Many people are surprised, and some are shocked, when they hear of my involvement in the charismatic movement years ago.
It began in 1965, shortly after I returned from graduate study in Holland to teach philosophy and theology at my alma mater. Some of my senior students who were preparing for ministry kept talking to me excitedly about their experiences with the Holy Spirit and about receiving the gift of tongues. My first response was profound skepticism, because my only previous experience had been with hardcore Pentecostals whose views of sanctification I deemed aberrant. Soon, however, the sheer number of my students involved in this phenomenon, coupled with their high level of competence as students, provoked me to give them the “philosophy of the second glance.” I also saw reports that tongues-speaking was breaking out in mainline denominations such as the Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, and Lutheran churches. Reports of outbreaks at Notre Dame and at Duquesne University also piqued my curiosity.
I began meeting with my students to discuss the matter at my home. These meetings became regular times of prayer that lasted several hours or, on at least one occasion, all night. Because of the marvelous ardor for prayer these students displayed, I began to wonder whether I was missing something in my own spiritual life.
My attention then turned to the New Testament, particularly to Paul’s teaching on tongues in 1 Corinthians. In chapters 12–14, Paul deals with abuses of tongues in the Corinthian church and rebukes those who had elevated their gifts over those of others. It was clear that Paul did not put tongues, or glossolalia, at the apex of gifts and did not teach tongues as an indispensable sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul gives detailed instructions about the use of tongues. Though he warns sharply against many abuses of tongues, he does not outlaw their use. Indeed, he explicitly says, “do not forbid to speak with tongues” (v. 39b). Paul also writes: “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied” (vv. 4–5a). Paul clearly is teaching the comparative superiority of prophecy over tongues. But he is comparing the good and the better, not the good and the bad.
Two things struck me in this passage. The first is that Paul says tongues are edifying for the individual. As a Christian, I certainly wanted everything the Holy Spirit had available to me. Second, the Apostle says he wishes all the Corinthian Christians speak with tongues. Even though he also expresses his preference for prophecy, he still asserts his desire that all speak in tongues. Finally, in verse 18, Paul says, “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all.”
Since Paul was a tongues-speaker and expressed his desire for all to speak in tongues, I took this to mean that I should pursue this spiritual gift.