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Tongue Tied, Part 2

Thursday, October 10, 2013 | Comments (10)

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. This is the second of two excerpts; part one is available here. —GTY Staff

by John MacArthur

From the day he announced to the world that Agnes Ozman had written in Chinese until the end of his life, Charles Parham tirelessly sought to perpetuate the mythology he had invented. Despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary and without a shred of evidence to support his claims, he remained insistent that the gift of tongues would revolutionize Christian work overseas and accelerate the church’s efforts to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission. Several years after those original Pentecostal missionary teams had come home under clouds of failure and disillusionment, Parham was still painting a shining picture of success:

We have several missionaries in the field who have the gift of tongues, who not only speak the language and understand the natives, but can use the language intelligently; it has become a gift to them. . . . It is a known fact that scores of infidels have been converted through hearing people speak distinctly in other languages. [1][Charles F. Parham, The Everlasting Gospel (Baxter Springs, KS: Apostolic Faith Bible College, 1911), 68]

None of that was true, of course.

The movement Charles Parham helped start has grown to massive proportions today. Multiple millions claim to be able to speak in tongues. But charismatics and Pentecostals still cannot communicate with people from different language groups (or even with one another) unless they have learned whatever language they wish to use. More than a century after Parham claimed his students were speaking Chinese, not one documentable case of the Pentecostal gift of tongues has ever occurred. Charismatic tongues have been repeatedly recorded and analyzed by linguists, and they have none of the characteristics of language. Modern Charismatic tongues are indiscriminate syllables and sounds spoken or sung in rapid succession, conveying no discernable meaning at all.

It is a scrap of paper covered with crude, indecipherable, artificial hieroglyphs that clearly have nothing in common with Chinese characters.That is not the biblical gift of tongues. At Pentecost, people heard the apostolic gathering speak in recognizable languages (Acts 2:6, 11). The tongues described in the New Testament were always capable of translation (Acts 10:46; 19:6). Indeed, the meaning of any message delivered in tongues was a vital aspect of the gift itself. No one was even supposed to speak in tongues without an interpreter (1 Corinthians 14:27).

With all the controversy surrounding Charles Parham, in the wake of so much scandal and so many unfulfilled promises, especially once the total failure of his missionary strategy was evident, it may seem amazing that the Pentecostal movement managed to stay alive at all, much less gain the kind of following we see today. But by the time Parham had been arrested on sodomy charges in Texas, his teachings were spreading like leaven.

One of Parham’s early disciples was William J. Seymour, an African-American holiness preacher who had sat under Parham’s instruction in Houston, Texas. In 1906, Seymour was invited to lead a series of meetings in California, and while preaching in a ramshackle building in Azusa Street on the edge of downtown Los Angeles, he began to teach some of the distinctive doctrines he had heard from Parham. He taught, for example, that the only biblical evidence of Spirit baptism is the gift of speaking in tongues. Within weeks, dozens of people at Azusa Street were manifesting glossolalia, and the fame of the Pentecostal movement spread from there. Pentecostalism had at last gained a significant foothold, and from Azusa Street it ultimately expanded across America.

Going back to the apostolic era, the church has of course always been troubled by false teachers claiming supernatural gifts who are driven by ungodly passions—“people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:5 ESV). (That is a picture-perfect description of people who have sold out to the Word-Faith heresy.)

But at its heart, the charismatic movement is uniquely American in character. It had its genesis in the American heartland, and from its very inception it was the fruit of a unique style of religious fanaticism that thrived on the American frontier. With an abundance of untrained, unaccountable, and often self-appointed prophets and itinerant preachers roaming freely, superstitions and aberrant doctrines spread virtually unchecked.

The charismatic movement was exported from America to the rest of the world by an aggressive public-relations campaign, employing several media networks that are devoted mainly to raising money. Large amounts of whatever funds are raised are spent to enable lavish lifestyles for charismatic televangelists. The culture of charismatic religion seems to breed rank charlatans who deliberately flaunt immoderate lifestyles and expensive appetites in order to entice people with the false promise that if they will donate more money than they can afford, God will be obliged to make them rich, too.

The prosperity of the charismatic televangelist fraternity is illusory. So are the miracles they pretend to perform and whatever degree of holiness they want their viewers to think they have attained. Indeed, superficiality and phoniness have been the besetting sins of the Pentecostal and charismatic movement since its inception.

Why is that? Well, as we have noted already, it is a simple matter of fact that modern charismatic tongues are nothing like the Pentecostal gift of tongues described in Acts 2. Charismatic doctrine therefore requires its followers to suspend biblical discernment and embrace a variety of “spiritual gifts” that have no basis in biblical teaching. That makes the movement a perfect hunting ground for frauds, false teachers, and charlatans. Indeed, Pentecostal-charismatic history is littered with an extraordinarily high percentage of leaders and celebrities who have shown themselves to be doctrinally corrupt and morally decadent.

In short, charismatic teaching fosters willful gullibility while subtly but systematically undermining the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. That is a recipe for spiritual and doctrinal disaster as I’ve documented in the chapters that follow.

The first edition of this book was a relatively thin volume titled The Charismatics, published in 1978. A decade or so later, the so-called “Third Wave” was making headlines. Charismatics and evangelicals alike were intrigued with signs and wonders, extrabiblical prophecies, and strange manifestations such as “holy laughter.” At that time I wrote several additional chapters, more than doubling the size of the book. The expanded work was retitled Charismatic Chaos and released in 1992. It has now been more than twenty years since that second edition was published. The book has never gone out of print and remains in great demand, even though some of the trends it deals with were much more popular in the early 1990s than they are today.

People sometimes ask whether I have changed my stance since then. The answer—emphatically—is no. Scripture, of course, hasn’t changed, and my understanding of what the Bible teaches on the charismatic issue hasn’t changed materially, either. My commitment to the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word hasn’t changed. If anything, my convictions are clearer and more settled than when I first began addressing this issue in the 1970s.

I’m also frequently asked whether I think the charismatic movement has changed for the better as more people in the evangelical mainstream have either embraced charismatic doctrines or made an uneasy truce with our charismatic friends. Few leading evangelicals today seem to have the will or the interest to wade into controversy over the charismatic question these days.

I’m convinced that is a serious mistake, and the drift toward acceptance of charismatic beliefs and practices is a sign of decline and a harbinger of apostasy in the evangelical movement.

Some of the people critiqued in this book (including John Wimber, Kenneth Hagin, and Oral Roberts) are no longer living. But the movements and the doctrines they taught are alive and well and still causing chaos. The leaven of their influence is still spreading. Christians confronted with their teachings are easily confused by them, and those seeking a critical and biblical analysis of popular charismatic claims will find that such resources are scarce.

So I’m very grateful that this new edition of Charismatic Chaos is being published in Chinese. My prayer is that it will provoke discussion, encourage discernment, and equip more believers worldwide to resist the tsunami of fraud and confusion that seems to follow the charismatic movement wherever its tentacles have reached.


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#1  Posted by George Canady  |  Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 6:25 AM

Thank you GTY for this post. I am a long time supporter of this ministry and I have benefitted from it emencly. I am so grateful for the stand that John is taking on Charismatics as my family has nearly been destroyed over the last 30 years by its false promises. I am courious, though, by what might be the inferance of naming the ethnicty of William J. Seymour and not Charles Parham? Thank you.

#2  Posted by Mae Ella Jones  |  Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 7:11 AM

Thank you for the background on this issue.

#3  Posted by Melissa Benvenuto  |  Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 10:31 AM

Great short essay. I attend a charismatic church that believes in tongues. They also believe that God speaks to individuals in an extra-biblical sense. Sometimes, as you might imagine, worship services get ridiculous. But, i am there because there is literally no where else to go; the entire community is steeped in Moravian congregations. So, it's either accept a woman pastor and gay marriage, or go someplace where at some of the Word is still exalted. The church in America is in a sad state.

#5  Posted by Manuel Jr. Reyes  |  Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 12:32 PM

Praise God! You have reached out to us here in the dessert region of Middle East. We agree in Sola Scriptura although we are in the midst of the Cs. We are praying that God would use us as we continue loving the truth of His Words! Thank you also to GTY and Ptr. John.

#9  Posted by José Maria Barrio Chaud  |  Friday, October 11, 2013 at 9:51 AM

I never heard about the orginis of the pentecostal movement. It's really shocking to see how such a movement that started with a false pretension of speaking in tongues, has spread over the world and gain acceptance. I'm from Argentina and the errors of charismatic theology are all over the country, and they are misleading biblical ignorant people.

Thank you for sharing this.

#10  Posted by Don Fizell  |  Friday, October 11, 2013 at 4:46 PM

Thank you for your efforts in bringing this matter to the forefront. The Charismatic Movement is certainly out of control, and the children of God need to be aware of their evil schemes. I certainly hope that the Strange Fire Conference is only the beginning of much more work to come. The matter is very grave.

Many of the Charismatics now align themselves with the New Apostolic Reformation and the Dominionist agenda. They work feverishly around the world in taking over the world for Jesus. One of the driving forces behind the modern pursuit of Dominionism is a false prophecy which is referred to as the "7 Mountains Mandate." That mandate stipulates that Jesus wants them to take over every mountain. One of those mountains is the "church." They aim to bring the church under the subjection of their apostles. That is referred to as Apostolic Alignment. Other mountains include the arts, entertainment, government, business, etc.

One main way in which they are advancing their cause is through music that targets children and unlearned adults. They have concerts around the world, such as "Jesus Culture" concerts and "Encounters." The concerts attract young people, and they are in turn introduced to the NAR. Some of the abominable practices include:

*Kabbalah (Love affair with Jesus & worship of Shekinah)

*Contemplative Spirituality

*Angel worship


*Token the Ghost


*Mantle and Breaker Anointings

*Fire tunnels


*Slain in the spirit

*WoF and Prosperity Gospel

*Spiritual Mapping and Treasure Hunts

Parham is a major influence in that movement. William Branham and his serpent seed doctrines of demons has also brought in the element of Joel's Army and the New Breed. Many of the charismatics adhere to the false belief that they are little gods and that they can issue decrees into the atmosphere through the law of attraction. They also claim that Jesus was a man who was subject to Satan in hell, who needed to be born again. Words can not describe the devastation that that army of locusts is bringing upon the world.

They claim to be building the kingdom of God, and yet Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world. Many church leaders do not understand that their congregations are being targeted. Children and many adults that attend their conferences and concerts bring bag damnable heresies into the Body of Christ. But even many radio stations are spreading their music, and inadvertently supporting their cause. Everyone needs to be armed with the Word of God. The Word of God is the standard that true Christians live by. Come quickly Lord Jesus.

#11  Posted by Steven Y Frankel  |  Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 1:45 AM

I attended a church last year, and one night the "Pastor" asked the men to gather in a circle. At that moment he started making all kinds of noises. When he was done, he asked, "Did anyone understand that?" I was the only one that said "no" out of 30 plus men. The next week, I was called into a room, and was rebuked for what I had done.

I no longer go to this "church".

I am looking forward to the Strange Fire Conference, and where I will find the truth spoken.

#12  Posted by Steven Y Frankel  |  Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 2:02 AM

I am very grateful for not only this post, but what we will learn from Pastor John and others at the conference.

One of the first books I read as a new believer was "Ashamed of the Gospel." That is a book that has taught me much, and I am so thankful for it.

I am excited about the upcoming week!

2 Timothy 3:16-17

#13  Posted by Ramon Jones  |  Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 4:34 AM

My church had an "Apostle" from Texas who came to preach for a couple of days. He said that he was speaking in tongues and a man of Chinese nationality stopped him and told him that he heard someone speaking Chinese. My thoughts where that the tongues might have sounded like a Chinese because some of the sounds seemed familiar. I work at a school and I hear students pretending that they speak Spanish. Every knows they are imitated the Spanish language because it sounds familiar. Just because it sounds familiar does not mean that it is an authentic language. So in reality, these people who say they are speaking another language are possibly at the most making a few similar sounds of a language. In essence, people are pretending to speak another language when they are only making an unintelligible imitation. We pretended to speak other languages as children and people are doing the same in church.

#14  Posted by Peter G Moore  |  Monday, October 14, 2013 at 8:07 PM

In 1 Cor. 14:5 Paul says he wishes that they all spoke with tongues. That was to wish a good thing! Notwithstanding Paul’s knowledge that God never intended for all to speak in tongues he’s essentially saying, imagine the way that the Gospel of Christ could be spread to even more people: both Jew and Gentile for the furtherance of God’s kingdom. He was not against the use of tongues, far from it but he also knew that those who possessed the gift of unknown tongues in the church at Corinth were abusing the gift and this formed part of his reason for writing to them. A strong connection needs to be seen between 1 Cor. 14:4 and 1 Cor. 14:13. In these verses we see that there were two categories of people who had the gift of unknown tongues. Some DID NOT have the ability to interpret what they were speaking in that foreign language and some did! This is why Paul says in verse 13 for the tongue speaker to pray that they would receive the gift of interpretation, without which, in the church, this person must remain silent. Why? Because to speak without being able to interpret what he was saying was to abuse the gift. It doesn’t edify himself and it doesn’t edify anyone in the church. When there is no understanding there is no edification and so all you have is confusion and God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). It’s as simple as that. Refer to v15-20 and see how Paul draws a conclusion concerning these things: he says therefore I will pray with the spirit and pray with the understanding. What does he mean? Just this: as with our own native language to be of profit we must be fully engaged in order for our communication to be meaningful and fruitful, likewise speaking in tongues. And Paul is effectively saying: I have the gift of tongues and interpretation of the language I speak in and so I will exercise that ability so that I am edified because I understand what I am saying due to my ability to interpret what I am saying and of course in missionary work unbelievers will hear the Gospel in their own native language and as I speak to them, again I will be edified.

Furthermore regarding 1 Cor.14:5 Paul says: ‘‘he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.’’ The setting is the assembled church gathered for worship. The greatness referred to relates to the usefulness of prophecy for the edifying of the people of God compared to the worthlessness of non-interpreted tongues. Paul’s assessment changes where there is interpretation of the message: it served a real purpose. Having said that, prophecy (fore-telling, and for that matter forth-telling or preaching) was superior by its very nature as no interpretation was required: the message was delivered in the language of the people by a person of the same language group and so communication was faster and so, superior essentially. Space doesn't allow for further comment at his stage.