Report of the Committee to Study Speaking in Tongues [1986]

[The following was passed in the sixth meeting of the Annual Conference, Wednesday, October 15, 1986:

          “Whereas, the Bible Fellowship Church of Fleetwood, PA petitioned the 101st Annual Conference asking that an article on tongues be included in the Faith and Order of the Bible Fellowship Church; and

          Whereas, after careful consideration the Committee to Study Speaking in Tongues acknowledging that the issue is of great significance for the church today, but also recognizing that speaking in tongues is of lesser significance in the totality of Scripture concludes that the issue does not warrant inclusion in the Articles of Faith of the Bible Fellowship Church; therefore be it

          RESOLVED, that the Bible Fellowship Church not adopt a definitive position on the issue of speaking in tongues at this time by adopting an article in our Standards of Worship and Life, and, further

          RESOLVED, that this action be considered as the response of Annual Conference to the petition from the Bible Fellowship Church of Fleetwood, PA.”]

          The Bible Fellowship Church of Fleetwood, PA, petitioned the 101st Annual Conference “to take appropriate procedures to include in the Faith and Order scripturally based Articles of Faith relating to…tongues…  The purpose…shall be to declare with clarity distinctives of the Bible Fellowship Church according to the Word of God, though subordinate to it” (Page 18, 1984 Yearbook).  In response to this petition Annual Conference elected this committee to study the issue of speaking in tongues.  Robert H. Stringfellow, former pastor of the petitioning church, resigned from the committee concurrent with his resignation from the church.

          Having met 5 times the committee concludes its work with the submission of this report to the 102nd Annual Conference.  In so doing the committee recommends that Annual Conference adopt the following resolution:

          WHEREAS, the Bible Fellowship Church of Fleetwood, PA, petitioned the 101st Annual Conference asking that an article on tongues be included in the Faith and Order of the Bible Fellowship Church; and

          WHEREAS, after careful consideration the Committee to Study Speaking in Tongues acknowledging that the issue is of great significance for the church today, but also recognizing that speaking in tongues is of lesser significance in the totality of Scripture concludes that the issue does not warrant inclusion in the Articles of Faith of the Bible Fellowship Church; therefore be it

          RESOLVED, that rather than adopting an article of faith on tongues we approve the following study paper on speaking in tongues and that this action be considered as the response of Annual Conference to the petition from the Bible Fellowship Church of Fleetwood, PA.


   A. The Origin of Tongues (language)

          According to Genesis 11:1 the post-flood world spoke a single language.  The introduction of additional resulted from the judgement by God at the tower of Babel.  It included the confounding of that original language and was for the purpose of keeping individuals from understanding each other and thereby scattering people abroad, presumably into language groups.

   B. Non-biblical Historical References to Speaking in Tongues

          1. Tongue speaking before Pentecost

          Charles R. Smith, in his book, Tongues in Biblical Perspective, cites several examples of speaking tongues in non-biblical history.

                     a. In 1100 B.C. a young man of Canaan, inspired by his god, spoke ecstatically all night.

                     b. Plato describes utterances of the prophetess at Delphi and of the priestess at Dodona.

                     c. Virgil speaks of a priestess on the island of Delos whose utterances, when interpreted, were considered divine oracles.

          Watson E. Mills, Editor of Speaking in Tongues Let’s Talk About It. turns to John T. Burn for a historical perspective.  Dr. Burn looks back to the following:

                     a. Several cases in Mesopotamian religion (2000-1500 B.C.).

                     b. An Egyptian account of Wen-Amon while worshipping the god Amon (1117 B.C.).

          Additional cases can be cited, but these are sufficient to verify that tongue speaking was not limited to Pentecost.  Whether the above cases can be documented as paralleling the tongue speaking of Act 2 is somewhat debatable, but that unusual utterances were part of pre-Pentecost history is clear.

          2. Tongue Speaking Since Pentecost

          One final concept should be added before we consider the scripture passages regarding speaking in tongues, namely the experience of men since Pentecost.  Prime attention will be given briefly to only a few extreme cases cited by Dr. Burn.

                     a. At the close of the 17th century in Southern France, a group of persecuted Protestants known as the Covennals became well-known for mass tongue speaking.  Supposedly, whole cities spoke at one time.  Claims have been made that hundreds of children and even some babies spoke in tongues.  This group stands out for its noted emphasis on “new words of prophecy”.  In due time, however, both the group and its projected prophecies and fulfillments failed.

                     b. It is reported that in 1731 in night meetings at a tomb in France, a group of Roman Catholic reformers called Jansenists spoke in tongues.

                     c. “Mother Ann Lee (1736-1784), a woman who considered herself “the female principle of Christ”, instituted the Shaker community in Troy, NY.  Under her leadership men and women danced together without clothing while they spoke in tongues.

                     d. Hundreds of Mormon elders spoke in tongues during the dedication of their temple in Salt Lake City.

C. Observations

          From the preceding material, we may conclude:

          1. That the confusion of tongues (Babel) is not part of God’s plan of blessing.  Accordingly, anything that presently speaks of confusion will not speak of blessing.

          2. That tongue speaking is not limited to Christians or even to those who claim to believe in Jehovah as their God.  It has been often practiced by atheists and others who have no fear of God.


          A study of the word “tongue” shows it has four usages in Scripture: 1) literal – “He touched his tongue” (Mark 7:33); 2) figurative, referring to the manner of one’s speech – “Let him…refrain his tongue from evil” (I Peter 3:10); 3) referring to a language – “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9); 4) miraculous speaking in tongues, (Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4, 11; Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6; and several verses of I Corinthians 12 -14).

          The third and fourth usages of the word are significant for this study.  The third usage indicates the word “tongue” can refer to a language.  The passages listed under the fourth usage describe the miraculous speaking in tongues and are the pertinent passages for this study.  At this point it can be said that to speak in tongues is to speak in a language other than one’s own.  These passages must be examined before more conclusions can be drawn.

          Mark 16:17 – this passage indicates that Jesus prophesied that speaking in tongues would be a sign accompanying those who became believers.  This happened in Acts.

          Acts 2:4,11 – the context describes the Day of Pentecost when God poured forth His Spirit upon the 120 disciples.  As a result they spoke in tongues and the people of many nations who were present heard in the language to which they were born.  From this the conclusion can be drawn that as a result of the 120 receiving the Holy Spirit on Pentecost they spoke in tongues and that these tongues were known languages of that day.

          Acts 10:46-Acts 10 – describes the conversion of Cornelius, his relatives and friends.  Cornelius was a God-fearer, a technical term describing a Gentile who worshipped in the Jewish faith.  As Peter preached to them the Holy Spirit was poured out on them and they spoke in tongues.

          Acts 19:6 is similar.  A group of twelve men at Ephesus who were Gentiles became Christians.  In conjunction with their conversion they Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke in tongues.

          The three passages in Acts are similar.  In each case of speaking in tongues the Gospel reaches a distinct group of people.  In Acts 2 Jewish people are converted.  In Acts 10 the converts are God-fearers, Gentiles attracted to Judaism.  In Acts 19 Gentiles are converted.  Taken in sequence a progression can be seen as the Gospel goes into all the world.  These three instances mark definite steps in this progression.  In each of these the converts received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues.

          It is important, however, to note that speaking in tongues is not involved in all conversion accounts in Acts.  Although Acts 2 tells of the conversion of 3,000, only 120 disciples spoke in tongues.  Of the many conversion accounts in Acts, speaking in tongues is mentioned only in three.  This leads to the conclusion that speaking in tongues was experienced by a relatively few number of people upon their conversion.

          I Corinthians 12:7-11 – This passage indicates that each believer is given a gift by the Spirit as He wills.  Some are given “various kinds of tongues” (v.10).  Speaking in tongues therefore can also be a spiritual gift.


          From the study of the previously cited passages it is concluded that speaking in tongues is a sign that accompanied the conversion of some, but not all, believers.  It is also a gift of the Spirit bestowed on some, but not all, believers.  Those who spoke in tongues spoke in a language other than their own.  This included known, foreign languages current at that time.  Whether or not it included an unknown language, or what is called a “heavenly language”, cannot be determined by biblical evidence.  In short, to speak in tongues is to speak under the influence of the Holy Spirit and in a manner different from one’s usual manner of speaking.


          Thus far an examination of the descriptive passages in Acts, along with I Corinthians 12:7-11, has resulted in a definition of speaking in tongues.  The study of the didactic passages to determine how speaking in tongues is to be viewed today remains.

          I Corinthians 12-14 deals with speaking in tongues as practice in a local church.  Problems existed.  It must be recognized, however, that speaking in tongues per se was not the problem; but the manner in which the gift was used.  The solution to the problem is to view tongues as a legitimate gift of the Spirit, to understand its relatively low significance in comparison to other gifts, and to place its use under strict regulations.

          Speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift.  This has been previously determined from I Corinthians 12:7-11.

          Although a gift, speaking in tongues is a relatively low significance.  12:28 implies a ranking of gifts.  Tongues is listed last.

          Chapter 14 contrasts prophecy and tongues, concluding that tongues is of lesser significance.  Paul, who spoke in tongues, preferred to speak five words in intelligible prophecy than 10,000 words in a tongue; a 1 to 2,000 ratio (v. 19).  He categorically stated, “Greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues” (v.5).

          The context tells why.  Spiritual gifts are given “for the common good (12:27).  The specific good discussed in Chapter 14 is edification of people in the local church (v.3,4,5).  The Corinthians, whom Paul commended for their zeal for spiritual gifts, were to use their zeal for the edification of the church (.12).  Further they were instructed, “Let all things be done for edification” when assembled (v.26).

          Edification requires intelligible, comprehendible communication.  Speaking in a tongue which was unknown to listeners communicated nothing (unless it was interpreted).  Prophecy did communicate.  Therefore, “one who prophesies speaks to men for edification” (14:3,4), thereby making tongues the gift of lesser significance.

          This comparison is also seen in public prayer which is to result in corporate praise to God (14:14-17).  If one prays in a tongue another cannot say “Amen” because he does not know what is being said (v.16).  Again, the importance of communicating a message is stressed.  Speaking in tongues, when uninterpreted, does not communicate to others and is therefore of lesser significance.

          “Earnestly desire the greater gifts” (12:31).  This command reveals two things.  One is that some gifts are of greater significance than others.  The other is that the greater gifts are to be desired.  As Paul contrasts prophecy and tongues he indicates prophecy is to be desired (14:1,39).  Significantly, he does not say this about tongues.  This is especially significant in the concluding statement of verse 39.

          Unless interpreted, speaking in tongues does not communicate to others.  It is, therefore, of lesser significance than other gifts.  Although a gift of the Spirit possessed by some, it is not to be sought.

          On the other hand speaking in tongues is not to be forbidden (14:39).  Its use, however, is restricted.  14:26 teaches that tongues along with several other gifts has the specific purpose of edification.  (Edification may be through prayer, especially prayer of thanksgiving, 14:14-17).  As edification can happen only as a message is communicated, there must be an interpreter.  Verses 5,13 and 28 indicate that the one speaking may also interpret.  If there is no interpreter the one speaking in tongues must keep silent in a meeting (v. 28).

          Edification implies the need for an orderly meeting, requiring another restriction.  The number of those speaking in tongues is limited to two or three and they must speak one at a time (v. 27).  “Let all things be done…in an orderly manner” (14:40).

          Most of Paul’s teaching refers to speaking in tongues in a corporate meeting of a local church.  It should be noted that reference is also made to private use of the gift.  Paul says that one who speaks in a tongue speaks to God (14:1).  In addition, although in the absence of an interpreter he must keep silent in church, Paul does say, “Let him speak to himself and to God” (14:28).  The gift has its place in private use.

          Speaking in tongues is a gift of the Spirit.  Its lesser significance must be recognized.  It has little value in edifying others and should be exercised in public only when accompanied by interpretation and when it will result in edification.  As it is of lesser value it is probably present in far fewer situations than some claim and is not a gift one should desire to possess.  When possessed its use should not be forbidden.  When exercised, biblical restrictions must be observed.  The private use of the gift is to be allowed.  If speaking in tongues is practiced publicly it is to be in keeping with the following principles:

          A. The use of tongues is to be in compliance with our confusion, “Jesus is Lord” (I Corinthians 12:3).

          B. Recognition must be given to the relatively low significance of tongues in comparison with other gifts.

          C. Love is the essential and abiding ingredient that must permeate the exercise of all gifts.  Edification of the church must be the result. 

          D. The use of tongues is to cause no confusion in a worship service (I Corinthians 14:33).

          E. There must be evident concern that the believer who attends a worship service be not confused, offended, or driven away.

          In keeping with these principles the following regulations should be observed if speaking in tongues is practiced:

          A. An interpretation is required.

          B. The number speaking is limited to three.

          C. One person at a time shall speak.

          D. When there is no interpretation, the one speaking in tongues may speak to himself and God.

          E. Legitimate speaking in tongues may not be prohibited.


          Having acknowledged speaking in tongues as a legitimate gift of the Spirit, recognition is given to questions that arise.  One question is the source of the gift.

          The source of the gift of tongues is the same as that for all of the spiritual gifts.  They are given by God as gifts of His grace according to His will and purpose.

          The gifts are most often thought of as being given by the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, Paul says in I Corinthians 12:4, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit”.  But he continues on, mentioning the other two Persons of the Trinity as well.  In Romans 12 and I Peter 4 God the Father is the author of spiritual gifts.  In Ephesians 4, the spiritual gifts are gifts of the ascended Christ, the head of the church.  Although the Holy Spirit is the executive of the Godhead and what God does today he does by His Spirit, we must remember that the three Persons of the Trinity are involved in giving the gifts.

          The gifts are gifts of God’s grace.  Romans 12:6 says, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them”.  In Ephesians 4:7 we are told “grace was given”.  The same idea is presented in I Peter 4:10.

          Finally, the gifts are given according to God’s sovereignty.  God gives the gifts t each man, just as He determines, according to I Corinthians 12:11.  They are given, Romans 12:3 tells us, “In accordance with the measure of faith God has given”.

          Another question is, is the gift of tongues for every believer?

          The key passages in answering this question are found in I Corinthians, chapters 12 and 14.  In chapter 12 Paul emphasizes the difference in the parts of the body of Christ in regard to function.  In verse 4 he says there are different kinds of gifts.  Verse 10 clearly indicates that as with all the gifts, some people are given the gift of tongues.  In verses 29 and 30 Paul again makes clear by a series of rhetorical questions that no one gift is possessed by all believers.  In verses 14 to 26 Paul’s illustration of the many members making up one body certainly shows that every believer is important, because the Holy Spirit has given each a function within the body of Christ.  We have no right, therefore, to say that some other part, because it is not like us, is of less value or importance.

          Further the fact that tongues is downplayed to some extent by Paul hardly seems to support the idea that tongues would be for every Christian.  Paul says in I Corinthians 14:5 that he would like everyone to speak in tongues, but he would rather have all prophecy.  He continues saying, unless the one who speaks in tongues interprets so that the church may be edified.  In verse 19 of the same chapter Paul says he would rather speak five intelligible words in the church so that he would instruct others, than 10,000 words in a tongue.

          This hardly seems to be evidence that tongues is a gift that all believers should seek, or one that is a sign of something happening in a believer’s life for which all should strive.  Rather this and Paul’s statements that believers are given varied gifts and no one gift is possessed by all believers make a negative answer to this question necessary.


          The Bible Fellowship Church as a denomination does not claim to possess the gift of speaking in tongues, nor does the church seek this gift.  The church does, however, recognize speaking in tongues as a legitimate gift of the Spirit which is of relatively low significance in comparison with other gifts; the exercise of which is to be under strict regulations..


          For a fuller consideration of speaking in tongues, the four Biblical accounts of the Baptism of the Spirit should be considered since in three of the four, the Baptism of the Spirit is accompanied by the speaking in tongues.  The following material is added to the paper to give further clarification on speaking in tongues.

          The main questions raised in the issue of baptism of the Holy Spirit is, “Does a person receive the Holy Spirit fully at the time of his conversion or is there an experience of a baptism of the Holy Spirit some time after conversion”?  “Does God make us His sons and then give us His Spirit, or does He give us His Spirit of sonship who makes us His sons”?  The Apostle Paul states it both ways in his writings.  Galatians 4:6 says, “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts”.  In Romans 8:14 Paul says, “All who are led by the Spirit are the sons of God”.  Then whichever way it is stated the fact is that everyone who has the Spirit of God is a child of God and everyone who is a child of God has the Spirit of God.

          In Romans 8:9 Paul says that anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Christ.  John agrees with this as he says in I John 3:24, “This is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us”.  Peter presents the same idea in his Pentecost sermon saying, “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. (Acts 2:38)

          In Galatians 3 Paul twice affirms the fact that the Spirit is received at conversion.  In verse 2 he reminds the people of Galatia that they received the Spirit by believing.  This is speaking of salvation since Paul said to the Philippian jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved”.  Nowhere does scripture say anything about receiving the Spirit by faith, indicating this happens at a time different from conversion.  Further, in I Corinthians 12:13, Paul says, “We are all baptized by one Spirit into one body…and we were all given the one Spirit to drink”.

          There are four places, all in Acts, where the Scriptures speak of the Holy Spirit coming on people.  The first is the account of Pentecost, Acts 2.  The second, recorded in Acts 8, is the account of the gospel first being preached in Samaria, by Philip.  The third is the story of Peter presenting the gospel to Cornelius in Acts 10.  Each of these instances was a major point in the progress of the proclamation of the gospel.  The fourth occurrence is in Acts 19:6.  Paul found some men in Ephesus who are described as disciples.  In speaking to them, though, Paul found that they had heard only the message of John the Baptist.

          The question of whether the coming of the Holy Spirit is at the time of salvation or a separate time after conversion is not answered consistently by all these instances.  In the first two, Pentecost and the time the first Samaritans received the gospel and were saved, it appears the Holy Spirit came on the people subsequent to salvation, although this is not unmistakably clear from these passages.  The account in chapter 19 is similarly unclear as to timing, though it seems they had not accepted Christ prior to the time Paul spoke to them and they received the Holy Spirit.

          Aside from these passages, the account in chapter 10 of Cornelius is clear.  Cornelius and his household and friends were not Christians.  This is clear from the message of the angel who came to Cornelius.  In 11:14 Peter tells the Christian in Jerusalem that the angel told Cornelius that Peter “will bring you a message through which you and your household will be saved.”  “While Peter was speaking,” the account indicates, “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message”.  This is clearly a case where the Holy Spirit came on them at the moment they were saved, not at a separate time following their salvation.

          From these passages, therefore, there is no clear support for an experience of receiving the Holy Spirit after salvation.  The account of Cornelius is especially in opposition to such a position.

          Also in none of these cases did these people pray to receive the Holy Spirit, much less at a time subsequent to salvation that is indicated in the Scriptures.  Nor is there any place in Scripture where Christians are commanded to do so.  Certainly if this was important and if every Christian was supposed to do this at some time it would be commanded at least one time in the Bible.  Rather Christians are repeatedly told to live by the Spirit or walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 18, 22; Romans 8:5 specifically use those terms) and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5:22.

          It should also be noted that these commands are in the epistles which are didactic in nature, whereas the accounts of people receiving the Holy Spirit even when subsequent to salvation are all recorded in Acts which is historical in nature.  Doctrine of the importance that some place on this receiving of the Holy Spirit should have support in the didactic literature of the New Testament.  It is only recorded in Acts as experiences of some of the Christians at that time.  That it was the experience of some (or even if it were the experience of all) of the Christians of that time is not an indication that it must be our experience today, especially not that it should be the experience of all believers as some contend.

          The conclusion is that Scripture teaches that all Christians are given the gift of the Holy Spirit and baptized into the Body of Christ at the time of salvation.  There is no experience of a baptism of the Spirit subsequent to salvation, neither is there a biblical mandate to seek such an experience.  Christians are, however, commanded to be filled continually with the Holy Spirit and demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.

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