Current Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Third Wave responses to the Gift of Tongues Project.
A number of readers have asked me lately about the response from the Renewalist communities (Pentecostals, the Charismatic Movement, and affiliations) to the Gift of Tongues Project. Here are a few observations.
An opinion piece
The reader must be aware that the following responses are feelings, opinions, and hunches that are harvested from a very narrow set of data. The results are from personal observations and conversations within the Renewalist communities about speaking in tongues. It is also from data gathered from my website, Facebook ads, and a focus group. Still, even with all these tools at hand, this is speculative and subject to change. Neither do these thoughts align with the standards set out in The Gift of Tongues Project which has a more rigorous objective framework.
One must keep in mind the purpose of the Gift of Tongues Project was not to belittle the Renewalist movement. The Renewalist movement has many positives that far outweigh their idea of speaking in tongues. Their contributions in a multitude of areas have made the world a better place.
The goal of the Gift of Tongues Project is to study the christian doctrine of tongues from inception until the early 1900s. Renewalists are part of the story among many other contributors throughout the doctrine’s 2000 year history. Since there are millions of people currently invested in the Renewalist practice, one would think interest is high, but in reality, it is small. The rest of the article will show why.
Renewalist tongues vs. the traditional definition
The Renewalist contemporary practice of speaking in tongues does not align with the traditional definition. This conclusion was one of the biggest findings of the Gift of Tongues Project. Tongues as a language of adoration, prayer, or worship is a manufactured social phenomenon that is a fairly recent addition to the christian doctrine of tongues (it came after 1906 as a solution to the missionary tongues crisis). It also fits into the Christian retreat into mysticism as a vanguard against the growing threat of empiricism/secularism.
What exactly is happening with those who are presently speaking in tongues as a mode of adoration, prayer or worship? It is a psychological and social phenomenon. This conclusion is not a negative portrait but a realm left unexplored. The discussions in these areas are outside the scope of the Gift of Tongues Project. The GOT Project focuses on ecclesiastical literature, language, history, and a bit of theology.
Various Responses to the Gift of Tongues Project
The The Gift of Tongues Project was specially designed for Renewalists. Therefore, significant effort was made to reach this audience. Engagement continues to be very low.
The Pentecostal Academic community
A Facebook group called the Canadian Pentecostal Research Network— loosely connected with academics and leaders within the Pentecostal Movement in Canada and abroad, had relevant articles from the GOT Project posted there. The cities of Canadian and United States Pentecostal head offices were also targeted with Facebook ads.
An internet search brings the majority of people, and I suspect, Pentecostal academics, to this site. Google search is the number one referrer for the GOT Project. When it comes to using a historical keyword combined with tongues, a GOT Project article has a good chance of coming up on the first page of results.
A few have kindly liked the articles posted but all have refused to engage in any serious discussion. This is partly due to the fact that they have self-described themselves confined as gatekeepers of the distinctive Pentecostal doctrines. Their constituents give little leeway to show any deference. If one reads between the lines, this circumstance compels most Pentecostal leaders to avoid any tongues discussion that does not reinforce their official doctrine.
There is also a serious lack of Pentecostal scholars with a strong education in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew literature, especially anything outside of the Bible. They do not have the collective ability to review or discuss the issue on these grounds.
Another reason they withhold comment is because the findings do not intersect with their fields of study. It is outside their comfort zone.
The Pentecostal academic community may argue the authenticity of the Gift of Tongues Project on academic merit—I only have a Bachelor’s degree. Consequently, an appeal to anyone for the results of the Gift of Tongues Project cannot be made on academic status. Neither can the GOT Project gain authority on my speaking, leadership, marketing, or networking skills within any religious community. The actual work, the data, the analysis, and the presentation has to stand up to scrutiny and judgement on its own merit.
From having surveyed the writings of many Renewalist theologians, this work surpasses any benchmark they have set on pre-1906 research about the christian doctrine of tongues. There is nothing close that matches this work.
Perhaps these are wrong assumptions and more dialogue with this community may offer a different outcome.
The Charismatic Academic community
The Charismatic Movement, or its modern child, Third-Wave Churches (Charismatic churches which blend Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism into its faith and worship system) has no identified community of academics or scholars to draw from in building or guarding their theological and historical frameworks. There is no structure to disseminate or discuss ideas such as this on either a national or local scale. There is no anticipated response because of this.
Local churches and pastors
Tongues is not high on their list of concerns. Pastors and leaders are struggling daily with issues in their congregation about family issues, death, depression, chemical dependencies, suicide, gender issues and a host of other pressing concerns. They don’t want to add a topic that is relatively unimportant in the greater scheme of things to an already fragile environment. This is a legitimate stance from a pastoral perspective that has to be respected.
Reasons for a limited response
Renewalist curiosity is small
The Gift of Tongues Project organized a focus group to gauge reader response back in 2007. An invitation was sent to over 50 people in the Renewalist realm. Three sample chapters from a potential publication were given them to review. Surprisingly, the majority of people who attended were not active tongue speakers or even devout Renewalists but the intellectually curious.
Website feedback has strengthened the fact that most readers that come to the site are not Renewalists: academics, scholars, Catholics, and the intellectually curious Christians are the ones most engaged in the Gift of Tongues Project.
It is a difficult subject for average readers
The market is already saturated with superficial information on this topic. The Gift of Tongues Project is an attempt to counter this ignorance with factual source data and detailed analysis. These two factors inevitably mean that the articles are a complex and difficult read.
The majority of the articles published within the Gift of Tongues Project fall within a score of 50% in the Flesch–Kincaid_readability_tests. This score means that the average article requires a reading level of college or higher. This eliminates a high percentage of readers.
The website also contains a high amount of Greek and Latin texts and references—an approach which appeals only to a small minority. Many readers who see such technical jargon immediately leave. This especially affects members of the Renewalist communities because language study and ancient texts are de-emphasized. The approach of the Gift of Tongues Project is very foreign to them and therefore penetration into their realm of discussions is difficult.
On the other hand, the type of readers attracted to this website like the advanced articles about the Greek, Latin and Hebrew languages. These visits equal the amount coming for the Gift of Tongues Project.
The future of speaking in tongues in Renewalist churches
My feeling is that Pentecostal institutions will openly discuss and even drop their unique doctrine of tongues within the next 30 years. This is not a clinical conclusion but a personal opinion based on observation. The following are some reasons:
Today, many Pentecostal churches simply ignore this practice even though it is in their doctrinal statement. A prominent Pentecostal pastor in Canada told me that there are private discussions to remove tongues from the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada doctrinal statement but there is still some strong resistance that prevents them from approaching the ministerial.
On another occasion, a Pentecostal elder told me about his little church in central British Columbia, Canada, that his fellow members resist holy roller leaders or speakers and force them out. So there is some resistance to not only speaking in tongues, but the extreme form of traditional Pentecostalism found a generation or more ago.
A prominent Pentecostal church here in Winnipeg has been grandfathering the doctrine. This may be representative of a widespread practice. At least in the 1990s, the elderly could express the religious expression of tongues in the service, but the church does not encourage or teach younger people to do the same. I have not attended this Church in the last decade but I suspect that the public exhibition of speaking in tongues is obsolete within their midst.
On the other hand, the topic is a different kettle-of-fish in the Charismatic communities.
Charismatics treat the doctrine of tongues as a taboo subject for open discussion. This is because it is a cornerstone to their identity. The inquiry of this doctrine and even doubting the nature means that you are moving away from or no longer a Charismatic. The pendulum may shift if the Pentecostal community takes the lead and removes the doctrine from their statements of faith—even then it may take some time for Charismatics to reevaluate.
But something is happening here too. Most have removed it from their Sunday morning services and moved it to a special weeknight one in order to avoid public ridicule. However, the Charismatic Movement is very fragmented and whatever may be happening in one church, the opposite could be happening a block away in another. It is hard to tell, even as one who attends a charismatic church, how the Charismatic Movement will handle this doctrine in the future.
Statistics gathered from my use of Facebook ads in relation to The Gift of Tongues Project demonstrate that this is a dead topic with the younger generation. The stats indicate that the practice is of interest for male readers 55 years of age or older.
Female readership engagement is not very strong and the answer remains a mystery. In my experience, more women speak in tongues than men, especially in smaller semi-private settings.
If one turns to Google Analytics and examines search queries on the topic, they are relatively low. It shows a lack of interest in both the Christian and secular communities on the subject.
In short, this peculiar doctrine is extinguishing on its own. The quiet deemphasis is a backdoor for the many church institutions founded on this doctrine to abandon it and move ahead to new directions without controversy and shame.
Charismatic Catholic or Anglican movements are outside the scope of this conversation.
13 thoughts on “The Renewalist Response to the Gift of Tongues Project”
Thank you for this article, it was somewhat lacking. And thank you for the objective and sober presentation: it could have been a pyromanic affair, but you stayed factual and prudent.
I have also noticed how much the tongues are falling down in importance, in my (third wave) church. Since a sort of “reform” in the 2000s, they came progressively to have abandoned tongues in the normal sundays. The last time it happened, the pastor asked for an interpretation, and since there was none, said that it was not a legitimate manifestation.
Yet, in worship concerts, it is still a very common practice, as much as in private piety. By the way, it is not because practice may wind down that theory is easily put down. I have seen often defenders of some practices defending dearly a theory that they would never practice, for reasons of religious identity.
So yes, a generation to put the issue on the table, and maybe one more generation to solve the debate. Hopefully better than in 1906.
I would give my responses in two ways, not as one who speaks in tongues, but as one who grew up as a Pentecostal and would still identify as one.
One, most “renewalists” believe in tongues based on interpretation => experience. So for example, my Mom (who is ethnically Thai and only spoke Thai and a bit of English at the time) spoke fluent sentences in Romanian at a Romanian Pentecostal Church (perhaps better to call it an ecstatic utterance). And a Romanian Pentecostal spoke in Thai to her at the same meeting, who most assuredly, did not know any Thai. So thus my mom became a Christian and renounced buddhism. Such stories tend to be common among Pentecostals, well, at least from “back in the day”.
Two, based on historical literacy rates and the cost of the production of paper/parchments/what-have-you it should not surprise us if there is no historical record of the renewalist position, it does cast doubt. But it’s hardly definitive. And many protestants hardly see the fallible historical record as authoritative.
Perhaps this can help explain part of the lukewarm response to this as well? I do have some methodological questions, but let me spend a few months reading your articles before I say anything more formal.
Best of luck.
I have found your research of interest in my research. However I think part of your problem with the response of the Renewalists as you call them is that people usually do not respond well when told they are wrong, misguided and stupid. The beautiful Gift given by God that has blessed them. though maybe not always used well, is said to be Socially manufactured ( I do see as an Anthropologist evidence of that) and not a work of the Holy Spirit in an ongoing development towards the future reality of the new Creation ( as a Theologian and Charismatic Mystic I see evidence of that). Your apparent bias can possibly lead to being a turn off and can be seen as a stumbling block to an open discussion. Why is it that it always is that vs this? That is Western dualism. Why can’t it be both, and more, which creates a whole different way of seeing reality( much more Hebrew}. God is One and The Trinity and light is not wave or particle. The Wave camp vs the particle camp, but both and a whole lot more. We are in an ongoing process, where knowledge of the past, present and the future glimpse from God’s Word can help us see it’s development, with the help of what has come before, present discussion and most of all the Enlightenment of God’s Wisdom. Sad to say we see in this present age through a glass darkly and not in the future joy of face to face.
Question for you:In the Church of the East liturgy, what does it mean to ” make new harps with our mouths with lips of fire”?
Thank you for you research and I will as I can use your work in expanding my research. There are always new facets to add to a fully picture.( Sad to say my Mary part of me has to take a backseat to all the Martha demands and obligations in my life)
Thanks for the comment. As to the Church of the East liturgy, ”make new harps with our mouths with lips of fire,” –I am not sure what this means. If you find more information and background on this quote, please forward it.
I know an EO priest, and asked him and he is unfamiliar with the phrase “make new harps with our mouths with lips of fire,” so it seems like one of those things passed around like the whisper game.
I appreciate that you share your knowledge. Your work is beneficial to me. I consider it to be of very high integrity. For ten years I attended a small Pentecostal Holiness church near my home in North Carolina, USA. There was almost never any Bible study or discussion about the subject of “tongues,” so that it would be clear what the nature of what is being called “tongues” is, in comparison to what is written about in the Bible. I have never believed that the utterances I have heard are the same as what is written about in the Bible. After about 8 or 9 years of having little interest or concern about the subject, I began to want to know what experts think about it. Your website is part of what I have used to study the subject. Now, the subject is of much interest and concern to me. After studying expertly written literature, I know that the world needs more accurate and honest teaching. Thank you.
Thank you very much for the feedback.
I did a search on the phrase and found it’s a shortened version of “We make new harps in our mouths, and speak a new tongue with lips of fire.” It’s not Eastern Orthodox, but from the Orthodox Church of the East a sect created in 1959. More info can be found here:
Thanks for the wonderful resource you have created in this website. I have been working in Youth Ministry for over 20 years. My experience has been that young people are very interested in this topic, and it is far from dead. They are very interested in ‘tongues’ and have many questions. This young generation (and one or two prior) are more likely to go to YouTube to get answers than a website like this. If you take a look at the many video’s on tongues on YouTube (many of them terrible) you will see that they have gained a lot of attention, mostly from the younger generation who use that platform for information.
You are not the first one to promote a YouTube medium for this website. It is on my list of things to do. Late 2021 is projected to add this medium.
Appreciate your efforts. My anecdotal experiences are similar to yours. Having come to the Lord during the era of the Charismatic Renewal, I find the current situation perplexing. At that time, so many people were hungry for the Lord. Barriers to Spirit Baptism and tongues were things like people feeling unworthy. It had little to do with a lack of desire. Now, there is a kind of embarrassment about Spirit baptism, tongues, and the spiritual gifts for many, especially younger believers. During the 70’s, it was costly to declare oneself Pentecostal and a “holy-roller” tongue speaker. Yet, many, many did. For many younger Pentecostals, tongues and the gifts are a take it or leave it proposition. An “it’s okay for some people” issue. They really have no interest.
In one sense, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. The traditional U.S. Pentecostal Movement marked by formal fellowships is about 120 years old. In the early Church, by 170 A.D. (50 A.D. + 120), the charismatic gifts were in decline. Every revival or restoration movement tends to wane after a 100 years or so. The reasons are many and varied. However, the U.S. Pentecostal decline is particularly ironic. Protestantism in Central and South America, Asia, and Africa is basically Pentecostal or Charismatic. Pentecostal/Charismatic churches are on fire. Almost every younger AG pastor I’ve run into who boldly preaches a Pentecostal message got humbled and re-fired on a mission trip to South America or Africa. Pentecostal/Charismatics are the second most identifiable Christian group in the world next to Catholics. The Pentecostal/Charismatic renewal has been the greatest, biggest, most significant revival movement, ever, in the history of the Church. And more irony: never in the U.S. have there been more educated Pentecostal pastors. It is a golden age of Pentecostal scholarship. What has saved the AG from more noticeable decline has been the rise of Hispanic churches, ones led by OJT-trained pastors who are still thoroughly Pentecostal in preaching and practice. If our hearts are hardened, God’s Spirit will simply move on and raise up others. For me, the irony is also personal. I left the Catholic Church specifically because I was persuaded that the core doctrines and practice of the AG were much closer to the Bible.
I just recently found this site while I was searching for some information about Irvingites in England. I must confess this is only the 2nd page of this site I have read so take my comments as you will. I come from a Pentecostal background. Tounges is just a small part of the shall we say, out-of-the-ordinary things that go on within these types of gatherings. While I continue attending an AOG here in the USA, for reasons I will not go into in this comment, I have come to the conclusion over the years that the Pentecostal movement along with the Charismatic movement has, as a group, moved away from Christ having Preeminence in our lives and the glory of God being the goal in all that we do, and have drifted into a “feelings” kind of religion that frankly is very unscriptural in many cases. Scripture says forbid not tounges but I have a hard time accepting the authenticity of much of what goes on in the Pentecostal movement as a whole, tongues included.