Answering Questions About Pentecostal History
We have received several comments on our video and article that deal with the history of Pentecostalism claiming that there are many instances throughout history of tongues speech and therefore our information is inaccurate. When people make these comments there are two issues that they tend to overlook: 1) that it was the founders of every major Pentecostal denomination that believed that the gifts had originally ceased and 2) that we are not suggesting that no one has ever claimed to speak in tongues but simply that Biblical tongues and gifts have ceased.
The entire point of our article and video is to show that each founder of the modern day Pentecostal movement believed and taught that the gifts had ceased. The entire Pentecostal movement was founded upon the idea that the spiritual gifts previously experienced at Pentecost and during the New Testament era had left the church for a time but were now returning to the church. The leaders are quoted as making such statements several times. According to their own teaching this was a “restoration” of gifts that had formerly been lost to the church.
Headlines in their papers read “Pentecostal Baptism Restored” and “Pentecost Has Come.” In these articles they say God was “bringing back the Pentecostal Baptism to the church” and until this time men had only been preaching a “partial gospel.” This clearly reveals that even the founders knew there was NO evidence of tongues or any other spiritual gift in their day and age until they began to experience it. The men who founded the Pentecostal churches in our communities today taught that until they were formed, tongues and other gifts had been taken from the church.
If what they said was not true then churches who were practicing or experiencing spiritual gifts at that time would have disputed their claims pointing out that the gifts were already in existence. No such dispute ever occurred because no one until this time experienced such a phenomenon as the LA Times accurately reported in April 1906.
"They claim to have "the gift of tongues;" and to be able to comprehend the babel. Such a startling claim has never yet been made by any company of fanatics, even in Los Angeles, the home of almost numberless creeds."
This teaching lead Pentecostal churches into a great dilemma. The bible teaches that tongues will one day cease, but it does not teach that they will one day cease and then return. Let us look why at would be impossible for them to return if they had indeed ceased.
1 Cor 13:8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
We are told that the gifts will cease when perfection comes. If the gifts did indeed leave the church, they are not to return because they have been replaced by something “perfect.” As we have pointed out in several articles we believe that perfect thing which has come was the completed Word of God. So when all the Scripture of the New Testament was complete, there was no longer a need for the spiritual gifts. We do not need the gift of knowledge or tongues or prophecy, because we have something which, as Peter said, is more certain, the Word of God. We can go to it to find all the answers we need.
One popular teaching among Pentecostals to explain this dilemma is that the gifts were taken away because the church became corrupted. But as we just pointed out, the Bible says that the gifts will cease when “perfection,” not imperfection comes. In fact we see that the Corinthian church was corrupted in many ways. They were reprimanded for divisions in their church, jealousy, quarreling, lack of discipline, taking disputes to secular judges, sexual immorality, abusing their liberty, partaking in idolatry, doubting the resurrection of the dead, and misusing their spiritual gifts among many other things. If this corrupt church was able to practice the gifts, there is no reason to think that any other level of corruption would cause the church to lose them. In the three chapters in 1 Corinthians that rebukes them for their misuse of these gifts, not once does Paul ever suggest that they risk losing them if they stay corrupted. He did, however, warn them they would one day disappear when perfection came. This teaching is simply false.
So how does the Pentecostal church deal with this inconsistency? The do the only thing they can do; change their teaching. And that is exactly what the modern Pentecostal churches have done. Ignoring the premise upon which their churches were founded they now claim that the gifts have never left the church. We have shown in both our video and our article that deal with the history of Pentecostalism how the same churches that admit to be founded by men that taught these gifts were returning to the church also claim that the gifts have never left it. This inconsistency should not and can not go unnoticed. If the gifts never left then their founders were liars and were given “prophecies” that were incorrect and therefore not from God. If the gifts did leave then their founders were liars because that teaching contradicts the bible which says the gifts will cease when perfection comes, not corruption.
One explanation for this blatant inconsistency is that the simple leaders of that time could not possibly be aware of what had taken place in history and just misunderstood that the gifts had ceased. There are two problems with this excuse. One is what we have already mentioned. As this movement grew, if there were other churches at the time experiencing these gifts, they would have spoken out, but there were none. No Pentecostal church traces their roots beyond the times of Parham or Seymour. They all claim to be started by either one of these men so there is no proof that anyone at that time experienced such things.
The second is that the explanation itself still suggests that there were times when the gifts were not given or well known. They claim that only some small obscure sects of believers had the gifts even when other more prominent churches did not have them. Again, the Bible does not say that the gifts will only be given to certain small and obscure sects until a renewal occurs, but that the gifts would cease only when perfection comes. If tongues is supposed to be the evidence of all believers and if the gifts were always supposed to be used by the church it would be occurring in each one of them. And here we re-enter the question of why no one pointed this fact out to Parham and Seymour. For certainly someone, somewhere had experienced these gifts if they were indeed necessary and part of the church at all times. But as history points out, that never happened because historically this movement started only with these men and at this time. You need only check their historical information to validate this claim.
This brings us the second issue we wish to address. Just because we believe that biblical tongues do not exist today does not mean that some people will not profess to have them. Many Pentecostal churches have lists of so-called “historical” proof that tongues have always existed. However, does the fact that someone claimed to have experienced something prove that it was through the power of God that they experienced it? Absolutely not. People claim to experience this today, just like they did then, but that experience is not in itself proof that it is indeed from God.
First of all there is the question of “what” they are experiencing. Tongues today is defined as “unintelligible utterances.” Yet in Scripture tongues were known human languages (Acts 2:6-11). Someone babbling something unintelligible is not the same as speaking a foreign, yet real human language. Again, the Pentecostal church has changed the definition of tongues, not only from the Scriptural teaching but from the way their founders defined it. Charles Parham, the first one to teach tongues speech and then see someone actually experience it and the first one to suggest that tongues was the evidence of the Holy Spirit baptism said that tongues were known human languages1. At what point the church changed that teaching I do not know, but it must be noted that they did indeed change it.
Secondly there is the question about “who” is experiencing it. Pentecostal churches have compiled lists of people throughout history who have experienced tongues to prove that the gifts have not ceased. Included in these lists are vague references to particular groups who were persecuted by the Catholic church and they claim that those groups spoke in tongues yet they offer no proof that such groups actually did so. They also include lists of strange sects who taught and believed in heresy. If they did not even properly understand the concept of God and salvation how does their experience in tongues prove it valid? What they have done with their list is expose the lengths to which they will go to deceive people into believing the lie that tongues have never ceased. They include people who believed in gnosticism, dualism, and polytheism in their list. It is dishonest and deceptive to pretend that someone who believes in false teachings about God and yet speaks in tongues somehow can prove His gifts are given to the church that opposes those teachings. Below is a small segment of some of the heretical groups included in one such list along with the heresy that each group believed in.
Albigenses – ”A heresy during the middle ages that developed in the town Albi in Southern France. This error taught that there were two gods: the good god of light usually referred to as Jesus in the New Testament and the god of darkness and evil usually associated with Satan and the "God of the Old Testament." Anything material was considered evil including the body which was created by Satan. The soul, created by the good god, was imprisoned in the evil flesh and salvation was possible only through holy living and doing good works. At death, if the person has been spiritual enough, salvation comes to the believer. But, if the person has not been good enough, he is reincarnated as an animal or another human. The Albigenses denied the resurrection of the body since it was considered evil. The Albigenses taught that Jesus was God but that He only appeared as a man while on earth.”2
Mani - The founder of Manichaean. “The most striking principle of Manichaean theology is its dualism. Mani postulated two natures that existed from the beginning: light and darkness. The realm of light lived in peace, while the realm of darkness was in constant conflict with itself. The universe is the temporary result of an attack from the realm of darkness on the realm of light, and was created by the Living Spirit, an emanation of the light realm, out of the mixture of light and darkness. A key belief in Manichaeism is that there is no omnipotent good power. This claim addresses a theoretical part of the problem of evil by denying the infinite perfection of God and postulating the two equal and opposite powers mentioned previously. The human person is seen as a battleground for these powers: the good part is the soul (which is composed of light) and the bad part is the body (composed of dark earth). The soul defines the person and is incorruptible, but it is under the domination of a foreign power, which addressed the practical part of The Problem of Evil. Humans are said to be able to be saved from this power (matter) if they come to know who they are and identify themselves with their soul.”3
Donatism - “was the error taught by Donatus, bishop of Casae Nigrae that the effectiveness of the sacraments depends on the moral character of the minister. In other words, if a minister who was involved in a serious enough sin were to baptize a person, that baptism would be considered invalid. “4
Samosatene – Believed that Jesus was merely a man.
Priscillianism - “The foundation of the doctrines of the Priscillianists was Gnostic-Manichaean dualism, a belief in the existence of two kingdoms, one of Light and one of Darkness. Angels and the souls of men were said to be severed from the substance of the Deity. Human souls were intended to conquer the Kingdom of Darkness, but fell and were imprisoned in material bodies. Thus both kingdoms were represented in man, and hence a conflict symbolized on the side of Light by the Twelve Patriarchs, heavenly spirits, who corresponded to certain of man's powers, and on the side of Darkness by the Signs of the Zodiac, the symbols of matter and the lower kingdom. The salvation of man consists in liberation from the domination of matter. The twelve heavenly spirits having failed to accomplish their release, the Saviour came in a heavenly body which appeared to be like that of other men, and through His doctrine and His apparent death released the souls of the men from the influence of the material. “5
One list claims that these groups, among others, are organizations which experienced the gifts of tongues and prove their teachings “have been alive and well since the day of Pentecost.” As we can see, these groups were not even legitimate Christians let alone empowered by His Spirit. What does it prove if a person who denies that Jesus was literally God yet has the ability to speak an unintelligible utterance? How does a gnostic speaking in tongues mean anything when that same person denies that Jesus came in the flesh? (see 1 John 4:2-3) The fact is that there have been many heretical groups who have claimed to be given gifts but whatever they experienced it was not given by the one true God of the Bible. Only those who believed in the true Christ were given His Spirit and thus empowered with such gifts and we were told in God's Word that those gifts would one day cease when perfection came. History proves that churches who teach the Bible correctly stopped experiencing those gifts at about the time the final Words of Scripture were completed and circulated.
In conclusion we see that the founders of Pentecostalism not only believed that the gifts had at one time ceased, it was the premise for their entire movement. Pentecost was being restored and they took that message to the entire world. Since we know that the gifts were only to cease when perfection came we know that no restoration can truly take place. The fact that there have been obscure men and groups throughout history who have experienced some phenomenon they call tongues does not have any relevance on the fact that the gifts have ceased. Since these men did not even believe in God correctly their experiences are irrelevant to the discussion. History does reveal that the gifts as practiced by the true early church ceased to exist and Scripture assures us that their passing away would not have taken place until they were replaced by something more certain, something perfect.
2 Peter 1:19 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain , and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
We would do well to pay attention to that fact for it is the Scripture alone that can thoroughly equip the child of God.
2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
1. Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements 1988 P.19