Doctrinal Distinctives of the Charismatic Movement – Part 1

(August 1999 – Volume 5, Issue 8) 

The focus of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements has always been centered on shared experiences, not theology. This is especially true of those in the charismatic movement which transcends all denominations. Thus, for example, there are Catholic charismatics, who believe in a sacramental form of salvation, and there are Lutheran charismatics who believe that infant baptism is redemptive, and there are Baptist charismatics who believe they are saved through faith alone. While these three types of charismatics might vary widely in their views of the fundamentals of their faith, what they have in common is an experience — the experience of speaking in tongues. While all charismatics do not personally speak in tongues, all would accept the validity of tongues-speaking. This experience does have a doctrinal framework, of course, which could be expressed in the following two statements:

The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a second work of grace that brings power in the life of the believer.

The evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues.

The logical conclusion of these statements is that a person who has not been baptized by the Holy Spirit is a “second class” Christian and is not experiencing the power of God in their life. If the charismatics are correct, an important ingredient is missing from the spiritual life of most Christians. If they are wrong they have elevated a questionable at best, or at worst, a fraudulent practice to the centerpiece of Christian living. It would seem vital that believers would want an answer to this puzzle, but such is often not the case. Instead one finds an ambivalence in most circles — If speaking in tongues works for you then fine, if not, no big deal. But we are not talking about the latest fad in sneakers here, we are discussing an important element of truth. If the baptism of the Holy Spirit is truly a subsequent experience, with the evidence of speaking in tongues, then all Christians should seek this baptism. If it is not, then this theology should be exposed and denounced. One can’t have it both ways.

The biblical foundation for the unique theological position of charismatics is found almost entirely in the book of Acts.

Four passages are critical:

Acts 2:1-8 — The day of Pentecost where tongues were first spoken.

Acts 8:14-18 — In Samaria where the new believers did not receive the Holy Spirit until the apostles came, even though there is no record of tongues being spoken.

Acts 10:44-48 — At Cornelius’ house when the Gentiles received the Spirit.

Acts 19:1-7 — When John’s disciples received the Spirit at conversion and spoke in tongues.

A careful study of the above passages, and others, will reveal that it is extremely difficult to base doctrine on the book of Acts. Acts is a book of history, tracing the transitional nature of the early church. Note the transitional nature and the diversity of the reception of the Holy Spirit in these four passages. For example, there is no speaking in tongues in Acts 8; no wind or fire except in Acts 2; some, who were already saved, received the Spirit, along with some new converts, etc. However now, according to Romans 8:9 and I Corinthians 12:13, the Holy Spirit is always received at the moment of conversion.

It should also be noted that most converts, even in the book of Acts, did not speak in tongues. The following believers apparently did not speak in tongues: 3000 at Pentecost (2:41), 5000 men (4:4); the eunuch (8:35-38); Saul (9:3-18); Sergius Paulus (13:7-12); at Antioch (13:43); Lydia (16:14,15); Philippian jailer (16:27-34); Berea and Thessalonica (17:4,12); Athens (17:34); Crispus (18:8); and at Ephesus (19:18). “It would be impossible to build a consistent doctrine about the Holy Spirit from Acts. This is why the epistles were written — to give us doctrine. No apostolic sermon contains an appeal to be baptized with the Spirit” — J.R.W. Stott.

The epistles clearly teach that the purpose of Spirit baptism is to bring us into the body of Christ — Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:26,27; Ephesians 4:5 (one baptism); Colossians 2:12; I Corinthians 12:13 (12:14-26 point out that not all speak in tongues).

So how do charismatics deal with the apostolic teaching that Spirit baptism occurs at the moment of conversion, brings us into the body of Christ, and is not accompanied with tongues? They deal with it by teaching that there are actually two Spirit baptisms in the New Testament. This view holds that the first baptism, called the baptism of repentance, happens to all believers and brings them into the body of Christ. The second baptism is the baptism with the Holy Spirit or endowment with power, which is signified by tongues. The first is baptism by the Holy Spirit, the second is with the Holy Spirit. The charismatic position is that when Paul referred to tongues in I Corinthians 12-14, he was speaking to believers who had received the first baptism (by the Spirit) and were thus part of the body of Christ. As part of the body of Christ some had received the gift of speaking in tongues — but not all. Obviously then, not every believer will receive the gift of speaking in tongues. On the other hand when a Christian has received the second baptism (“with” the Holy Spirit) the evidence will be speaking in tongues as a SIGN of that experience. Therefore, according to this view, some Christians have the gift of tongues, but all Christian who have received the second baptism will evidence this fact with at least an initial experience of speaking in tongues. It is easy to see that the clear teaching of the epistles is being overturned by a poor understanding of the book of Acts. Even Acts refutes this “two-baptism” view when in 11:17 Luke declares the tongues “experiences” of chapters 2 and 10, which were signs, as gifts. Tongues, in the early church, were “sign-gifts.” What they were signs of will be discussed below.

In addition, opposition to this position is found in Ephesians 4:5 which says that there is only one baptism. The distinction between “by” and “with” cannot be sustained. The same Greek preposition “en” is used both in I Corinthians 12:13 and in Acts 1:5. In I Corinthians 12:7-13 we are told that God has already given the gifts as He wills. He tells us that we do not all have the same gifts (read 12:4, 7-11, 14-18 and 28-31). In all of the New Testament only I Corinthians 12:13 explains the purpose of the baptism of the Spirit, which is to bring us into the body (church) of Christ. To claim that its purpose is to give us power from God, and is evidenced by speaking in tongues, is without biblical basis.

The Purpose of Biblical Tongues

Most New Testament scholars agree that tongues in the New Testament were foreign languages — not incoherent gibberish. Acts 2:4-8 is the only passage in the New Testament that sheds light on the nature of tongues. At that event those who heard tongues spoken by the apostles were able to understand them in their own language. The apostles apparently spoke in languages they did not understand — but they spoke in known languages, understandable to the listeners.

Why did God use tongues in the early church? Much debate has taken place over this question. The major theories are presented in the following few paragraphs, with a short commentary following each theory:

The First Theory — Church Edification

The idea is that the gift of tongues was and is given for the edifying of other believers. However, the whole purpose of I Corinthians 14:1-19 is to emphasize that tongues were worthless for this purpose.

The Second Theory — Evangelization

At Pentecost it was Peter’s gospel message — not tongues — that brought people to Christ. With Cornelius (Acts 10) it was new Christians who spoke in tongues and no unsaved people were present. At Ephesus there was no indication that any unsaved people were present when tongues were spoken (Acts 19:6). Tongues at Corinth were clearly not evangelistic. In fact, Paul remarked that unbelievers observing them would likely be repelled, just as they were at Pentecost (I Corinthians 14:23 and Acts 2:13).

The Third Theory — Proof of Spirit Baptism

In the New Testament many believers are said to be filled with the Holy Spirit, with no mention of speaking in tongues. Spiritual baptism always has reference to our baptism into Christ. The difference between baptism and filling is found in Ephesians 5:18. We are commanded to be filled, therefore it is not universal among Christians, whereas baptism is.

The Fourth Theory — Devotional

Paul said that he would rather pray and sing with the Spirit and the mind than with just the Spirit alone (I Corinthians 14:14-15). The purpose of tongues is as a sign (Mark 16:17), not for personal spiritual growth.

The Fifth Theory — Condemnation

According to I Corinthians 14:21, which quotes Isaiah 28:11,12, tongues were a sign to the nation of Israel that God was bringing judgment upon them for their sinfulness and rejection of Christ.

The Sixth Theory — Apostolic Authentication

Since, on the testimony of Jesus, tongues were a sign, it remains only to determine what they were a sign of (Mark 16:17). In II Corinthians 12:11-13 Paul appeals to signs and wonders as the proofs of the apostolic office. If that is what they were, then that is their purpose. No unusual manifestation of the Spirit’s presence (no sign) ever occurred except in the presence of an apostle or by those who had been directly ministered to by an apostle.

I believe that a combination of these final two theories ring true.

Tongues, as a sign gift, point out two things: the judgment of Israel, and in a secondary sense, to the authority of the apostles.

Support for the Apostolic Authentication Theory

There are five facts that show the distinctive character of the apostolic office:

  • The church was founded upon them (Ephesians 2:20).
  • They were eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 1:22 and I Corinthians 15:7-9).
  • They were special authorized agents (Luke 6:13).
  • The fact of their appointment was authenticated by signs. The absence of miracles would invalidate the claim of one who asserted that he was an apostle (II Corinthians 12:12 and Acts 5:11-13).
  • The fact of their apostolic authority (II Peter 3:2, 15-16; I Corinthians 4:12 and II Thessalonians 3:6,14).

Tongues as a sign

Mark 16:17-20 — While the canonical authority of this text is questionable, we nevertheless find that signs were to be manifested by the apostles and by those to whom they ministered. In verse 20 Mark already (by AD 68) considered these signs past.

Acts 2:14-21; 4:3 — Only the apostles spoke in tongues or performed signs on these occasions.

Acts 8:13 — Philip was not an apostle but had the apostles’ “hands” laid upon him (6:6). However, his converts performed no signs or wonders. Only when apostles came from Jerusalem and laid hands upon Philip’s converts was there any unusual demonstration of the Spirit’s presence in them (8:15-17).

Note: Acts records new groups (Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles and Old Testament believers) in the initial act of receiving the Holy Spirit which would later be the mark of all Christians (Romans 8:9).

Acts 10 — God employed a series of supernatural visions in order to have Peter be the one to present the Gospel to Cornelius.

Acts 19 — 19:2 should be translated, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” These men were not yet converted. In 19:6 tongues came to authenticate Paul as an apostle.

II Corinthians 12:12 — Some at Corinth who had been converted under Paul received the gift of tongues to validate Paul’s claim to apostleship.

All signs are temporary

Jesus predicted signs only in association with the apostolic ministry. Mark considered the signs as past (AD 68). Hebrews 2:3-4 was written around the same time and also considered the signs as past.

The last recorded miracles in the New Testament took place about AD 58 (Acts 28:3-9). In AD 60 Epaphroditus became sick but he was not healed miraculously (Philippians 2:25-30). About AD 62 Timothy had a stomach ailment which remained uncured (I Timothy 5:23). Around AD 64 one of Paul’s associates was so seriously ill that Paul had to leave him behind, uncured (II Timothy 4:20). Yet earlier Paul had been instrumental even in restoring life to the dead.

Some gifts were temporary

All signs may be considered as spiritual gifts, but not all spiritual gifts were signs. The gifts of miracles, healings and tongues were sign gifts. All the sign gifts were temporary (compare Acts 11:17 with Mark 16). As with the miracles of Jesus, they served to authenticate the position and authority of the apostles.

Support for the Judgment Upon Israel Theory

The argument runs as follows: God had warned Israel on several occasions (Isaiah 28:11,12; 33:19; Deuteronomy 28:49,50; Jeremiah 5:15) that when they found themselves invaded and surrounded by those speaking in languages they did not understand, it was a sign to them that they were being judged by God for their disobedience. When, at Pentecost and in the early years of the church, tongues were spoken in the presence of Jews, it would be a sign to them that judgment was coming because of their rejection of the Messiah. That judgment came with the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple and the scattering of the Jewish people in AD 70. At that point the purpose of tongues (as a sign to disobedient Israel) had been fulfilled and therefore tongues ceased. This, I believe, was the primary purpose for tongues.

Tongues Have Ceased

Biblical Evidence

I Corinthians 13:8-10 “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part, and we prophecy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.”

This passage was written around AD 55, and clearly states that tongues shall cease. The question is when? The answer to that question is often seen as hinging on the meaning of the word “perfect” in the text.


What is that which is perfect? Here are three views:

The Rapture (a view often held by tongue speakers)

However, the term “that which is perfect” cannot refer to the Lord because of the neuter articles. It can be translated “when the perfect thing arrives.” This view also contradicts other Scripture which states that there will be prophecy after the rapture — during the Tribulation (Revelation 11:3-13) and during the Millennial Age (Joel 2:28).

The Canon

Not even the New Testament allows us to know fully, there is much that we still do not know.

The Eternal State

This is when we will see face to face, and is the best understanding of “perfect.” The passage is therefore teaching that both prophecy and supernatural knowledge will cease forever at the point when God ushers in the eternal state. But carefully notice that tongues are not named among those gifts which are said to be made inoperative by the arrival of the perfect. Therefore, tongues could cease prior to this event. With prophecy and knowledge the verb “shall cease,” meaning “to lay aside” or “render inoperative” is used. With tongues a different verb is used meaning “to stop” or “they will be done away” It carries with it the idea of a natural cessation.

It is also important to note the voice changes: “will be done away,” is in the passive voice, meaning that they will be forced to stop by an outside agent (i.e. that which is perfect). However, “cease” is in the middle voice, which allows for the possibility that, they could cease in and of themselves, naturally when their purpose is fulfilled.

This passage of Scripture does not give definitive evidence that tongues have ceased and are no longer operative today — but it allows for such a view. Paul implies that tongues will cease when their purpose is fulfilled. If, as demonstrated above, the purpose of tongues was to authenticate the apostles and their message, and to serve as a sign to Israel of judgment for rejecting their Messiah, then tongues have fulfilled their purpose. Phrased another way, since there are no longer apostles to authenticate, and since Israel has already been judged (in AD 70), tongues no longer have a purpose in the church today. Tongues cessation should then be expected with the passing of the apostles and the judgment of Israel. Both the testimonies of Scripture and of church history verify this fact. There is no record of anyone speaking in tongues in the New Testament after AD 70. What is the record of church history?

Church History Evidence

Apostolic Fathers

It is significant that the gift of tongues is rarely alluded to, hinted at, or found in the Apostolic Fathers. The Fathers wrote to defend Christianity, to correct Christians, to explain doctrines, etc. after the death of the apostles. Yet they did not mention tongues in a favorable light, and for the most part totally ignored them.

Some examples:

  • Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) wrote about spiritual gifts but did not mention tongues. He never mentions anyone speaking in tongues.
  • Montanus (AD 126-180) did speak in tongues, but was regarded as demon-possessed by Christians of his day (refer to the section “History of Tongues,” Think on These Things, Vol. 5, Issue 3).
  • Irenaeus (AD 140-203) said he had heard that some spoke in tongues. He had, however, been influenced by the Montanists and did not speak in tongues nor apparently witness it.
  • Tertulian (AD 150-222) was converted to Montanism for a period of time. He wrote about one lady who spoke in tongues and was a Montanist. This was the last witness to tongues-speaking by any of the Church Fathers.
  • Origen (AD 185-253) said that in his day no one spoke in tongues.
  • Chrysostom (AD 347-407) made no mention of tongues being spoken in his day.
  • Augustine (AD 354-430) no tongues spoken during his life.

Church history does not prove any doctrinal issues. However, in this case church history verifies what we would expect from a study of the New Testament: That tongues, having fulfilled their purpose, ceased to exist by AD 70, and were not found in the history of the church.


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