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Tongue Tied, Part 1

Wednesday, October 9, 2013 | Comments (14)

The following is an excerpt from the preface of the Chinese edition of Charismatic Chaos. It explains the origins and early history of the charismatic movement. With the Strange Fire conference rapidly approaching, we believe it is appropriate to share this material with you. Part one is excerpted below; check back tomorrow for part two. —GTY Staff

by John MacArthur

The charismatic movement began at the start of the twentieth century under the tutelage of Charles Fox Parham. He was an eccentric preacher of dubious moral character who was infatuated with fringe ideas, mysterious phenomena, and an aberrant theology known as Holiness doctrine. The story of Parham’s quest for the gift of tongues is briefly told in chapter 1, but some background on Parham and the events that gave birth to the charismatic movement might be helpful as a way of introducing this new edition of Charismatic Chaos to Chinese readers.

In 1900, Mr. Parham founded Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas, specifically to train Holiness missionaries. He believed if his students could recover the Pentecostal gift of tongues, they would be able to take the gospel to all nations without any need to learn languages. He further became convinced that the gift of tongues was the only true sign of Holy Spirit baptism. Soon his fascination with speaking in tongues became an obsession. As the year 1900 drew to a close, Parham urged his students to spend several days in fasting and prayer, seeking the restoration of that apostolic gift.

It is a scrap of paper covered with crude, indecipherable, artificial hieroglyphs that clearly have nothing in common with Chinese characters.On New Year’s Day, January 1, 1901, one of Parham’s students, Agnes Ozman, began uttering random syllables. Those who heard her concluded she was speaking Chinese (though none of them knew any Chinese dialect). For the rest of the day, she seemed unable to speak in English, and she wrote with a kind of stylized scribbling that Parham and his disciples judged to be Chinese. The students were convinced their prayers had been answered, and that what they were witnessing was the very same miraculous phenomenon described in Acts 2.

Within days, however, a sample of Miss Ozman’s writing was published in a newspaper. It provides objective proof that Parham's claims were totally false. It is a scrap of paper covered with crude, indecipherable, artificial hieroglyphs that clearly have nothing in common with Chinese characters. In fact, like the random syllables she spoke, Miss Ozman’s writing has none of the characteristics of any language at all.

Parham nevertheless insisted that Miss Ozman had spoken and written Chinese. In fact, Parham himself and at least thirty other students now claimed that they too had received the gift of tongues. In the face of careful scrutiny and hard questions, Parham defiantly enlarged his original fiction:

He announced that the students had spoken many languages. He himself had received the capability of preaching in German and Swedish, Agnes Ozman in “Chinese,” and others in a variety of languages including Japanese, Hungarian, Syrian, Hindi, and Spanish. Parham noted that “cloven tongues of fire” appeared over the heads of speakers. Sometimes interpretations followed such as “God is love,” “Jesus is mighty to save,” and “Jesus is ready to hear.” [1][Gary B. McGee, “The Revivial Legacy of Charles F. Parham,” Enrichment Journal (Summer 1999)]

Parham zealously advertised the phenomenon, insisting it was a momentous breakthrough in missionary strategy. At least six months after numerous language experts had stated that Agnes Ozman’s scribbles bore no likeness whatsoever to Chinese writing, Parham was still feeding newspaper reporters his own highly embellished version of events. A typical report from that time cited his very words:

We are expecting thousands of ministers, evangelists and other people from all parts of the United States who desire to become missionaries to attend. There is no doubt that at this time they will have conferred on them the “gift of tongues,” if they are worthy and seek it in faith, believing they will thus be made able to talk to the people whom they choose to work among in their own language, which will, of course, be an inestimable advantage.

The students of Bethel College do not need to study in the old way to learn the languages. They have them conferred on them miraculously. Different ones have already been able to converse with Spaniards, Italians, Bohemians, Hungarians, Germans, and French in their own language. I have no doubt various dialects of the people of India and even the language of the savages of Africa will be received during our meeting in the same way. I expect this gathering to be the greatest since the days of Pentecost. [2](“New Kind of Missionaries: Envoys to the Heathen Should Have Gift of Tongues,” Hawaiian Gazette, May 31, 1901, 10)

Parham was lying, of course. But his students naively accepted his assurance that the sounds they were uttering were legitimate foreign languages. Their teacher had admonished them not to entertain any doubts or put their “gift” to the test. Therefore over the next decade, several teams of missionaries under Parham’s influence went overseas expecting to be able to preach and converse in languages they had never studied.

The failure of the Pentecostal missionary strategy was immediate and spectacular. An article published in 1909 described the fiasco in these words:

Missionary S. C. Todd, of the Bible Missionary Society, has made investigations personally in three mission fields and among four groups of well-meaning but deluded people who have gone from this country to Japan, to China, and to India expecting to preach to the natives of those countries in their own tongue; but in no single instance have been able to do so. They have needed an interpreter in even the commonest affairs of life.

Some of them are in absolute destitution and are dependent on their Christian brethren there for the necessaries of life and are as helpless as babes. In some cases they are in danger of losing all faith in the supernatural in religion and drifting into infidelity and sin. [3][A. E. Seddon, “Edward Irving and Unknown Tongues,” The Homiletic Review (New York; Funk and Wagnalls, 1909), 109]

Failure and scandal seemed to sully everything Parham touched. Less than a year after its founding, Bethel Bible College in Topeka closed permanently. Five years later, newspapers across the country reported that some of Parham’s followers in Illinois had beaten an invalid woman to death in an effort to drive the demon of rheumatism from her body. Before the shock of that story subsided, Parham was arrested in San Antonio, Texas, and charged with sodomy. He wrote a confession in order to obtain his release but later recanted his own admission of guilt.

He had discredited himself in every conceivable sense. His reputation never fully recovered from the scandals.

But Parham was relentless, and he always seemed to be able to attract willing disciples. When he died in 1929, more than 2,500 followers attended his funeral, even though it was held in a remote Kansas town during a fierce blizzard.

(Please return for part two tomorrow.)


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#2  Posted by Kenneth Satcher  |  Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 9:47 AM

I have known people who speak in tongues, yet their lives are anything but godly. If this is truly God's Spirit speaking through them, how can you explain the obvious ungodliness in their lives?

#3  Posted by Kenneth Satcher  |  Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 9:48 AM

If their tongues speaking is not a true language, then what is it? If it is nothing more than gibberish, how do they get the ability to speak gibberish?

#4  Posted by Kurt Hutchison  |  Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Speaking gibberish is a learned thing. Anybody can do it. It helps to practice it a bit so it sounds cool, and import a few words from "Christian" TV. Shandai was one of my faves.

I did it for 14 years, while deceiving myself it was from God.

In retrospect I remind myself of the swedish chef muppet character.

#5  Posted by Kenneth Satcher  |  Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 12:29 PM

Hey Kurt,

If it is learned, how can some people begin doing it immediately, and sound fluent in doing so?

#6  Posted by Jeremiah Johnson (GTY Admin)  |  Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 2:16 PM


What exactly does fluent gibberish sound like?

#7  Posted by Lois Begly  |  Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 2:33 PM

Kenneth's question is a good one. As a former charismatic I can tell you that what I witnessed from others and myself was that we were coached as to how to speak in tongues, we were around it so much there is the power of suggestion, and I think there is the element of peer pressure,because you want to fit in. People imitate what they observe around them. When you are in an environment where the supernatural is stressed as being the presence of God, 'things' are happening, event-oriented services, a lot of hype and emotion, you have a recipe for the phenomenon going on week after week and meeting after meeting.

I can't judge for certain the nature of everyone else, but I can offer an opinion since I was in the movement and a charismatic church for over 23 years. Most people are sincere in wanting to please God and do what scripture says, so if you become convinced tongues is biblical than you reason you should speak in tongues. The fact that one is expecting tongues makes one primed for the counterfeit whether we fake it on purpose or unconsciously. Then there is the very scholarly explanation in John's book 'Charismatic Chaos I would recommend. He shows how studies have been conducted where people in highly charged public gatherings become excitable emotively and experience speech that is not their own and not even a true language, but is a result of whipped up excitement and religious worship experience.

If you insist that tongues is evidence of the Holy Spirit baptism then you must produce something so you won't be on the outside looking in. The doctrine of subsequence is so dangerous because it promotes the belief that the Holy Spirit is given in installments. The bible tells us that we are all baptized into Christ is much from the moment we are His and all the way through, not subsequent to salvation. But that's not what charismatics believe about the Holy Spirit. It's really Satan's twisting of truth, because of how things took place in the book of Acts.

It's so great that we have an opportunity to promote the truth of Scripture, cutting it straight. Then the Lord will be glorified and the false teachings in the charismatic realm will be destroyed. May the Lord open blind eyes.

Lois Begly

#8  Posted by Phillip Johnson  |  Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 3:12 PM

I have a 2-year-old grandson who is experimenting with sounds, and trust me: his gibberish is FLUENT. It's much better (more creative and more language-like) than the rhyming nonsense-syllables Rodney Howard-Browne was spouting in the video I posted a couple of months ago.

But it's still not the biblical gift of tongues.

#9  Posted by David Smith  |  Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 3:37 PM

I would basically agree with Lois.

Tongues results from suggestion, learned behavior, peer pressure, and altered states of consciousness resulting from emotional meetings - music in particular, also preaching. The particular combination of these factors will vary according to the specifics of the situation and the individual.

The thing we need to remember is that charismatics use tongues to validate their theology - once this is disproven, everything else falls.

It was concluding that tongues is false that made me reject charismatic beliefs. The catalyst for this wasn't the Bible, but secular research into tongues. Check out books by Samarin, Kildahl, and Goodman (there's probably others).

The shocking thing, of course, is the huge number of charismatics and pentecostals. I still struggle to get my head around the fact that they all follow a totally false teaching. But we must remember that, for the most part, they are devout born-again Christians, and are therefore our brothers in the Lord.

#10  Posted by Barbara Mason  |  Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 4:19 PM

This would explain why I was not able to speak in tongues a week after being saved in a charismatic church. The folks who laid hands on me for hours at the home of a prophetess were very disappointed. I had been very emotional at my conversion the week prior so they thought I was a good candidate. I had had no exposure to their methods and they did try to coach me now that i think about it. my parents had known of the beginnings of the Four Square Church with Aimee Semple McPherson, another dubious character, and so forbid me to go back until I was out of high school and in college. By that time I had begun attending Grace Community Church and had seen the difference between the real fruit of the spirit and whatever it was they were practising. God was so kind and gracious to use my Catholic parents to protect me from further confusion, even as they kept criticising my new faith and were very upset that I was now calling myself a Christian. How great our God is!

#11  Posted by Bongani Mkhabela  |  Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 10:49 PM

Is it possible to stay in the charismatic church while you do not believe in what they teach concerning the gift of tongues especialy when it is the best church in the area that you are in? I have tried for year reasoning with my wife concerning the false teaching about tongues but she wont listen. It seems to me that we are both on a separate views and it affects even our marriage. Please help. Not only the issue of tongues but many false charismatics teaching I dont agree with.

#12  Posted by Gary & Denise Getman  |  Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 4:42 AM

The most disturbing aspect of the charismatic's self induced infatuation with wasting valuable prayer time on gibberish is the indoctrination of children. Their young minds are subjected to spiritual error by overzealous charismatic parents and teachers. The scenes of children being broken in by these false teachers are appalling and sickening. Having charismatics in our family, we see their error time and again and we pray for them and their children.

#13  Posted by Chew Kek Liong  |  Friday, October 11, 2013 at 6:52 AM

"Shi kadaba sanda. Ooo lama iriiando. Oh halleluyah....uma la kuniando...ooooshikadaba" - my contribution.

In my church in the mid-80s, members who had trouble speaking in tongue for the first time (aka as going for the baptism of the Holy Spirit), were encouraged to repeat after the initiator the following - "papa mama, papa mama". In 2013 I heard a women preacher said that tongues always start with simple sounds, like 'tata tata'. And upon achieving fluency after a while, it should sound like an 'unknown tongue'.

Many years ago I heard that someone 'snored' in tongues. Incidentally I also heard that some Christians were known to have 'swear' in tongues - with all the vulgarities.

#15  Posted by Paul Konkol  |  Monday, October 14, 2013 at 9:30 PM

I think I'm the only continualist (sp?) on this thread, but I'm really interested in this topic. I've spent most all my life until the last three years in either the "open-but-cautious" or full-blown charismania mindsets when it comes to speaking in tongues. Recently, I've concluded that all of my speaking in tongues is nothing but random syllables; there's no syntax or grammar or anything else recognizable in a language. And there's certainly no interpretation!

However, when I look at the scripture I just can't find the solid evidence that there is no longer spiritual gifts. I've heard some of MacArthur's explanations, but, to be very honest, they sound like the same kind of scriptural twisting I've heard from New Apostolic Reformation teachers like Mike Bickle to explain doctrines like the restoration of end-times apostles or a great end-times revival.

I listen to MacArthur's teaching and he just seems so set in a certain mindset concerning his cessationist viewpoint, that he really seems to stttrreettccchhhh the scriptures he does have that seem to support his viewpoint in such a way that their original meaning in context is lost.

He makes some really solid points on the authority of scripture and there not being anything added to it; really good points that are clearly biblical and very helpful. But the ceasing of tongues, healing, and prophesy (not canonical prophesy, but words of knowledge, etc...)? I just don't see it plainly in scripture, and I've learned from my time in charismania that if I don't see it plainly in scripture, I don't want to accept any particular teaching.

Perhaps there is a way for these gifts of the Holy Spirit to function perfectly through people in a way that edifies the body of Christ and is not in any way contrary to scripture. I think Paul gives us enough guidelines for this to happen. For example, if someone speaks in tongues, there must be an interpretation. Now, you'd have to trust that the person giving the interpretation actually heard the tongues in their language, but isn't that exactly what was happening in the early churches Paul wrote to? But if you were in a congregation with the fear of the Lord about lying, nobody's just going to make up an interpretation. Especially if it's a small church where everyone knows each other. Anyway, I just don't buy it yet, cessationists, but at least you have a really solid biblical stance on sin and the need for salvation through Christ, something almost entirely absent from the places I came from.

#16  Posted by David Smith  |  Tuesday, October 15, 2013 at 10:46 AM

Paul Konkol (#15), I agree that the cessationist interpretation of scripture isn't totally convincing - but then neither is the continuationist. You can make a case for either position.

Like you, I also realised that tongues is fake, but where we differ is that this soon caused me to reject continuationism (ie the pentecostal / charismatic movements) outright.

Some of my reasons are (1) until about 100 years ago, the consensus was cessationist (2) there were no miraculous gifts in church history (3) the people who introduced them, as pastor John has indicated here, have no credibility whatsoever, (4) the supposed gifts don't stand up to scrutiny - tongues is gibberish, prophecy is invariably false, and healing is fake.

If continuationist theology is correct, then we'd see it working in the church. There would be genuine gifts of tongues, prophecy, and healing. But there aren't, despite what pentecostals and charismatics claim. The track record of the charismatic movement is hopeless. This alone casts huge doubt on their theology.

As far as your comments about interpretation are concerned, most charismatics will not deliberately lie - they will be convinced that the Holy Spirit has given them an interpretation, but it's simply something that's come into their head. There have been cases where speaking in tongues has been recorded and played back to different people who claim the gift of interpretation. Guess what - they all came out with completely different interpretations!

I thank God that you seem to be open to the truth and are questioning what you've experienced in the charismatic movement. I'd encourage you to keep searching and keep asking the difficult questions - and do share your thoughts here and we'll help if we can.