I was sad to hear the death of Steve Hill, the controversial evangelist who led the Brownsville revival back in the mid 1990′s. Hill was only 60 years old but had been battling cancer for the past few years. His battle is over and he has won the victory (1 Corinthians 15:55).
I visited the Brownsville revival three times in the 1990′s and early 2000′s. My first visit was in August of 1996. I was a young 21-year-old man then and went with a critical spirit. To that point I believed that the Brownsville revival was a joke and was not of God. However, after staying for a week in Pensacola, I left seeing some bad and some good coming from the revival. To this day I still believe that there was much flesh involved in the revival but I do know some men who are still saved and still in love with Jesus after getting saved at the revival meetings.
In those days, Hill was the most popular evangelist in the Pentecostal movement. Every evangelist wanted to be like Hill. They wanted his success in his altar calls, his anointing, his hunger for God. Sadly, they often tried to mimic him rather than seeking God.
I heard Hill preach several times and once at the General Council meeting of the Assemblies of God in Orlando. Hill’s message was not deep nor profound but simple: repent. Hill preached hard on repentance of sin and turning from sin and living a holy life pleasing to the Lord. Hill emphasized prayer and fasting. His book, Time to Weep, emphasized this point. I enjoyed that book much.
While I didn’t agree with Hill on all issues and could write on the problems I saw at Brownsville, I do believe he loved the Lord Jesus. He burned with fire for the lost. He was not afraid to preach the gospel and for that, I am thankful. You might disagree with Hill here and there but I rejoice that he did preach Christ and called people to repent. I will rejoice with him in glory in due time.
In chapter eight of Dr. John MacArthur’s book, Strange Fire, he writes about faith healers and false hopes. He opens the chapter by examining two leading faith healers: Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn. MacArthur shows that both men have made bizarre claims (such as Roberts’ claim to see a 900 foot Jesus who warned him that unless he received millions of dollars, he would be killed or Hinn who claimed to have received his healing anointing after visiting the grave of faith healer Katherine Kuhlman). MacArthur does this to show that faith healers are not even close to the biblical healings nor to the men of God that God used to do these healings.
MacArthur then dives into the New Testament to show what types of healings God did and the men of God that He used. He makes several key points:
- New Testament healings were not performed for money or fame. In fact, many of the healings were performed on obviously poor people who never could have paid for these healings (Matthew 9:27-31; 20:29-34; 21:14; Mark 8:22-26; Luke 17:11-21; John 5:1-9; Acts 3:1-10; 14:8-18). Jesus, unlike modern faith healers, told the healed to tell no one what happened (Matthew 8:4; 9:30; Mark 5:43). In contrast, Benny Hinn told TBN viewers that if they gave to TBN, God would perform a miracle for them. Hinn brings in $100 million a year to his ministry all in the name of healings.
- New Testament healings were completely successful (Matthew 14:36). There were no failures. Every attempt to heal was successful. This is not the case with modern faith healers. MacArthur points out that Hinn promises all to be healed based on the promises of God’s Word yet when the sick are not healed, Hinn will often say that a person didn’t have enough faith to be healed. Rather than question his own teachings, Hinn will point the blame at those whom he is trying to teach. MacArthur also points out that Hinn has often questioned why God doesn’t heal everyone including an article in the LA Times where Hinn ponders this question. MacArthur points out that Hinn (nor any faith healers) can document complete healings like those done in the New Testament. Not even one.
- New Testament healings were undeniable (John 11:47-48; Acts 4:16-17). While NT healings left unbelievers having to dip so low as to say that Jesus was healing by the power of Satan (Matthew 12:24), modern faith healers have convinced no one. MacArthur points out that HBO followed Hinn around in a documentary called, A Question of Miracles, but the director concluded the series by saying that no one was healed at Hinn’s crusades. None. The director even wrote in the NY Times, “If I had seen miracles, I would have been happy to trumpet it but in retrospect, I think they do more damage to Christianity than the most committed atheist.”
- New Testament healings were immediate and spontaneous. Leapers are cleansed (Mark 1:42), blind men were immediately given sight (Mark 10:52), the paralyzed are able to walk immediately (Acts 3:8). Nearly all NT healings were immediate and spontaneous except a select few (Mark 8:22-26; Luke 17:11-19; John 9:1-7). Jesus was able to heal on the spot (Matthew 8:14-15; 9:20). Yet not so with faith healers. MacArthur points out that faith healers often claim that the atmosphere must be prepared for healings. Where is this in the NT? Why must faith healers rent a stadium to do miracles instead of doing their healings out in public for the lost to see if in fact healings point to God (Hebrews 2:1-4)?
- New Testament healings authenticated a true message. NT healings were used to open doors for the gospel (John 20:30-31). NT healings also pointed to the deity of Christ (John 10:38; Acts 2:22) and authenticated the Apostles (Romans 15:18-19; 2 Corinthians 12:12). In contrast, MacArthur points out that even Satan can do false miracles (2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:9) and if the gospel message is not accurate, it is from Satan (Galatians 1:8-9). Yet faith healers are not known for preaching the gospel but instead they are known for loving money. Further, faith healers are often caught in sinful acts and rarely repent until caught.
In conclusion, MacArthur acknowledges that the Lord does heal in answer to prayer. James 5:14-15 calls us to pray for the sick but we are to leave the results up to God. Further, James 5:14-15 is not the same as the New Testament gift of healing. Faith healers cannot do apostolic quality miracles and have given no proof that God is using them to do miracles. To this day, faith healers have produced not one verifiable healing that points to the glory of God. Instead, faith healers are shams, use parlor tricks, showmanship, are frauds, and scam artists who feed off the desires of the sick.
I agreed with much of what MacArthur wrote in this chapter. While I will continue to pray for the sick to be healed, I make no claims that I have seen miracles or that true faith healers exist. I believe in the supernatural power of God and I believe He is more than able to heal whomever He desires. Ultimately, true healing only occurs in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1-8; Revelation 21:4). My earthly father is blind. Yet I am confident that he will see in heaven. Sickness is part of the fall of man in Genesis 3 and thankfully the second Adam has reversed the curse so that in eternity, sickness must flee from the presence of God and His holy ones.
After my review of chapter seven of John MacArthur’s book, Strange Fire, I wanted to post titles I would suggest for further study on the issue of speaking in tongues. I will post books that are both for and against speaking in tongues.
Pentecostal-Charismatic Books on Speaking in Tongues
1. Glossolalia Phenomenon edited by Wade Horton. A classical Pentecostal study of speaking in tongues from Church of God (Cleveland, TN) perspective. While dated, it is useful.
2. Spiritual Gifts: A Fresh Look by David Lim. A scholarly look at spiritual gifts from a classical Pentecostal perspective.
3. What Meaneth This? by Carl Brumback. An early Pentecostal work on speaking in tongues. While dated, it is worth reading to see the desire to be scholarly in their approach to the issue.
4. 1 & 2 Corinthians: A Logion Press Commentary by Stanley Horton. Dr. Horton is a top scholar. This work examines 1 and 2 Corinthians but also Horton spends time on the issue of spiritual gifts and speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14.
5. What the Bible Says about the Holy Spirit by Stanley Horton. This work, while primarily focused on the Person of the Holy Spirit, does deal with spiritual gifts and speaking in tongues.
6. The Beauty of Spiritual Language by Jack Hayford. This book focuses on speaking in tongues in regard to prayer.
7. The Glory Within: The Interior Life and the Power of Speaking in Tongues by Corey Russell. I have not read this work. I only include it based on the title.
Books That Differ With The Pentecostal-Charismatic View
1. The Speaking in Tongues Controversy by Rick Walston. I read this book years ago and it was a very well written book. Dr. Walston is a former Assemblies of God pastor who is not angry with the movement at all but writes with a sincere desire to communicate the truth. I highly recommend this work.
2. New Testament Teaching on Tongues: A Biblical and Historical Survey by Merrill Unger. The late Dr. Unger wrote this book that surveys speaking in tongues. While dated, it is worth reading.
3. The Corinthian Catastrophe by George Gardiner. Gardiner was a Pentecostal who was stranded during WWII and decided to take his Bible and study the issue of tongues. His conclusion was that the Pentecostal movement was wrong on the issue of tongues. While dated, it is worth reading.
4. Perspectives of Pentecost by Richard Gaffin. This well written book is a book that, while against the Pentecostal movement, is fair and loving. Gaffin believes that many charismatics do love the Lord but they are wrong on the issue of Pentecost. I enjoyed this book.
5. To Be Continued? Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? by Samuel Waldron. I have not read this book but have heard Waldron speak. He is loving and gentle with those whom he disagrees.
6. Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-examination of the New Testament on the Gift of the Spirit by James Dunn. This is the standard work that most evangelicals follow though they do not know it. This book is the standard view that the baptism in the Spirit occurs at salvation and Dunn’s conclusion is that the Pentecostal movement is wrong on this vital issue while leads to other errors.
Chapter seven is the one chapter that most Pentecostals and godly charismatics would find to be the chapter they disagree with MacArthur the most on. In this chapter, MacArthur examines speaking in tongues. He begins by pointing to the ridiculous Facebook post by charismatic Juanita Bynum that was supposedly written in tongues. MacArthur concludes that such gibberish is the typical “language” that charismatics are speaking. It is most certainly not biblical tongues or a foreign tongue that people are speaking in when claiming to be speaking in tongues. MacArthur points out that modern linguistic researchers have long concluded that speaking in tongues is not speaking in a known foreign tongue nor does it even sound like a true language. MacArthur also points out that skeptics of Christianity have used glossolalia as proof against Christianity since the “language” is not a known language but gibberish. MacArthur also quotes various charismatics who admit that their “prayer language” sounds like gibberish to them.
MacArthur believes that speaking in tongues today is “deceptive and dangerous, offering a pretense of genuine spirituality” (p. 136). Further, MacArthur believes that the charismatic emphasis on glossolalia has produced nothing in their lives. Holiness is not produced by speaking in tongues. He believes that the modern gift of tongues is “a counterfeit that by every measure falls short of the gift of tongues described in the New Testament” (p. 137). He points out that even unsaved people and pagans have had experiences of speaking in tongues. Hindus, for example, claim to speak in tongues.
MacArthur goes on to teach on what he believes the Bible teaches about the gift of tongues and about glossolalia (pp. 140-154). In short, MacArthur believes that this sign gift has ceased since its purpose was to make known the gospel in a foreign tongue. He believes that 1 Corinthians 14:40 actually forbids modern tongues rather than endorsing it. He concludes that both the New Testament and Church History itself show that the gift of tongues is not for us today.
By far, speaking in tongues is the most controversial aspect of the modern Pentecostal movement. Even among Pentecostals it is debated. Most Pentecostal churches have historically held that speaking in tongues was the “initial, physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.” I know of many Pentecostals both as members and as pastors who now reject that teaching. In many ways, speaking in tongues has grown cold in the charismatic movement. This is not to say that it is not there but I would say that speaking in tongues is not the issue of the movement these days. That, of course, is just one man’s opinion.
That said, I did take exception with MacArthur in this chapter. For one, he writes that the purpose of speaking in tongues is for the proclamation of the gospel. Yet when we read Acts or 1 Corinthians 12-14, we find nothing to suggest that. The only reference we have toward this view is Acts 2 where the Apostles spoke in tongues and the people understood them (Acts 2:8). But Acts 2:11 tells us what they heard and it was not the gospel but rather they heard “the mighty deeds of God” (NASB). The gospel was preached in Acts 2:14-39. The Bible does not say that Peter, at this point, was speaking in tongues to preach to the Jews.
In Acts 10:44-48 we read of another example of tongues but again nothing is said that they were preaching the gospel. In fact, Luke records that they were “speaking with tongues and exalting God” (Acts 10:46 NASB). Since the gospel had been preached to them in Acts 10:34-43, this example of tongues would not fit with MacArthur’s notion that tongues was for preaching the gospel.
Lastly, we have Acts 19:6 where the disciples of John the Baptist are baptized into Christ. Paul lays hands on them and they speak in tongues and prophesy. Again, the view that speaking in tongues was for the gospel does not fit well into this verse.
1 Corinthians 12-14 also does not fit the idea that speaking in tongues is for the gospel. No where in these three chapters does Paul say that speaking in tongues is for the gospel. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 14:2 he says that the one who speaks in tongues does not speak to men but to God. How can that be preaching the gospel? To God? In 1 Corinthians 14:6-12 Paul speaks about clarity and edification toward the church. Dr. David Lim, in his masterpiece work Spiritual Gifts: A Fresh Look, states that Paul gives five “if-then” propositions in 1 Corinthian 14:6-12. Lim concludes that Paul was emphasizing the need for communication in the understood language for without clarity the result would be confusion. The point of spiritual gifts is edification of the church (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
I highly recommend Dr. Lim’s work and commentary on 1 Corinthians 12-14 as a reply to MacArthur.
The notion that speaking in tongues must be for gospel preaching is simply not a view that I find in the New Testament. I remember going on a missions trip when I was a young believer and I wanted God to give me this gift but of course I didn’t receive it. MacArthur takes Mark 16:17 and concludes that speaking in tongues must be for the gospel message.
In regard to a private prayer language, in the New Testament tongues are primarily directed to God. Whether praise (Acts 2:11), mysteries (1 Corinthians 14:2), prayer (1 Corinthians 14:15), or thanksgiving (1 Corinthians 14:16-17). Dr. Lim writes about tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:
Paul shows the relative effectiveness of tongues in four areas: They excel in worship, in functioning as a sign, and in body ministry with guidelines (1 Corinthians 14:26-28), faltering only in the area of teaching.
So can one pray in tongues? Is there a biblical notion of a prayer language? Pentecostals point to 1 Corinthians 14:2, 4, 13-19. In 1 Corinthians 14:17 Paul commends the Corinthians and says they are giving thanks well enough (NASB). F.F. Bruce, in his commentary on Romans, suggests that Romans 8:26-27, while not mentioning speaking in tongues, perhaps has tongues praying in mind. While others would disagree (and I see nothing in Romans 8:26-27 to suggest this view), it is well worth noting that Bruce was a top scholar who was not Pentecostal but did not negate this view.
Others point to Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20 as two more passages that perhaps show that one can pray in tongues (in the Spirit). I believe this is not found in those texts. To make speaking in tongues as “praying in the Spirit” is stretching these texts.
Interestingly, Adam Clarke wrote that the “unknown tongues” (an unfortunate translation of the KJV) was perhaps the old Hebrew that had been lost on the Jews during the time of the Apostles but the Holy Spirit gave them understanding of this “unknown tongue” again so that they could teach properly the things of the Lord. Clarke also suggested in his commentary that the unknown tongue of Hebrew was the focus of 1 Corinthians 14. He suggests that some thought they were spiritual by speaking in a language that the Gentiles clearly did not understand but what was the point? Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:18, tells the Corinthians that he too is skilled in languages (Hebrew, Syriac, Greek, and Latin) but he wanted the church to be edified so he did not focus on those languages nor should the Corinthians who were speaking in this “unknown tongue” of Hebrew.
In conclusion, I disagree with both MacArthur and Clarke here. Both are looking for something that is not there. I am no where the scholar these men are but even a cursory reading of Acts or 1 Corinthians 12-14 does not suggest that tongues is for evangelism or speaking in Hebrew. Clarke has no basis for this view in my estimation.
I commend the work of David Lim and also would suggest reading Jack Hayford work on speaking in tongues. While Lim’s is more scholarly than Hayford’s work, both are worth reading about this subject even if you oppose tongues speaking. I remain neutral on this issue. My point is not to side with the Pentecostals here or against them. I believe this subject should be debated.
Yet let me state one point before I end. I have known many people who thought (as MacArthur suggests) that speaking in tongues made them spiritual. They would come together with the saints and speak in tongues but their lives were full of sin during the week. This led some to conclude they were okay because they were speaking in tongues. Tongues is not holiness (as MacArthur rightfully points out). Tongues does not mean you are saved. Tongues does not mean that you are closer to God. 1 Peter 1:15-16 tells us to be holy in all our conduct. Ephesians 4:29-30 tells us that no unwholesome word is to proceed from our mouths but only such a word as is good for edification (NASB). Just because you speak in tongues proves nothing. It does not prove you are saved or full of the Spirit. To be full of the Spirit is to walk in the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-21; cf. Galatians 5:16-17). To claim to be Spirit-filled but to abide in sin shows you need to repent and go back to the Lord Jesus for forgiveness of your sins (1 John 2:3-6; 3:4-10). I don’t care what experience you claim you have, if you are abiding in sin you are not living the Spirit-filled life (Romans 8:9-17). To be Spirit-filled is to Spirit-controlled.