Can Speaking in Tongues be Dangerous?

Well tonight, in one sense I have a difficult, impossible task and that is to cover a subject that needs to be covered thoughtfully and carefully. In another sense, while very challenging and almost impossible to fully accomplish, I welcome the opportunity to share with you some insights that will help you to be discerning as you look at a very important issue in the Charismatic movement today and that is this matter of speaking in tongues.

This is at the very heart of the Charismatic movement, one of their distinctives. There is no question in my mind that if you were to boil down the Charismatic movement as to its basic, several ingredients, one of them would be the affirmation that speaking in tongues is a gift for today, not only a gift for today, but a gift to be sought by every Christian who wants the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the fullness of the blessing of God. It is so much a part of the fabric of the Charismatic movement that it is one of the primary things that they endeavor to teach the children in that movement.

Someone sent me a sample of some Charismatic Sunday school literature which is designed specifically to teach kindergarten children how to speak in tongues. It’s titled, “I’ve Been Filled with the Holy Spirit,” and it’s an eight page coloring book. One page has a caricature of a smiling weight lifter with a T-shirt and it says, Spiritman, and under him is printed 1Corinthians14:4, “He that speaks in an unknown tongue builds himself up.” Another page features a little boy who looks something like, some of you will remember, Howdy Doody, something like that, with his hands lifted up, a dotted outline pictures where his lungs would be, this evidently represents his spirit. Inside the lung shaped diagram is printed this, “Bal Li Ode Da Ma Ta Las Si Ta No Ma.” A cartoon styled balloon then comes out his mouth and repeats the words, “Bal Li Ode Da Ma Ta Las Si Ta No Ma.” A brain shaped cloud is drawn in his head with a large question mark in the cloud.

Do you understand the picture? These gibberish words are in the Spirit and they come out of his mouth, but a question mark is in his brain. This is how they plant in a kindergarten child the idea that tongues goes from the spirit to the mouth, without ever going through the brain, that it is some kind of mystical, non-cognitive experience that somehow bypasses the brain, and under that picture is 1 Corinthians 14:14, “If I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.” In both cases they have misrepresented the intention of those verses.

The first verse they assume, speaking in an unknown tongue, builds someone up, when in fact; Paul was saying it in a negative sense. It puffs your ego, or it, at best, if you do it in private, would benefit you, which would be selfish and contrary to any proper use of spiritual gifts and the second one, “If I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prays, and my understanding is unfruitful,” is a way to say, “Don’t do that, because what’s the point in having an unfruitful understanding?”

Yet, as early as kindergarten, people are learning these things which are in error; this is the typical Charismatic perspective, by the way. The gift of tongues is viewed as a holy, mystical ability that somehow operates in a person’s spirit and comes out the mouth and bypasses the mind. Many Charismatics are even told they have to purposefully switch off their mind to enable the gift to function, that’s pretty much the pattern. I’ve sat in on a number of sessions where people were endeavoring to teach someone how to speak in tongues, and they always follow that same format. Usually they say something like this, “Don’t think of anything, try to empty your mind of any conscious thought.”

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