The Mystical Teachings of Christianity by Jim Lewis
The speaking in tongues is a phenomenon that developed in the early church after Jesus left. Jesus never spoke in this manner nor did His followers while He was here. It was associated with what they believed to be the Holy Spirit Baptism and was looked upon as a sign that the individual had become possessed by the Holy Spirit. It was believed that the Holy Spirit was an entity that came into a person and possessed him. This made the person feel good because he saw it as a sign that he was accepted by God. We should keep in mind that the speaking in tongues is not the most important part of the phenomenon; rather, the Holy Spirit Baptism is most important.
A word used to described this phenomenon is “glossolalia”. It comes from the Greek “glosso” meaning tongue, and “lalia” meaning talking. So it is “tongue talking” or speaking tongues.
It is still popular in Christianity today. It was at one time associated more with ultra-conservative Christian groups such as the Pentecostal Church, the Assembly of God, and others of this category, but in recent times all denominations have become interested in it, even the Catholics. It has been given a little more respectability by changing the name and calling it glossolalia, or a spiritual gift. Some think of it as a special gift from God to the individual, a charismata, and today this word is used to describe the Charismatic Movement. But it is essentially the same thing, speaking in tongues.
As far as Christianity is concerned, this phenomenon began on the Day of Pentecost when a group of Jesus’ followers were gathered together praying and thinking about the things He had said. The record in the book of Acts states there was a rustling as of a wind, tongues as of fire in the room, and that those present began speaking in tongues. This has been a rather controversial incident. Some say the people were speaking in foreign languages; others say their utterances were unknown.
The practice became a problem in the Church and Paul in his letter to the Corinthians is trying to handle it. Evidently those who were able to speak in tongues disrupted the services and thought they were better than the others. Paul tells them there are various spiritual gifts and that speaking in tongues is only one of many. But, he says, it is not the most important. In fact, Paul says the speaking in tongues is rather childish and infantile. In I Corinthians, 13th chapter, Paul says, “When I was a child I thought like a child; when I became a man I put away childish things.” He probably wished they would put away this childish expression and cease causing trouble. But he knew that this situation was just like taking toys away from children: they will only fuss and make more trouble. So, he implied, they could continue to practice their speaking in tongues, but they must do it in a restrained manner. There should be only two or three doing it at a time, and they should have someone to supervise it and interpret what is being said.
Paul says it is more important to be able to understand one word than to have many nonsense words. He puts emphasis on the development of love. He says, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.” Those who could speak in tongues thought they were spiritual “hot shots” and were anything but loving. Read I Corinthians, chapters 12, 13, and 14 for Paul’s views on tongue speaking.
Speaking in tongues is a vocal attempt to express one’s deepest or highly repressed feelings. These expressions are often incoherent. The person is quite emotional and temporarily loses self-control. It is believed by him and those who favor this phenomenon that the individual is actually possessed by God, the Holy Spirit.
Although it seems that it can be brought on voluntarily, there nevertheless seem to be certain psychological factors in common among individuals to whom it happens. Some if not all of these factors are usually present. For one, the person feels a great need in his life. He may feel totally alienated from God and rejected by Him because of past experiences. There may be no meaning or purpose in his life. It may also be that he is seriously ill and desires healing. He may have high expectations of receiving spiritual assurance; he may desire to be free. This factor was strong in the early church, for they were expecting Jesus to return again soon. The experience has also been found to be related to sexual frustration. The people in the church at Corinth no doubt had serious sex problems; Paul preaches to these people some of his ultra-conservative views about women.
When we consider the times of the early church we find the psychological needs and expectations were ripe for this type of experience. There was great religious frustration. Rome was trying to enforce emperor worship. The people were sick, poor, and frustrated. They were anxious about the coming of the Messiah and the New Age of glory and freedom.
The glossolalic experience was probably comforting and reassuring to someone living with all his frustrations at that time. It helped him to live in and with his limitations and those of his world. No doubt it made him feel important; the world might reject him but he had proof that God accepted him. Many saw this as an outer objective proof that they were on the right track; they just needed to hold on for a time.
I am now going to write some things that will not be popular, but truth seldom is popular. If it were, more people would accept it and be living it. My suggestion is this: be very, very careful of being involved in group emotional experiences. These groups are widespread today and are led, in most cases, by well-meaning people. Even when it seems that these group experiences are for good purposes, however, we must recognize that some are offered by not-so-well-meaning individuals. Uncontrolled emotion can get us into difficulty faster than anything else.
We see many types of behavior based on the inability of many people to exercise conscious, intelligent, and disciplined self-control. On the negative side it runs from pot smoking in the name of religion to mate swapping. Many of the people involved in these groups will even use the Bible in an attempt to give respectability to their concepts.
In these group experiences, emotion persuades reason. People will let down, saying and doing things that they normally would not do. They break down restraining barriers and release a flood of emotion; temporarily, they feel relieved. This relief doesn’t last long, for the negative beliefs that caused them are not usually released and they proceed again to build up a negative emotional burden. Only now the person finds that he may experience guilt and remorse about expressing his feelings and letting everyone in the group know what type of person he was. The release of pent-up feelings may bring a temporary relief, but it does not always elevate one’s self-esteem—it may, and quite often does, lower it.
There are some groups that have a measure of respectability because they have been accepted by many reputable people. They are called group therapies. Telling other people and the world our problems will not necessarily solve them, and we certainly can’t expect other people to tell us what to do, or to make decisions for us. So, be very careful of group experiences that encourage the open display of deep-seated feelings. I would also be careful of groups that encourage back rubbing and other types of touching and caressing as a method of soothing one’s weary soul.
In order to attain spiritual mastery as Jesus taught it, one must have balanced control and expression of his thoughts and feelings. This point is brought out in the mystical teachings of Paul. In the first part of I Corinthians, the eleventh chapter, he states, “Christ is the head of man and man is the head of woman.” He should have stopped there, for in his attempt to give a literal interpretation to a spiritual idea he received, he gets carried away—he mixes the spiritual with a literal interpretation. Christ is the guiding intelligence within all of us, for it is the Spirit of God within us. The intellect, man, should always be responsive and obedient to this guiding intelligence, and man, the intellect, should always control the emotional nature, woman. When the emotional nature influences the intellect, the person often has trouble, becoming involved in undesirable circumstances. This is brought out in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden.
You may be wondering what this has to do with the speaking in tongues. It is just this: speaking in tongues is an emotional expression without intellectual or spiritual control. It is the release of pent-up frustrations; it is not a spiritual gift. Paul was just trying to use a little psychology in giving it acceptance. It is a psychological relief valve. The person speaking in tongues is not possessed of the Holy Spirit even though he may think he is. When one learns to exercise self-control in truth thinking, he will not become emotionally charged in a negative way.
If it is a relief valve, then why not use it? The person who is always using emergency measures to meet life’s challenges is asking for more severe problems. There is only one way to meet life with its many growth experiences and that is with spiritual understanding. Superstitious beliefs and emotional responses are the things that Paul is referring to when he says, “Now I see in a mirror darkly.” We must make an effort to put aside our preconceived beliefs and open our minds to the full spirit of truth that is seeking expression through us. Jesus said it would make us free—when we know it.
It was thought that the people having the tongue-speaking experience on the Day of Pentecost were drunk. Their behavior was not normal; it was uncontrolled. They were psychologically drunk. They could not express themselves coherently. As under the influence of alcohol and drugs, they could say and do things that they would not say or do otherwise. People under this type of influence also become bolder and more aggressive.
When one truly learns the language of the Spirit, he will maintain a more balanced control and expression of his thoughts and feelings. He will express poise and stability in personality, regardless of outer circumstances. He will be able to control his reactions and responses to negative personalities and situations. There will be neither overdoing nor withholding when positive, constructive, and definite action is required.
What is the language of Spirit? The language of Spirit is ideas. God does speak to us even though we may think this a bit unusual, but He does not speak to us in secretive, mysterious ways. If our consciousness were completely purified and free of all false beliefs so that we could see clearly, there would be no dreams, visions, speaking in tongues or any other unusual form of response to ideas. There would be clear, lucid, direct knowing and this is our true goal it; life. If you take a beautiful diamond and put it in a glass of muddy water, is the diamond mysterious, does it lose its beauty? No, it is just as clear and beautiful as ever. As we begin letting a flow of pure, clean water into the glass we come to see the diamond. At first it may seem misty or mysterious, but as the water becomes purified, we see the diamond perfectly.
If one has prepared himself in a logical, intellectual study of truth, it will enable him to see or perceive ideas more clearly. It will enable him to perceive truth more clearly, the truth that already is and will ever be the same and unchanging. As his perception clears, so will his responses to life’s challenges improve. He will respond more in harmony with the truth that he perceives. He will be able to exercise control over his emotional or feeling nature instead of letting it control him. The emotional/feeling nature is important and must have a legitimate expression as part of our personality. However, if we respond to life as an immature child, we are asking for trouble.
The outer phenomenon of speaking in tongues may seem mysterious, fascinating, and may offer a temporary sense of relief and comfort to the individual practicing it. But the greater joy, happiness, and true security comes when we know our oneness with God, with Truth, with Principle, with His ideas and let them flow freely through us.
© 1981, Dr. James C. Lewis
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.