“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” – Acts 2:1-4, NIV
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” – Ephesians 5:18, NIV
“Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” – 1 Corinthians 14:39, NIV
“Filled with the Spirit we are sent to serve, we are called out together, we are called to work.” – The Spirit Is A-Movin’, Carey Landry and Carol Jean Kinghorn
“Speaking in tongues is as normal to me as ‘Pass the salt..’ It’s a secret, direct prayer language to God.” – Katy Perry
When I received my copy of July 2010’s Rolling Stone with Katy Perry on the cover, I didn’t plan to read the interview. I knew who Katy Perry was, I knew her songs, and even liked a few of them, but didn’t follow her closely enough to actually plan on reading about her. That all changed as I thumbed through the magazine and came upon her interview, where she spoke of her Pentecostal childhood on the revival circuit with her parents, singing Gospel and watching her father speak in tongues while her mother interpreted. She spoke of her discomfort when then fiancé Russell Brand would take the Lord’s Name in vain and her discomfort with combining sex and religion for the sake of pop culture. Her quotation about her own experience with the gift of speaking in tongues, found above, struck a chord with me as I realized what an essential part the spiritual gift of tongues was to her in her upbringing. It made me think of my own walk with the Lord and what an essential role the Spiritual gifts – especially tongues – has played in my own spiritual development.
As I write this, I will have been born again in the Lord thirteen years ago next month: February 14, 1999 was my salvation date. The church I received the Lord Jesus in was a small Pentecostal church in upstate, New York. In those days, that were not all that long ago, but in some ways seem like an eternity, Spiritual gifts were “in.” The first thing they did in that church was get you baptized in the Holy Ghost. Receiving the Spirit with evidence of speaking in tongues outweighed prosperity, it outweighed feeling good about yourself, it outweighed every other spiritual experience you were to have. All the rave in 1999 were the revivals in Brownsville, Florida and Toronto, Ontario. They hadn’t been around long enough for anyone to analyze them yet, so we were just into the whole concept of revival and the idea that God was outpouring here, only a few states or territories away, in our midst. Many were afraid of Y2K and being left in the dark on January 1, 2000. We were awaiting a presidential shift, as 2000 would be an election year. It was a time when the things of God seemed different than they do now, as they were presented differently. Church was still about something; we were on the verge of a shift to the “church about nothing” we seem to have in excess today. We talked about doctrine, about God, about more than just self-esteem, feeling good, and avoiding problems. Going to church was about meeting with God, and one another, and every week – without fail – we saw the gift of speaking in tongues.
I believe, as I taught in my recent message preached in Florence, South Carolina, “Redefining Prayer In The Spirit,” that even though the people in that church were, for the most part, unlearned and very simple in their faith, that their connection to the Spirit and their foundation in the gifts of the Spirit – especially speaking in tongues – was one of the reasons we saw incredible outpourings and healings, unlike anything I have often seen since. We had a woman completely healed of an ailment who, when reporting to her Muslim doctor, had him say to her as he checked her scans, “You are a Christian? Get out of here, you don’t need to be here.” We saw blood disorders, cancers, and yes, even emotional hurts healed in Jesus’ Name. We saw Pentecost, week after week, God’s incredible outpouring, and adding to the church, following with signs and wonders.
About ten years ago I heard a statistic on a Sid Roth broadcast: 75% of so-called “Pentecostal” churches no longer spoke in tongues or exercised spiritual gifts. Fast-forward to today in 2012, and “Pentecostal” has become a dirty word. Upon realizing this from my recent message, I asked a minister I know who is ordained within one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in the world when this happened. I learned from him that the largest churches within that denomination will actually stop people who are exercising the gifts of the Spirit so as not to make anyone “uncomfortable.” We now live in a church that is extremely psychological, extremely mental, and all about word games and tricks rather than power. I see ministers who are supposedly the spiritual leaders of the free world falter at basic questions of faith and unable to operate even the most basic of apologetics. Then I think of the random denominations who come on my page or inbox me, trying to attack the gift of tongues, to which I ask them:
“Do you have a steeple on your church?”
They answer, “Yes.”
I say: “You are aware that steeples are a phallic symbol, placed there in dedication to the sun god, as a sign of fertility, to such deities as Mithras and even Ba’al?”
(They get quiet. I know they get quiet because they aren’t sure what “phallic” means, nor do they have any idea about which I just spoke, nor do they really want to know where I am going with this.)
So I go on to clarify for them:
“As long as you have a big (insert male reproductive anatomical terminology here) on your church, I don’t want to hear about tongues.”
This is funny and yes, is true (as those of you who know me well know I said this and didn’t blink or blush), but also reveals to us a sobering reality about the spiritual state of the church today. Pentecostals are on the defense, always being questioned, picked at, and doubted for this or that, simply because they accept the experience of Pentecost as valid for today. This is deeper than it seems, even on the surface: it is the reality that Pentecostals have made a choice, and can substantiate their choice, both with the Bible and their personal experience.
When I lived in Kentucky in 2007 and was looking to attend a church, I called a church and asked the secretary what kind of a church they were. “What are we?” she replied back, like a parrot. I was trying not to be annoyed because I felt my question was perfectly reasonable and I felt her question was stupid. “Yes, I asked what are you?” She was quiet on the line. I sighed really loudly and started prattling off denominations. “What are you? Are you Methodist, are you Baptist, are you Presbyterian, are you Pentecostal…” When I got to Pentecostal, I was promptly interrupted. “Oh no! We’re not Pentecostal! No, not Pentecostal! We’re more non-denominational, more laid back, kind of informal. Definitely not Pentecostal.” At this point, I couldn’t help but notice that she was extraordinarily – even abnormally – adamant about NOT being Pentecostal, but wasn’t quite so adamant about not being Methodist, Baptist, or Presbyterian. She apparently was afraid that if she identified herself as Pentecostal, that might mean something. Being non-denominational meant she didn’t have to make a choice about the essential matters of the Spirit, and she could just sit where she was, on the fence, somewhere between Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian and God knows what else, as long as it was not Pentecostal.
I recognize that many people use the term “non-denominational” and are Spirit-filled, and are simply trying to avoid a denominational label. What we must recognize is Pentecostal is NOT a denomination: it’s an experience. Those who classify themselves as Pentecostal are tracing their lineage back to 33 AD, during that feast of Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured out upon all members of God’s church (Acts 2:1-47). The gift of tongues is the evidence of such, and serves as a powerful witness of faith, enables the Gospel to be preached, and edified the believers. It stands as a sign to what is classified as the “unbeliever” in the Bible, and what we would even consider today as the fence-sitter: those who have some semblance of knowledge in God, but don’t really believe fully as they should. As there is only one Spirit (Ephesians 4:4 – Ephesians 4 is the doctrinal summarization of Acts 2), the experience of praying in tongues also served to unify the church, which was about to grow by thousands of members. The foundation of the church is the unity of the Spirit, and one such evidence of that unity is the gift of speaking in tongues. Existence must come before essence: that means if the outpouring of the Spirit came first, and then the word of the Apostle about the spiritual experience they witnessed and the Gospel to proclaim, people learned how to become members of the church, and were then added to it. The Spirit, His outpouring, and the unity found therein are an essential component to the church’s spiritual foundation! Complete from the gift of tongues comes every essential facet to the church: empowerment, evangelism, proclamation, leadership, vision, spiritual gifts, Kingdom, and conversion. Churches can have as many mission programs as they like, can be as organized as they want, can be as proficient at offerings and spouting off all sorts of doctrine – but if they lack the Spirit, and deny the gifts, they do not have the spiritual thread of God’s living and active presence in the Holy Spirit.
Personally, I miss greater spiritual outpouring in church. I miss the days when more of the church was not ashamed to stand up and walk in God’s spiritual promise to His people. I also realize that if we want to see the church change and people’s lives changed, we have to stand on the promises of the Spirit and walk out Pentecost in our own lives. The gift of tongues is a part of prayer, intercession, inspiration, oneness with God, spiritual empowerment, proclamation of the Gospel, the dispersing of fear, direct communication with God, the leadership walk of the five-fold ministry, and the unity of God’s people. It is an integrated part of the Christian experience that cannot be divorced from Christian belief, nor understanding. The whole concept of being so filled with the Spirit that even the tongue – spoken of in the Bible as the most difficult part to bridle (James 3:1-12) – is under the power of the Spirit is an amazing concept to behold and an empowering one to equip and speak the words of the Spirit in any language one speaks. If we remove this experience from the life of the believer, we are left with a void that is easily filled by mind games, wishful thinking, and empty doctrines and promises. We may argue about tongues, we may argue about gifts, but one thing is for sure – all the argumentation in this world cannot change the experience of millions had since 33 AD.
In this voided spiritual world that is rift with controversy and avoidance of anything that makes us make choices, people want to embrace everything, and reject nothing. We hear more questions today than answers, and a myriad of questions upon questions about the answers people give in confusion to spiritual matters, without any proper understanding. Speaking in tongues forces us to make a choice. It is an experience that, once we have experienced it, you can’t simply accept that everything classified as “spiritual” in this world is the same. God has given us an incredible treasure in these, our earthen vessels: the presence of His Spirit, that the excellency of the power of God may be attributed to Him, and not to us (2 Corinthians 4:7). We can come up with as many fancy and eloquent words as we want. We can produce vain arguments, try and form all sorts of reasoning as the basis for church understanding, or write up the doctrines of men as if they are those of God. We can play as many mind games as we like, tell people they are fine when they aren’t, and convolute any semblance of anything we might like under the guise of God. The Bible said it would happen, and it is; maybe not in the way many of us think it would, but surely, right on point with the Word, as always.
What we cannot do, no matter how hard the church may try, is substitute the Spirit…or erase it. Pentecost lives on in those who receive the Spirit’s empowerment and purpose. Denominations will fall. Churches will fall. Ministers will fall. The Spirit of God will remain…as natural and eloquent to us as saying, “pass the salt.”
(c) 2012 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.