The Constitution of the General Council of the Assemblies of God lists sixteen fundamental truths. The seventh Tenet of Faith gives the scriptural definition of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and the eighth defines the scriptural evidence of this experience. It is stated: "The baptism of believers in the Holy Ghost is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance (Acts 2:4). The speaking in tongues in this instance is the same in essence as the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:4-10, 28), but different in purpose and use."
The doctrine of tongues as the initial, physical evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit has come under increasingly heavy attack in recent years, but it is fully substantiated in the Word of God. The doctrine can be nullified in two ways: (1) by simply denying it, or (2) by making tongues the primary focus, causing some to seek tongues rather than God.
The baptism in the Holy Spirit is the gracious gift of God, administered by our Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 3:11; Acts 1:5). Its primary, though not only, purpose is to endue believers with supernatural power to be witnesses of our Lord to all the world (Acts 1:8).
To speak with other tongues is to speak languages never learned, by the miraculous enabling of the Holy Spirit. 'Initial physical evidence' is the term used to describe the first outward sign of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is manifested in a physical way as the Spirit-filled believer's physical voice is used. It is initial in that it comes immediately with the infilling. There is no single declarative sentence in the Bible that states that everyone who is baptized in the Holy Spirit will speak in other tongues. However, as with the doctrine of the Trinity, the Scripture gives us the equivalent of such a statement.
Even if we had only Acts 1 and 2, we could know the doctrine, for there we have the definition of the baptism in the Spirit. Jesus said, "Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence" (Acts 1:5) [emphasis mine]. The scriptural definition of that baptism is, "And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4) [emphasis mine]. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Luke clearly intended to define what Jesus promised.
We see that the baptism in the Spirit and the first filling with the Spirit are identical.
No one who has not been baptized in the Spirit can claim, with scriptural backing, to be filled with the Spirit. Next we see that the sentence has a compound predicate. We cannot separate the "being filled" from the "speaking in tongues" without doing both grammatical and theological violence to the Word of God. All who were filled spoke. We dare not redefine what the Word has clearly defined.
We have further clear proof of the doctrine as we go on in Acts 2. As the crowd gathered, the believers continued speaking in other tongues, telling of God's wonderful works (v. 11). Some bystanders asked, "How hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born . . . What meaneth this?" (Acts 2:8-12). The word this is crucial here. Verses 12 and 13 make clear that they were asking, "What does this [speaking in tongues] mean?" It amazed them.
Peter took their terminology and gave them God's answer: "This [speaking in tongues] is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16) [emphasis mine]. Peter went on to tell them: "Jesus . . . hath shed forth this which you now see and hear" (Acts 2:32-33) [emphasis mine]. Thus, we have clear statements that speaking with tongues is God's sign of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
It is also clear that the outpouring evidenced by this speaking will continue throughout the last days (Acts 2:17). We next find clear doctrinal statements in Acts chapter 11. After the Holy Spirit fell on all the Gentiles at Cornelius's house (Acts 10:44-46), Peter had to convince the other Jewish leaders that what had happened was of God.
He made three doctrinal statements that caused the others to agree with him.
- First he said, "As I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning" (Acts 11:15) [emphasis mine]. This is theology within history. Peter and the other Jews with him could identify the Gentiles' experience because "they heard them speak with tongues" just as they, the Jewish believers, had spoken at Pentecost (v. 46). Nothing short of that would have convinced them.
- Second he said, "Then remembered I the Word of the Lord . . . ye shall be baptized in the Holy Ghost" (Acts 11:16) [emphasis mine]. Peter identified what was happening with being baptized in the Spirit when he saw and heard them speaking in tongues; immediately he connected it to the promise of Jesus which all four Gospels record.
- The third theological statement is in Acts 11:17: "God gave them the like gift as he did unto us." The term like means "the same; identical."
Some have erroneously said that Acts is merely history and that we cannot establish doctrine from it. However, these statements in the book interpret God's acts, and that gives us unchanging doctrine! Acts is a historical book, but it is also rich in theology, giving us sound doctrine. God has not told us why He chose to make speaking in other tongues the sign of the baptism in the Spirit for the Church Age.
We do know , however, that speaking with tongues has three main purposes:
- As the initial sign of the infilling;
- As a continuing help in one's daily devotional life, bringing edification to the believer and glory to God (1 Cor. 14: 2,4,14,18); and
As a ministry gift of the Spirit to bring edification to the assembled church when accompanied by the gift of interpretation of tongues (1 Cor. 12:10; 14:5,27).
Doctrine must be formulated by the Word of God, never by human experience. Having seen that this particular doctrine is clearly taught in the Word, we find it verified in the experience of the New Testament Church.
In every New Testament instance where details are given, speaking with tongues is recorded as the accompaniment of the baptism in the Spirit. It is the only phenomenon that occurs each time. On three occasions it is explicitly stated that they all spoke with tongues: the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2); the outpouring at Cornelius's house (Acts 10); and the infilling of the believers in Ephesus (Acts 19). When a specific phenomenon occurs every time a biblical experience is described, we cannot deny the integral relationship of the phenomenon to that experience.
It is not necessary that the record of each occurrence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit include a mention of tongues, when the doctrine has been established elsewhere. We know that each time people believed on Jesus, they were baptized in water because Jesus so commanded and because several instances are recorded. However, there are many instances where water baptism is not recorded, including Acts 4:4; 5:14, and 9:35. Likewise, we can be sure that each time believers were baptized in the Spirit, they spoke in tongues.
In the two instances where details are not given, speaking with tongues is clearly implied. At Samaria, Simon, a former sorcerer, saw something that made him know the Holy Spirit had been given (Acts 8:17-19). If the experience of the Samaritans had been a subjective one of faith (or of feelings), without an outward physical manifestation, Simon probably would never have known they had received the Spirit. Speaking with tongues is the only sign Simon could have seen that is not ruled out by (biblically) logical consideration of all possibilities.
In Acts 9 we have the account of Saul's conversion and the Lord's statement that he would be filled with the Spirit (v. 17). No details are given. However, we know that Paul began to speak with tongues at some time (1 Cor. 14:18); it is scripturally logical to say that he began to speak with tongues when he was baptized in the Spirit. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he expressed God's will when he wrote, "I want you all to continue to speak in tongues" (literal translation of 1 Cor. 14:5).
Though the scope of this article does not permit coverage, there is much well-documented proof that what we have noted as biblical precedent has been continued in practice throughout church history. The greatest church growth comes when this doctrine is preached and experienced.
Earnest believers do raise some valid questions on the subject:
2. Is the tongues-speaking in Acts different from that in Corinthians? It is the same in essence, but it may be used for different purposes, as context reveals.
3. Is speaking with tongues always a "prayer language?" No. When speaking in tongues is a sign to the unbeliever (1 Cor. 14:22) as it was at Pentecost (Acts 2:4-12), it is not necessarily prayer.
4. Are the words of a believer speaking in tongues always addressed to God? No. Some have misinterpreted 1 Corinthians 14:2 apart from the context. The rest of the verse says, "for no man understands." In other words, when no one, either by knowing a language, as at Pentecost, or by the supernatural gift of interpretation, understands what is being spoken, then it is spoken to God, for He alone understands. Some utterances in tongues are addressed to God by the Spirit and will, if interpreted, be a prayer or an expression of thanks (1 Cor. 14:16). Some are addressed to men and will, if interpreted, be either a warning (14:21) or a message of edification for the church (14:5-6). Tongues plus interpretation are equivalent to prophecy in edifying the church.
5. Should Spirit-filled believers help others to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit by telling them to say certain things? No. It is very dangerous to try to manipulate the things of God. This practice is humanistically motivated. We must be willing to wait for Jesus to do His work. Seekers can be encouraged to worship, to focus on Jesus, and to fully surrender to Him.
6. Are there not some who have accomplished great things for God who have never spoken in tongues? Indeed, yes. They are greatly blessed by God and are dedicated to Him. However, we cannot base doctrine on anyone's experience. There are also some good, moral people who are not born-again, but that does not negate the necessity of the new birth. We must build on the solid rock of God's Word.
All true Christians have the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9).
They have been born of the Spirit (John 3:5-8), but not all have been baptized in the Spirit. The disciples had received the Holy Spirit on the evening of the Resurrection (John 20:22), but Jesus told them the baptism in the Spirit was in the future (Luke 24:; Acts 1:5,8).
The Holy Spirit baptizes believers into Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:17). Then Jesus baptizes them in the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Acts 1:5). These cannot refer to the same experience since the Divine Agent and the element into which the believer is baptized are distinctly different in each.
At Samaria, believers were saved and baptized in water, but had not yet been baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 8). At Ephesus, Paul asked believers, "Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed" (Acts 19:2). A literal rendering of the Greek is "Having believed, did you receive the Holy Spirit?" This would be an absurd question if all believers are baptized in the Holy Spirit. After Paul explained God's will to them, they received the baptism in the Spirit with the evidence ordained by God (19:6).
In conclusion, the doctrine of speaking with tongues as the initial physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is clearly taught in the Scriptures. It is verified both in New Testament experience and in subsequent church history. Jesus is the Baptizer, and He wants to give this wonderful gift to all.
In the last discussion of speaking in tongues in the Bible, we have both a warning and an admonition. The warning is, "Forbid not to speak with tongues" (1 Cor. 14:39). There are many ways to forbid besides a command not to speak. To fail to teach the doctrine is indirectly forbidding. Scornful remarks about tongues can amount to forbidding. Unscriptural restrictions during the church service can result in actual forbidding. It is dangerous to forbid what God the Holy Spirit desires to give.
The positive admonition is, "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40). The "all things" includes speaking in tongues. If that is not being done, the church is out of order. We are on solid scriptural ground.
Let us preach and teach this important doctrine fervently.
(Originally published in the Sunday School Counselor, April 1989, by Gospel Publishing House, Springfield, Missouri. Republished by permission for Network 211, 2005.)