IF WE LOOK CAREFULLY at the writings of the "charismatic revival,"
we shall find that this movement closely resembles many sectarian movements of
the past in basing itself primarily or even entirely on one rather bizarre
doctrinal emphasis or religious practice. The only difference is that the
emphasis now is placed on a specific point which no sectarians in the past
regarded as so central: speaking in tongues.
According to the constitution of various Pentecostal sects, "The
Baptism of believers in the Holy Ghost is witnessed by the initial physical
sign of speaking with other tongues" (Sherrill, p. 79). And not only is
this the first sign of conversion to a Pentecostal sect or
orientation: according to the best Pentecostal authorities, this practice must
be continued or the "Spirit" may be lost. Writes David Du Plessis:
"The practice of praying in tongues should continue and increase in the
lives of those who are baptized in the Spirit, otherwise they may find that the
other manifestations of the Spirit come seldom or stop altogether" (Du
Plessis, p. 89). Many testify, as does one Protestant, that tongues "have
now become an essential accompaniment of my devotional life" (Lillie, p.
50). And a Roman Catholic book on the subject, more cautiously, says that of
the "gifts of the Holy Spirit" tongues "is often but not always
the first received. For many it is thus a threshold through which one passes
into the realm of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit" (Ranaghan, p.
Here already one may note an overemphasis that is certainly not present in
the New Testament, where speaking in tongues has a decidedly minor
significance, serving as a sign of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of
Pentecost (Acts 2) and on two other occasions (Acts 10 and 19). After the first
or perhaps the second century there is no record of it in any Orthodox source,
and it is not recorded as occurring even among the great Fathers of the
Egyptian desert, who were so filled with the Spirit of God that they performed
numerous astonishing miracles, including raising the dead. The Orthodox
attitude to genuine speaking in tongues, then, may be summed up in the words of
Blessed Augustine (Homilies on John, VI:10): "In the earliest times "the
Holy Spirit fell upon them that believed, and they spake with tongues" which
they had not learned, "as the Spirit gave them utterance."
These were signs adapted to the time. For it was fitting that there be this
sign of the Holy Spirit in all tongues to show that the Gospel of God was to
run through all tongues over the whole earth. That was done for a sign, and it
passed away." And as if to answer contemporary Pentecostals with their
strange emphasis on this point, Augustine continues: "Is it now expected
that they upon whom hands are laid, should speak with tongues? Or when we
imposed our hand upon these children, did each of you wait to see whether they
would speak with tongues? And when he saw that they did not speak with tongues,
was any of you so perverse of heart as to say, 'These have not received the
Modern Pentecostals, to justify their use of tongues, refer most of all to
St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (chs. 12-14). But St. Paul wrote
this passage precisely because 'tongues' had become a source of disorder in the
Church of Corinth; and even while he does not forbid them, he decidedly
minimizes their significance. This passage, therefore, far from encouraging any
modern revival of "tongues," should on the contrary discourage
it‹especially when one discovers (as Pentecostals themselves admit) that there
are other sources of speaking in tongues besides the Holy Spirit! As Orthodox
Christians we already know that speaking in tongues as a true gift of the
Holy Spirit cannot appear among those outside the Church of Christ; but let
us look more closely at this modern phenomenon and see if it possesses
characteristics that might reveal from what source it does come.
If we are already made suspicious by the exaggerated importance accorded to
"tongues" by modern Pentecostals, we should be completely awakened
about them when we examine the circumstances in which they occur.
Far from being given freely and spontaneously, without man's interference -
as are the true gifts of the Holy Spirit- speaking in tongues can be caused to
occur quite predictably by a regular technique of concentrated group
"prayer" accompanied by psychologically suggestive Protestant hymns
("He comes! He comes!"), culminating in a "laying on of
hands," and sometimes involving such purely physical efforts as repeating
a given phrase over and over again (Koch, p. 24), or just making sounds with
the mouth. One person admits that, like many others, after speaking in tongues,
"I often did mouth nonsense syllables in an effort to start the flow of
prayer-in-tongues" (Sherrill, p. 127); and such efforts, far from being
discouraged, are actually advocated by Pentecostals. "Making sounds with
the mouth is not 'speaking-in-tongues,' but it may signify an honest act of
faith, which the Holy Spirit will honor by giving that person the power to
speak in another language" (Harper, p. 11). Another Protestant pastor
says: "The initial hurdle to speaking in tongues, it seems, is simply the
realization that you must 'speak forth'...The first syllables and words may
sound strange to your ear... They may be halting and inarticulate. You may have
the thought that you are just making it up. But as you continue to speak in
faith... the Spirit will shape for you a language of prayer and praise"
(Christenson, p. 130). A Jesuit "theologian" tells how he put such advice
into practice: "After breakfast I felt almost physically drawn to the
chapel where I sat down to pray. Following Jim's description of his own
reception of the gift of tongues, I began to say quietly to myself "la,
la, la, la." To my immense consternation there ensued a rapid movement of
tongue and lips accompanied by a tremendous feeling of inner devotion"
(Gelpi, p. 1).
Can any sober Orthodox Christian possibly confuse these dangerous psychic
games with the gifts of the Holy Spirit?! There is clearly nothing
whatever Christian, nothing spiritual here in the least. This is the realm,
rather, of psychic mechanisms which can be set in operation by means of
definite psychological or physical techniques, and "speaking in
tongues" would seem to occupy a key role as a kind of "trigger"
in this realm. In any case, it certainly bears no resemblance whatever to the spiritual
gift described in the New Testament, and if anything is much closer to shaministic
"speaking in tongues" as practiced in primitive religions, where
the shaman or witch doctor has a regular technique for going into a trance and
then giving a message to or from a "god" in a tongue he has not
In the pages that follow we shall encounter "charismatic"
experiences so weird that the comparison with shamanism will not seem
terribly far-fetched, especially if we understand that primitive shamanism is
but a particular expression of a "religious" phenomenon which, far
from being foreign to the modern West, actually plays a significant role in the
lives of some contemporary "Christians:" mediumism.
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