the first two-thirds of the twentieth century and reaped success,’ p. 25.
In addition to the Pentecostal Churches, there is a related movement which has come to be called ‘Neo-Pentecostalism.’ ‘Less than twenty years ago, Brumback (Carl Brumback, a Pentecostal, R.D.) confessed: ‘We might as well face the facts; speaking in tongues is not acceptable anywhere except in the Pentecostal movement.’ This statement could not be made today, because speaking in tongues is now being accepted as part of normal, personal and church life among Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and even Catholics. This outburst of tongues among the historic denominations has been called the New Penetration, the New Pentecostalism, Charismatic Renewal (or Revival), and the modern tongues movement. Both liberal and conservative churches, schools, mission boards, and publications have felt the impact of this new movement . . . Thus it becomes important for every believer to understand this new manifestation of tongue speaking.’ (Robert G. Gromacki, The Modern Tongues Movement, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. Philadelphia 1967) We might add that the Reformed community of churches both in this country and abroad has not been unaffected by Pentecostal inroads.
Tongue speaking (and other miracles and signs) did, of course, occur in the New Testament church. We find references to this in Mark 16, the book of Acts, and I Corinthians 12-24. It is noteworthy, however, that from A.D. 100 to 1900 tongue speaking virtually disappeared and is not to be found in the mainstream of the church. It is found among the Montanists in the second century and in the various other minority groups and sects. (There is no space for a study of the history of the movement. I would urge the reader to consult Brunner’s book for an excellent and detailed history of Pentecostalism.)
Pentecostals themselves explain this phenomenon (the virtual disappearance of tongue speaking and other miracles and gifts from the mainstream of the church) as due to a lack of faith in or rejection of the Holy Spirit by the church. Brunner quotes David duPlessis, a leading Pentecostal, as writing: ‘The Holy Spirit continued in control until the close of the first century, when He was largely rejected and His position as leader usurped by men. The results are written in history. The missionary movement halted. The dark ages ensued.’ (Brunner, p. 27) Pentecostals feel that their movement is a new Reformation, ‘a worthy and perhaps even superior successor to the Reformation of the 16th century and to the English Revival of the 18th, and nearly always as a faithful reproduction of the apostolic movement of the first century.’ (Brunner, p.27) Pentecostals are convinced that the way back to the church’s experience and power is via Pentecost, i.e., by way of the baptism in or with (not ‘by’) the Holy Spirit with its accompanying signs and miracles. The way back to real, vibrant Christian life and service is to have the experience of the Apostles at Pentecost, to be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ (cf. Acts 2). Without the experience the believer, and consequently the church, will remain impotent, virtually dead.
It is out of this conviction that Neo-Pentecostals especially level a very serious charge at the non-Pentecostal churches and believers. They claim to hold fast to the ‘faith of the fathers’, the confessions of the church. Only, they claim to have something more, something in addition to the traditional teachings and practices of the church. And, that something more is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with its resultant power and gifts which make the Christian and the church effective in service and life. This, they say, the non-Pentecostals lack; and therefore, the churches today are guilty of dead orthodoxy. They are lifeless, powerless, ineffective and busy themselves sweeping around dusty dogmas. They are very seriously disobedient to the King of the Church, Christ.
While we cannot go into all of the implications of this charge, this much must be said. The Pentecostal (neo) must understand that his view of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit radically affects his understanding of the truth of the Scriptures; his view of God, first of all (The Holy Spirit is God!); of God’s Christ, and therefore of the doctrine of salvation, particularly the Spirit’s work of applying the merits of Christ in the elect–regeneration, calling, faith and conversion, justification, sanctification, preservation. And his view necessarily affects his understanding of the truth of the infallible inspiration of the Bible.
Into all of this we cannot go. What we want to do is examine the key passages of Scripture in Acts and I Corinthians especially to see if the Bible teaches that the miracle of Pentecost, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit as evidenced by tongue speaking is to be repeated, experienced, sought by believers today. It is at this point that Pentecostalism stands or falls.
Finally, by way of introduction, in the making of this speech I am indebted to Brunner and Gromacki cited above; Dr. Anthony Hoekema of Calvin Seminary for his book, What About Tongue Speaking? (Eerdmans); the Rev. George Lubbers for an excellent exposition of I Corinthians 12-14 found in the Standard Bearer, vols. 33 and 34; Pentecostals which I’ve consulted are Dr. J. A. Schep, Spirit Baptism and Tongue Speaking According to Scripture; John L. Sherrill, They Speak With Other Tongues; and A. G. Dornfeld, who wrote a pamphlet entitled, ‘Have You Received the Holy Spirit?’
Baptism in the Spirit
The key concept in Pentecostal belief is: ‘The Baptism in, or with, the Holy Spirit.’ We find this in all four Gospel accounts; Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:18, Luke 3:16, and John 1:33. In these passages we learn that John the Baptist baptized with water unto repentance but prophesied that ‘One mightier than I,’ Christ, was coming after him and would baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire. In Acts 1:5 Jesus speaks of the fulfillment of this prophecy: ‘For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.’ In verse 8 of the same chapter the Savior goes on to explain: ‘Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.’ For this reason Christ instructs His disciples to ‘. . . wait for the promise of the Father, which . . . ye have heard of me,’ (Vs 4). The disciples upon the ascension of the Lord and in obedience to His command returned to Jerusalem, and together with the women and Jesus brethren ‘continued with one accord and in prayer and supplication,’ (Vs 14). Two of the Gospel accounts mention this also. Luke 24: 36ff. teaches that the disciples were commanded to ‘tarry in Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high.’ (This is the origin of the Pentecostal ‘tarrying meeting,’ where seekers of the Spirit baptism pray and tarry for the baptism in the Spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues.) Mark 16: 14-20 informs us that Jesus promised that signs would follow them that believe, casting out devils, speaking in new tongues, drinking deadly things and not being hurt, taking up serpents, laying hands on the sick so that they recover.
All this finds its fulfillment in Acts 2:1-4 when on Pentecost they were ‘all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.’ And, say the Pentecostals, it happened repeatedly throughout the book of Acts: to the Samaritans ( Acts 8), Cornelius and his house ( Acts 10), and those baptized with the baptism of John ( Acts 19). And most Pentecostals believe there were more such experiences as, for example, Paul’s conversion.
Pentecostals call this or regard this baptism in the Spirit a crisis experience of the full reception of the Holy Spirit. They claim this crisis experience is elsewhere described in the Bible as: to be ‘filled with the Spirit,’ Acts 2:4, Eph 5:18; to ‘receive the Spirit,’ Acts 2:38; to be ‘sealed by the Spirit,’ Eph. 1:13, ‘anointed with the Spirit,’ II Cor. 1:21. It must be clearly understood at this point that Pentecostals speak not so much of a doctrine of the Holy Spirit or Spirit Baptism, but of the experience of that. They teach that the experience of the apostles and early Christians can, does, will, and should occur in the lives of believers today. The point is that the experience of the early church is normative for the experience of Christians now and always
Three Elements of Pentecostalism
Pentecostal belief contains three essential elements (admittedly this is but a sketch). First, they teach that distinct from and following and in addition to the new birth (regeneration) and conversion is the baptism in or with the Holy Spirit. (Note that Pentecostals generally have an Arminian conception of mediate regeneration which is identified with conversion, not a Biblical conception of immediate regeneration and its fruit in daily conversion.) They teach that all Christians are through the new birth and conversion baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit, but not all Christians are baptized by Christ into the Spirit. Thus, according to Pentecostal belief, when we are born again and converted, we receive Christ; but there is more, and that more is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is the baptism in or with the Spirit. When in addition to being baptized into Christ by the Spirit we are baptized by Christ with the Spirit, the Holy Spirit comes personally into our hearts and lives, bringing to us the charismata (literally, ‘grace things’), the gifts and power that we need for personal growth and service to God in the Church and in the world.
Secondly, this baptism in or with the Spirit is evidenced initially by speaking in other tongues. It is correct and fair to say that Pentecostals, with perhaps a very few exceptions, would agree that the speaking in tongues is not mere gibberish or unintelligible sounds, but a speaking in real languages, which, however, are unknown and unlearned by the speaker. Certainly that is the case with the sign of tongues as it occurs in the Scriptures both in Acts and in I Corinthians 12-14. When a believer is filled with or baptized in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit so overpowers him that he is in a state of ecstasy with no control over his faculties. The Spirit then enables him to speak in other languages the praises of Jesus. This is the sign that one has been filled or baptized with the Spirit.
Thirdly, this experience of Spirit baptism and its initial evidence in tongue speaking must be earnestly sought by believers. It doesn’t just happen; conditions must be met. Consciously, fervently, actively the seeker has to do these things. Often, too, he needs the assistance of others already filled with the Spirit. These must pray for him, lay hands on him before the Spirit will come. These conditions vary, but generally they are: worship, joyous faith, earnest expectation, praise and thanksgiving, obedience, separation from sin, intense desire, baptism, asking of God, etc. Consciously the seeker must exercise himself in these things; often it becomes for him a long and intense struggle before the Spirit will fill him. But the point is that the believer must fulfill these conditions before the Spirit will come. Once having fulfilled them and having been baptized with the Spirit he must continue in these conditions so as to retain the Spirit and receive the continuing gifts of the Spirit as listed in I Corinthians 12. Pentecostals are very insistent on this; one must totally yield himself, cleanse his heart of all known sins, pray fervently before the Holy Spirit will fill him. It is not difficult to recognize the Arminian and Perfectionist influences at this point. Let it be said that the Bible never presents faith, obedience, regeneration, prayer, etc., as conditions for salvation or for receiving the Spirit. These are fruits of the Spirit (cf. e.g., Gal. 5) or gifts of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Pentecostal theology is to be severely and uncompromisingly condemned at this point.
What does Acts 2 Teach?
The above, though a sketch, is a description of Pentecostal belief. The question is: ‘Does the Bible teach that the experience of Pentecost is to be repeated and sought after by believers today?’ Turning first to Acts 2 we may conclude that this chapter records an event which is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to the disciples (the eleven Apostles) given just prior to His ascension. In Acts 1:4,5 Jesus commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Father which they had heard of Him. That promise concerned the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth through Whom Jesus would come to them. Jesus promised this return in the Spirit in the night of His betrayal (cf. John 14, 15, 16). This promise Jesus further defines as the ‘baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire’.
Noteworthy in this connection is the fact that Jesus commanded them to wait in Jerusalem for the Spirit, but Jesus did not lay down a list of conditions which they had to fulfill in order to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. He simply told them to wait. It is true enough they continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, chose one to take the place of the betrayer, but the passage nowhere indicates that they were consciously, fervently fulfilling the conditions spoken of by Pentecostals as necessary to be filled with the Spirit. (cf. Acts 1:l4ff) They were simply instructed to wait for the Spirit. That is what they did and they did it prayerfully.
Then it happened! Suddenly, when the day of Pentecost was fully come they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. The signs were the sound of a mighty, rushing wind; cloven tongues like as of fire sat upon each of them; and they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. When the news spread, a great crowd gathered and the people were utterly amazed to hear them speak in ‘our tongues the wonderful works of God’ (vss. 5-10). The reaction of the multitude was twofold; some doubted and wondered what it meant, which others mocked and said they were drunk (vs. 12).
In answer to this the Apostle Peter stands and preaches that beautiful sermon which contained essentially two points. What happened, Peter explains, is the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. The Day of the Lord has come; the New Dispensational day which marks the fulfillment of the Old Testament types and shadows. It’s the Day in which God would call His people out of every nation. And, it’s the Day of judgment that shall be signified by signs and wonders; blood, fire, and vapor of smoke in both heaven and earth; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon into blood (compare in this connection Matthew 24 and Revelation 6 where these same signs and wonders are mentioned as marking the Day of the Lord’s return). The great and notable day of the Lord which shall culminate in the very end of the ages when Jesus’ return has come.
Secondly, Jesus of Nazareth, delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, crucified and slain by you; this Jesus God has raised up, exalted, and given the promise of the Holy Spirit. Having received the Spirit, Christ shed forth this which you now see and hear. And all this means that God has made this Jesus both Lord and Christ.
That Word preached powerfully pricked them in their hearts so that they cried: ‘Men and brethren what shall we do?’ Peter answers, ‘Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.’ (vs. 38) The ground of that call to repentance is found in verse 39 where we read: ‘For the promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.’ We learn further that three thousand gladly received the Word and were baptized. These continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers (vss. 41-42).
Pentecostals teach that the ‘gift of the Holy Spirit’ refers to the ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ which follows repentance and conversion and is to be attained by fulfilling the proper conditions. This Spirit baptism is evidenced by speaking in tongues it is said. Acts 2 no where says that the three thousand who believed or those whom God added daily to the church spoke in tongues. Peter’s sermon indicates too that when one repents he receives the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, but there is no indication that the gift of the Spirit follows conversion at some later time, in the way of fulfilling conditions.
Finally, Acts 2 certainly points to the uniqueness, the once-for-all-time character, of the event of Pentecost. Prophecy has been fulfilled, the Day of the Lord has come, God begins calling His saints out of all nations through Jesus Christ crucified, risen, exalted, Who poured out the Spirit. In the Spirit Christ has come into the Church, filling the hearts of the saints, in order to call such as should be saved.
What is the significance of the tongue speaking here? Along with the cloven tongues like as of fire and the sound of the mighty, rushing wind they were a sign. They signified to the one hundred and twenty that Jesus had come to be with them through the Comforter, the Spirit of truth as He had promised. They were a sign, too, assuring the church that by the Spirit of the exalted Christ they were empowered to preach the gospel to every nation as they had been commissioned. And, they were a sign to the multitude and all who hear the apostles of the power and presence of Christ in the early church. Hence all were amazed, some doubted and wondered, others mocked, and about three thousand of them were pricked in their hearts by the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God
What of Acts 8 and Similar Passages?
The second passage used by Pentecostals is Acts 8:5-25. Here we find Philip, the deacon and evangelist, preaching the Word in Samaria accompanied by miracles and signs, casting out of unclean spirits, healings, etc. Many believed and were baptized by Philip into the name of Jesus Christ. These believers, however, did not receive the Holy Spirit until the Apostles John and Peter came from Jerusalem to lay hands on them and pray for them. The fact that these believers first believed and were baptized and then later received the Spirit apparently lends support to the Pentecostal position.
But does it? Even assuming that the Samaritans spoke in tongues the passage does not teach what Pentecostals claim. The Samaritans were a mixed race, partly Jewish and partly Gentile. Because they had attempted to frustrate the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Ezra 4:4,5) the Jews hated them and ‘had no dealings with them’ (John 4:9). It is in this light that we must understand the receiving of the Spirit by the Samaritans. The Church is now expanding beyond the limits of the Jewish people and the Jewish Christians must know that the Samaritan believers are not to be despised, but regarded as equal with them. Hence they too received the Holy Spirit. In the words of Dr. Hoekema, the event in Samaria is a ‘kind of extension of Pentecost’. Please note too that nowhere in this passage do we read of the Samaritans having tarrying meetings, fervently praying and seeking for the Spirit, nor do the Apostles command them to do that.
Next there is the account of Cornelius recorded in Acts 10. Peter, lodging in Joppa in the house of one Simon a tanner receives a vision of unclean animals with the command, ‘Rise Peter, kill and eat.’ While Peter wonders about the meaning, the Holy Spirit tells him there are three men who want to see him. These tell Peter that Cornelius has been warned of God to ‘hear words of thee’; Peter goes to Caesarea where Cornelius explains his vision, Peter preaches the gospel to him, and the fruit of the preaching is that the Holy Spirit fell on them and they spoke with tongues and magnified God. Then they were baptized.
Note well the Spirit fell on them and they spoke with tongues not subsequent to (as Pentecostals teach) but prior to baptism. Why did the Spirit cause them to speak in tongues? Because Peter had to know ‘of a truth God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that feareth him and workest righteousness is accepted with him.’ (vss. 34,35). And those of the circumcision, the Jewish Christians, were astonished because that on the Gentiles also was poured the gift of the Holy Spirit (vs. 45). This too then was an extension of Pentecost and the tongues once more serve as a sign to the Jewish Christians that the Gentiles are also saved in Jesus Christ and receive the Holy Spirit. This is precisely the explanation Peter himself gives to the Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18). He tells them all about his encounter with Cornelius, his preaching and the Holy Ghost falling on them as evidenced in their tongue speaking. And when the Jews hear that they respond: ‘Then hath God granted also to the Gentiles repentance and life.’ Peter cites this event once more at the ‘Jerusalem conference’ dealing with the Gentile question (cf. Acts 15).
The final instance of tongue speaking in Acts is found in chapter 19:1-7 where Paul meets a band of twelve disciples. The Apostle asks them, ‘Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?’ They answer that they had not even heard that there was a Holy Spirit. Paul questions, ‘into what then were ye baptized?’, to which they reply ‘the baptism of John’. Paul then tells them that John baptized unto repentance calling the people to faith in Christ Jesus Who was coming. When they hear this, they are baptized into the name of Christ and when Paul lays hands on them the Holy Ghost comes upon them and they ‘spake with tongues and prophesied.’
The point of this passage is plain. These twelve disciples were still living in the age of the shadows, at the door of the New Dispensation, but still in the shadows. They were unaware of the fact that the day of the Lord had come and had not even heard that there was a Holy Spirit. This event too is an extension of the unique wonder of Pentecost and the tongues and prophecy serve as a sure sign to these believers that the Spirit of the crucified, risen Christ had indeed been poured out.
I Corinthians 12-14
Pentecostals claim their strongest support from I Corinthians 12, 13, and 14. We suggest that the reader follow our exposition of these chapters in his Bible. In Chapter 12 the Word teaches that though the Corinthians ‘come behind in no gift’ (1:7), they were ignorant concerning the gifts of the Spirit. In the context of the entire epistle we understand that the Corinthians were misusing the gifts of the Spirit for each one’s own selfish ends. The tragic result of this was schism in the church. It’s to this that the inspired Apostle Paul addresses the sharp instruction of these three chapters. The Corinthians must know that no man speaking in the Spirit calls Jesus accursed (which is exactly what one does in effect when he causes schism in the church); likewise, no one is able to say Jesus is Lord except in the Spirit (vss. 1-3).
In the verses 4-11 the Apostle lists the diversity of gifts in the church which all come from the same Holy Spirit. Notice not all receive all the gifts. To one is given this gift to another is given another gift. Not even in the Apostolic Church where the gift of tongues existed were all believers to seek to have the gift of tongues. All this the Apostle illustrates with the figure of the human body with its many individual members each serving in its own place the unity of the body. Paul continues by speaking of the offices which God has set in the church (vss. 28-31) the last of which is ‘diversities of tongues’. No more than all are Apostles, do all have or should all seek to have the gift of tongues. The Pentecostal position that believers should seek and lay claim to the power of God through the ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit’ as they define that concept, simply cannot stand in this light. The conclusion of chapter 12 is: ‘Covet earnestly the best gifts and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.’ That more excellent way is the way of the love of God set forth in chapter 13. The love of God never fails: everything else, knowledge, prophecy, tongues, will vanish; but the love of God abides. Without that virtue of the love of God we are only making noise and the gifts of the Spirit profit us nothing.
Thus the Apostle begins chapter 14 with the admonition: ‘Follow after love, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy’. To prophesy is to speak the Word of God by preaching and by mutual exhortation on the part of the members of the church–cf. II Peter 1:16-21 where the Bible is called ‘the more sure Word of Prophecy’. He that speaks in tongues speaks mysteries that no one understands; he speaks to God (who has no need of edification!) and to himself; while he who prophesies builds up the church and that is the more excellent way of the love of God (vss. 2-4). So Paul wishes in verse 5 that all should prophesy rather than speak in tongues because prophecy is greater unless the tongues be interpreted for the edifying of the church. Even in the realm of music (vss. 7,8) except the laws of harmony etc. are observed one does not know what is being piped or harped.
Applying the figure (vss. 9-19) Paul says to the Corinthians, unless you speak with your tongue words easy to be understood how shall your speech be known? You are speaking into the air! Hence the Word is: seek to excel to the edifying of the church. Pray for an interpretation of your tongues, else you will not be edifying. For this reason I thank God I speak with tongues more than you all–yea I rather speak five words with my understanding that by my words I might teach others than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue!
Brethren, Paul continues in vss. 20ff., be children in malice and grown men in understanding. Here we get to the heart of the passage. Paul is saying you must be innocent of malice, that vicious evil which tears the church apart, and you must be mature in understanding. This is what the Scriptures teach: In the law, the Old Testament Scriptures, Isaiah 28:11, 12 to be exact. It is written: ‘With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that they will not hear me saith the Lord’ (vs. 21). In Isaiah 28 we learn that the priests were drunk with wine; they were children in understanding who were not weaned from the milk nor drawn from the breasts. These had rejected the Word which was to them as line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little-that they might go and fall backward and be broken and snared and taken. Therefore God will not teach these children in understanding knowledge, His judgments are upon them who mock His Word. The doctrine of rest for the weary is not for these grown men in malice, these drunkards of Ephraim. God will speak to them with stammering lips and another tongue. They will be taken captive and the Word of understanding, rest for the weary, they will not hear. To whom will God speak the refreshing Word of salvation? To the residue of the people, the remnant according to election for whom He lays in Zion the tried and precious cornerstone, the sure foundation, Jesus Christ.
Wherefore, writes the Apostle, in other words, because this is the Word of God, tongues are for a sign not to them that believe but to that believe not. (vs. 22ff.) You Corinthians had better be warned that tongues–your babbling in uncertain sounds without interpretation so that it cannot be understood or serve to edify the church–is a sign of God’s judgment and hardening of those who reject the Word! If an unbeliever comes into your meeting and you are all speaking in tongues, he will say you are mad, crazy; but if he hears you prophesy, and sees you building up the church, he is convinced, falls on his knees and worships by the Spirit’s application of the prophetic Word.
Hence the conclusion. Let everything be done decently and in good order. If you insist on speaking in tongues let it be by turn, only two or three at most, and let there be interpretation. God is not the author of confusion but of peace. Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted them to speak. Was the problem in Corinth the women? How many Pentecostal groups today observe this rule? So, while I, the Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,do not forbid the proper use of tongues, neither do I command it. Rather prophesy that the church may be edified! This is the more excellent way. Obviously even in the New Testament Church where tongues had a place they were not emphasized as by Pentecostals today.
Now, some conclusions. First from the Acts passages (chapters 1,2,8,10,11,19). In none of the four occurrences, assuming the Samaritans spoke in tongues, were the believers fulfilling any conditions, praying for the baptism with the Spirit to be evidenced by speaking in tongues. In each of the four instances all the believers present received the sign of tongues along with other signs. It was not just some who received the baptism in the Spirit as Pentecostals teach. And in all instances (this is true of Corinth too) the baptism or filling with the Spirit as evidenced by tongues and other signs happened through the instrumentality of the Apostles. Peter and John had to go to Samaria, Philip could not do it. Peter had to preach to Cornelius, Paul to the twelve disciples at Ephesus and also at Corinth. There is no record in the New Testament of the bestowing of these signs and gifts on someone by prayer or laying on of hands by any one other than an apostle. This means that when the Apostles passed from the scene, the miraculous signs and gifts which served to authenticate their office and message passed away with them. ‘They were part of the credentials of the Apostles as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confined them to distinctively the Apostolic Church, and they necessarily passed away with it’. (B. B. Warfield, Miracles Yesterday and Today, p. 21).
In this light I Corinthians 13:8 has profound significance. The text reads: ‘Charity never faileth, but whether there be prophecies they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.’ The verbs used in reference to prophecy and knowledge are the same in the Greek. That verb is in the passive voice and is to be translated, ‘to cause to cease’. God will put an end to them in that day of the Lord when we know as we are known and see face to face in glory. But ‘tongues shall cease’. This verb is in the middle voice and means ‘simply stop’. A. T. Robertson in his Word Pictures of the New Testament translates, ‘shall make themselves cease’ or ‘automatically cease of themselves’. The point is this. Tongues and the other miraculous gifts, healings, etc., suddenly are no more in the church. They are of short duration. Why? Because they are designed by God to serve as a sign, a sign not only to authenticate the gospel, but a sign to serve also as a means of making the content of prophecy and knowledge known. But when they have served their confirming purpose as a sign they cease without the least affecting the church’s possession of the mysteries of the faith.
This is precisely the Bible’s teaching elsewhere. In Hebrews 2:3-4 the Scriptures teach that the Word of the Lord was: ‘confirmed unto us by them that heard Him–the Apostles, God bearing them witness both with signs and wonders and with divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost’. And in Mark 16:19, 20 we learn that after the Lord’s ascension the apostles ‘went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the Word with signs following’. Those signs were taking up serpents, drinking deadly poison, tongues, and healings. Confirmation of the Word was necessary in this age of transition out of the Old into the New Dispensation when the Canon of the Scriptures was yet in the process of being completed. When the entire Scripture had been given, the last apostle goes to glory and tongues automatically cease of themselves. The Word has been given and confirmed. Let us take heed lest we neglect so great salvation! It is not correct to say that the New Testament nowhere explicitly teaches that tongues belonged only to the Apostolic Age. I Corinthians 13:8 in the light of the context of the entire New Testament teaches precisely that!
What positively is the Word of God in all of this? Prophesy! We have the Word of God, the infallibly inspired Bible. It pleases God by means (and only by this means) of the preaching of that Word to save His Church (cf. I Cor. 1, Romans 10) and put to nothing the wisdom of this world. Preach then! Be instant in and out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all Iongsuffering, preach to the ends of the earth. Whatever the Church does let it preach the Word! And let it do so in faith. The Church, the all to whom the promise is given, these and their children even as many as the Lord our God shall call have been baptized with the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. That happened at Pentecost. And the Spirit testifies of everything Jesus said to us. The fruit of that Spirit ( Gal. 5) is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law! We live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us keep on being filled with the Spirit ( Eph. 5) so that we walk circumspectly not as fools but as wise redeeming the time because the days are evil. The means by which we are enabled to do that is the Word preached.
And that is precisely the trouble today. There is in our day a terrible despising of the pulpit. It is because the Church generally fails to expound the Word and comes with excellency of speech and worldly wisdom rather than preaching Christ crucified that a movement like Pentecostalism can make such an impact. The sheep of God are hungry and thirsty and are not being fed with the Bread and Water of life! These weak and sickly sheep are swept along by the bizarre, spectacular ‘successes’ and enthusiasm of Pentecostalism. The time has come when ‘they will not endure sound doctrine; but . . . turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.’ (II Tim. 4:3, 4) The charge of God is ‘Preach the Word’!
What do you say then to your Pentecostal neighbor? Having shown him from the Scriptures the truth he will invariably say to you, ‘But how can you dismiss this? I’ve had the experience. It’s real.’ The answer you must give is, ‘The Bible teaches that tongues have ceased. I cannot and you may not base your faith on your experience. That is pure subjectivism. To claim a direct line through the Spirit is to deny the sufficiency of the Word of God and necessarily the power of that Word preached through which means alone God is pleased to save. This is serious business indeed! The Bible says: ‘If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life…. He which testifies these things saith: Surely I come quickly. Amen. Come Lord Jesus.’ (Rev. 22:18-20)
Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, could say under the inspiration of the Spirit, ‘I speak with tongues more than you all.’ No one can say that today! Paul also said under the inspiration of the Spirit, ‘tongues shall cease’. They have.
I say to this Word of God and I hope you say it with me,
This article is the text of the lecture given by Rev. Decker in Holland in the spring of May 15, 1972. Robert D. Decker is Professor of Practical Theology at the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary. He graduated from the Protestant Reformed Seminary in 1965. He was ordained and installed as minister in the Doon, Iowa Protestant Reformed Church that same year. In 1969 he accepted a call to serve in the South Holland, IL Protestant Reformed Church. He accepted an appointment in 1973 to serve as professor in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.