Everybody Does It

Speaking in tongues, that is. G. Vos noted almost a century ago that ecstatic religious speech is not a uniquely Christian phenomenon. Here an AOG writer recognizes the same thing. (HT: Daily Scroll)

What does it mean? It means that glossolalia is not distinctively Christian and it suggests that it has little to do with the apostolic phenomenon.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Dr. Clark, do you think there is any merit to the idea that what was happening at Corinth was glossolalia, but Paul rebukes them for this practice in 1. Cor. 14? Were both the genuine apostolic gift of languages and the counterfeit glossolalia known to the early church?

  2. Hi Scott,

    Good question. It’s possible. It isn’t how I have understood the passage. I’ve understood them to be abusing, by employing it without regard to others, a genuine gift of the Spirit, namely the ability to speak in known languages without having learned them naturally.

  3. I’m not sure that you can use the “it happens elsewhere” argument to show definitively that it has little to do with the apostolic phenomenon; or at least, it’s not that simple an equation. Satan is God’s ape, and Pharaoh’s magicians were able to produce a weak facsimile of the signs worked through Moses. It wouldn’t be reasonable to conclude that Moses’ signs weren’t of God just because the demons can produce similar ones; in fact, it would be the opposite error of the AoG writer, who wants to establish that “tongues” prove the Spirit is at work in false religion as well as true.

    To take another example, there is an asymmetry in the way we think of conversion: conversion to Christianity is a work of the Spirit, but conversion to Islam definitely isn’t! It’s not difficult to see how someone could sustain a similar asymmetry with regard to modern-day “charismata”, although I wouldn’t agree with that position.

  4. Hi Philip,

    I understand that the universal practice of glossolalia isn’t conclusive proof that the contemporary, renewed practice (that dates from the Topeka and Azusa revivals) of it in Pentecostal circles isn’t apostolic. Thus I used the academic weasel word “suggests.”

    I do prefer that way of going at it, i.e. thinking of it as a natural phenomenon rather than using the Exodus analogy to explain the sociology. I think ordinary providence is a better category for it rather than saying that Muslims who do it give example of Satanic imitation. In part because that argument has led some to conclude that what the charismatics are doing is actually satanic imitation. I don’t think that the Pentecostals are Satanic but neither do I think that they are apostolic. Via media.

    My hope in pointing out the universality of glossolalia is to create doubt in the minds of charismatics and pentecostals that they’ve re-discovered the apostolic phenomenon that went silent for all these centuries and to create doubt about the thought that if we only had enough faith, we too could repeat the apostolic gifts and practices. This seems to me to be just more evidence that neo-pentecostalists/charismatics are doing nothing more than baptizing common religious experience just as the re-describe in apostolic terms every other ordinary phenomenon. For me, when I hit the switch, the lights go out. For a hardcore pentecostalist, the lights don’t go out, a demon of darkness entered etc.

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