The Manifestation of Tongues in the Church

In the last few articles I’ve been discussing the gifts of the Spirit as they relate to the Emergent Church.  I’ve made a distinction between various types of spiritual “things” emphasizing the difference between “gifts” and “manifestations” of the Holy Spirit (see chart at the end of this article).

The Emergent Church gets it wrong because they claim to “own” or operate at will in the manifestations of the Spirit.  As a result they abuse the Holy Spirit.  Manifestations are ENABLEMENTS of the Holy Spirit— God controlled (Acts 2:4).

Manifestation of Tongues

In this article I’ll be discussing the manifestation of tongues.  Tongues is the ability to miraculously speak in a language that you have never learned.

Let’s see what the Bible has to say about the specific characteristics of this enablement.

1.  Tongues is GODWARD, not man ward.  Notice the DIRECTION of tongues when it first appeared on the scene in Acts 2.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?  Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs— WE HEAR THEM DECLARING THE WONDERS OF GOD in our own tongues!”

Acts 2:1-11

Tongues is a Prayer Language

In a “tongue”, the disciples are speaking directly to God— not man.  They are declaring the wonders of God.  This is the very definition of prayer— speaking to God.  From the very beginning, we see that “tongues” is a prayer language.

For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people BUT TO GOD.

1 Corinthians 14:2

2.  Tongues was used by God as a SIGN that the Holy Spirit had come.

If you are going to open a business you will always put a sign up to announce it.  That is what God did.  He did something spectacular to make people aware that the Holy Spirit had come.  He had His disciples speak in a language they had not learned for the BENEFIT of the listeners.

“We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

Acts 2:11

Tongues marked the introduction of the Holy Spirit.  The Apostle Paul tells us that tongues is a SIGN for unbelievers.

Tongues, then, are a SIGN, not for believers but for unbelievers.

1 Corinthians 14:22

Also notice WHO benefited here.  It was the people who heard the tongues in their own language.  They were blown away by it.  Why?  Because it was a miracle for “Galileans” to be speaking in languages that they had not learned.

God uses the SIGN of tongues only twice.

God uses tongues as a sign to Jewish believers.

In Acts 2, God wants to make it clear that the Holy Spirit had come to JEWISH believers.  He uses tongues as the sign to mark this occasion.

This can be seen in the scripture quotation above, Acts 2:1-11.

God uses tongues as a sign to Gentile believers.

In Acts 10, God wants to make it clear that the Holy Spirit had come to GENTILE believers.  He uses tongues as the sign to mark this occasion.

This can be seen in the scripture below.

Peter In Caesarea at Cornelius’s House

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.  The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.  For they heard them SPEAKING IN TONGUES and praising God.

Acts 10:44-46

God does not keep using tongues as a sign every time the Holy Spirit is given to a new believer.  God used tongues as a sign to MARK the coming of the Holy Spirit to two main people groups— Jews and Gentiles. 

Tongues is not given as a sign to mark the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” as some teach.

To think that tongues must appear every time someone receives the Holy Spirit exemplifies the ridiculous extremes of the old Verizon wireless commercial (see below).

Can You Hear Me Now?

3.  Not everyone will speak in tongues.

Like all manifestations of the Holy Spirit (there are 9 of them), tongues is severally given as the Holy Spirit allows.

The Emergent Church teaches that everyone can speak in tongues.  They go to great lengths to TEACH this “gift”.

To “practice” they’ll have you say the words, “See My Bow Tie, Tie My Bow Tie”.  Now repeat it over and over again as fast as you can.  See— now you are speaking in tongues— just let the Holy Spirit take over they’ll say.

This is ridiculous on two levels.

It’s the Holy Spirit that gives utterance severally as He wills.

But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

1 Corinthians 12:11

Not everyone will speak in tongues.

Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

1 Corinthians 12:30

The obvious answer to the Apostle Paul’s question above is, “No, not everyone will speak in tongues”.

 4.  Those who speak in tongues are NOT in control of this manifestation.

By definition, those who speak in tongues are NOT in control of it.  Tongues is listed in 1 Corinthians 12:10 as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.  A manifestation is a God controlled event.

The Emergent Church will tell you, “No, I can speak in tongues any time I want to.  It is a prayer language.  I’m in control.”

Oh really?  Well, I can too!  But most of it is in the flesh, uninspired, completely driven by a static memory of it.

Only the Holy Spirit can IGNITE a prayer session that could be described by the following scripture:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the SPIRIT INTERCEDES for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Romans 8:26-27

Anything else is in the FLESH.

5.  Tongues benefits the BELIEVER.

At Pentecost (Acts 2), tongues benefited the unbeliever (listener).  That’s because they heard the disciples praising God in their own language (point #2).

However, later in Corinth, the Apostle Paul tells us that it is the BELIEVER that benefits from tongues.

Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies THEMSELVES.

1 Corinthians 14:4

Why is this?

Because the person speaking ALWAYS understands in their spirit what they are saying.

In 1 Corinthians 2, the Apostle Paul explains WHY the speaker of the tongue always understands and benefits.  It’s because having been given the Spirit of God, he can interpret God’s inner thoughts through his spirit.  

For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, SO THAT WE MAY UNDERSTAND what God has freely given us.

1 Corinthians 2:11-12

What we see in the Corinthian CHURCH, unlike the tongues experience described in Acts 2, is a gathering where NO ONE understands what is being said.

Therefore the Apostle Paul says, if you (as the speaker of a tongue) bring a manifestation of a tongue to a GROUP SETTING, and there is no one there who understands it, be prepared to INTERPRET, or do it in PRIVATE.

If then I (meaning the listening church), do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying , I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me.  For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may INTERPRET what they say.  If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and SPEAK TO HIMSELF and to God.

1 Corinthians 14:11,13,28

Tongues at Pentecost Are the Same as Tongues at Corinth

It is important to note that “tongues are tongues”.  The tongues at Pentecost are the same as the tongues at Corinth, with ONE difference— no one was present at Corinth who could naturally interpret them.

In both cases they are Godward, making them a prayer language.

6.  Tongues are spoken in human languages and in the language of God or angels.

Some will say that tongues are only spoken in a HUMAN tongue.  I don’t have any problem with this, but I do feel there is a case that can be made for tongues being spoken in languages of God or angels.

Consider these scriptures:

To another VARIOUS KINDS OF TONGUES, and to another the interpretation of tongues.

1 Corinthians 12:10

Does this mean languages other than HUMAN languages?

Though I speak with the tongues of men AND OF ANGELS, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

1 Corinthians 13:1

Are there tongues of ANGELS?

For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, NO ONE UNDERSTANDS THEM; they utter MYSTERIES by the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 14:2

Why does NO ONE understand the tongue?  Is it because it isn’t a human language?

Ask yourself, does it really matter if a tongue is a human tongue or a tongue of angels?

If the Holy Spirit is using a manifestation of tongues as a sign to unbelievers (as He did in Acts 2 and Acts 10), most assuredly there will be someone there who will BENEFIT from their own interpretation of it.  It will be human.

If there is no one present who understands the tongue, does it really matter if a human language or angelic tongue is spoken?  No, because no one knows what language it is.  The person’s spirit will interpret the tongue, whatever language it is to the satisfaction of the Holy Spirit— for self edification.  It is done in private.

7.  The Apostle Paul considers manifestations of the Spirit that benefit the church AS A WHOLE, greater than those that don’t.

Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and GREATER is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.

1 Corinthians 14:5

Here we see that the Paul views the manifestation of “prophecy” in a church gathering greater than the manifestation of “tongues” in a church gathering unless there is an interpretation so that all can benefit.

This also explains Paul’s earlier statement in 1 Corinthians 12, to desire the GREATER gifts.

Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:31

In that Paul has been collectively describing 4 categories of spiritual things: gifts, ministries, effects, and manifestations, it is natural to assume that he is referring to the God controlled “manifestations” of God’s Spirit even though he uses the term “gifts”.

This only makes sense in the light of the fact that Paul has spent the bulk of 1 Corinthians 12 explaining how God has placed each member of the church body just as HE DESIRES.

This being the case, why would Paul now admonish us to seek the “greater gifts” if it were not to say that we should seek the “greater manifestations” of the Spirit for the greater benefit of the church?

But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as HE DESIRED.

1 Corinthians 12:18

In summary, Paul is saying that God wants us to seek the greatest manifestations of His Spirit in conjunction with our own natural gifts.

Ask God for what works for you.  If tongues is what God feels you need to advance His Kingdom, you can be assured that He will manifest it in you.

The Emergent Church

When we understand the various components of tongues in the Bible, where does the Emergent church fit in?

1.  Rather than seeing tongues as a sign to the unbeliever and as God’s way of introducing the Holy Spirit to the world, the Emergent Church makes tongues a SIGN to the believer.  They say that in order to experience the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” you must speak in tongues.

2.  The Emergent Church teaches that tongues is a gift, that is, a self-willed experience rather than a God controlled manifestation.  As a result they try to teach it to people and cause great confusion and frustration in the body of Christ for those that don’t “get it”.

3.  The Emergent Church speaks self-controlled tongues in mass (all at once and all at the same time) in group settings, causing confusion in the church body.

4.  The Emergent Church uses tongues as prophecy, unaware of the “man to God” DIRECTION of tongues.  No interpretation of tongues should be, “Thus sayest the Lord”, rather it should be what man is expressing TO GOD.

5.  The Emergent Church allows the Kundalini spirit to enter the church through false teachings on tongues and the Holy Spirit.

The Kundalini Warning: False Spirits Invading the Church


We have to be very careful about what we believe and teach concerning the activities of the Holy Spirit.  If we are not careful we may end up preaching a different gospel than the one Jesus preached (see my article, What is the Gospel That Jesus Preached?).

By focusing on the Internal Kingdom of God and walking in the Spirit (see my article, Operating in the Power of the Holy Spirit), we avoid the the fate of those encountering Christ at the end of the age:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  MANY will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I NEVER KNEW YOU. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23

The Emergent Church is shocked when they can’t enter the Kingdom of God.

May God give us wisdom as we consider these matters.