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Charismatic Chaos - Part 10

Written by: MacArthur Jr., John    Posted on: 04/02/2003

Category: Sermons

Source: CCN

The following message was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, By John MacArthur Jr.  It was transcribed from the tape, GC 90-61, titled "Charismatic Chaos" Part 10.  A copy of the tape can be obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412.

I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the original tape was made.  Please note that at times sentence structure may appear to vary from accepted English conventions.  This is due primarily to the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make in placing the correct punctuation in the article.

It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription of the sermon, "Charismatic Chaos" Part 10, to strengthen and encourage the true Church of Jesus Christ.



                        Charismatic Chaos - Part 10

                            "Speaking in Tongues"

                              Copyright 1991                                     by                           John F. MacArthur, Jr.                             All rights reserved.



Tonight, in one sense I have a difficult, impossible task; and that is to cover a subject that needs to be covered thoughtfully and carefully.  In another sense, while very challenging and almost impossible to fully accomplish, I welcome the opportunity to share with you some insights that will help you to be discerning as you look at a very important issue in the Charismatic movement today; and that is this matter of "Speaking in Tongues." 

This is at the very heart of the Charismatic movement; one of their distinctives.  There is no question in my mind that if you were to boil down the Charismatic movement as to its basic, several ingredients, one of them would be the affirmation that speaking in tongues is a gift for today.  Not only a gift for today, but a gift to be sought by every Christian who wants the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the fullness of the blessing of God.  It is so much a part of the fabric of the Charismatic movement that it is one of the primary things that they endeavor to teach the children in that movement. 

Someone sent me a sample of some Charismatic Sunday School literature which is designed specifically to teach Kindergarten children how to speak in tongues.  It's titled, "I've Been Filled with the Holy Spirit," and it is an eight paged coloring book.  One page has a caricature of a smiling weight lifter with a T-shirt and it says, "Spiritman", and under him is printed  1 Corinthians 14:4, "He that speaks in an unknown tongue builds himself up."  Another page features a little boy who looks something like (some of you will remember) Howdy Doody, something like that, with his hands lifted up, and a dotted outline pictures where his lungs would be.  This evidently represents his spirit.  Inside the lung shaped diagram is printed this, "Bal Li Ode Da Ma Ta Las Si Ta No Ma," (sp.).  A cartoon styled balloon then comes out his mouth and repeats the words, "Bal Li Ode Da Ma Ta Las Si Ta No Ma," (sp.).  A brain-shaped cloud is drawn in his head with a large question mark in the cloud. 

Do you understand the picture?  These gibberish words are in the Spirit and they come out of his mouth, but a question mark is in his brain.  This is how they plant in a Kindergarten child the idea that tongues goes from the Spirit to the mouth, without ever going through the brain, that it is some kind of mystical, noncognative experience that somehow bypasses the brain.  And under that picture is 1 Corinthians 14:14, "If I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful."  In both cases they have misrepresented the intention of those verses.  The first verse they assume "speaking in an unknown tongue" builds someone up, when in fact, Paul was saying it in a negative sense.  It puffs your ego, or it, at best (if you do it in private) would benefit you, which would be selfish and contrary to any proper use of spiritual gifts.  And the second one, "If I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prays, and my understanding is unfruitful," is a way to say, "Don't do that, because what's the point in having an unfruitful understanding?" 

And yet, as early as Kindergarten, people are learning these things which are in error.  This is the typical Charismatic perspective, by the way.  The gift of tongues is viewed as a holy, mystical ability that somehow operates in a person's spirit and comes out the mouth and bypasses the mind.  And many Charismatics are even told they have to purposefully switch off their mind to enable the gift to function.  That's pretty much the pattern.  I've sat in on a number of sessions where people were endeavoring to teach someone how to speak in tongues, and they always follow that same format.  Usually they say something like this, "Don't think of anything.  Try to empty your mind of any conscious thought."

Charles and Francis Hunter, who travel all across the world in healing explosion meetings, have as a part of their curriculum the seminars in which they teach people how to speak in tongues.  They have as many as 50,000 people in some of their meetings.  Charles Hunter tells people, and I quote,

      When you pray with your spirit you do not think of the sounds of       the language.  Just trust God, but make the sounds when I tell       you to.  In just a moment, when I tell you, begin loving and       praising God by speaking forth a lot of different syllable       sounds.  At first make the sounds rapidly so you won't try to       think as you do in speaking your natural language.  Make the       sounds loudly at first so you can easily hear what you are       saying. 

That's an interesting contradiction!  Hunter doesn't explain what point there is in hearing what you are saying since your mind isn't engaged anyway.  But he continually reminds his audience [that] they are not supposed to be thinking, quote, he says, "The reason some of you don't speak fluently, is that you try to think of the sounds.  So when we pray this prayer and you start speaking in your heavenly language--don't try to think!"  Later he adds, "You don't even have to think in order to pray in the Spirit!" 

Arthur Johnson, in his excellent expose of mysticism, entitled, "Faith Misguided", a very good book, calls the Charismatic movement, "the zenith of mysticism."  And he does so with good reason, because there is the desire, in some cases and through some experiences, to switch off the mind and disconnect yourself from what is rational, and reasonable, and logical.  We've already noted that earlier in our study and I won't go back and belabor the point, but that is one of the primary characteristics of "Pagan, Mystery Religions," one of the primary characteristics of the Babylonian mystery religions that have found their way into all kinds of religious fabric, through the history of the world.  Nearly all the teachings, distinctive to the Charismatic movement, are unadulterated Mysticism.  And nothing illustrates that more perfectly than the way Charismatics themselves depict the gift of tongues. 

They usually describe this gift of speaking these ecstatic syllables that have no meaning, as a sort of ecstatic experience that has no equal.  They would tell us that it's a way to experience an emotion and a feeling that is beyond anything else that you will ever experience.  One author quotes Robert Morris,

      For me, the gift of tongues turned out to be the gift of praise.       As I used the unknown language, which God had given me, I felt       rising in me the love, the awe, the adoration, pure and       uncontingent, that I had not been able to achieve in thought out       prayer.

In other words, "I got more out of prayer I couldn't understand, than I did out of prayer that I could understand!" 

A newspaper article on tongues quoted the Reverend Bill L. Williams of San Jose, and he said this,

      It involves you with someone you are deeply in love with and       devoted to.  We don't understand the verbiage, but we know we       are in communication.

If I could just interrupt and ask you to try that sometime on someone you love very dearly, and see how effective it is in communication.  You could probably judge that statement accurately.  He went on to say,

      That awareness is beyond emotion, beyond intellect, it       transcends human understanding.  It is the heart of man speaking       to the heart of God.  It is deep inner heart understanding.  It       comes as supernatural utterances bringing intimacy with God. 

Now, remember, all of this is a occurring with absolutely no understanding of what you are saying.  You have no comprehension of what it is you're saying, and yet it is supposed to bring you into the deep understanding and intimate communion with God.  The article also quoted the Reverend Billy Martin of Farmington, New Mexico, who said, "It's a joyous, glorious, wonderful experience."  Reverend Darlene Miller of Knoxville, Tennessee said, "It's like the sweetness of peaches that you can't know until you taste it yourself.  There is nothing ever to compare with that taste."  And other of those people who have that experience might echo sentiments similar to those.  And I am just quoting you what they themselves say. 

And you might ask the question, "What then is wrong with such an experience?"  Well, on the one hand, there really isn't anything particularly evil or immoral about it if you just disassociate it from the Bible and disassociate it from Christianity, and if you get some pleasure out of standing in a corner all by yourself or sitting in your room alone and talking gibberish to yourself and that does something for you, then I suppose in and of itself, from a psychological standpoint, that it's not a moral issue--it may be harmless.  If something makes you feel good or makes you feel somehow better in control of your life, or like you've had some warm experience, so be it.  But, don't call it intimacy with God.  Don't say it makes you spiritually stronger, don't say it makes you delirious with spiritual joy. 

And then ask yourself the question, "Could I, through this means be deceived, could this be dangerous?"  And the answer to that question has to be yes.  A man whom I knew and respected greatly, now with the Lord, George Gardner, who was pastor up in Grand Rapids, who wrote a very excellent book on this subject, was a former "tongue speaker" who left the Pentecostal movement.  And he poignantly described the danger of surrendering one's mind and abandoning control of one's self for the sake of the euphoria of the tongues experience.  He said it is a very dangerous thing and this is what he wrote in his own words,

      The enemy of the soul is ever ready to take advantage of an out-of-       control situation, and thousands of Christians can testify with regret       to the end results.  Such experiences not only give Satan an opening he       is quick to exploit, they can be physiologically damaging to the       individual.  Charismatic writers are constantly warning tongue speakers       that they will suffer a "letdown."  This is ascribed to the Devil and       the reader is urged to get refilled as soon as possible.  So the seeker       for experience goes back through the ritual again and again, but begins       to discover something: ecstatic experience, like drug addiction       requires larger and larger doses to satisfy. 

      Sometimes the bizarre is introduced.  I've seen people run around a       room until they were exhausted.  I've seen people climb tent poles,       laugh hysterically, go into trances for days, and do other weird       things, as the "high" sought becomes more elusive.  Eventually there is       a crisis and a decision is made; he will sit on the back seats and be a       spectator, fake it, or go on in the hope that everything will       eventually be as it was.  The most tragic decision is to quit and in       the quitting abandon all things spiritual as fraudulent.  The       spectators are frustrated, the fakers suffer guilt, the hoping are       pitiable, and the quitters are a tragedy.  No, such movements are not       harmless!

The first time a person speaks in tongues there is usually a euphoria because there have been so many people trying to get them to do that, that when they finally do that, there is a tremendous sense that they have arrived spiritually.  And so psychologically there is a great sense of release and relief, and then there is immediately the diminishing return.  Many who speak in tongues will understand the tensions that Gardner has described.  He is not the only tongue speaker, by the way, to turn against the practice and expose its dangers. 

A man by the name of Wayne Robinson, who was once editor-in-chief of the publications of the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association, was an enthusiastic tongues speaker, and he wrote a book, "I Once Spoke in Tongues" and in it he says this,

      In the past few years, I have become more and more convinced       that the test, not only of tongues, but of any religious       experience cannot be limited to the logic and truthfulness       supporting it.  There is also the essential question, "What does       it do in one's life?"  More specifically, does it turn a person       inward to self concern and selfish interests, or does it open       him up to others and their needs.  I know people who testify       that speaking in tongues has been the great liberating       experience of their lives, but juxtaposed with them are the       great many others for whom speaking in tongues has been an       excuse to withdrawal from confronting the realities of a       suffering and divided world.  For some, tongues has been the       greatest thing ever to happen, others have seen it disrupt       churches, destroy careers, and rupture personal relationships. 

Another former Charismatic writes,

      To say that speaking in tongues is a harmless practice, and is       all right for those who want to, is an unwise position when       information to the contrary is evident.  Speaking in tongues is       addictive.  The misunderstanding of the issue of tongues and the       habit, plus the psychic high it brings, plus the stimulation of       the flesh, equals a practice hard to let go of.  But to equate       much speaking in tongues with advanced spirituality is to reveal       one's misunderstanding of Bible truth, and to reveal one's       willingness to be satisfied with a deceptive and dangerous       counterfeit. 

That's from Ben Bird (sp.) who wrote a book entitled, "The Truth About Speaking in Tongues."  There are others who practice tongues and can turn the phenomena on and off mechanically, and without feeling anything emotional.  Recently, I knew of a pastor, knew him personally, who spoke in tongues and led his ministry in that direction for many, many years, and has since admitted that it was something he just did.  It was nothing spiritual or divine, it was something he just did himself.  There are many like that.  They have learned how to do it.  They can turn it on, turn it off, hone the ability to speak in those familiar sounds that most tongue speakers use, and they do it without passion. 

Now, I have just introduced the subject to you and given you a little bit of a feeling for it.  I want to go into the Word of God and try to show you some things that you must understand about tongues so that you will have a handle on it from the Biblical perspective.  So let's talk first of all about the Biblical gift of tongues; we do know it is in the Bible and we have to deal with that.  Now listen very carefully to what I say, because I don't want to lose you and I am going to flow through this fairly quickly. 

Tongues are only mentioned in three books in the Bible: Mark (one time in chapter 16:17); Acts (three times, Acts 2, 10, 19); and then in 1 Corinthians. Those are the only three books of the Bible that mention tongues.  Now, earlier in our study you will remember that we looked into Acts, didn't we?  And we saw something about this gift of tongues, as it has become known, in the Book of Acts.  We discovered that when it occurred in the Book of Acts, it was a known language (we will say more about that in a few moments).  It had a very specific purpose in God's redemptive history.  Along with other miraculous events in the Apostolic period it had a very unique purpose.  And so we have covered the ground I think fairly well in the Book of Acts, and we saw the unique historical purpose for that gift. 

It was a sign that the Spirit of God had come, that God was speaking from heaven His truth.  It was also a sign to unbelieving Israel that when they wouldn't listen in the language they could speak, God would now begin in judgment to speak a language they couldn't understand.  And so as Paul will point out in chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians, it was a sign of judgment.  It was given as a sign gift on the day of Pentecost.  Several other times in the Book of Acts it was given again so that those believers being added to the original Body of Christ would be seen to be participating in the same Body and receiving the same Holy Spirit.  So it had a unique historical place in the Book of Acts.

Then it appears in Mark 16:17; it simply mentions tongues as one of the gifts that would be expressed in the time of the apostles' ministry.  And again it fits into that unique historic Apostolic time period in which there was miraculous phenomena, signs and wonders, as God pointed to the apostles who were speaking His truth.  On the day of Pentecost this sign drew the crowd to which Peter preached the gospel, for example. 

That leaves us really with only one epistle in which tongues is even mentioned, out of the historical uniqueness of Acts and Mark 16--we come to the Book of 1 Corinthians, chapters 12 through 14.  This is the only epistle where we find anything about this, and Paul wrote for sure 12 and maybe 13 epistles beyond this one, and never in any of them does he even mention this.  Only in this very early epistle does any discussion of tongues take place. 

Now, Paul wrote these chapters, and you must understand this, to reprove the Corinthians for misusing the gift.  It's very difficult out of this passage to get any kind of mandate to speak in tongues, to get any kind of affirmation that this is something to be sought, or something to be elevated, or something to be used, or something that will last, because, what you have here is primarily a corrective given to the Corinthians, who had prostituted the gift of tongues into something pagan that wasn't even representative of the work of the Holy Spirit.  And so what he wants to do is correct and restrict the use of tongues. 

Now, if we grant, and I think we must, that at the time of the writing of 1 Corinthians the Spirit of God could still use this unique ability, the fact that it was still a gift in that time and that place in the history of the Church--we know that because Paul said, "Don't forbid it."  Don't forbid people to speak in tongues, don't eliminate it.  There is still, he is saying, a place for this (verse 39 of chapter 14), but, he says you must regulate it carefully; and then if you took the time to study through 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14, (and by the way, if you want to read in detail, I've written my commentary on 1 Corinthians which covers every verse, every phrase in this whole section)--but in this section there are some regulations. 

The guidelines given were these:

1.  Tongues is a sign to unbelievers.  It's a sign that God is speaking.  It's a sign to unbelievers. 

2.  If used in the Church it must always be translated, so that it can have the purpose of edifying the believers who don't know what's being said. 

3.  Never are more than three people to do it, and they are to do it in sequence, not at the same time. 

4.  There is to be no speaking in tongues unless it is interpreted. 

5.  Any confusion or any disorder in the assembly is an indication that what is going on did not originate with God--it's a counterfeit; it's a prostitution.

6.  Women are never to do it, for they are to remain silent and not to speak in tongues.

And then as he comes to the end of chapter 14, Paul tells them to recognize these regulations as a commandment of the Lord as absolutely imperative: you have no option.  In verse 37, he says, "If you think you are a prophet or you think you are spiritual, then you better recognize that what I have just said is the Lord's command!"  And a few weeks ago when we were meeting with some of the leaders of the Vineyard, they said, "Are there things in our ministry that you would point out as a violation of Scripture?"  And we immediately brought up the fact that having attended a recent meeting where several thousand people were present, the leader of that meeting invited everyone, all at once, all at the same time to begin speaking in tongues.  And there was total chaos, confusion, disorder, people pushing chairs back (as we told you before), falling on the floor, stretching out their limbs, falling over, fainting, all of that kind of chaos and confusion.  No translation of that was going on.  Women were dominant in it, and all of that violates the instruction for the legitimate use of the gift, when it was legitimate in the Corinthian time. 

And so there are some very clear restrictions given here.  To be honest with you, if those restriction were followed in the contemporary tongue speaking movement, the movement would come to almost a total halt.  And again I point out it isn't necessary for God any longer to give supernatural sign gifts to point to those who speak His word since we know who speaks His word.  We don't need a sign, we just compare them with the Bible.  Once the authority was given then affirming speakers who speak His truth through Signs and Wonders ceased to be necessary.  I can tell you in a moment whether someone speaks for God.  All I have to do is listen and compare what they say with the Bible. 

Now, also there was another component.  Tongues in the Corinthian church was chaotic, out of order, confused--way out of its proper place.  And not only that, the attitude of the people in using this gift was one of pride, self- centeredness, "look at me," they were putting on a show, they were parading their supposed spirituality and they weren't using their gift for the benefit of others; that's why he writes chapter 13, which is all about love.  And he is saying, "In all spiritual gifts the proper motive is love to other people."  And he says in verse one of chapter 13, "If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and don't have love, I'm nothing but a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal."  I don't care if you're talking human language or angel talk, anything apart from love is noise.  It's noise.  And then he launches into the magnificent 13th chapter, the classic in all of human literature on love, to point to the fact that the Corinthians had adulterated the gift in its expression, and they had adulterated the purpose and the motive for it because it was something other than love. 

Paul says, "I don't care how you talk.  I don't care whether you talk in human languages or whether you talk angel talk (and that's hypothetical because every time angels ever speak they speak in the language of men)."  But he says, hypothetically, hyperbolically, "I don't care if you talk angel talk, if you are not motivated by love, it's noise, absolute noise."  Unfortunately, some of the Charismatic people have taken Paul's statement, "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels," and they say, "You see, the tongues of men are our normal language, and the tongues of angels are our secret private prayer language."  And they believe that the gift of tongues is a private prayer language, a heavenly language known only to God that transcends the mind, as we said earlier.  It's celestial speech. 

It's interesting to me that if it's celestial speech, and if it's angel talk and comes from God, why is it that somebody has to sit you down and teach you how to do it?  There is no warrant in this text for such a view.  Paul was simply expressing a hypothetical case, just as in the subsequent verses.  He says, "If I have the gift of prophecy, and if I know all mysteries and all knowledge, and have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but don't have love, I am nothing."  If I could move the earth and didn't have love--what would it matter?  "And if I gave away everything to feed the poor, and delivered my body to be burned, and didn't have love, what good would it be?"  This is all hyperbole!  He's not really suggesting things that are, but he's taking it to its furthest expression.  No matter what you did, no matter how great it was, without love it's nothing.  And as I said, angels don't ever appear in Scripture talking in anything other than human language.  You can compare Luke, chapter 1 and chapter 2 for a good illustration of that.

Nowhere then, and this is very important, nowhere does the Bible teach that the gift of tongues is anything other than "human languages!"  And if you have a question about that, all you need to do is to go back to Acts 2.  Go back there with me for a moment, verse 4, "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other languages (it's the word language, we'll see that in a minute), as the Holy Spirit was giving them utterance."  Notice that they didn't have to learn how to do it.  Somebody didn't sit them down in a chair and say, "Empty your mind and start talking in unintelligible syllables" No, the Spirit gave them utterance and they began to speak.  Really; and what did they speak?  It's very clear, "The multitude came together (verse 6), they were bewildered (they were from everywhere, by the way), they were each hearing them speak in his own language."  It wasn't double-talk, it wasn't gibberish, it wasn't angel talk, it wasn't celestial speech, it was just different languages. 

"And they were amazed and marveled, saying, 'Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans?'"  See Galilee was a kind of a "Hick Town" area.  "Hay Seeds" lived up there.  Nobody was educated, they certainly didn't learn languages up there.  They could barely speak their own language.  "Aren't these Galileans?  How is it that everybody is hearing them in our own language?  The Parthians and the Medes and the Elamites, and the residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs--we hear them in our own languages." 

This is incredible!  It was very clear what the gift was--it was an ability to speak a language you hadn't learned.  And in that language they were declaring the wonderful works of God and everybody was hearing them.  But the people were saying, "This isn't some human exercise.  Something has happened here today that is divine."  And so it was a sign that God had come in a marvelous way, and God had poured out His Spirit on this Church, on these 120, and the Church was born, and they all could see that a supernatural event had happened.  The Church was born and the unbelieving Jews now were hearing the judgment predicted come to pass.  God had through the prophet Isaiah said, "The day is coming when, because you don't hear me when I talk your language, I am going to talk a language you don't understand."  And that's a sign of judgment, and after all the judgment was coming wasn't it?  They had rejected and crucified their Messiah.

It was a sign that God had done something wonderful, that God had brought the Spirit and the Church was born: Gentiles and Jews all together would come to Christ and form one body; and it was a sign to unbelieving Israel that they were going to be put outside, set aside, and that the God who spoke once to them in a language they could understand, and gave them the oracles and the covenants and the promises in the Hebrew tongue, would now speak in a language they didn't understand as a judgment. 

But very clearly it was language.  The word in Acts 2 is "glossa" (Gk.) [and

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