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Praying in the Spirit: Better Than I Was, Not Better Than You Are

The fifth chapter of the Praying in the Spirit Series.

Robert W. Graves wrote Praying in the Spirit (Chosen Books) in 1987, when it received great reviews from a number of Pentecostal/charismatic scholars and leaders including John Sherrill, Dr. Vinson Synan, Dr. Gordon Fee, Dr. William Menzies, Dr. Howard Ervin, Dr. Walter Martin, and Dr. Stanley Horton. It is the great privilege of the Pneuma Review to republish it here.

“You Pentecostals think you’re better than anyone else, don’t you?” The question startled the young Florida pastor attending his first ministerial association meeting. He stammered briefly and then with wisdom replied, “No, not at all. I am simply better than I was before.” The question of spiritual pride has found its way into the minds of many non-charismatic Christians and, unfortunately, has become a great stumbling block.

“One characteristic of the modem tongues-movement,” writes Ronald Baxter, “is that of spiritual pride. The impression often given is, ‘I’ve got it and you haven’t. I’m sorry for you!’” (pp. 22-23). The first chapter of John F. MacArthur, Jr.’s, The Charismatics is titled “Are You One of the Have-Nots?” And according to Michael Griffiths, Pentecostals and charismatics “claim a monopoly of the Holy Spirit’s operation” (Three Men, p. 25). Merrill Unger, longtime critic of Pentecostalism, writes that Pentecostals believe the outsiders are “ordinary believers” and they are the “Spirit-baptized super-saints” (Baptism, p.36).

If Pentecostals and charismatics have done nothing more, it seems that they have convinced some non-Pentecostals that they believe themselves to be superior because they have spoken in tongues. Indeed, spiritual elitism, counting one’s own beliefs as sole “correct” theology, could be a temptation for all Christians, but especially those within revivals or renewals. The nature of renewal demands that some portion of the Church be moving in a different stream than the remainder, and the tendency to see oneself in a different light than one sees the others (no matter which group you are in) is a natural byproduct.

When I pray in tongues it is a sign of my own inadequacy in the sense that my intelligible powers are insufficient to express my heart’s praise to God. After all, how can I expect my mind to express the joys and cries of my spirit?

This being said, let me point out two things about pride and tongues. First, contrary to popular belief, the ability to speak in tongues is nothing to be proud of. The baptism in the Holy Spirit with the experience of tongues is not a merit badge but a sign of inadequacy. For years some anti-Pentecostals have been claiming that tongues, even in the first century were signs of immaturity and inferiority (Banks, pp. l9-20; Millikin, p.24). They are right, but for the wrong reason. When I pray in tongues it is a sign of my own inadequacy in the sense that my intelligible powers are insufficient to express my heart’s praise to God. After all, how can I expect my mind to express the joys and cries of my spirit? No, speaking in tongues does not demonstrate a virtue, it underscores a weakness, a human limitation.

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Category: Spirit, Winter 2000

About the Author: Robert W. Graves, M. A. (Literary Studies, Georgia State University), is the co-founder and president of The Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship, Inc., a non-profit organization supporting Pentecostal scholarship through research grants. He is a Christian educator and a former faculty member of Southwestern Assemblies of God College in Waxahachie, Texas, and Kennesaw State University (adjunct). He edited and contributed to Strangers to Fire: When Tradition Trumps Scripture and is the author of Increasing Your Theological Vocabulary, Praying in the Spirit (1987 and Second Edition, 2017) and The Gospel According to Angels (Chosen Books, 1998).

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