A Brief History of Tongues

Speaking in tongues is not mentioned by any of the post- Apostolic Fathers. Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Origen, Chrysostom and Augustine—some of the renowned theologians of the ancient church—considered speaking in tongues a remote practice, something that happened in the very early days of the church. During the first four or five hundred years of the church, the only people reported to have spoken in “tongues” were followers of Montanus, who was branded a heretic and his disciple Tertullian.

Not until the late seventeenth century did a group called the Cevenol priests speak in tongues and they were branded heretics because their prophecies went unfulfilled and their militancy was frowned upon.

Around 1731, a group of Roman Catholic reformers called the Jansenists were reported to be holding night meetings in their leader’s tomb, where supposed ecstatic “tongues” occurred. In the eighteenth century, Shakers, followers of Mother Ann Lee, who regarded herself to be Jesus Christ, spoke in tongues.

In 1830, Edward Irving started a little group, in London, called the Irvinites, who spoke in tongues. They had revelations that contradicted Scripture, unfulfilled prophecies, and supposed healings that ended in death. From Montanus to Edward Irving, instances of “tongues” within the church were never considered part of genuine Christianity.

At Bethel College in 1901, Agnes Ozaman received what she called the baptism of the Spirit and spoke in “tongues.” The practice then became part of the Holiness movement of the church in the United States. At Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California, tongues were spoken, giving birth to the movement that became the mainline Pentecostals of today.

The wise believer will examine the Scriptures and compare the experience of the apostolic church with the so-called experience of the tongues movement of today. If it is identical, fine. If not, it should be denied utterance in the midst of born-again saints of God.

IMPLICATIONS. The filling of the Spirit does not remove our human finiteness or the possibility of moral and spiritual failure. We must humbly accept God’s sovereign will to choose and use whomever He pleases, rejoicing in the Spirit’s activities in the life of others without becoming envious, jealous, or bitter. We must evaluate our experiences by the clear teaching of the Word of God and never view experience above God’s Word. We can fellowship with those who are genuinely saved even if they do not interpret the Scriptures
in the same way we do.

What are your spiritual gifts? Do not abuse them or neglect them! Spiritual gifts are to be used to edify the Church, not ourselves.

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