Posts Tagged ‘Pentecostalism’

by Daniel A. Tappeiner

Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, January 1, 1999

The Pentecostal/Charismatic movement generally interprets itself as a great, new and final movement of God in the end times. Some classical Pentecostals speak of their movement as the “latter rain,” the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit prior to the apocalyptic return of Jesus Christ. Tentative evaluations of this movement from an historical perspective might speak in terms of a new Reformation, comparing it in importance to the great Reformation of the sixteenth century under Luther, Calvin and the Reformers.

This movement, however, is not simply a matter of experience, which would only be an historical phenomenon to be interpreted psychologically, sociologically and culturally. It is also a relatively new understanding of the meaning of the experience and teaching of the New Testament in relation to the Holy Spirit and especially to the matter of baptism in the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit.

Immediately a series of questions arise in the minds of Evangelicals, those who already hold the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” What right does this new understanding of scripture have to exist? Is a new normative revelation from God being claimed, as in Mormonism or Christian Science? Is there a danger of going beyond the Jesus of the New Testament to a “spirit” of experience and immediacy? What of all the generations of saints, martyrs and common believers prior to this new movement and new understanding? Were they all deficient? Did they miss the real depth of Christian life?

For a person who is without the perspective of church history such questions may seem irrelevant. The de novo quality of their experience seems enough for the present. There is, however, a real need that such questions be faced and some justification be given. The need is three-fold. First, it is necessary to avoid errors of self-misinterpretation and the attendant dangers of spiritual pride. Second, if unbiblical subjectivism is to be avoided, it is necessary to see continuity with the past as a well as newness in the present. Third, such a justification is necessary in terms of communication with those who know the finality of Jesus Christ and are all too aware of the confusion which comes when the vagaries of the human spirit are uncritically equated with the action of the Holy Spirit.

The approach to such issues and questions must not be narrow. It cannot consist in glib quotes from scripture and the telling of some modern day experience to clinch the point. The approach must be large enough in scope to take into account all the relevant data. It must show continuity with the Spirit’s activity in the church from the time of the New Testament church to the present. It must ask why the new interpretation and present experience are not clearly discoverable in the records of the early church. It must speak to the fact of periodic manifestations of such Spirit-movements in the history of the church. The approach must give an explication of the fact of such past Spirit-movements, but it must also explain why the present movement is unique and significant beyond these earlier movements. It must also deal with the issue of fanaticism, mere emotionalism and doctrinal heterodoxy, which often accompanied such “Spirit movements” in the past. The problem of discernment of spirits and testing must be faced.

To do that is a task of no little difficulty! It must, however, be attempted. It is a legitimate demand upon those who support the present day Pentecostal/Charismatic renewal and who seek to integrate it to the larger world of Christian faith and life. Indeed, it is a demand internally implied in the truth that the impulse to gnosis is embedded in true biblical pistis. St. Anselm’s prayer, “I believe that I might understand” is the only legitimate attitude in the task of theological reflection.

What is required, then, is an adequate theology of church history. The promise of Jesus, that when the Spirit of truth comes He will guide us into all truth (John 16:13), must be properly related to the emergence of any new understanding and movement in the church. I propose to develop a theology of church history based upon the work of Philip Schaff, the Evangelical giant and church historian of the last century. In particular on the approach which he enunciated in his treatment of the issue of the rise of the Oxford movement in England under the leadership of men like John Henry Newman. A proper theology of church history will prove an adequate and solid platform to support and justify the possibility of the new kind of theological understanding of the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit embodied in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.

Anyone acquainted with Schaff will know his encyclopedic perspective, his concern for true continuity in the church and his sensitive and balanced approach. He himself was not one to take lightly the past or to overrate the present understanding of his own “enlightened era.” He expressed his attitude on this point in the following words of trenchant irony:

O, thou light of the nineteenth century! How hast thou tarried with thy rising, hiding thyself for a thousand years behind the clouds, in cowardly fear of those dying men, the popes! Come now, ye poor unfortunate children of darkness – ye Leos and Gregorys, ye Emperors… Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura and Bernard of Clairvaux, Dante Alighieri and Petrarch…Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, Francis of Assisi and Thomas à Kempis — come forth from your graves and be illuminated by the light that now reigns; learn how to govern church and state from our synods, consistories and advocates; study philosophy and theology at Andover and New Haven; practice poetry, church building, and painting amid the encouragement that is given to the arts in practical, money-loving America; take lessons in piety from the camp meetings… But they have no desire to come back the mighty dead. With a compassionate smile, they point our dwarfish race to their own imperishable giant works and exclaim: “Be humble and learn that nothing becomes you so well.”

The application to the present situation is clear enough.

Yet this man, who so powerfully speaks to our necessity for historical perspective, was also in the vanguard of those who looked for the point at which the Spirit of truth was teaching the church and leading it into all truth. Even in 1844 Schaff looked forward to the next development of the Spirit which he called “Protestant Catholicism.”

In Schaff’s inaugural address as professor of biblical literature and ecclesiastical history at the seminary at Mercersburg, he spelled out his views on the church, the principle of Protestantism and an assessment of the contemporary condition of the church in his time. From this can be extracted a theology of church history which contains the principles needed for the present task of justifying the current Pentecostal/ Charismatic movement as a legitimate possibility, reflecting the work of the Holy Spirit of leading into “all truth.” Schaff summarized his views of the development of the church in his time with a series of 111 theses. I will select out those theses which will provide a framework of understanding to deal with the issues of historical continuity and the possibility of genuine advancement in the area of theological understanding and experience.


Schaff’s first thesis will serve as the starting point for our exposition of a theology of church history:

Every period of the church and of theology has its particular problem to solve; and every doctrine, in a measure every book also of the Bible, has its classic age in which it first comes to be fully understood and appropriated by the consciousness of the Christian world.

The church is a living, supernaturally constituted organism, not a mere mechanism or phenomenon of psychology and culture. As such it has its own life history, its own processes of growth and its developmental crises. As in any living organism, the church, in its initial constitution, contained, through the work of the Holy Spirit, all the elements necessary for its functioning in God’s purpose and plan. Through the new life of the age to come (deriving from the resurrection of Jesus) and the new power of the age to come (deriving from the ascension and Pentecost) the church was plenarily endowed to fulfill its worldwide mission of kerygmatic proclamation and the charismatic ministry of wholeness. The fullness and completeness of divine teaching was also given through apostolic figures to establish the base for normative life and understanding of divine things.

There is, however, a correlation in the history of the church between three basic elements and every advance in the theological development of the church. First, the church has its own developmental needs and readiness for learning. Second, it has a relationship to its own age, with its Zeitgeist, peculiar concerns and pressures. Third, there is that aspect of Scripture which is most alive and meaningful to the church at a particular point in its development toward the fullness of the stature of Christ, to the aner teleios, of Eph 4:13. Therefore, in fact, the historical and theological development of the church can be analyzed as a series of encounters among all three elements – readiness, context and scripture – in which a particular problem is tackled, solved and developed in the explicit understanding of the church and in so doing, certain books of the Bible and key passages receive their classical expositions.

A review of the development of church doctrine suggests the following skeletal outline which will indicate the fact of development — the leading of the Spirit of truth into all truth. Within the New Testament itself it is clear that the major theological tasks included an integration of the Christ event with the Old Testament tradition, the consequent universalization of Christianity into a religion of world-wide scope, the relation of Christian reality to pagan religions and life-styles and an inner struggle with it own eschatological expectations.

In the following centuries the Gnostics raised the issue of the relation of God to the created order. The trinitarian struggle worked with the relation of God to the person of Jesus Christ. The christological controversies sought to explore the relation of Jesus Christ to humanity. The Pelagian controversy developed the doctrines of sin and grace and the nature of man. In the Medieval period the unique features of the Roman Catholic Church began to emerge, built upon previous advances and developing a complex system in which a sacramental conception of the church as mysticus corporis was the central feature. The Reformation represents an epochal advance in the church’s grasp of the meaning of the Pauline teaching of justification and the re-establishment of the formal authority of Scripture. Recent history is more difficult to assess, but in the late 18th and the 19th centuries the missionary task of the church gained its clearest explicit expression for the time and in the last one hundred years the nature of the church has been extensively explored and expounded in the interests of ecumenicity.

The relevance of all of this to the present day movement of the Holy Spirit is obvious. The church is now ready, both in its own development and in relation to the climate of the age, to wrestle with the reality of the Holy Spirit in the life and experience of the church in a new way. The time has come for a definite exposition of the theology of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit Himself, in executing the sovereign plan of God, is leading the church into a condition which has resulted in the renewed experience of the Spirit in the form found in the New Testament and the theological reflection of the church which naturally follows upon such experience.


If the developmental interpretation of the history of the church is correct it is imperative that the precise nature of this process be stated explicitly in terms of its limits, possibility and specific character. It is at this point that questions of superceding Jesus Christ become most insistent. The very legitimate concern exists that in speaking of “development” it may be interpreted to mean leaving behind, as “mere objectivity,” the Jesus of history and the inspired apostolic witness, for a religious experience of the spirit of Jesus separated from Jesus. Schaff was much aware of that very danger as it inhered in the theological reconstructions of Schleiermacher and in the whole dynamic of German liberalism. He therefore states theses, which established very clearly the limits, possibility and nature of the development of the church both in its experiences and doctrine.

He first deals with the issue of the limits to development. In thesis 13 he states very succinctly: “Christianity in itself is the absolute religion, and in this view unsusceptible to improvement.” Jesus Christ is the full final and perfect revelation both of God and humankind. There is nothing beyond Jesus Christ. He is the center of all. In Him the triune God is perfectly revealed. In Him all things in the created order unite in a cosmic “recapitulation.” There is no revelation to follow save the final open manifestation of the glory of God in Jesus Christ and His church in the eschaton. There is no “age of the Spirit” succeeding the “age of the Son” in which the Son is replaced at the center by another reality. Rather, Jesus is both the center and the circumference of Christian experience and truth. He is the limit, the boundary of all legitimate development.

The apostolic writers everywhere assume this fact and they also state it explicitly at times. Jude speaks of contending “for the faith which was once for all (hapax) delivered to the saints” (v. 3). Here “faith” is used to refer to the content of faith, not its usual sense of the experience of supernatural trust based on divine revelation. Paul clearly means the same thing when he speaks of Jesus Christ as the foundation upon which all future ministry is built (1 Cor 3:10-15), or as the chief corner stone, along with the other foundational elements of apostles and prophets, in the holy temple of the Lord (Eph 2:20-22).

Such images clearly mean that all genuine spiritual development in the future must be fully in accord with the “sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness” (1 Tim 6:3), that is, with Jesus Himself and the apostolic witness and teaching. In other words, all teaching and all experience must be evaluated by the authoritative norm of Jesus and the apostolic message. Any experience or teaching which does not sustain the test of the limit and norm of Jesus Christ is false and to be rejected.


At this point a question is often raised, by those who seek and accept this finality of Jesus Christ, in relation to the often-repeated references by those in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, to receiving “revelations” in the Spirit. An example of such a claim to “revelation” can be seen in the book written by David Wilkerson, a popular Pentecostal figure, which purports to be a prophetic visionary revelation from God for the whole church today relative to the near future.

Pauline “Revelation”

Notice must also be taken here of the Pauline references to “revelation” (apokalypsis) in the “charismatic liturgy” of the early church (1 Cor 14:26, 30). This charismatic liturgy is taken seriously in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement and such revelation is both expected and received in the context of corporate worship. What is the relation of these charismatic revelations to the hapax revelation of Jesus Christ?

The answer can best be framed in terms of the function of such charismatic revelations in comparison with and contrast to the function of the revelation in Jesus Christ and apostolic witness.

A review of the Pauline usage of the concept “revelation” indicates a three-fold thrust. There are ecstatic revelations (2 Cor 12:1, 7), which are personal in nature. There are charismatic revelations which are corporate and local. There are apostolic-prophetic revelations, which are universal and normative (Eph 3:5). Paul himself experienced the “traditional” ecstatic revelations characteristic of the apocalyptic writers and devotees of the mystery religions. He writes of receiving an abundance of visions (optasia) and revelations in terms which clearly indicate ecstasy and altered states of consciousness (“Whether in the body or out of the body I do not know,” “caught up into paradise,” and “heard things which cannot be told”, 2 Cor 2:1-10). This type of experience was strictly personal in nature, related to God’s purpose for his life and his own spiritual and psychological makeup. This is evident from the fact that his whole ministry began with such a sovereign revelational experience on the road to Damascus (see Gal 1:15, 16), from the very personal way in which the glorified Lord counterbalanced these ecstatic revelatory experiences by allowing “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7), and from the fact that they were not intended for public proclamation to the church (2 Cor 12:4). Paul gives explicit warning against such experiences when they are made the basis for new doctrine or practice outside the context of apostolic teaching and fellowship (Col 2:18).

Paul also speaks of and promotes, as an expected part of the charismatic liturgy, another form of revelation with another purpose (1 Cor 14:26, 30) In charismatic revelation the form is not ecstatic and it takes place in orderly fashion in the context of worship in the Spirit. That this type of revelation is not ecstatic is indicated by the general principle that “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” (1 Cor 14:32), by the orderliness expected by Paul and by the close connection of such revelation to the manifestation of prophecy (1 Cor 14:29, 30).

The purpose of such revelations is clearly tied to the corporate context. The general Pauline rule for all charismatic manifestations of the Spirit is “let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor 14:26; see also 1 Cor 12:7; 14:12). This principle governs charismatic revelations whose purpose must be the upbuilding of the church. The purpose is strictly local and always related to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. This can most clearly be seen in its connection with prophecy which is local and of the moment, for those gathered in worship (1 Cor 14:38; Gal 2:2). In two places it is explicitly stated that such revelation is given by the Holy Spirit from God that we might “understand the gifts bestowed on us by God” (1 Cor 2:12) or that Christians might know their hope, inheritance and power in and through Jesus Christ (Eph 1:17ff). In other words, the nature of this type of charismatic revelation is a divine illumination of the definitive revelation in Jesus Christ, which makes that revelation especially alive and suited to upbuilding the church through a corporate proclamation of it and an appropriate testing by the church.

Paul also writes of apostolic-prophetic revelation which is universal and normative for the church. His own message he claims to be the direct result of revelation (Gal 1:11) and he specifically rejects any “revelation” which is contrary to the Gospel of the Jesus of history (Gal 1:18). He writes to the churches in Asia Minor of the “mystery of Christ”, — the gospel, given by revelation through the apostles and prophets (Eph 3:3-5). Here “prophets” refer to the New Testament prophets. This normative revelation is always in connection with the Old Testament prophetic expectations (Rom 16:25, 26), with the historic person of Jesus Christ (Gal 3:23) and with the foundational, and therefore final and unrepeatable, revelation through the New Testament apostles and prophets (Eph 2:21, 22).

It is only charismatic revelation which is part of the present Pentecostal/Charismatic movement as a normative part of the church’s functioning. Ecstatic revelations are accepted as possible and actual but only personal in significance. Normative revelation is restricted to apostolic teaching and practice and is used as the canon by which charismatic revelations are to be weighed by the gathered church (1 Cor 14:29; 1 Thess 5:19-21).

Johannine Theology of Development

The same dialectic, between the absoluteness of Jesus Christ and developmental leading of the church “into all truth,” is also clearly evident in the Johannine materials. Two passages in the Farewell Discourse (John 14:25; 16:12-15) indicate a delicate balance between the permanent, normative significance of the Jesus of history and the further revelations to come by the Spirit of truth. In both passages it is stated or implied that Jesus’ teachings are incomplete prior to his glorification in the cross and ascension. In the first passage Jesus says “these things” (and no more) I have spoken to you while I am still with you” (v. 25). But – there is more to come – the “all things” which Jesus wants to say to the disciples which they were unable to assimilate (bastazein) in their present spiritual state. Once again reference is made to the coming Spirit of truth who will guide them into all truth.

In these same passages, however, which point to further teachings and revelations from Jesus to be given by the Paraclete, it is clear that they are really from him and will refer back to him. The Paraclete will bring to remembrance all that Jesus had said to them (14:26), he will not speak on his own authority, independent of Jesus (16:12) but will disclose (anangelei) the things which are coming. At the same time the Holy Spirit will also be taking from “the things” of Jesus, i.e., content which comes from Jesus and which points to Jesus, and declaring them so that, in this guiding activity of the Spirit of truth, Jesus will be glorified.

This same balance between the on-going, post-Pentecostal activity of the Spirit and the normative meaning of the history and teaching of Jesus is seen in 1 John 5:6-8. Here the Spirit, “who is the truth,” is a witness to the Jesus of history. The Spirit is united with the witness of the “water and blood” which refer to the historical events of Jesus’ baptism in water at the Jordan and his baptism in blood at the cross.

From this discussion it is clear that there must not be any attempt to go beyond the Jesus of apostolic witness to another gospel or another spirit which is not the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7), whose proper task is to interpret to the church in a living way the hapax of Jesus Christ Himself. Any such attempt is unbiblical and must be guarded against.

The other side of the matter, however, must also be taken seriously, namely, that without the continued activity of the Spirit, of taking of the things of Jesus and declaring them to the church, there is no real gospel any more. Without the living, leading voice of the Spirit of truth the gospel becomes mere dead letter. Once we have laid to rest the specter of further normative revelations being claimed, there should, then, be the positive expectation – indeed demand, for continued charismatic revelations in the church, in order that the body of Christ might be fully built up in the one faith of absolute dependence upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ and in a further grasp of the content of faith, the faith once for all delivered to the saints.


Schaff makes very clear the way in which development is actually possible in the church in thesis 13:

We must not confound with this (absoluteness of Jesus Christ), however, the apprehension and appropriation of Christianity in the consciousness of mankind. This is a progressive process of development that will reach its close only with the Second Coming of the Lord.

The key categories which must be used, if the biblical balance between normative apostolic revelation and the continuing activity of the Spirit leading the church into all truth is to be maintained, are those of “consciousness” and “apprehension.” The distinction between the once-for-all givenness of normative revelation and the active appropriation and apprehension of that revelation in the living, corporate (and then individual) consciousness of the church, makes it very clear how progress and development are possible within the limits of the apostolic hapax. Development does not consist in going beyond Jesus Christ and the apostolic witness, because there is nothing beyond. Going “beyond” could, in fact, only be a reversion to mere human religion, whether it be to the legalistic misunderstanding of Judaism or the multiple forms of religious error found among the other families of humankind. Rather, true development, led by the Spirit of truth, is a matter of drawing ever more deeply upon the treasury of God’s reality and grace as it is found in Jesus Christ. Development can only be an increase of genuine life in Christ and an ever more precise explication, in cognitive categories, of the truth which is in Jesus Christ.

In the Colossian epistle, both increased participation in the material principle of Jesus Christ and in the formal principle are held before those who were being wooed to an advance “beyond Christ”, which was really a falling back into a mixture of heathen and Jewish religious notions and practices. The formal principle is Jesus Christ Himself “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). But He is also then the material principle, for it is from this treasury that “all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery” may be drawn (Col 2:3). The apostle sums up this whole point in these words: “As, therefore, you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith…” (Col 2:6). It is one thing to have a treasure of “assured understanding,” it is another to appropriate it personally, in consciousness, in explicit form. The situation is much like having a valuable book in your library without having read any more than the table of contents. The value is in the text, not outside of it. What is required is a real interaction with the contents.

The category “consciousness” suggests its opposite, which is “unconscious” or “implicit.” The domain in which development takes place, then, is that of consciousness not content. Therefore it is evident that this change is a shift from implicit to explicit. The Spirit’s role is the explication, in the consciousness of the church, of that which the church previously had lived upon only implicitly but which is now called forth according to the developmental readiness of the church as a living, growing organism and by the pressures experienced externally from the Zeitgeist and internally from the dynamic which urges pistis to seek gnosis. As Schaff goes on to say in thesis 16:

It is possible for the church to be in possession of a truth and live upon it, before it has come to be discerned in her consciousness…. Thus the child eats and drinks long before it has the knowledge of food, and walks before it is aware of the fact, much less how it walks.


The theology of church history which we have extracted from Schaff’s “theses for the times” serves quite well in providing the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement with a rationale for the possibility of “newness” and development, while maintaining a senses of historical perspective and connectedness. It does not, of course, answer all of the specific questions which can be raised exegetically or historically. But it does point in a direction which would be more acceptable to the larger Evangelical world, to which Pentecostals and Charismatics could and should be positively related. In the specific matter of the nature of “revelation” and the danger of going beyond Jesus Christ, it is clear that neither Paul nor John allows it, nor do Pentecostal/Charismatics intend it.

Much work remains to be carried out in detail, within this Christian consciousness model for the theology of church history. A series of further question arise which must be dealt with if all of the data of the history of the church are to be properly placed within the developmental framework we have presented as one which will justify the claims of the Pentecostal/Charismatic to be a significant work of the Holy Spirit and one which represents a further dialectic advance in the consciousness of the church.


  1. This is not to say that such statements are an approval in any way of the doctrines and practices of, say, the Latter Rain Assemblies of South Africa in the late 1920s, which were generally repudiated by most classical Pentecostals. It is simply an “eschatologizing” of a familiar biblical metaphor. See Walter J. Hollenweger, The Pentecostals (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1972), pp. 140-48.

2. The necessity of “justifying” a new theological understanding is, of course, an issue for any kind of theological development. A recent example of this in Evangelical circles is related to the matter of the “secret rapture of the saints” associated with the rise of dispensationalism since the mid-1800s. George Ladd raised the historical/developmental issue in his book The Blessed Hope (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, l956), p. 19: “If the Blessed Hope is in fact a pretribulation rapture, then the church has never known that hope through most of its history, for the idea of a pretribulation rapture did not appear in prophetic interpretation until the nineteenth century. Pretribulationists are reluctant to admit this.” In reply, John F. Walvrood, The Rapture Question (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957), p. 192 writes: “The detailed development of pretribulational truth during the past few centuries does not prove that the doctrine is new or novel. Its development is similar to that of other major doctrines in the history of the church.” He also deals with this matter in more detail earlier in the book, pp. 52, 53.

3. Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism (Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1964), p. 177.

4. Schaff, p. 230, thesis 83.

5. Schaff, p. 219.

6. Obviously there are a number of other tasks which might be mentioned such as the early trinitarian reflections implicit in the Johannine Farewell Discourses or the incipient Gnosticism reflected in the Pauline letters.

7. Cf., Irenaeus’ concept. See Adolf Harnack, History of Dogma, trans. Neil Buchanan (New York: Dover, l961), II, p. 238.

8. David Wilkerson, The Vision (Grand Rapids: Revel, l973). The contents of this vision are quite in line with what might be expected from a pre-tribulation Pentecostal with some negative feelings about the Roman Catholic Church.

9. This review is restricted to an analysis of Pauline usage of apocalypsis in relation to charismatic manifestation. It excludes the more general usages and such issues as “general revelation.” Of course it is understood that the basic etymological meaning of “unveiling” stands behind all of its uses and points to perception of the hidden reality of spiritual things. For an exhaustive treatment of the broader background see Albrecht Oepke, ” ,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, tran. G. W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), III, pp. 563-92.

10. The meaning taken here is that reflected in the RSV “taking his stand on visions,” literally “upon that which he has seen (ha heoramen) puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.”

11. See the perceptive discussion of this in an excellent book by James Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit (London: SCM, 1975), pp. 350-53.

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Daniel A. Tappeiner
John Wesley College
Owosso, Michigan

From: JASA 26 (September 1974): 131.

The so-called tongues issue is very much alive within evangelical circles, as can be seen by a quick perusal of articles recently published in many popular and scholarly publications. Often in these articles there is a recurring point which, as yet, seems to have been inadequately dealt with. This point is concerned with the nature of the tongues experience as it is found among those involved in the present day charismatic renewal. With almost predictable regularity the word “ecstatic” is used in conjunction with descriptions of tongue-speaking.

It is not difficult to understand how such a connection is made. The contexts in which glossnialic phenomena have been observed and studied promote it quite strongly. Both the theory and the practice of traditional Pentecostals lend themselves to an interpretation of tongue-speaking as an ecstatic experience. I would like to submit, however, the following thesis which introduces a refining distinction much needed for an accurate interpretation of the nature of tonguespeaking. The experience of tongue-speaking, as found among those in the current charismatic renewal, is a purely voluntary verbal behavior which is neither ecstatic nor emotional in nature. A distinction must be made between the experience itself and the cultural and responsive patterns which occur with it.

Note carefully the following points contained in this proposition. First, tongue-speaking is purely voluntary. The typical comment on this by those in the present movement is along these lines: “I can pray in tongues anytime I want and I can atop when I want also.” There is no sense of compulsion, although the desire to pray in tongues may be stronger at some times then at others even as in prayer with the mind. There is no question of “possession”, whether by the Holy Spirit or any other spirit, involved in tongue-speaking. Any experience which is at all suggestive of spirit possession is suspect and rejected by modern charismatics.

Second, tongue-speaking as an experience is not essentially ecstatic or even emotional. This may seem surprising to many in view of the testimonies often given and the observable phenomena in some contexts. There is often, after all, a context of joy, shouting, clapping, falling down, lifted arms, tears and other such evidences of ecstasy and deep emotion. Again, however, the typical experience and comment by those in the movement is “When I pray in tongues I am aware of where I am and what I am doing. Why, I can even drive a car and pray in tongues!” Larry Christenson, a prominent leader in the renewal, makes this point in these wordsl: “I do not pray in tongues because it gives me a continual thrill . . . . Regardless of what I feel or don’t feel, the Bible tells me plainly that the exercise of this gift will have positive results. I believe the Word!” In other words speaking in tongues may or may not be accompanied by emotion or any unusual state.

The third point to note is that, though there is nothing inherently ecstatic or emotional in the experience of speaking in tongues, there is often a personal response to this deeply spiritual experience-a response which is relative to the psychological structure of the individual and to his cultural expectations. Emotion is responsive. In this case the emotional response is to an experience which is interpreted as being a supernatural and deeply spiritual one. Further, the psychological effects of praying in tongues are integrative and liberating. It produces changes in the individual which allow him more readily to recognize and to express emotional responses.
Precisely which types and levels of expression are found is a matter of the individual’s basic personality structure and also of the ethos and expectations of the Christian community within which the individual is functioning. Here the influences of the social and educational background of the person are evident. The traditional Pentecostals have developed behavioral patterns suggested by their theoretical understanding of their experience and conditioned by their cultural background. The same is true of the new charismatics. Mainline theology and a higher degree of educational and social sophistication have produced an ethos of behavior and response which is as different from the traditional Pentecostals as it is from the typical forms of the mainline Churches from which the new charismatics come.

One further note should be made. Because of the deep spiritual and psychological changes which follow from the regular practice of praying in tongues a new dimension of experience is often opened up. An enhanced openness, expressiveness and sensitivity to spiritual realities can lead to experiences which have been generally associated with the mystical tradition. Unusual and significant dreams, visions, and the spontaneous overflow of emotions, whether of joy or compassion, are more likely to be found as a result of the tongues experience, especially if it is continued regularly and in community. Thus, though tongue-speaking itself is neither ecstatic nor emotional, it may open levels which are.
If persons on both sides of the tongues issue accept and keep in view these simple points a profitable service toward clarity and accuracy will have been accomplished.

1Larry Christenson, Speaking in Tongues, Dimension Books, Minneapolis 1968, p. 132.

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John Wesley College
Owosso, Michigan
From: JASA 26 (March 1974): 29-32

A Psycho-Theological Model


Paul states the fundamental proposition concerning the function of tongues for the individual in these words: “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself…” (I Cor. 14:4). In this article we will he concerned with a psycho-theological model for interpreting the function of tongues for the individual who practices tongue-speaking in his private life. Note that we are not concerned with the exegetical and historical questions concerning the problem of identity between the present day phenomena and that mentioned in the New Testament. We simply assume that they are the same for the present purpose of developing a model. We will proceed therefore to the propositions concerning the function of tongues for the individual in terms of biblical, psychological, and theological categories.

The Function Biblically Described

Biblically the function of tongues for the individual may he described as the spiritual upbuilding of the person by means of prayer to God concerning the mysteries of his own spirit.

This proposition sums up the Biblical evidence found in the Pauline discussion. In addition to the text already given above, which establishes the upbuilding function as fundamental, we may add the following texts: “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the spirit.” (I Cor. 14:2). “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.” (I Cor. 14:14). “But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silence in church and speak to himself and to God.” (I Cor. 14:28).

This proposition involves three things. The first is that of spiritual upbuilding. In general terms this is to be understood as the establishing more fully of the individual in the depth and reality of the Christian life as it centers in Jesus Christ. Perhaps Col. 2:6, 7 states it as well as we could want: “As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding with thanksgiving.”

The Christian Gospel involves the total man; therefore all levels of his functioning must he renewed if the Gospel is to be totally effective. There is a process in the Christian life as well as an initial contact with Jesus Christ. There is sanctification as well as regeneration. The process of being more fully and functionally related to Jesus Christ in a living way is the spiritual upbuilding meant here.

The second matter involved in this proposition is that of prayer. Prayer, in its deepest sense, is the communication in relation of the individual with God. The nature of tongues is relational. It is an addressing, on a deep personal level, guided by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26), of God. Thus tongues have an inherent meaning. It is not mere gibberish or ecstatic ravings. It is a communication with God on a level more profound than that of the rational and cognitive.
The third aspect of this proposition is that the contents of this upbuilding prayer are described as “mysteries of the spirit.” Here we take the “mysteries” as deep concerns of the man’s own spirit, but which concerns are so uttered is guided totally by the Holy Spirit. The precise contents will vary from person to person according to his situation, need and concerns even as we find it to be so in prayer with the mind. The word “mystery” is not in its usual Pauline sense here of previously hidden divine revelation now made known. Rather it signifies the fact that no one save God knows the meaning of the communication.

The Function Psychologically Described

Psychologically the function of tongues for the individual may be described as increased integration of the total personality.

If we take our cue from the biblical category of “upbuilding” we can see that being more “rooted and built tip” in Jesus Christ suggests a more total integrating of the whole person in the life of Jesus Christ. From the perspective of modern psychology and psychiatric theory and practice it is clear both that man as psyche has many levels of functioning and that change in the functioning of the psyche involves cognitive and affective components.

Man is a complex being. The conscious and rational elements, so critical to human experience, are not the totality of man. Rather they are the perceptible pinnacle of function of a vastly greater and more profound psycho-biological structure. Personality is deeply rooted in unconscious processes. Further, these processes are very powerful by virtue of their closeness to the inmost principle of life as it functions in man. The theological axiom that a man acts according to what he is, is well substantiated in a psychological sense.

These deep levels of personality involve many diverse elements related to the basic needs of human life and their satisfaction, but they are also related to the higher needs of the human psyche, such as coherence, value and meaning. Already in Karen Homey’s writings there is a recognition of a positive impulse of the inner self to develop in a definite, individual and authentic manner. This point has been picked up and developed very fruitfully in the last decade or so in the psychagogic psychology of Maslow, Jourard and Mowrer among others.

The focus of these theorists is not on what can he learned by an analysis of mast’s illness but on what can 1e learned from an analysis of those who are identified as functioning fully and in a “healthy” way. Maslow describes his “self -actualizers” very well in his book Motivation and Personality, Chapter 12. The picture given there is of an efficiently functioning person, highly integrated within, positively and creatively related to others and to the environment, whose subjective experience is characterized by such words as freedom, satisfaction, joy, meaning, value and the like. A truly healthy person is one whose basic experience and action are organically rooted in the deepest impulses of the life. There is nothing superficial or artificial about such persons. They are truly persons in the deepest sense.

But not only are there deep levels of functioning of the human psyche. We also know that changes in the functioning of this deeply rooted structure of personality require conditions which involve the total person both cognitively and affectively. It is especially noteworthy that, because the roots of personality are so deep, the personal structure cannot be directly altered by “taking thought”. Psychiatry and psychotherapy have amply demonstrated that mere cognitive perception of one’s problem or neurotic structure is therapeutically worthless if not a positive hinderance. What is required for effective therapy is a balanced combination of cognitive and affective components which constitutes a therapeutic insight. In this situation “kinks” in the psychic structure are eliminated and the deepest inner impulses of the life are able to operate more fully. Inner conflict is reduced and positive integration of the conscious and unconscious levels is furthered.

The function of spiritual upbuilding which our proposition attributes to the exercise of tongues can be easily related to the psychological paradigm of health and also to the psychological conditions required for personality change and integration. This is so especially in the light of the kind of effects most often mentioned in modern accounts by those who have entered into this experience.

The Christian Gospel involves the total man; therefore all levels of his functioning must be renewed if the Gospel is to be totally effective.

After surveying the various psychological theories concerning the cause and nature of tongues, Virginia lime concludes that a functional interpretation of tongues seems most probable. She states her conclusions on this matter in the following words1

Through a functional approach to the phenomenon we have come to assess glossotalia as a non-pathological linguistic behavior which functions . . . . as one component in the generation of commitment . . . . it operates in personal change, providing powerful motivation for attitudinal and behaviorial changes in the direction of group ideals.

Hine itemizes her findings concerning the subjective correlation of tongues thus2:

Forty percent mentioned increased capacity for love toward, sensitivity to, or concern for others. Thirty seven percent mentioned the “fruits of the spirit,” such as love, patience, kindness, gentleness, etc. The remaining nineteen percent described an increase in sellenofidenre and the “power to witness”, an active attempt to influence others.

In sum she states3: “Attitudinal changes were generally described in terms of greater capacity for love toward others, a sense of tranquility and joy, and more confidence in their beliefs.”

In his recent comprehensive, objective and sympathetic examination of tongue speaking, Morton T. Kelsey quotes with approval4:

Speaking with tongues is one evidence of the Spirit of God working in the unconscious and bringing one to a new wholeness, a new integration of the total psyche, a process which the Church has tradionally called sanctification.

We might point out here that it is possible to view tongues not only as an evidence but as a means to the ends described.

The human psyche is complex and needs to be integrated on all levels of function properly. One of the key conditions for such an integration is an experiential mode of being in which the psychic structure is loosened and opened so that the “kinks” can he removed and the genuine life impulses can replace them throughout the whole spectrum of psychic levels. From the psychological evidence it seems clear that tongues are suited to serve just such a purpose. The tongues experience would then be understood to involve a state in which the unconscious level of personality is allowed operation along with the conscious, concerned with the mysteries of one’s own spirit, but guided by the Holy Spirit, in a state of psychic openness best described as “faith-receptivity”. Our theological proposition on this point will make this clearer.

The Function Theologically Described

Theologically the function of tongues for the individual may he described as the “Opening” of the higher levels of the total person (unconscious, conscious) to the life of the incarnate and ascended Lord. This influx of life from Jesus Christ from within is formed in the character according to its own nature which is fixed by the light of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ as recorded in the written, normative Word of God.

This proposition is simply the transposition of realistic Eucharistic theology into the context of the charismatic life of the Body of Christ, the Church. To understand this proposition it is necessary first to indicate in outline form the theological structure underlying the Church doctrine of union with Christ in its ontological aspect. This we summarize thus:

1. Man is to be understood as an organic unity of life encompassing the total person, even to the inclusion of the body. This organic unity is brought about by the activity of the life-principle at the deepest level of personal existence.
2. By the Incarnation of the Eternal Son, along with His subsequent death, resurrection and ascension, we find that the organic principle of human life has been perfectly and fully expressed. The one true Man, the highest possible form of human life in union with God, is now a reality effected by divine action.

Because the roots of personality are so deep, the personal structure cannot be directly altered by “taking thought.”

3. In redemption applied to the individual, regeneration, which is the beginning point of that application, means and is the replacement of the original life principle received from Adam by the principle of the New Humanity, the glorified life-principle of Jesus Christ.

4. Objectively the communication of this life principle to the individual is only by the action of the Holy Spirit.

5. Subjectively the rule for the effectual operation of this life-principle at the level of character (attitude and behavior) is that of faith understood as a combination of notitia, assensus and fiducia, with the stress falling on fiducia as the total response of the person in an experiential mode, of openness and receptivity. Both “He who on the basis of faith is just shall live” and “The just shall live by faith” are proper biblical and theological keys to Christian existence. Our new relationship to God is established by faith and our new life in God functions by faith.

With this conception of the Christian life in mind we are now able to make the connection between the well established theological understanding of union with Christ and the historically underdeveloped understanding of the function of tongues for the individual.

Theologically tongues function for the individual as an occasion and means by which the Holy Spirit carries out His work of sanctification, of conforming the total person as a functional reality to the image of Jesus Christ. The specifically unique and significant role of tongues here is to he understood in terms of achieving, maintaining and increasing the person’s inner openness of faith-receptivity to the life of Jesus Christ within as it is “brought” there by the uniting and incorporating work of the Holy Spirit.

In terms of the Gospel images it might be understood as an unblocking and widening of the connection between the Vine and the branch. Or in terms of feeding upon the body and blood of Jesus, which is absolutely essential to eternal life, tongues function as a means by which, in a somewhat osmotic manner, the life-principle of Jesus Christ enters into the unconscious and conscious aspects of the person so that the person’s character is progressively being altered according to the impulse of the new life-principle which corresponds to the objective norm of Scripture.

In this way the Holy Spirit is able to treat various spiritual “kinks” in the person’s inner structure and at the same time to reform, at a deep and lasting level, that same inner structure according to the life principle of Jesus Christ.


If the function of tongues for the individual is as indicated in our propositions it is not difficult to see that tongues can be highly regarded by those who experience it, especially if faith, prior to the initial experience, has been weak or non-existent in the one receiving. To avoid an unbalanced over-reaction at this point it is well to end our discussion by putting this whole matter in perspective.

Positively tongues have something for our tendency to reduce man to a rational and an creature. “All we need is more knowledge, modern ethical clearer principles and all will he well”-so runs this error. And we certainly do need these. But they are not enough. We need to incorporate them into the real roots of our personality. And it is just the conditions necessary to such incorporation which we systematically suppress and eschew. We need, both in the Christian life and in corporate worship, to foster an atmosphere of openness, of receptivity, an atmosphere in which the experiential mode is promoted. Tongues, acting as a channel and means of increasing the experiential mode, certainly make the person exercising them more open to the knowledge and insight which we stress in our reduction of man to auditor and stimulus-response mechanism.

Negatively, tongues need to he seen in the context of other means by which openness and integration can be fostered-preaching, singing, praying, community,

Theologically tongues function for the individual as an occasion and means by which the Holy Spirit carries out His work of sanctification.

action. Tongues are not the only means to the end of sanctification. The whole history of the Church shows this. This gift is not an end in itself because the gifts of the Spirit aim at the fruit of the Spirit. And with tongues as with other means there is no automatic road to attaining the end of the Christian life, likeness to Jesus Christ. To make too much of tongues as a means is an understandable error-to ignore tongues is an unfortunate one.


1Virginia H. Hine, “Pentecostal Glossolalia: Toward a Functional Interpretation”, Journal For the Scientific Study of Religion, VIII, (No. 2), p. 225.
2Ibid, p. 216.
3Ibid., p. 222.
4Morton T. Kelsey, Tongue Speaking, Doubleday & Company, Inc., New York, 1968, p. 222.

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