- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2005

John Sherrill said he has been praying in languages unknown to him for more than 40 years. Many Christians believe the Holy Spirit can pray through them supernaturally in an earthly or heavenly language, not taught by human means, uttering the perfect prayer for any situation, Mr. Sherrill said.

While working for Guideposts magazine in the early 1960s, Mr. Sherrill, author of “They Speak With Other Tongues,” researched speaking in tongues, practiced by Christians in Pentecostal and charismatic denominations.

Although Mr. Sherrill was originally a skeptic, by the end of his research, he began to speak in holy syllables. His book was republished recently in a 40th-anniversary edition.

“The reality of the experience does not go away,” said Mr. Sherrill, 81. “It matures in the sense that it is a part of your everyday Christian experience, and it no longer is something you have a high focus on. It’s part of your own fabric.”

Speaking in tongues is one of the spiritual gifts listed in the New Testament, where a complimentary gift of interpretation of tongues also is mentioned. People praying in tongues don’t usually understand what they are saying without an interpreter.

Since Pentecost in the book of Acts, speaking in nonnative languages has been a sign that the Holy Spirit has filled a person. The Bible teaches that those people who pray in tongues edify themselves.

Today, speaking in tongues is practiced by many types of Christians, said Barry H. Corey, vice president for education and assistant professor of church history at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass.

Although Pentecostals have established several denominations, such as Assemblies of God and the Church of God in Christ, many charismatic Christians worship within existing Protestant and Catholic congregations. Neo-charismatics generally attend independent congregations, such as the Association of Vineyard Churches. Many scholars refer to Pentecostals, charismatics and neo-charismatics as renewalists.

Currently, Mr. Corey said, there are about 80 million renewalists in the United States, which is a significant growth from the 22.5 million renewalists reported in 1970. In 2000, there were nearly 524 million renewalists in the world. He references the statistics in the World Christian Database maintained by the seminary.

“The Renewal Movement is considered the fasting-growing movement of Christianity in the world and the United States,” Mr. Corey said. “The projection is that by the year 2025, there will be more than 810 million Christians in the world who would define themselves as Pentecostal, charismatic or neo-charismatic.”

Classic Pentecostal doctrine states that after conversion a second blessing can occur called the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is different from being baptized with water.

When the Spirit of God fills a person, the initial physical evidence is speaking in tongues, with other spiritual gifts emerging later, such as administration, discernment, faith, healing, hospitality, knowledge, mercy, prophecy and wisdom, Mr. Corey said. The main passages in the Bible listing the spiritual gifts are 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4.

However, while some charismatics or neo-charismatics believe speaking in tongues is the initial physical evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, others argue it is optional. Other spiritual gifts or “fruits of the Spirit,” such as love, peace and patience, also could reveal the baptism, Mr. Corey said.

“Glossolalia,” the Greek term for speaking in tongues, is chiefly given as a resource for better communication with God, said Jack Hayford, author of “The Beauty of Spiritual Language” and “Baptism with the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 8:26 says: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

At age 20, Mr. Hayford asked for the gift of tongues at a Christian meeting. Since then, the languages in which he prays have been identified on at least three occasions as Hebrew, Thai and Czech.

It’s also possible to pray in heavenly languages, which the Bible refers to as the tongues of angels, he said. A person does not have to be limited to praying in a single foreign tongue.

“At least on Earth, there’s over 6,000 identified languages,” Mr. Hayford said. “Many of them, if you would hear them to your ear, they would sound like gibberish. I think it’s arrogant and presumptuous when someone said they know enough about language to say speaking in tongues is gibberish.”

When people suggest that praying in tongues is demonic, Mr. Hayford is reminded of Matthew 7: 9-10, which says: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”

“If you ask for the Holy Spirit, you’re not going to get something evil,” Mr. Hayford said. “You’re coming to the Lord, who loves you.”

In Mark 16:17, Jesus says his followers would speak in new tongues, Mr. Hayford said. In 1 Corinthians 14, the Apostle Paul thanks God that he speaks in tongues more than anyone in Corinth. Paul also differentiates between praying in tongues privately as a devotion and speaking in tongues in public, which requires an interpretation.

“It isn’t a verbal translation,” Mr. Hayford said. “I’ve interpreted, and you get a picture of an idea, or an impression comes, and as you begin to say it, it just unfolds to you.”

W.W. Patterson, a missionary to Indonesia in the early 1900s, reported hearing native Indonesians pray in proper English, after being filled with the Holy Spirit, said Ernest B. Gentile, author of “The Glorious Disturbance: Understanding and Receiving the Baptism with the Spirit.”

Carlton Spencer, former president of Elim Bible Institute in Lima, N.Y., witnessed a similar event in East Africa in the 1950s, said Mr. Gentile.

“He saw an African woman lost in worship, speaking in a language unknown to her, but speaking in English,” Mr. Gentile said. “She was sitting there with a babe at her breast. She worshipped on and on in English.”

The modern-day Pentecostal revival arose in 1906 on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, followed by the charismatic movement of the 1960s, said Veli-Matti Karkkainen, associate professor of systematic theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. He is the author of “Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International and Contextual Perspective.”

Among evangelical Christians, however, dispensationalists believe the spiritual gifts ceased with the canonization of the Bible in the fourth century.

“The good motive behind dispensationalism is to preserve the ultimate authority of Scripture,” Mr. Karkkainen said. “They think, I think wrongly, that spiritual gifts like prophecy put emphasis somewhere else other than the written word of God.”

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