I had started visiting various churches and denominations in my teens and then I quit completely. After marrying, my husband and I looked for another to attend. Many of our neighbors were attending a local church, so we decided to attend there too. It seemed a nice place, very casual with a young crowd. They sang a lot of songs led by a guitar-playing pastor and reached to the heavens at various times throughout the service. I had never experienced such a church, and it was a little exciting.
I noticed people’s mouths moving quietly throughout the service. I wondered why. The next week, a woman sitting next to me was doing the same. I could hear her, but I didn’t understand the words. I asked her after services what language she was speaking. She said she was speaking in tongues. She said it was a gift from God. I’d never heard of this before, so she and some other nearby people explained. I was told that speaking in tongues was a a spiritual language; a direct communication line to God. It was the greatest of the gifts God had to offer, that the fruits of the Spirit are actually initiated by speaking in tongues and that it increases your faith.
I was skeptical, but intrigued. I began to notice others doing it and believing it was important. People thought the language was the way God wanted them to pray. They also felt that if you didn’t believe in speaking in tongues, you were rejecting the best gift God had to offer and that it was sinful not to accept it. I truly hoped to receive this awesome gift for myself.
One of the scriptures most often used to support the group’s ideas is in the listing of gifts. “To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another diverse kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:10 1 Corinthians 12:10To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
American King James Version×).
Weeks later, church members started insisting I get baptized. It seemed the congregation felt empowered to water baptize other members. I was uncomfortable and told them that I wasn’t ready. Then they told me that I should be baptized by the Holy Spirit. I didn’t understand, but when they said that was how you received the gift of tongues, I was curious.
The following Sunday, the pastor announced they would be baptizing this way after services, so I lined up with about a dozen other people. We all stood in a small congested room, and after a quick prayer, we were told to start speaking in baby babble, using words like “bah bah” and “goo goo.” I thought it was ridiculous, but they said it helped the Holy Spirit get started. One by one I saw those around me start speaking the weird language, all coincidentally sounding a lot like the baby words we were told to use. Two of us stood alone in the end. I began to cry—because I felt stupid for even attempting it—and was quickly consoled. I was told it was not the gift God intended for me. It was an odd comment, since the congregation as a whole was able to do so. Those who didn’t were privately thought to not have enough faith and eventually left the church.
We too soon left, but not because we couldn’t speak in tongues, but because we came to the conclusion that speaking in tongues should not be the focus of a church. Later, while reading the scriptures on the subject I came to learn how confused I and others had truly been.
The group used certain scriptures to back their practice: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4 Acts 2:4And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
American King James Version×).
What does the Bible say?
The problem is they completely ignored other verses in the Bible that explain what the gift of tongues is meant for. For example: “Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, ‘Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?’” (Acts 2:7-8 Acts 2:7-8 7 And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
American King James Version×). The apostles were not speaking in some sacred or secret language. They were speaking in the different languages of their audience. It wasn’t only a way to communicate the gospel, but also a miracle for all to witness (Acts 2:11-12 Acts 2:11-12 11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. 12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What means this?
American King James Version×).
One scripture they used is 1 Corinthians 14:2 1 Corinthians 14:2For he that speaks in an unknown tongue speaks not to men, but to God: for no man understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.
American King James Version×, which says, “For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.” But reading the context this verse is taken from, it’s clear Paul is actually criticizing the practice of speaking in tongues just for the sake of it. He draws a contrast between two gifts: speaking in tongues where nobody but the speaker and God can understand, and the practice of inspired speaking (translated “prophesying”) where everybody can understand and can benefit (1 Corinthians 14:1-5 1 Corinthians 14:1-5 1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that you may prophesy. 2 For he that speaks in an unknown tongue speaks not to men, but to God: for no man understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But he that prophesies speaks to men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. 4 He that speaks in an unknown tongue edifies himself; but he that prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would that you all spoke with tongues but rather that you prophesied: for greater is he that prophesies than he that speaks with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
American King James Version×). Look at it this way: If I spoke French and you spoke English, you wouldn’t understand me when I talked to you—only God would. And what use is that to you if I’m saying something important? Paul explained to the church in Corinth that speaking in tongues was a legitimate gift, but only worthwhile if used to edify someone else by speaking in their language so they could understand!
What did I actually learn from the experience? I saw people so focused on a single supposed gift that they basically worshiped it instead of God. I learned that God did indeed have many gifts to share, but not necessarily the ones I expected. The gifts we receive are given in order to help others, not ourselves. Let’s use the gifts God gave us to further His work and to glorify Him.