Charismatic Chaos - Part 10
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/02/2003
The following message was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama
City, California, By John MacArthur Jr. It was transcribed from the tape,
GC 90-61, titled "Charismatic Chaos" Part 10. A copy of the tape can be
obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412.
I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the
original tape was made. Please note that at times sentence structure may
appear to vary from accepted English conventions. This is due primarily to
the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make in
placing the correct punctuation in the article.
It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription
of the sermon, "Charismatic Chaos" Part 10, to strengthen and encourage the
true Church of Jesus Christ.
Charismatic Chaos - Part 10
"Speaking in Tongues"
John F. MacArthur, Jr.
All rights reserved.
Tonight, in one sense I have a difficult, impossible task; and that is to
cover a subject that needs to be covered thoughtfully and carefully. In
another sense, while very challenging and almost impossible to fully
accomplish, I welcome the opportunity to share with you some insights that
will help you to be discerning as you look at a very important issue in the
Charismatic movement today; and that is this matter of "Speaking in Tongues."
This is at the very heart of the Charismatic movement; one of their
distinctives. There is no question in my mind that if you were to boil down
the Charismatic movement as to its basic, several ingredients, one of them
would be the affirmation that speaking in tongues is a gift for today. Not
only a gift for today, but a gift to be sought by every Christian who wants
the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the fullness of the blessing of God. It
is so much a part of the fabric of the Charismatic movement that it is one of
the primary things that they endeavor to teach the children in that movement.
Someone sent me a sample of some Charismatic Sunday School literature which
is designed specifically to teach Kindergarten children how to speak in
tongues. It's titled, "I've Been Filled with the Holy Spirit," and it is an
eight paged coloring book. One page has a caricature of a smiling weight
lifter with a T-shirt and it says, "Spiritman", and under him is printed
1 Corinthians 14:4, "He that speaks in an unknown tongue builds himself up."
Another page features a little boy who looks something like (some of you will
remember) Howdy Doody, something like that, with his hands lifted up, and a
dotted outline pictures where his lungs would be. This evidently represents
his spirit. Inside the lung shaped diagram is printed this, "Bal Li Ode Da
Ma Ta Las Si Ta No Ma," (sp.). A cartoon styled balloon then comes out his
mouth and repeats the words, "Bal Li Ode Da Ma Ta Las Si Ta No Ma," (sp.). A
brain-shaped cloud is drawn in his head with a large question mark in the
Do you understand the picture? These gibberish words are in the Spirit and
they come out of his mouth, but a question mark is in his brain. This is how
they plant in a Kindergarten child the idea that tongues goes from the Spirit
to the mouth, without ever going through the brain, that it is some kind of
mystical, noncognative experience that somehow bypasses the brain. And under
that picture is 1 Corinthians 14:14, "If I pray in an unknown tongue, my
spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful." In both cases they have
misrepresented the intention of those verses. The first verse they assume
"speaking in an unknown tongue" builds someone up, when in fact, Paul was
saying it in a negative sense. It puffs your ego, or it, at best (if you do
it in private) would benefit you, which would be selfish and contrary to any
proper use of spiritual gifts. And the second one, "If I pray in an unknown
tongue, my spirit prays, and my understanding is unfruitful," is a way to
say, "Don't do that, because what's the point in having an unfruitful
And yet, as early as Kindergarten, people are learning these things which are
in error. This is the typical Charismatic perspective, by the way. The gift
of tongues is viewed as a holy, mystical ability that somehow operates in a
person's spirit and comes out the mouth and bypasses the mind. And many
Charismatics are even told they have to purposefully switch off their mind to
enable the gift to function. That's pretty much the pattern. I've sat in on
a number of sessions where people were endeavoring to teach someone how to
speak in tongues, and they always follow that same format. Usually they say
something like this, "Don't think of anything. Try to empty your mind of any
Charles and Francis Hunter, who travel all across the world in healing
explosion meetings, have as a part of their curriculum the seminars in which
they teach people how to speak in tongues. They have as many as 50,000
people in some of their meetings. Charles Hunter tells people, and I
When you pray with your spirit you do not think of the sounds of
the language. Just trust God, but make the sounds when I tell
you to. In just a moment, when I tell you, begin loving and
praising God by speaking forth a lot of different syllable
sounds. At first make the sounds rapidly so you won't try to
think as you do in speaking your natural language. Make the
sounds loudly at first so you can easily hear what you are
That's an interesting contradiction! Hunter doesn't explain what point there
is in hearing what you are saying since your mind isn't engaged anyway. But
he continually reminds his audience [that] they are not supposed to be
thinking, quote, he says, "The reason some of you don't speak fluently, is
that you try to think of the sounds. So when we pray this prayer and you
start speaking in your heavenly language--don't try to think!" Later he
adds, "You don't even have to think in order to pray in the Spirit!"
Arthur Johnson, in his excellent expose of mysticism, entitled, "Faith
Misguided", a very good book, calls the Charismatic movement, "the zenith of
mysticism." And he does so with good reason, because there is the desire, in
some cases and through some experiences, to switch off the mind and
disconnect yourself from what is rational, and reasonable, and logical.
We've already noted that earlier in our study and I won't go back and belabor
the point, but that is one of the primary characteristics of "Pagan, Mystery
Religions," one of the primary characteristics of the Babylonian mystery
religions that have found their way into all kinds of religious fabric,
through the history of the world. Nearly all the teachings, distinctive to
the Charismatic movement, are unadulterated Mysticism. And nothing
illustrates that more perfectly than the way Charismatics themselves depict
the gift of tongues.
They usually describe this gift of speaking these ecstatic syllables that
have no meaning, as a sort of ecstatic experience that has no equal. They
would tell us that it's a way to experience an emotion and a feeling that is
beyond anything else that you will ever experience. One author quotes Robert
For me, the gift of tongues turned out to be the gift of praise.
As I used the unknown language, which God had given me, I felt
rising in me the love, the awe, the adoration, pure and
uncontingent, that I had not been able to achieve in thought out
In other words, "I got more out of prayer I couldn't understand, than I did
out of prayer that I could understand!"
A newspaper article on tongues quoted the Reverend Bill L. Williams of San
Jose, and he said this,
It involves you with someone you are deeply in love with and
devoted to. We don't understand the verbiage, but we know we
are in communication.
If I could just interrupt and ask you to try that sometime on someone you
love very dearly, and see how effective it is in communication. You could
probably judge that statement accurately. He went on to say,
That awareness is beyond emotion, beyond intellect, it
transcends human understanding. It is the heart of man speaking
to the heart of God. It is deep inner heart understanding. It
comes as supernatural utterances bringing intimacy with God.
Now, remember, all of this is a occurring with absolutely no understanding of
what you are saying. You have no comprehension of what it is you're saying,
and yet it is supposed to bring you into the deep understanding and intimate
communion with God. The article also quoted the Reverend Billy Martin of
Farmington, New Mexico, who said, "It's a joyous, glorious, wonderful
experience." Reverend Darlene Miller of Knoxville, Tennessee said, "It's
like the sweetness of peaches that you can't know until you taste it
yourself. There is nothing ever to compare with that taste." And other of
those people who have that experience might echo sentiments similar to those.
And I am just quoting you what they themselves say.
And you might ask the question, "What then is wrong with such an experience?"
Well, on the one hand, there really isn't anything particularly evil or
immoral about it if you just disassociate it from the Bible and disassociate
it from Christianity, and if you get some pleasure out of standing in a
corner all by yourself or sitting in your room alone and talking gibberish to
yourself and that does something for you, then I suppose in and of itself,
from a psychological standpoint, that it's not a moral issue--it may be
harmless. If something makes you feel good or makes you feel somehow better
in control of your life, or like you've had some warm experience, so be it.
But, don't call it intimacy with God. Don't say it makes you spiritually
stronger, don't say it makes you delirious with spiritual joy.
And then ask yourself the question, "Could I, through this means be deceived,
could this be dangerous?" And the answer to that question has to be yes. A
man whom I knew and respected greatly, now with the Lord, George Gardner, who
was pastor up in Grand Rapids, who wrote a very excellent book on this
subject, was a former "tongue speaker" who left the Pentecostal movement.
And he poignantly described the danger of surrendering one's mind and
abandoning control of one's self for the sake of the euphoria of the tongues
experience. He said it is a very dangerous thing and this is what he wrote
in his own words,
The enemy of the soul is ever ready to take advantage of an out-of-
control situation, and thousands of Christians can testify with regret
to the end results. Such experiences not only give Satan an opening he
is quick to exploit, they can be physiologically damaging to the
individual. Charismatic writers are constantly warning tongue speakers
that they will suffer a "letdown." This is ascribed to the Devil and
the reader is urged to get refilled as soon as possible. So the seeker
for experience goes back through the ritual again and again, but begins
to discover something: ecstatic experience, like drug addiction
requires larger and larger doses to satisfy.
Sometimes the bizarre is introduced. I've seen people run around a
room until they were exhausted. I've seen people climb tent poles,
laugh hysterically, go into trances for days, and do other weird
things, as the "high" sought becomes more elusive. Eventually there is
a crisis and a decision is made; he will sit on the back seats and be a
spectator, fake it, or go on in the hope that everything will
eventually be as it was. The most tragic decision is to quit and in
the quitting abandon all things spiritual as fraudulent. The
spectators are frustrated, the fakers suffer guilt, the hoping are
pitiable, and the quitters are a tragedy. No, such movements are not
The first time a person speaks in tongues there is usually a euphoria because
there have been so many people trying to get them to do that, that when they
finally do that, there is a tremendous sense that they have arrived
spiritually. And so psychologically there is a great sense of release and
relief, and then there is immediately the diminishing return. Many who speak
in tongues will understand the tensions that Gardner has described. He is
not the only tongue speaker, by the way, to turn against the practice and
expose its dangers.
A man by the name of Wayne Robinson, who was once editor-in-chief of the
publications of the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association, was an
enthusiastic tongues speaker, and he wrote a book, "I Once Spoke in Tongues"
and in it he says this,
In the past few years, I have become more and more convinced
that the test, not only of tongues, but of any religious
experience cannot be limited to the logic and truthfulness
supporting it. There is also the essential question, "What does
it do in one's life?" More specifically, does it turn a person
inward to self concern and selfish interests, or does it open
him up to others and their needs. I know people who testify
that speaking in tongues has been the great liberating
experience of their lives, but juxtaposed with them are the
great many others for whom speaking in tongues has been an
excuse to withdrawal from confronting the realities of a
suffering and divided world. For some, tongues has been the
greatest thing ever to happen, others have seen it disrupt
churches, destroy careers, and rupture personal relationships.
Another former Charismatic writes,
To say that speaking in tongues is a harmless practice, and is
all right for those who want to, is an unwise position when
information to the contrary is evident. Speaking in tongues is
addictive. The misunderstanding of the issue of tongues and the
habit, plus the psychic high it brings, plus the stimulation of
the flesh, equals a practice hard to let go of. But to equate
much speaking in tongues with advanced spirituality is to reveal
one's misunderstanding of Bible truth, and to reveal one's
willingness to be satisfied with a deceptive and dangerous
That's from Ben Bird (sp.) who wrote a book entitled, "The Truth About
Speaking in Tongues." There are others who practice tongues and can turn the
phenomena on and off mechanically, and without feeling anything emotional.
Recently, I knew of a pastor, knew him personally, who spoke in tongues and
led his ministry in that direction for many, many years, and has since
admitted that it was something he just did. It was nothing spiritual or
divine, it was something he just did himself. There are many like that.
They have learned how to do it. They can turn it on, turn it off, hone the
ability to speak in those familiar sounds that most tongue speakers use, and
they do it without passion.
Now, I have just introduced the subject to you and given you a little bit of
a feeling for it. I want to go into the Word of God and try to show you some
things that you must understand about tongues so that you will have a handle
on it from the Biblical perspective. So let's talk first of all about the
Biblical gift of tongues; we do know it is in the Bible and we have to deal
with that. Now listen very carefully to what I say, because I don't want to
lose you and I am going to flow through this fairly quickly.
Tongues are only mentioned in three books in the Bible: Mark (one time in
chapter 16:17); Acts (three times, Acts 2, 10, 19); and then in 1 Corinthians.
Those are the only three books of the Bible that mention tongues. Now,
earlier in our study you will remember that we looked into Acts, didn't we?
And we saw something about this gift of tongues, as it has become known, in
the Book of Acts. We discovered that when it occurred in the Book of Acts,
it was a known language (we will say more about that in a few moments). It
had a very specific purpose in God's redemptive history. Along with other
miraculous events in the Apostolic period it had a very unique purpose. And
so we have covered the ground I think fairly well in the Book of Acts, and we
saw the unique historical purpose for that gift.
It was a sign that the Spirit of God had come, that God was speaking from
heaven His truth. It was also a sign to unbelieving Israel that when they
wouldn't listen in the language they could speak, God would now begin in
judgment to speak a language they couldn't understand. And so as Paul will
point out in chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians, it was a sign of judgment. It was
given as a sign gift on the day of Pentecost. Several other times in the
Book of Acts it was given again so that those believers being added to the
original Body of Christ would be seen to be participating in the same Body
and receiving the same Holy Spirit. So it had a unique historical place in
the Book of Acts.
Then it appears in Mark 16:17; it simply mentions tongues as one of the gifts
that would be expressed in the time of the apostles' ministry. And again it
fits into that unique historic Apostolic time period in which there was
miraculous phenomena, signs and wonders, as God pointed to the apostles who
were speaking His truth. On the day of Pentecost this sign drew the crowd to
which Peter preached the gospel, for example.
That leaves us really with only one epistle in which tongues is even
mentioned, out of the historical uniqueness of Acts and Mark 16--we come to
the Book of 1 Corinthians, chapters 12 through 14. This is the only epistle
where we find anything about this, and Paul wrote for sure 12 and maybe 13
epistles beyond this one, and never in any of them does he even mention this.
Only in this very early epistle does any discussion of tongues take place.
Now, Paul wrote these chapters, and you must understand this, to reprove the
Corinthians for misusing the gift. It's very difficult out of this passage
to get any kind of mandate to speak in tongues, to get any kind of
affirmation that this is something to be sought, or something to be elevated,
or something to be used, or something that will last, because, what you have
here is primarily a corrective given to the Corinthians, who had prostituted
the gift of tongues into something pagan that wasn't even representative of
the work of the Holy Spirit. And so what he wants to do is correct and
restrict the use of tongues.
Now, if we grant, and I think we must, that at the time of the writing of
1 Corinthians the Spirit of God could still use this unique ability, the fact
that it was still a gift in that time and that place in the history of the
Church--we know that because Paul said, "Don't forbid it." Don't forbid
people to speak in tongues, don't eliminate it. There is still, he is
saying, a place for this (verse 39 of chapter 14), but, he says you must
regulate it carefully; and then if you took the time to study through
1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14, (and by the way, if you want to read in detail,
I've written my commentary on 1 Corinthians which covers every verse, every
phrase in this whole section)--but in this section there are some
The guidelines given were these:
1. Tongues is a sign to unbelievers. It's a sign that God is speaking.
It's a sign to unbelievers.
2. If used in the Church it must always be translated, so that it can have
the purpose of edifying the believers who don't know what's being said.
3. Never are more than three people to do it, and they are to do it in
sequence, not at the same time.
4. There is to be no speaking in tongues unless it is interpreted.
5. Any confusion or any disorder in the assembly is an indication that what
is going on did not originate with God--it's a counterfeit; it's a
6. Women are never to do it, for they are to remain silent and not to speak
And then as he comes to the end of chapter 14, Paul tells them to recognize
these regulations as a commandment of the Lord as absolutely imperative: you
have no option. In verse 37, he says, "If you think you are a prophet or you
think you are spiritual, then you better recognize that what I have just said
is the Lord's command!" And a few weeks ago when we were meeting with some
of the leaders of the Vineyard, they said, "Are there things in our ministry
that you would point out as a violation of Scripture?" And we immediately
brought up the fact that having attended a recent meeting where several
thousand people were present, the leader of that meeting invited everyone,
all at once, all at the same time to begin speaking in tongues. And there
was total chaos, confusion, disorder, people pushing chairs back (as we told
you before), falling on the floor, stretching out their limbs, falling over,
fainting, all of that kind of chaos and confusion. No translation of that
was going on. Women were dominant in it, and all of that violates the
instruction for the legitimate use of the gift, when it was legitimate in the
And so there are some very clear restrictions given here. To be honest with
you, if those restriction were followed in the contemporary tongue speaking
movement, the movement would come to almost a total halt. And again I point
out it isn't necessary for God any longer to give supernatural sign gifts to
point to those who speak His word since we know who speaks His word. We
don't need a sign, we just compare them with the Bible. Once the authority
was given then affirming speakers who speak His truth through Signs and
Wonders ceased to be necessary. I can tell you in a moment whether someone
speaks for God. All I have to do is listen and compare what they say with
Now, also there was another component. Tongues in the Corinthian church was
chaotic, out of order, confused--way out of its proper place. And not only
that, the attitude of the people in using this gift was one of pride, self-
centeredness, "look at me," they were putting on a show, they were parading
their supposed spirituality and they weren't using their gift for the benefit
of others; that's why he writes chapter 13, which is all about love. And he
is saying, "In all spiritual gifts the proper motive is love to other
people." And he says in verse one of chapter 13, "If I speak with the
tongues of men and angels, and don't have love, I'm nothing but a noisy gong
and a clanging cymbal." I don't care if you're talking human language or
angel talk, anything apart from love is noise. It's noise. And then he
launches into the magnificent 13th chapter, the classic in all of human
literature on love, to point to the fact that the Corinthians had adulterated
the gift in its expression, and they had adulterated the purpose and the
motive for it because it was something other than love.
Paul says, "I don't care how you talk. I don't care whether you talk in
human languages or whether you talk angel talk (and that's hypothetical
because every time angels ever speak they speak in the language of men)." But
he says, hypothetically, hyperbolically, "I don't care if you talk angel talk,
if you are not motivated by love, it's noise, absolute noise." Unfortunately,
some of the Charismatic people have taken Paul's statement, "If I speak with
the tongues of men and of angels," and they say, "You see, the tongues of men
are our normal language, and the tongues of angels are our secret private
prayer language." And they believe that the gift of tongues is a private
prayer language, a heavenly language known only to God that transcends the
mind, as we said earlier. It's celestial speech.
It's interesting to me that if it's celestial speech, and if it's angel talk
and comes from God, why is it that somebody has to sit you down and teach you
how to do it? There is no warrant in this text for such a view. Paul was
simply expressing a hypothetical case, just as in the subsequent verses. He
says, "If I have the gift of prophecy, and if I know all mysteries and all
knowledge, and have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but don't
have love, I am nothing." If I could move the earth and didn't have
love--what would it matter? "And if I gave away everything to feed the poor,
and delivered my body to be burned, and didn't have love, what good would it
be?" This is all hyperbole! He's not really suggesting things that are, but
he's taking it to its furthest expression. No matter what you did, no matter
how great it was, without love it's nothing. And as I said, angels don't
ever appear in Scripture talking in anything other than human language. You
can compare Luke, chapter 1 and chapter 2 for a good illustration of that.
Nowhere then, and this is very important, nowhere does the Bible teach that
the gift of tongues is anything other than "human languages!" And if you
have a question about that, all you need to do is to go back to Acts 2. Go
back there with me for a moment, verse 4, "They were all filled with the Holy
Spirit and began to speak with other languages (it's the word language, we'll
see that in a minute), as the Holy Spirit was giving them utterance." Notice
that they didn't have to learn how to do it. Somebody didn't sit them down
in a chair and say, "Empty your mind and start talking in unintelligible
syllables" No, the Spirit gave them utterance and they began to speak.
Really; and what did they speak? It's very clear, "The multitude came
together (verse 6), they were bewildered (they were from everywhere, by the
way), they were each hearing them speak in his own language." It wasn't
double-talk, it wasn't gibberish, it wasn't angel talk, it wasn't celestial
speech, it was just different languages.
"And they were amazed and marveled, saying, 'Why, are not all these who are
speaking Galileans?'" See Galilee was a kind of a "Hick Town" area. "Hay
Seeds" lived up there. Nobody was educated, they certainly didn't learn
languages up there. They could barely speak their own language. "Aren't
these Galileans? How is it that everybody is hearing them in our own
language? The Parthians and the Medes and the Elamites, and the residents of
Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both
Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs--we hear them in our own languages."
This is incredible! It was very clear what the gift was--it was an ability
to speak a language you hadn't learned. And in that language they were
declaring the wonderful works of God and everybody was hearing them. But the
people were saying, "This isn't some human exercise. Something has happened
here today that is divine." And so it was a sign that God had come in a
marvelous way, and God had poured out His Spirit on this Church, on these
120, and the Church was born, and they all could see that a supernatural
event had happened. The Church was born and the unbelieving Jews now were
hearing the judgment predicted come to pass. God had through the prophet
Isaiah said, "The day is coming when, because you don't hear me when I talk
your language, I am going to talk a language you don't understand." And
that's a sign of judgment, and after all the judgment was coming wasn't it?
They had rejected and crucified their Messiah.
It was a sign that God had done something wonderful, that God had brought the
Spirit and the Church was born: Gentiles and Jews all together would come to
Christ and form one body; and it was a sign to unbelieving Israel that they
were going to be put outside, set aside, and that the God who spoke once to
them in a language they could understand, and gave them the oracles and the
covenants and the promises in the Hebrew tongue, would now speak in a
language they didn't understand as a judgment.
But very clearly it was language. The word in Acts 2 is "glossa" (Gk.) [and
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