ONE CAREFUL AND OBJECTIVE study of "speaking in tongues" has been
made by the German Lutheran pastor, Dr. Kurt Koch (The Strife of Tongues).
After examining hundreds of examples of this "gift" as manifested in
the past few years, he came to the conclusion, on Scriptural grounds, that only
four of these cases might be the same as the gift described in the Acts of the
Apostles; but he was not sure of any of them. The Orthodox Christian, having
the full patristic tradition of the Church of Christ behind him, would be more
strict in his judgment than Dr. Koch. As against these few possibly positive
cases, however, Dr. Koch found a number of cases of undoubted demonic
possession - for "speaking in tongues" is in fact a common
"gift" of the possessed. But it is in Dr. Koch's final conclusion
that we find what is perhaps the clue to the whole movement. He concludes that
the "tongues" movement is not at all a "revival," for there
is in it little repentance or conviction of sin, but chiefly the search for
power and experience; the phenomenon of tongues is not the gift described in
the Acts, nor is it (in most cases) actual demonic possession; rather, "it
becomes more and more clear that perhaps over 95% of the whole tongues movement
is mediumistic in character" (Koch, p. 35).
What is a "medium"? A medium is a person with a certain psychic
sensitivity which enables him to be the vehicle or means for the manifestation
of unseen forces or beings (where actual beings are involved, as Starets
Ambrose of Optina has clearly stated , these are always the fallen spirits
whose realm this is, and not the "spirits of the dead" imagined by
spiritists). Almost all non-Christian religions make large use of mediumistic
gifts, such as clairvoyance, hypnosis, "miraculous" healing, the
appearance and disappearance of objects as well as their movement from place to
It should be noted that several similar gifts have also been possessed by
Orthodox Saints - but there is an immense difference between the true Christian
gift and its mediumistic imitation. The true Christian gift of healing, for
example, is given by God directly in answer to fervent prayer, and especially
at the prayer of a man who is particularly pleasing to God, a righteous man or
saint (James 5:16), and also through contact in faith with objects that have
been sanctified by God (holy water, relies of saints, etc.; see Acts 19:12; 2
Kings 13:21). But mediumistic healing, like any other mediumistic gift, is
accomplished by means of certain definite techniques and psychic states which
can be cultivated and brought into use by practice, and which have no relation
whatever either to sanctity or to the action of God. The mediumistic ability
may be acquired either by inheritance or by transference through contact with
someone who has the gift, or even through the reading of occult books .
Many mediums claim that their powers are not at all supernatural, but come
from a part of nature about which very little is known. To some extent this is
doubtless true; but it is also true that the realm from which these gifts come
is the special realm of the fallen spirits, who do not hesitate to use the
opportunity afforded by the people who enter this realm to draw them into their
own nets, adding their own demonic powers and manifestations in order to lead
souls to destruction. And whatever the explanation of various mediumistic
phenomena may be, God in His Revelation to mankind has strictly forbidden any
contact with this occult realm:
"There shall not be found among you any one
that useth divination, one that practiseth augury, or an enchanter, or a
sorcerer, or a charmer, or a consulter with a familiar spirit, or a necromancer.
For whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the Lord" (Deut.
18:10-12; see also Lev. 20:6).
In practice it is impossible to combine mediumism with genuine Christianity,
the desire for mediumistic phenomena or powers being incompatible with the
basic Christian orientation toward the salvation of the soul. This is not to
say that there are not "Christians" who are involved in mediumism,
often unconsciously (as we shall see); it is only to say that they are not
genuine Christians, that their Christianity is only a "new
Christianity" such as the one Nicholas Berdyaev preached, which will be
discussed again below. Dr. Koch, even from his Protestant background, makes a
valid observation when he notes: "A person's religious life is not harmed
by occultism or spiritism. Indeed spiritism is to a large extent a 'religious'
movement. The devil does not take away our 'religiousness'... [But] there is a
great difference between being religious and being born again by the Spirit of
God. It is sad to say that our Christian denominations have more 'religious'
people in them than true Christians" .
The best-known form of mediumism in the modern West is the spiritistic
seance, where contact is made with certain forces that produce observable
effects such as knockings, voices, various kinds of communications such as
automatic writing and speaking in unknown tongues, the moving of objects, and
the apparition of hands and "human" figures that can sometimes be
photographed. These effects are produced with the aid of definite attitudes and
techniques on the part of those present, concerning which we shall here quote
one of the standard textbooks on the subject .
1. Passivity: "A spirit's activity is measured by the degree of
passivity or submissiveness which he finds in the sensitive, or medium."
"Mediumship... by diligent cultivation may be attained by anyone who
deliberately yields up his body, with his free will, and sensitive and
intellectual faculties, to an invading or controlling spirit."
2. Solidarity in faith: All present must have a "sympathetic
attitude of mind in support of the medium"; the spiritistic phenomena are
"facilitated by a certain sympathy arising from a harmony of ideas, views
and sentiment existing between the experimenters and the medium. When this
sympathy and harmony, as well as the personal surrender of the will, are
warring in the members of the 'circle,' the seance proves a failure."
Also, "the number of experimenters is of great importance. If larger, they
impede the harmony so necessary for success."
3. All present "join hands to form the so-called magnetic circle.
By this closed circuit, each member contributes the energy of a certain force
which is collectively communicated to the medium." However, the
"magnetic circle" is required only in less well-developed mediums.
Mme. Blavarsky, the founder of modern "theosophy," herself a medium,
later laughed at the crude techniques of spiritism when she encountered much
more powerful mediums in the East, to which category also belongs the fakir
described in Chapter 3.
4. The necessary spiritistic atmosphere is commonly induced by
artificial means, such as the singing of hymns, the playing of soft music, and
even the offering of prayer."
The spiritistic seance, to be sure, is a rather crude form of mediumism -
although for that very reason its techniques are all the more evident - and
only rarely does it produce spectacular results. There are other more subtle
forms, some of them going under the name of "Christian." To realize
this one need only look at the techniques of a "faith-healer" such as
Oral Roberts (who until joining the Methodist church a few years ago was a
minister of the Pentecostal Holiness sect), who causes "miraculous"
healings by forming an actual "magnetic circle" composed of people
with the proper sympathy, passivity, and harmony of "faith" who put
their hands on the television set while he is on the air; the healings can even
be brought about by drinking a glass of water that has been placed on the
television set and has thus absorbed the flow of mediumistic forces that have
been brought into action. But such healings, like those produced by spiritism
and witchcraft, can take a heavy toll in later psychic, not to mention
spiritual, disorders .
In this realm one must be very careful, because the devil is constantly
aping the works of God, and many people with mediumistic gifts continue to
think they are Christians and that their gifts come from the Holy Spirit. But
is it possible to say that this is true of the "charismatic revival"
- that it is in fact, as some say, primarily a form of mediumism?
In applying the most obvious tests for mediumism to the "charismatic
revival," one is struck first of all by the fact that the chief
prerequisites for the spiritistic seance described above are all present at
"charismatic" prayer meetings, whereas not one of these
characteristics is present in the same form or degree in the true Christian
worship of the Orthodox Church.
1. The "passivity" of the spiritistic seance corresponds to what
"charismatic" writers call "a kind of letting go... This
involves more than the dedication of one's conscious existence through an act
of will; it also refers to a large, even hidden area of one's unconscious
life...All that can be done is to offer the self - body, mind, and even the
tongue - so that the Spirit of God may have full possession... Such
persons are ready - the barriers are down and God moves mightily upon and
through their whole being" (Williams, pp. 62-63; italics in the original).
Such a "spiritual" attitude is not that of Christianity: it is rather
the attitude of Zen Buddhism, Eastern "mysticism," hypnosis, and
spiritism. Such an exaggerated passivity is entirely foreign to Orthodox
spirituality, and is only an open invitation to the activity of deceiving
spirits. One sympathetic observer notes that at Pentecostal meetings people
speaking in tongues or interpreting "seem almost to go into a trance"
(Sherrill, p. 87). This passivity is so pronounced in some "charismatic"
communities that they completely abolish the church organization and any set
order of services and do absolutely everything as the "spirit"
2 There is a definite "solidarity in faith" - and not merely
solidarity in Christian faith and hope for salvation, but a specific unanimity
in the desire for and expectation of "charismatic" phenomena. This is
true of all "charismatic" prayer meetings; but an even more
pronounced solidarity is required for the experience of the "Baptism of
the Holy Spirit," which is usually performed in a small separate room in
the presence of only a few who have already had the experience. The presence of
even one person who has negative thoughts about the experience is often
sufficient to cause the "Baptism" not to occur - exactly in the way
that the misgivings and the prayer of the Orthodox priest described above was
enough to break up the impressive illusion produced by the Ceylonese fakir.
3. The spiritistic "magnetic circle" corresponds to the
Pentecostal "laying on of hands," which is always done by those who
themselves have already experienced the "Baptism" with speaking in
tongues, and who serve, in the words of Pentecostals themselves, as "channels
of the Holy Spirit" (Williams, p. 64) - a word used by spiritists to
refer to mediums.
4. The "charismatic," like the spiritistic, "atmosphere"
is induced by means of suggestive hymns and prayers, and often also by
hand-clapping, all of which give "an effect of mounting excitement, and
almost intoxicating quality" (Sherrill, p. 23).
It may still be objected that all those similarities between mediumism and
Pentecostalism are only coincidental; and indeed in order to show whether or
not the "charismatic revival" is actually mediumistic, we shall have
to determine what kind of "spirit" it is that is communicated through
the Pentecostal "channels." A number of testimonies by those who have
experienced it - and who believe that it is the Holy Spirit - point clearly to
its nature. "The group moved closer around me. It was as if they were
forming with their bodies a funnel through which was concentrated the flow of
the Spirit that was pulsing through the room. It flowed into me as I sat
there" (Sherrill, p. 122). At a Catholic Pentecostal prayer meeting,
"upon entering a room one was practically struck dead by the strong
visible presence of God" (Ranaghan, p. 79). (Compare the
"vibrant" atmosphere at some pagan and Hindu rites; see above, pg.
50.) Another man describes his "Baptismal" experience: "I became
aware that the Lord was in the room and that He was approaching me. I couldn't
see Him, but I felt myself being pushed over on my back. I seemed to float to
the floor..." (Logos Journal, Nov.-Dec., 1971, p. 47). Other
similar examples will be given below in the discussion of the physical
accompaniments of "charismatic" experience. This "pulsing,"
"visible," "pushing" spirit that "approaches" and
"flows" would seem to confirm the mediumistic character of the
"charismatic" movement. Certainly the Holy Spirit could never be
described in these ways!
And let us recall a strange characteristic of "charismatic"
speaking in tongues that we have already mentioned: that it is given not only
at the initial experience of the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit," but is
supposed to be continued (both in private and public) and become an
"essential accompaniment" of religious life, or else the"gifts
of the Spirit" may cease. One Presbyterian "charismatic" writer
speaks of the specific function of this practice in "preparing" for "charismatic"
"Often it is the case that... a small group will spend time ahead
praying in the Spirit [i.e., in tongues]. In so doing there is greatly
multiplied the sense of God's presence and power that carries over into the
gathering." And again: "We find that quiet praying in the Spirit
during that meeting helps to maintain an openness to God's presence... [for]
after one has become accustomed to praying in tongues aloud... it soon becomes
a possibility for one's breath, moving across vocal chords and tongue, to
manifest the Spirit's breathing, and thereby for prayer to go on quietly, yet
profoundly, within" (Williams, p. 31).
Let us remember also that speaking in tongues can be triggered by such
artificial devices as "making sounds with the mouth" - and we come to
the inevitable conclusion that "charismatic" speaking in tongues is
not a "gift" at all but a technique, itself acquired by other
techniques and in turn triggering still other "gifts of the Spirit," if
one continues to practice and cultivate it. Do we not have here a clue to
the chief actual accomplishment of the modern Pentecostal Movement - that it
has discovered a new mediumistic technique for entering into and preserving a
psychic state wherein miraculous "gifts" bcome commonplace? If
this is true, then the "charismatic" definition of the "laying
on of hands" - "the simple ministry by one or more persons who
themselves are channels of the Holy Spirit to others not yet so blessed,"
in which "the important thing [is] that those who minister have themselves
experienced the movement of the Holy Spirit" (Williams, p. 64) - describes
precisely the transference of the mediumistic gift by those who have already
acquired it and have themselves become mediums. The "Baptism of the
Holy Spirit" thus becomes mediumistic initiation.
Indeed, if the "charismatic revival" is actually a mediumistic
movement, much that is unclear about it if it is viewed as a Christian movement,
becomes clear. The movement arises in America, which fifty years before had
given birth to spiritism in a similar psychological climate: a dead,
rationalized Protestant faith is suddenly overwhelmed by actual experience of
an invisible "power"that cannot be rationally or scientifically
explained. The movement is most successful in those countries which have a substantial
history of spiritism or mediumism: America and England, first of all, then
Brazil, Japan, the Philippines, black Africa. There is scarcely to be found an
example of "speaking in tongues" in any even nominally Christian
context for over 1,600 years after the time of St. Paul (and even then it is an
isolated and short-lived hysterical phenomenon), precisely until the
20th-century Pentecostal Movement, as the scholarly historian of religious
"enthusiasm" has pointed out;10 and yet this "gift" is
possessed by numerous shamans and witch doctors of primitive religions, as well
as by modern spiritistic mediums and the demonically possessed. The
"prophecies" and "interpretations" at
"charismatic" services, as we shall see, are strangely vague and
stereotyped in expression, without specifically Christian or prophetic content.
Doctrine is subordinated to practice: the motto of both movements might be, as
"charismatic" enthusiasts say over and over again, "it
works" the very trap into which, as we have seen, Hinduism leads its
victims. There can scarcely be any doubt that the "charismatic
revival," as far as its phenomena are concerned, bears a much closer
resemblance to spiritism and in general to non-Christian religion, than it does
to Orthodox Christianity. But we shall have yet to give many examples to
demonstrate just how true this is.
Up to this point we have been quoting, apart from Dr. Koch's statements,
only from those favorable to the "charismatic revival," who only give
their testimonies of what they imagine to be the workings of the Holy Spirit.
Now let us quote the testimony of several people who have left the
"charismatic" movement, or refused to enter it, because they found
that the "spirit" that animates it is not the Holy Spirit.
1. In Leicester (England) a young man reported the following. He and his
friend had been believers for some years when one day they were invited to the
meeting of a tongues speaking group. The atmosphere of the meeting got a hold
on them and afterwards they prayed for the second blessing and the baptism of
the Holy Spirit. After intensive prayer it was as if something hot came over
them. They felt very excited inside. For a few weeks they reveled in this new
experience, but slowly these waves of feeling abated. The man who told me this
noticed that he had lost all desire to read the Bible and to pray. He examined
his experience in the light of the Scriptures and realized that it was not of
God. He repented and denounced it... His friend on the other hand continued in
these 'tongues' and it destroyed him. Today he will not even consider the idea
of going on further as a Christian" (Koch, p. 28).
2. Two Protestant ministers went to a "charismatic" prayer meeting
at a Presbyterian church in Hollywood."Both of us agreed beforehand that
when the first person started to speak in tongues, we would pray roughly the
following, 'Lord, if this gift is from you, bless this brother, but if it is
not of you, then stop it and let there be no other praying in tongues in our
presence.'... A young man began the meeting with a short devotion after which
it was open for prayer. A woman started to pray fluently in a foreign language
without any stammering or hesitation. An interpretation was not given. The Rev.
B. and I started to pray quietly as we had agreed earlier. What happened? No
one else spoke in tongues, although usually in these meetings all of them,
except for an architect, pray in unknown tongues" (Koch, p. 15). Note here
that in the absence of the mediumistic solidarity of faith, the phenomena do not
3. "In San Diego, California, a woman came for counseling. She told me
of a bad experience that she had had during a mission held by a member of the
tongues movement. She had gone to his meetings in which he had spoken about the
necessity of the gift of tongues, and in an after-meeting she had allowed hands
to be laid on herself in order to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and
the gift of speaking in tongues. At that moment she fell down unconscious. On
coming round again she found herself lying on the floor with her mouth still
opening and shutting itself automatically without a word being uttered. She was
terribly frightened. Standing around her were some of the people who were
followers of this evangelist and they exclaimed, 'O sister, you have really
spoken wonderfully in tongues. Now you have the Holy Spirit.' But the victim of
this so-called baptism of the Holy Spirit was cured. She never again returned
to this group of tongues-speakers. When she came to me for advice she was still
suffering from the bad after-effects of this 'spiritual baptism' " (Koch,
4. An Orthodox Christian in California relates a private encounter with a
"spirit-filled" minister who has shared the same platform with the
leading Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal representatives of the
"charismatic revival": "For five hours he spoke in tongues and
used every artifice (psychological, hypnotic, and 'laying on of hands') to
induce those present to receive the 'baptism of the Holy Spirit.' The scene was
really terrible. When he laid hands on our friend she made guttural sounds,
moaned, wept, and screamed. He was well pleased by this. He said she was
suffering for others - interceding for them. When he 'laid hands' on my head
there was a presentiment of real evil. His 'tongues' were interspersed with
English: 'You have the gift of prophecy, I can feel it.' 'Just open your mouth
and it will flow out.' 'You are blocking the Holy Spirit.' By the grace of God
I kept my mouth shut, but I am quite certain that if I had spoken, someone else
would have 'interpreted.' "(Private communication.)
5. Readers of The Orthodox Word will recall the account of the
"prayer-vigil" held by the Syrian Antiochian Archdiocese of New York
at its convention in Chicago in August, 1970, where, after a dramatic and
emotional atmosphere had been built up, young people began to
"testify" how the "spirit" was moving them. But several
people who were present related later that the atmosphere was "dark and ominous,"
"stifling," "dark and evil," and by a miraculous
intercession of St. Herman of Alaska, whose icon was present in the room, the
whole meeting was broken up and the evil atmosphere dispelled (The Orthodox
Word, 1970, nos. 4-5, pp. 196-199).
There are numerous other cases in which people have lost interest in prayer,
reading the Scriptures, and Christianity in general, and have even come to
believe, as one student did, that "he would not need to read the Bible any
more. God the Father would himself appear and speak to him" (Koch, p. 29).
We shall yet have occasion to quote the testimony of many people who do not
find anything negative or evil in their "charismatic" experience, and
we shall examine the meaning of their testimony. However, without yet reaching
a conclusion as to the precise nature of the "spirit" that
causes "charismatic" phenomena, on the basis of the evidence here
gathered we can already agree this far with Dr. Koch: "The tongues
movement is the expression of a delirious condition through which a breaking in
of demonic powers manifests itself" (Koch, p. 47). That is, the movement,
which is certainly "delirious" in giving itself over to the activity
of a "spirit" that is not the Holy Spirit, is not demonic in intention
or in itself (as contemporary occultism and satanism certainly are), but by its
nature it lays itself particularly open to the manifestation of obvious demonic
forces, which do in fact sometimes appear. This book has been read by a number
of people who have participated in the "charismatic revival"; many of
them have then abandoned this movement, recognizing that the spirit they had
experienced in "charismatic" phenomena was not the Holy
To such people, involved in the "charismatic" movement, who are
now reading this book, we wish to say: You may well feel that your experience
in the "charismatic" movement has been largely something good (even
though you may have reservations about some things you have seen or experienced
in it); you may well be unable to believe that there is anything demonic in it.
In suggesting that the "charismatic" movement is mediumistic in
inspiration, we do not mean to deny the whole of your experience while
involved in it. If you have been awakened to repentance for your sins, to the
realization that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Saviour of mankind, to sincere
love for God and your neighbor - all of this is indeed good and would not be
lost by abandoning the "charismatic" movement. But if you think that
your experience of "speaking in tongues," or "prophesying,"
or whatever else of the "supernatural" that you may have experienced,
is from God - then this book is an invitation for you to find out that the
realm of true Christian spiritual experience is much deeper than you have felt
up to now, that the wiles of the devil are much more subtle than you may have
imagined, that the willingness of our fallen human nature to mistake illusion
for truth, emotional comfort for spiritual experience, is much greater than you
As to the precise nature of the "tongues" that are being spoken
today, probably no simple answer can be given. We know quite certainly that in
Pentecostalism, just as in spiritism, the elements of both fraud and suggestion
play no small role, under the sometimes intense pressures applied in
"charismatic" circles to force the phenomena to appear. Thus, one
member of the largely Pentecostal "Jesus Movement" testifies that
when he spoke in tongues "it was just an emotional build-up thing where I
mumbled a bunch of words," and another frankly admits, "When I first
became a Christian the people that I was with told me that you had to do it. So
I prayed that I could do it, and I went as far as copying off them so they
would think that I had the gift" (Ortega, p. 49). Some of the supposed
"tongues" are thus doubtless not genuine, or at best the product of
suggestion under conditions of emotional near-hysteria. However, there are
actually documented cases of Pentecostal speaking in an unlearned language
(Sherrill, pp. 90-95); there is also the testimony of many concerning the ease
and assurance and calmness (without any hysterical conditions at all) with
which they can enter into the state of "speaking in tongues"; and
there is a distinctly preternatural character in the related phenomenon of
"singing in tongues," where the "spirit" also inspires the
melody and many join in to produce an effect that is variously described as
"eerie but extraordinarily beautiful" (Sherrill, p. 118) and
"unimaginable, humanly impossible" (Williams, p. 33).
It would therefore seem evident that no merely psychological or emotional
explanation can account for much of the phenomena of contemporary
"tongues." If it is not due to the working of the Holy Spirit - and
by now it is abundantly evident that it could not be so - then today's
"speaking in tongues" as an authentic "supernatural"
phenomenon can only be the manifestation of a gift of some other spirit.
To identify this "spirit" more precisely, and to understand the
"charismatic" movement more fully, not only in its phenomena but also
in its "spirituality," we shall have to draw more deeply from the
sources of Orthodox tradition. And first of all we shall have to return to a
teaching of the Orthodox ascetic tradition that has already been discussed in
this series of articles, in explanation of the power which Hinduism holds over
its devotees: prelest, or spiritual deception.
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