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Conclusion: The Pentecostal doctrine of tongues as absolute initial evidence of Spirit baptism does not justify division.

Is speaking in other tongues the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit? Sometimes it is. Often it is, but not always. This was shown from the Scriptures on the page on tongues as evidence earlier in this site.

There can be no doubt that the Pentecostal insistence that baptism in the Holy Spirit must always occur "with evidence of speaking in other tongues" has caused great division in the Church. It is widely perceived outside Pentecostal circles as an assertion that Pentecostals are superior — that only persons who have had the defining Pentecostal experience of "the baptism of the Holy Spirit with evidence of speaking in tongues" are truly spiritual. Indeed, the Pentecostal insistence on this doctrine, when combined with the perception that it asserts superiority, has split the already fractured Body of Christ into four additional divisions — 1) those who, under Pentecostal teaching, have received "the baptism of the Holy Spirit with evidence of speaking in other tongues;" 2) those who agree with Pentecostal teaching and may, in fact, be very much under the Spirit's control, but who have not yet started speaking in tongues and therefore (rightly or wrongly) believe that they are still seeking a Spirit baptism experience which they have not yet received; 3) some Charismatics who believe in Spirit baptism as a post-salvation experience and in the manifestation of the spiritual gifts today but reject some Pentecostal doctrines (including the doctrine of tongues-as-evidence); and 4) mainline denominations, which basically reject the baptism, the gifts and tongues. There are Spirit-controlled Christians who are entirely loyal to the Scriptures, as they understand them, in all four camps.

Unfortunately, this arrangement leaves the members of group number 2 believing they are inferior and unable to fully serve God until He sovereignly decides to promote them to group number 1, and it leaves groups 1, 3 and 4 frequently hurling invective at each other and personal accusations at each others' leaders. When Jesus prayed for our unity in John 17 and sent the Holy Spirit — with evidence of speaking in tongues — on the household of Cornelius in Acts 10 to show that even the barrier between Jew and Gentile was abolished by the Cross, he could not have intended to create the present divisive situation. Stated in another way, all three times the manifestation of tongues is mentioned in Acts, it was given to demonstrate our oneness in Christ, not to destroy it as it seems to do at present.

Does the Pentecostal insistence on the doctrine of tongues-as-evidence justify the division it has caused? I hardly think so. As was discussed at length in the historical digression concerning the origins of the Pentecostal movement, the request that God grant Spirit baptism with evidence speaking in tongues arose from the confluence of two erroneous beliefs, i.e., the belief that Spirit baptism is a one-time occurrence in which God sovereignly dumps both sinless perfection and power on the chosen person and the belief that tongues were always the evidence of this occurrence. But, as is explained in the page on the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Spirit baptism is the control of the Spirit over a person's life, viewed from outside the person. While it certainly has a beginning, a first time that the recipient ever yielded control to the Spirit, and, thus, a time which could accurately be described as the moment of Spirit baptism, it is a progressive lifetime experience over which the recipient has a great deal of control. It is not a one-time experience which God sovereignly dumps on us, and, thus, there is not in most circumstances any great need for a sign to prove it has occurred (unless, of course, we create the need by demanding a sign). Further, as already noted, the position that speaking in tongues is always the first evidence of Spirit control is not consistent with the passages in Acts which are traditionally asserted to prove it. So, while both the doctrine of Spirit baptism, correctly understood, and the continued use of the gifts of the Spirit, including tongues, in the modern Church, are scriptural, and examples in Acts support the idea that tongues are sometimes evidence of the Spirit's control, the insistence that tongues are always the initial evidence of Spirit baptism is error.

An erroneous position cannot possibly be said to justify a division in the Body of Christ.

Ian Johnson & Jonathan Brickman
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© 2000, 2010 Ian Johnson and Jonathan Brickman

Further explanations

Baptism With and Being Filled By the Holy Spirit

Baptism in the Holy Spirit compared with sealing or indwelling by him

The promised gift of the Holy Spirit

Were tongues the evidence of every instance of Holy Spirit baptism in Acts?

To Be Made More Holy
Sanctification, Spirit Baptism, and Many Different Churches

The baptism in the Holy Spirit


God is Spirit, a discussion of God as spirit, constantly speaking.



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