It had only been in the past two or three years that I had made the decision to follow Christ and learn as much about Him as I could. Deep down, I knew some day I would experience something like the following, but that knowledge still did not prepare me for the shock I would endure.
I am a first-year student at the University of the West Indies and attend the Mona campus in Jamaica. On Tuesday and Wednesday, November 8 and 9, 2005 a university club called UCCF (Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship) held a production on the theme “The Fear of the Lord.” Having been invited, I attended; I had a handful of friends who were to perform and was sure it would be entertaining. It was. There was a little skit and, interspersed throughout, dancing, sign language, even dub poetry.
During the first dance performance, though, a young lady did something that surprised me. She started screaming, no, wailing. While on the floor, knelt and curled into a little ball, she called out to the Lord.
When the dance was over, I thought that would be the end of such displays. I was mistaken. It escalated from there, even to the point the performers started convulsing on the floor. And it didn’t even stop there. Around me, in the audience, there was screaming. A lady near to me was rocking back and forth, shrieking unintelligibly.
When expressing my feelings about this experience to friends, two questioned whether or not I had received the Spirit. One suggested my not being “open” to having the Spirit work in my life. She claimed to see the Spirit manifest in the wailing and convulsing performers, but not in me. She said to me “If you really felt Him [the Spirit], you wouldn’t be able to stand.” The other said she wished I would open my eyes to the truth and accept my need to receive the Spirit “as evidenced by speaking in tongues.” They weren’t questioning my sincerity or my love for Christ or God the Father, just the Spirit’s power manifest in me.
What God thinks
I, of course, was a bit hurt by such words. I decided to turn to Scripture to see what God really thinks about all of this. The first passage I turned to was Acts 2, which is so quickly used to defend their teaching:
“Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:3-4).
“Tongues” or glossa in the Greek can mean the literal tongue in the body or the language used by a particular people in distinction from that of other nations. In the aforementioned verse, both forms of the word are used. The fire that descended upon them somehow resembled the literal tongue, and the “tongues” spoken by those present were, of course, distinct and actual languages.
Search this entire chapter, the entire Bible even, and you will not find an example of someone falling and convulsing upon receiving the Spirit. The Scriptures are clear, they were not speaking the gibberish I heard at the performance. All those present heard, in their own language, what was being said (verse 8).
Paul expresses a very different view about speaking in tongues than my friends:
“Tongues” or glossa in the Greek can mean the literal tongue in the body or the language used by a particular people in distinction from that of other nations.
“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, emphasis added throughout).
Did he say all would have “different kinds of tongues”? No. He asks the following:
“Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” (verses 29-30).
Just as not all are prophets, healers and miracle workers, not all will speak in tongues. Paul, once again, does not seem to place speaking in tongues as highly as one might think he should:
“And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” (verse 28).
This is as clear as day. Paul says speaking in tongues should not be as much of a priority and shouldn’t be stressed as much as many people think:
“Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 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…I wish you all spoke with tongues but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification” (1 Corinthians 14:1-2, 5).
Speaking in tongues is speaking to God only because He understands every language that was ever created and will be created, not because it has some special properties. But what exactly is the purpose of speaking in tongues? Paul tells us:
“Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those that believe, but to unbelievers” (verse 22).
It is to be a sign to unbelievers, not to those who believe. It is for evangelizing, not for saying to fellow believers, “LOOK AT ME, I HAVE THE SPIRIT!”
Paul is the very person who tells us God is not a God of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). And yet people read 1 Corinthians 14, sometimes called the “tongues chapter” because of its emphasis on this gift, and do the very thing that Paul tells us not to:
What exactly is the purpose of speaking in tongues?
“Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? ...If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two, or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God” (verses 23, 27-28).
Not the work of the Spirit
I had seen a few examples of what is sometimes called “slaying in the Spirit” on television, but never had I experienced it face-to-face. Based on my knowledge of God, I don’t see how “the fear of the Lord” would lead anyone to act so chaotically. That was not the work of the Spirit of my God. It seemed more to me to be the work of other spirits altogether.
Of course, I heard the argument the Holy Spirit is, well, a spirit, and should work in a similar fashion. But can you honestly, as a Bible-believing Christian, believe God would cause His people to fall and convulse? There is not one biblical example of “slaying in the Spirit.”
In response to this, a friend (the same one who said she doesn’t see me as open to the Spirit) spoke this analogy:
“Imagine someone with a mother and one without [speaking of me, of course]. One with a mother will be able to know her by communicating directly with her, while the other would only be able to know his mother through the writings she left behind. The one with a mother would be able to understand through personal experience who and what she is and would find it hard to explain what it is like to have her as part of his life and the effect her influence has on him.”
This human reasoning may sound logical, but it is irrelevant since this type of “speaking in tongues” is not taught in the Bible and even contradicts the Bible. The Bible is to be our guide and all convictions we think might be from our Lord’s Spirit should be compared and contrasted with these writings. Satan is clever and will deceive those who are not familiar with the Scriptures. And so, it is through the Scriptures that we get to know our God. God, of course, speaks to us in our daily lives through prayer and Bible study, so the Bible’s teachings must come first; any conviction we receive that is against this Word is simply not from God.
The fruit of God’s Spirit
So what does the Bible say? How do we know who has the Holy Spirit? By speaking in tongues? By falling to the floor whenever we feel the Spirit’s presence?
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:22-24).
Reading this verse, we see the fruit of the Spirit is what all Christians need to show. Paul refers to everything else as spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1) and these are listed (verses 9 and 10). The Spirit, throughout Scripture, never incapacitates anyone, so to claim that as the work of the Spirit is unfounded.
We should all work to have the fruit of God’s Spirit manifest in us. Should He choose to bestow His gifts upon us, we should be grateful and honored. But let no one put doubt in your heart about having received the Spirit because you do not ostentatiously show one of His gifts.