Tongues As Initial Evidence (Newsletter 4-8)

by Robin Johnston

The open nature of early Pentecostalism provided a forum for new ideas. A number of new converts led by A.G. Canada and D.C.O. Opperman insisted that any of the nine spiritual gifts listed in I Corinthians would serve as evidence of the baptism of the Holy Ghost. From its inception of movement, Pentecostals had taught that tongues were the initial physical evidence of Spirit baptism.

In the winter of 1907, Howard Goss and W Faye Carrothers opened a short-term Bible school in Waco, Texas. The Apostolic Faith Movement had experienced significant growth and short-term Bible schools were the primary method of training new workers. Converts to Pentecostalism were coming from a host of backgrounds and they often brought with them theological convictions that challenged the emerging Pentecostal movement. The open nature of early Pentecostalism provided a forum for new ideas. A number of new converts led by A.G. Canada and D.C.O. Opperman insisted that any of the nine spiritual gifts listed in I Corinthians would serve as evidence of the baptism of the Holy Ghost. From its inception of movement, Pentecostals had taught that tongues were the initial physical evidence of Spirit baptism. The leaders of the Waco school, Goss and Carrothers, decided that the best way to settle the issue was a public debate of the subject. Goss and Carrothers led the side that held that tongues were the initial evidence and Canada led the group that was convinced that any of the spiritual gifts were evidence of Spirit baptism. According to Goss in The Winds of God, the side that held that tongues were initial evidence won the debate. Carrothers, who was trained as lawyer, used the narrative from Acts 10 to win the day. He convinced the school that Luke’s words in Acts 10:45-46,

“For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God,” could not be taken lightly. The “for” or “because” was a connective that showed how Peter convinced the skeptical Jewish Christians that the Gentiles in the household of Cornelius had indeed been baptized with the Holy Ghost.

The workers at the school agreed that tongues was the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Ghost. However, Goss and Carrothers did not want the issue settled by argument alone. They felt that those who had been opposed to the idea might feel better if the theory could be tested on the field. So they devised a test. A group of workers were to be sent to San Antonio to open a new work. It was felt that this city was far enough removed from the parts of Texas that had already experienced a Pentecostal revival that the Pentecostal message had not reached this location. Workers were instructed to preach about the outpouring of the Holy
Ghost but no mention was to be made of tongues or any other evidence. A.G. Canada and D.C.O. Opperman were among the workers sent to this new field. Revival broke out and the Spirit fell. And the new converts spoke in tongues. In fact, both D.C.O. Opperman and his wife Hattie received the Holy Ghost in
this revival. L.C. Hall, who became a well-known figure in the movement, also received the Holy Ghost during this revival. The San Antonio experiment settled the question of tongues as initial evidence for early Pentecostals.

Every so often the question arose again. Skeptics would begin to insist that nowhere in the Bible does it plainly say that the baptism of the Holy Ghost is evidenced by speaking in tongues. And because the Bible does not say so in a didactic or teaching fashion, skeptics began to look for another kind of initial evidence. Over the years the Pentecostal movement has successfully defended the doctrine. The Pentecostal movement is no longer a fledgling movement. It has
celebrated its centennial and has grown beyond its birthplace in the Southwest and now straddles the globe. Adherents are counted in the millions. Short-term Bible schools have been replaced by longer terms and more structured educational institutions. The term “Pentecostal scholar” is not an oxymoron. An
increasing number of Pentecostal men and women have completed graduate and post-graduate institutions. Many have studied in evangelical schools where the
Pauline epistles are often privileged over against the Book of Acts as a source for doctrine. However, Pentecostals remain committed to Acts and have used their scholarship to demonstrate that evidential tongues are biblical. The following is a brief summary of the Pentecostal defense of evidential tongues. Pentecostals believe that Acts is both historical and theological. Acts is a true account of the earliest days of the church. But it is more than that. Luke carefully chose what he
included in Acts. His choices reflect his theological commitments. Or perhaps I should say the theological commitments that God wanted to share. Many scholars believe the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts are a two-volume work and that the prologue of Luke serves as the prologue of Acts. Luke’s stated purpose for writing his gospel is to “set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us” (Luke 1:1). Luke was not primarily writing an
account of what “happened among us.” Rather he wrote an account of what is “surely believed among us.” Acts then, is a theological book as well as a historical book.

The next issue is to determine how to extract theology from narrative. How does one decide what is just descriptive of the events that took place and what is prescriptive for all Christians? Are we to attempt to duplicate all of Acts or are we called to certain theological truths? The key is in what certain scholars
call “historical normativity.”

Often when Pentecostals state their desire to use the Book of Acts as a model for today they are challenged to replicate the whole book. They are asked if the election of pastors and other leaders should be by lot as the disciples did when they filled the vacancy created by the defection of Judas. Others insist that to be true to Acts means that Christians should have all things in common. Still others wonder about modern methods of spreading the gospel and should these be rejected because they were obviously not mentioned in Acts. How is speaking in tongues different from any of these issues?

How does a person decide what is merely descriptive and what is prescriptive? The first way is to determine if the behavior is repeated. Are all leaders in the early church chosen by lots? Is the Judas account the only way to elect leaders or are leaders chosen in a variety of ways? A quick reading of both Acts and the epistles reveals leaders are chosen in a variety ways. The ”’deacons” in Acts 6 were chosen by the apostles. No mention is made of lots and the brethren were instructed to look for men with certain qualifications. Therefore one can conclude that the account in Acts 1 is not prescriptive or normative.

The same is true for having all things in common. In dealing with the sin of Ananias and Sapphira, Peter pointed out that giving the full sales price of the
land was not required. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was in the attempt to deceive the Holy Ghost by declaring that a partial gift was indeed the full price of
the land.

In a number of other passages in the New Testament private property is mentioned and no expectation is attached that would require or even encourage that all property should be communal property. Again, the example of Barnabas gifting the. Proceeds from the sale of property to the church is descriptive and not prescriptive. Although this behavior is repeated a couple of times, Luke obviously does not intend it to be prescriptive. Luke treats tongues differently.
Starting in Acts 2:4, ‘And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance,” Luke links the infilling of the Holy Ghost with speaking in tongues. (See Acts 10, 11, and 19.) In Acts 8, Luke tells the story of the Samaritan Pentecost. He is careful to note that
although the Samaritans had been baptized, healings had occurred- and he even makes mention of their great joy-they had not received the Holy Ghost. Peter and John traveled to Samaria as representatives of the Jerusalem church. They prayed for the Samaritans and they received the Holy Ghost. While tongues are
not specifically mentioned, Simon the Sorcerer observed some physical evidence that he wanted to purchase. Given the other Holy Spirit baptism narratives in Acts, it is not a hermeneutical stretch to assume that tongues was the sign in Samaria.

As noted a century ago by Carrothers, Acts 10 remains the best text to understand the linkage between tongues and Spirit baptism. Perhaps because Peter was not
sure if Gentiles could be included in the church, the Holy Ghost fell of the household of Cornelius while Peter was speaking. Peter knew that this had occurred because they began to speak in tongues. Luke chose to retell this story in Acts 11, underscoring the importance of the narrative. The way in which Luke highlights this narrative suggests that it is to be understood as prescriptive. It is a historically normative text. Narratives are powerful literary devices. The primary genre of the Bible is narrative. God chose to reveal truth to mankind by telling stories. Although we may prefer lists and bullet points, God in is His wisdom chose differently. Paul reminded Timothy that all Scripture is given by inspiration and is profitable for doctrine (II Timothy 3:16). Narratives are more than stories. They not only illustrate truth; they teach truth. And one of the truths they teach is the doctrine of evidential tongues.

Robin Johnston is the associate editor of the United Pentecostal Church International.