Today I will return to the series on the book of Acts I began last October. Since it’s been more than a month since my last sermon in this series, a little review may be appropriate.

       As explained at the beginning of this series, the book of Acts reports on a number of dynamics that all came together to facilitate the founding of the Christian Church.

       This document provides insights into the covenantal transition that came with the death and resurrection of Jesus. It reports on the conflicts that arose between Jews and Jews and Jews and Gentiles over the changes that were taking place.  It deals with doctrinal issues.  The book of Acts takes us back to our roots as a church.  It provides us with a record of the ground floor events that led to the past 2000 years of Christian development.  The book of Acts is a history of the birth and the birth pains of the Christian Church.       

       We began this series by discussing the evidence for Luke being the author of Acts as well as the Gospel named after him.  We discussed the dating of Acts and Luke’s writing style as revealed in chapter one of his Gospel.  We proceeded to discuss what Jesus meant when he told His disciples that they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit and what it was He taught them about the Kingdom during the 40 days before His ascension.

       We discussed the protocol of casting of lots in choosing Matthias to replace Judas and in sermons 3&4 of this series we discussed in detail the dynamics associated with the tongues event described in Acts chapter two.  We concluded sermon four by beginning to look at tongues speaking as it is currently practiced in segments of Christianity and what relevance if any it has to what occurred on  Pentecost in AD 31.

       As already indicated, as we go through this series, I will try to always identify how what occurred 2000 years ago has relevance to what is going on in the church today.  With that in mind, let’s begin today by picking up where we left off last time and take a look at tongues speaking in the church subsequent to AD 31.

Recent history of speaking in tongues:

       I grew up as a youth attending a Pentecostal Church where my parents were members.  This particular denomination of Christianity traces its roots to events that go back to AD 1901 and takes its name from events that occurred at the Feast of Pentecost in the spring of AD 31. We discussed the AD 31 events in the last two sermons in this series. 

       A distinctive feature of the Pentecostal Church doctrinal system is speaking in tongues as a witness to having been baptized by the Holy Spirit.  Now most Pentecostals acknowledge that one receives the Spirit of God at the time of conversion and water baptism.  Baptism of the Holy Spirit is seen as a second baptism that enables a Christian to live a more sanctified life and more effectively witness to others.  Speaking in tongues is seen as a witness to this additional receiving of the Holy Spirit. 

       The modern day tongues phenomenon began during a New Years prayer vigil in January of 1901 held at a Bible College in Topeka Kansas.  There, an attendee began to speak in tongues.  Sometime thereafter, the college closed down and the president of the college took to the streets as an itinerant preacher, preaching a message that emphasized speaking in tongues. 

       In time, more and more people were attracted to this message and around 1906 the first Pentecostal Church was established in Los Angeles followed by the Azusa Street Revival of 1906 to 1909.  This event generated worldwide interest in what became known as Pentecostalism.  From this humble beginning the Pentecostal Church has grown to be a major denomination within Christendom. It is also known as the Assemblies of God.

       As already mentioned, a major emphasis of Pentecostal Church theology is being baptized by the Holy Spirit and receiving the gift of speaking in tongues.  As a youth I witnessed a great deal of this phenomenon of speaking in tongues.  Both my parents spoke in tongues.  During a typical church service, individuals at the service would begin to speak in tongues.  Sometimes others would offer an interpretation of what was presented in tongues.  I remember the head pastor of the church often providing an interpretation of what someone spoke in tongues.  These interpretations often were exhortations to live a more Godly life and often were prophecies about a coming revival or a soon to occur return of Christ.       

       In the years since the development and growth of the Pentecostal Church, the speaking in tongues phenomenon has spread far beyond the Assembly of God Churches.  Tongues speakers can now be found in many Protestant denominations and also in the Catholic Church, Mormon Church and other Christian groups.  Of interest is the observation that speaking in tongues is also found in non-Christian groups such as Islam and Buddhism. Tongues speaking as practiced today (also referred to as ecstatic speech), has been seen historically to have occurred in various ancient Egyptian and Greek religious systems as well.    

Tongues throughout church history:

       During the early years of the Christian Church we see tongues being manifested in a variety of ways.  The second chapter of the Book of Acts records supernatural events on the Day of Pentecost in AD 31 which gave witness to the giving of the promised Holy Spirit. These events included the phenomenon of speaking in what appears to be unlearned but identifiable languages. We discussed this in some detail in the last two sermons and determined that the tongues that were spoken were actual extant human languages spoken and understood by those in attendance at Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Pentecost.

       In Acts 10 we have the account of Apostle Peter bringing the Gospel message to the Gentile Centurion Cornelius and his family and friends.  We see the Holy Spirit being poured out upon all those who heard and accepted Peter’s message at the house of Cornelius.  It’s recorded that when this happened, these Gentile converts spoke in tongues.  In Acts 19, we have the account of Paul baptizing some disciples at Ephesus and laying hands on them which resulted in them receiving the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. Then in 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14, we see Paul teaching that speaking in tongues is one of the gifts of the Spirit. He then instructs how this gift is to be used.   

       Subsequent to the time of the first century Church, there is little recorded as to speaking in tongues. Where tongues speaking is shown to have occurred, we can't be sure of the nature of such tongues. Was it the speaking of recognizable extant human languages as appears to be the case in the NT Church or was it the kind of ecstatic speech we see in modern times? 

       The early Church leader Irenaeus, writing in AD 150, speaks of Christian’s speaking in tongues. The nature of such tongues is not identified. Around AD 172, a church leader named Montanus made speaking in tongues a core doctrine of his theology which also included strict asceticism. The nature of the tongues speaking is not known.  His movement didn’t go very far as Montanus was branded a heretic and driven out of the Church. 

       Church leaders such as Augustine considered tongues to no longer be operational in the Church as it was felt this was a gift given to the early Church leaders and converts for the purpose of demonstrating the validity or the Christian message.

       After the time of Montanus, there is little historical record of tongues speaking until the end of the seventeenth century when tongues speaking broke out in southern France among a Christian group called Huguenots. From what can be determined, the tongue speaking among the Huguenots was not the speaking of known human language but was the kind of ecstatic speech we see among tongues speakers today. In the early eighteenth century, tongues speaking occurred among a group of Catholic priests called Jansenists.

       In the 1830's tongues speaking became prominent in England under the ministry of a man named Edward Irving who taught that tongues signified an outpouring of the Spirit signaling a soon to occur return of Christ. The tongues speaking movement that began in the early 1900's which lead to the development of Pentecostalism was believed to be evidence of a restored Apostolic Church which in turn was believed to signal an imminent return of Christ. 

       It is to be noted that when the Pentecostal movement first began in the early 1900’s, speaking in tongues was looked upon as the pathway for Christians to take the Gospel message to foreign countries where this message could be given in the vernacular of the people and thus prepare them for the anticipated imminent return of Christ.

       It was quickly realized, however, that the tongues being experienced was not actual human language.  Therefore, it was concluded that the tongues being experienced was a divine language and became known as "praying in the Spirit." It was seen as a witness to being baptized by the Holy Spirit.

       In sermons 3 and 4 of this series we discussed in some detail the tongues event on Pentecost in AD 31 and determined that the tongues spoken were identifiable languages that could be understood by those who spoke such languages.  We also discussed the research that has been done on modern day tongues speaking that shows it not to be identifiable language. 

       Is there any reason to believe that what is practiced today by tongues speaking Christians is what we see in evidence anywhere in the NT narrative? 

       When you look at what happened at Pentecost in A.D. 31, it is very apparent that the tongues spoken were extant human languages and this event occurred in order to demonstrate the arrival of the promised Holy Spirit which would now be available to all peoples.  What happened on Pentecost in A.D. 31 is not what we see being practiced today.  Therefore, the events recorded in Acts two, should not be seen as a template for what we see in the tongues speaking community of the past hundred years or so.  Some Pentecostal Church theologians admit this but feel that other examples of speaking in tongues recorded in the New Testament give credence to present day speaking in tongues. Is this the case?

       Well, there is only one way to determine the answer to that question and that is to take a look at the other NT occurrences of tongues speaking and determine if these occurrences differ from what occurred on Pentecost In AD 31 and can therefore be used to provide a Scriptural association with modern day tongues speaking. 

Tongues at the house of Cornelius:

       In Acts 10 it is recorded that an angel appeared to the Roman Centurion Cornelius and directed him to send a delegation of men to Joppa to bring Peter back to the house of Cornelius and his family.   Cornelius sent three men.  While they were traveling to where Peter was staying, Peter went up to the roof top to pray and while there he became hungry.

       Peter then has this vision wherein he is presented with a sheet containing an array of animals that were considered unclean under the Old Covenant system. He is told to kill and eat.  Peter recoils at this, knowing that the covenant under which he still lived prohibited him from eating certain foods that were deemed to be unclean. As we proceed with this series we will discuss this matter of Peter and other followers of Jesus still at this point in time observing OC regulations.

       Peter says He couldn’t eat these animals because they are unclean.  He then hears a voice saying “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."   Apparently Peter hears this same instruction tree times and then the sheet of animals is taken up into heaven.

       While Peter is thinking about what he had just experienced and what it might mean, the three men Cornelius had sent to fetch Peter were rapping on the door.  In the mean time the Holy Spirit impresses upon Peter that he should go with the three men and the next day he does just that and takes along some of the Christian brothers who were at Joppa with him.  When he got to the house of Cornelius, there was a large gathering there to meet him.

       Acts 10:27-28: Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people.  He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.

       Peter had come to understand what the vision he had was all about.  God had shown Peter that Gentile’s, who did not live according to the Mosaic regulations, and yet fear God and behave righteously, were accepted by God.  This acknowledgement would have great ramifications for the developing Christian community as we will see as we proceed with this series.  Here is what Peter said to those gathered at the house of Cornelius.

       Acts 10:34-35: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

       Peter then went on to tell those gathered before him all about Christ and while he was yet speaking something very interesting happened.

       Acts 10:44-47:  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.   For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.  Then Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have."

       While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon all who heard the message.  How did they know the Holy Spirit came upon this Gentile audience? These Gentiles began to speak in tongues and praise God.  Peter heard them speaking in tongues just as He and his associates had done at the Pentecost gathering.  The evidence that these Gentiles were receiving the Holy Spirit was their speaking in tongues.

       We saw that at Pentecost, the speaking in tongues was the speaking in known languages that could be understood by the many ethnic groups represented at the Pentecost event. Now we see these Gentiles speaking in tongues and for Peter and those that came with him from Joppa, this is evidence that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit.  Peter says “They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have."  How did Peter and others receive the Holy Spirit, they spoke in languages they had not spoken before.  Now these Gentiles were doing the same thing. 

       On Pentecost, the speaking in tongues occurrence was to demonstrate to the Apostles that the promise of the Holy Spirit had now been given and to get the attention of the mixed cultural group residing in Jerusalem who spoke a variety of languages. In the case of the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius, speaking in tongues was to get the attention of the Jews and demonstrate to them that God was accepting the Gentiles to equally participate with Israel in the New Covenant that was being established.  We see this by the reaction of the Jews who had accompanied Peter to the house of Cornelius. 

       The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. One meaning of the Greek word rendered in the NIV as “astonished” is “to be beside oneself.”  It must be understood that Gentiles and Jews did not interact with each other at this point in history.  Remember what Peter said to the Cornelius group:  "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him."   The Jews of the first century were very ethnocentric.  They believed they were a special people because of their ethnicity and they being under the OC law.  Now they are seeing Gentiles being treated by God no different than they. 

       Under the Old Covenant, God related to Israel on the basis of ethnicity and strict obedience to the covenant He made with them at Sinai.  God chose the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob to be a special people.  Gentiles could become a part of the community of Israel only if they were circumcised and adhered to the Mosaic regulations.

       However, God’s ultimate purpose was to have an indwelling spiritual relationship with all of mankind based not on law keeping and physical circumcision but based on the death and resurrection of the promised savior Christ Jesus.  Now that Christ had come, the dynamics of how one relates to God had changed.  A relationship with God was no longer based on physical decent from Abraham and obedience to the Old Covenant regulations.

       The Cornelius event was facilitated by God to demonstrate to the Jewish converts to Christianity that the pathway to a relationship with God was no longer through circumcision and the keeping of the Mosaic regulations. The pathway to a relationship with God was now based on faith in the Christ event and was open to all humans regardless of their race or ethnic background.  The Holy Spirit was now available to everyone as it was through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that one became born again as Christ had explained to the Pharisee Nicodemus.

       Speaking in tongues was the sign that the Gentiles were recipients of the Holy Spirit equally with the Jews and therefore should be accepted as equals in the developing Christian community.  Peter and the Jews that were with him immediately recognized the significance of what they had just witnessed and went ahead and baptized Cornelius and the Gentiles that were present with him.

       The Cornelius event was a major turning point in the developing Christian community.  Up to this point, the Jewish converts to Christianity had continued to keep the Mosaic regulations and simply added Christ to the Old Covenant system.  Now they were faced with the reality that one did not have to keep the Mosaic regulations in order to be accepted by God.  This caused no small stir in the Jewish Christian community.

       Acts 11:1-3:  The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them."

       In Acts 11:4-14 we see Peter explaining to the circumcised believers all that happened in leading Peter and other Jews to go visit uncircumcised men.  He related to them the vision he had and how he was told to go with the three men sent by Cornelius to fetch him.  Then Peter says this:

       Acts 11:15-17: "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: `John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'  So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" 

        As can be seen, Peter doesn’t directly mention that the Gentiles spoke in tongues. He simple says the Holy Spirit came on them as it had come upon the Apostles.  We know from the account in Acts 2 that the Spirit came on Peter and the Apostles with the visible signs of the sound of a might rushing wind, tongues of fire resting on the Apostles and the Apostles speaking in languages thy had not spoken before. 

       There is no evidence that these Gentiles experienced the sound of a mighty rushing wind or tongues of fire resting on them.  They did experience speaking in tongues.  It would appear that these Gentiles speaking in tongues was the same kind of speaking in tongues the Apostles experienced on Pentecost. Speaking in tongues on Pentecost provided evidence to the Apostles that the promised Holy Spirit had arrived.  The Gentiles speaking in tongues provided evidence that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit. That is how Peter and the Jews with him were able to know that the Spirit of God had been given to the Gentiles.

       In order for the Gentiles tongues speaking to be evidence of receiving the Spirit, such tongues speaking would have had to have been the same kind of tongues speaking experienced by the Apostles.  We saw in our discussion of the tongues speaking recorded in Acts 2 that the tongues spoken by the Apostles were actual known languages that were spoken and understood by those in attendance at the Feast of Pentecost. Therefore, it is evident that the tongue speaking experienced by both the Apostles and the Gentiles was the speaking of known languages. 

       As previously discussed, the tongues speaking found in the Christian community of today has not been found to be associated with any known language. As previously discussed, research has shown that most known languages utilize about thirty distinct sounds.  The least amount of sounds utilized in known language is thirteen.  Most tongue speakers utilize around six different sounds in their speaking in tongues.  Therefore, researchers have been unable to associate what is spoken by tongues speakers with any known language.  

       It is also evident that both the Pentecost and the Cornelius manifestations of tongues speaking were for the specific purpose of providing evidence to the giving of the Holy Spirit to two specific groups of people.  At Pentecost, tongues speaking gave witness to the Apostles and possibly others receiving the Spirit in fulfillment of what Christ had promised and what was promised in the prophecy of Joel.  At the House of Cornelius, tongues speaking gave witness to the Gentiles receiving the Spirit. 

       Modern day tongues speakers claim that speaking in tongues gives witness to their being baptized with the Holy Spirit and some believe that unless you speak in tongues there is no evidence you have the Holy Spirit.  This conclusion is problematic for several reasons. 

       As already pointed out, modern day tongues is not the kind of tongues speaking we see at the Pentecost or Cornelius events.  If it is true that speaking in tongues is a necessary witness to having received the Holy Spirit, one would expect such speaking to be in known languages as this is what we see at Pentecost and at the Cornelius event.  Yet this is not what we see in the tongues speaking community. 

       Modern tongue speaking is the speaking of unknown languages if such speaking can be defined as language at all.  Even where interpretations are presented of the tongues spoken, such interpretations have been shown to differ among interpreters who are provided the exact same tongues speaking.  Furthermore, there is no evidence that tongues spoken at Pentecost or the Cornelius event required interpretation. 

       It is instructive that when Jesus spoke of sending the Spirit as the comforter after His ascension to the Father, he said nothing about tongues occurring to give witness to the receiving of the Spirit.  In John, Chapter 3, when Jesus discusses being born of the spirit with the Pharisee Nicodemus, Jesus says nothing about such rebirth being witnessed by speaking in tongues.  Even in references to the Spirit being given at Pentecost, Jesus said nothing about speaking in tongues being a witness to the giving of the Spirit. 

       Acts 1:4-5: On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

       It appears that the occurrence of tongues at Pentecost and on several other occasions was to provide evidence that the Spirit had indeed been given. It does not appear such witness of the Spirit being given was to be an ongoing occurrence throughout Church history.  Peter, in his sermon on Pentecost, says nothing about speaking in tongues accompanying the receiving of the Spirit at the time of baptism.  He simply says that upon repentance and baptism, they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

       Acts 2:38: Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

       This appears to be the protocol.  Repent and be baptized and you will receive the Holy Spirit. There is nothing here to suggest that in addition to baptism, one must seek the Spirit through much prayer and participation in what are called “Terry Meetings”  where people gather together to wait on God to grant them the Spirit, a practice that is common in charismatic groups.

       As previously discussed most Christians who are tongues speakers believe one receives the Spirit of God upon repentance and accepting Christ as savior.  Seeking the baptism of Holy Spirit witnessed by speaking in tongues is considered an additional blessing enabling one to live a more profound Christian life.  The Scriptures, however, don't teach a seeking of the Spirit witnessed by speaking in tongues.  While there are exhortations in Scripture to stir up the Spirit of God, there is nothing in Scripture suggesting this is done or witnessed by speaking in tongues. 

       So what is it that is being experienced by modern day tongues speakers?  What purpose might it serve?  Before we attempt to answer those questions, in my next sermon in this series we will look at several additional tongues speaking events recorded in Acts and then discuss in detail Paul’s discussion of tongues in 1 Corinthians 12-14.