Around the periphery of Oneness Pentecostalism, there are chronic seekers who've never quite figured out how to receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost. People who've repeatedly responded to sermons preached about tongues as the only initial evidence one has been accepted by God. After each sermon they've walked to the front of the church and prayed for the gift, worried that their eternity hinges upon the ability to speak a language they've never learned.
These earnest seekers are surrounded by coaches (altar workers) who tell them what to say, how to pray, and how to assume a correct posture. With all of this effort, however, many walk away empty-disappointed that they've done something wrong, or worse, that even though they believe in Jesus, they haven't earned His approval.
This is the ugly end result of presenting the baptism of the Holy Ghost as a work instead of a gift. To say one MUST speak in tongues is to say one must produce something through human effort that is really a spiritual gift imparted by God.
I know, without a doubt, that many seekers, in a genuine effort to meet this standard, have simply repeated the words they've heard spoken by their coaches. I also know that many seekers have been told that they've spoken in tongues who really haven't. I know this is true because people whom I've pastored have privately confessed these experiences to me.
Earlier in this series, I addressed the fact that Oneness Pentecostal water/Spirit soteriology wrongly sees baptism and tongues in John 3:5 and wrongly assumes three directives in Acts 2:38 instead of two. Biblically no one was ever commanded to receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost. There are no scriptures which connect speaking in tongue to salvation.
This is about more than debate bragging rights. This is about something personal to every human. It's about how flesh connects to the Divine.
While I firmly believe that speaking in tongues is a valid Christian experience available to every believer, there are horrors associated with attaching salvation to the practice.
First, believers - people with genuine faith in Jesus Christ - who haven't spoken in tongues, are assumed to be as damned as atheists.
Second, in Oneness Pentecostalism sermons are often tailored to engender an immediate emotional response based upon a fear of hell rather than a love for God. Hearers receive tongues, not Jesus, as the means of salvation. A response to the Gospel is promoted instead of the Gospel.
Third, the pressure to speak in tongues leads to dishonesty. Many imitate the "tongues" their coaches speak out of sincere and desperate, but misguided, attempt to belong. Others are told they've "got it" who later admit they didn't. They are victims of over-zealous altar workers who desperately want to produce measurable results.
I am no longer Oneness Pentecostal, in part, because of the chronic seekers I mentioned. Believers who refuse to accept a produced experience. They refuse to accept something fake. Those who attend church, pay tithe, conform to standards and in almost every way are Oneness Pentecostal with one glaring exception - they have not spoken in tongues. They have prayed for the gift for years to no avail.
Failure to speak in tongues cause some believers walk away from God. This is because sometimes they are told the reason God has not filled them with His Spirit is because they haven't fully repented of sin. This results in a quest to achieve a perfect repentance.
Other church members view them as flawed. Defective. Incomplete. Though talented and willing, their failure to speak in tongues excludes them from leadership roles in the church. The message to chronic seekers is "Try harder." At this point the gift is no longer a gift. It's work.
Is there biblical precedence for any of this?
There were no altar workers in the Upper Room, only believers sold out to Jesus. There is no evidence that anyone preached "tongues or hell" in the Book of Acts. However, as disciples prayed for some believers, the Spirit fell upon and filled them.
Presentation makes a world of difference.
Rightly presented, the baptism of the Holy Ghost is a powerful gift available to all believers. It's supernatural ability to witness for Jesus.
Wrongly presented it's just another work one must accomplish.
Failure to do so results in a life of unimaginable horror.
"Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law." Romans 3:27, 28 New Living Translation
While repentance and baptism are things we humans may, and should, accomplish, speaking in tongues is only possible by the work of the Spirit.
Read part ten here.
This writing is the copyright of E.L. Anglin and is reprinted on this site by permission. View all of his available articles here.