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Rodman Williams: The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Response

11. “The language was being given me from the central place in me where God was, far beyond the realm of my emotions. Speaking on and on, I became more and more aware of God in me …God living in me was creating the language. I was speaking it—giving it voice, by my volition, and I was speaking it to God Who was above and beyond me. God the Holy Spirit was giving me the words to talk to God the Father, and it was all happening because of God the Son, Jesus Christ.” So writes Dennis Bennett in Nine O’Clock in the Morning (Plainfield, NJ: Logos, 1970), p. 23. Bennett, Episcopal priest, is often described as “spiritual father” of the neo-Pentecostal or charismatic renewal. His experience of “baptism in the Spirit” and speaking in tongues occurred in 1960 while he was rector of St. Mark’s Church in Van Nuys, California.

12. ” …this speech of tongues is not the babbling of babes, but it is a mode in which the inexpressible verbal form of the heavenly world (1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Corinthians 13:1) breaks into this human world of ours.” So Peter Brunner writes in his book, Worship in the Name of Jesus (St. Louis: Concordia, 1968), p. 270. Brunner describes tongues, however, not as speech but as a disintegration or rupture of speech in which the mode mentioned breaks in, all of which is due to the impact of the approaching kingdom of God. “The New Testament shows us that the verbal vessel of our language may disintegrate under the impact of the onrushing new eon. This takes place in the language of tongues, which is no longer speech, but which appears as babbling and outside the bonds of molded words.” Then comes the statement: ” …this speech of tongues, etc.” Another beautiful passage follows: ” …this rupture of intelligible speech in the speech of tongues shows us that the word will not remain unaffected by the approaching might of the kingdom of God. It, too, will be drawn symbolically into the future eschatological transformation of all things” (page 270). Brunner here employs language about the inbreak of “the heavenly world,” “the onrushing new eon,” “the approaching might of the kingdom of God” which, while different from terminology we have used, expresses the wonder of the coming of the Holy Spirit. What is important is his strong emphasis on “tongues” as resulting from the impact of the inbreaking spiritual reality, and that tongues are not babbling nonsense but a form of expression beyond all human capacity.

13. The Greek word is glossais. It may mean either tongues or languages.

14. I hesitate to use the word “ecstasy” because of the possible connotation of frenzy, uncontrolled behavior: speech that is irrational, emotional utterance without intellectual content. For example, in the statement of Mark 3:21: “He is beside himself” the Greek word is exeste, a form of the verb existemi, the noun ekstasis. Thus, though “ecstasy” may be used of transport, joy, etc., it also tends to suggest unbalance, lack of control, even madness. Ekstasis can also mean “amazement,” or “astonishment,” in a situation of confusion and bafflement. For example, the multitude hearing each in his own language ” … were amazed [existanto] …and wondered [ or ‘marveled’] saying ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?'” (Acts 2:7). Accordingly, it was the crowd hearing the tongues who were “ecstatic,” not the disciples speaking them! On this point also see Larry Christenson, Speaking in Tongues (Minneapolis: Dimension Books, 1968, p. 24). Christenson is a Lutheran leader in the contemporary renewal.

15.Recall Paul’s words: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit …singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart &#8230″ (Ephesians 5:18-19). The true wine of the Spirit makes not for dissipation but for the praise of God with all one’s being.

16. The words of Paul in Ephesians 5:18-19 were partially quoted in the preceding footnote. The fuller quotation, which seems particularly relevant here, is: “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.” The “spiritual songs” are odais pneumatikais, songs given by the Spirit, probably representing the exalted utterance of singing in the Spirit. (Incidentally, in a footnote to Colossians 3:16, where “spiritual songs” are also mentioned, the Jerusalem Bible says that these songs “could be charismatic improvisations suggested by the Spirit during liturgical assembly.”) For a reference to “singing with the spirit”—which seems likewise to refer to spiritual singing—1 Corinthians 14:15. Note also that Paul differentiates such singing from “singing with the mind.”

17. “We were lifted out of ourselves in the worship of the Lord. There was a period of singing in tongues, and the variety in the sound was matched only by its harmony and the unanimity with which it began and ended, almost as if at the signal of a conductor; but there was no conductor—at least, not a human one.” So writes Michael Green, Anglican rector, about his visit to a church “full of the Holy Spirit” (I Believe in the Holy Spirit [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975], pp. 158-59). In an earlier book I described the experience of “singing in the Spirit” thus: ” …there may be long periods of joyful, lilting music, quite unplanned, moving back and forth through psalms, hymns, choruses, and the like—as the Spirit guides the meeting. But the climax is the moment when not only is the melody given by the Spirit but also the language, as words and music sung by the assembled worshipers blend into an unimaginable, humanly impossible, chorus of praise. Here is ‘singing in the Spirit’ at its zenith—the sublime utterance of the Holy Spirit through the human spirit to the glory of Almighty God” (The Era of the Spirit, p. 33).

18. Samarin, in Tongues of Men and Angels (New York: Macmillan, 1972), says that “anybody can produce glossolalia if he is uninhibited and if he discovers what the ‘trick’ is” (pp. 227-8), namely, the uninhibited expression of nonsense syllables. To reply: anyone who has truly spoken in tongues knows that there is no possible comparison of it with human gibberish. As Simon Tugwell, Dominican priest, succinctly says: “You cannot engineer tongues …” (Did You Receive the Holy Spirit? [London: Darton, Longman, & Todd, 1972], p. 63).

19. Most persons continue speaking in tongues in their prayer life. No reference to a continuation of tongues beyond the initial gift of the Spirit is found in Acts. However, Mark 16:17, many versus in 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, and possibly Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20 suggest continuation. (On Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20 see later discussion.)

20. This is true even though Acts does not mention tongues in the two other primary cases of the gift of the Spirit (the Samaritans, Acts 8, and Saul of Tarsus, Acts 9). But where they are specifically mentioned, in each instance, it is immediately after the gift, and thus tongues have a peculiar significance. Alan Richardson in his An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958) says that “St. Luke regards ‘speaking in tongues’ (glossolalia) as an unmistakable sign of the gift of the Spirit” (p. 119).

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Category: Fall 2002, Spirit

About the Author: J. Rodman Williams (1918-2008), Ph.D., is considered to be the father of renewal theology. He served as a chaplain in the Second World War, he was a church pastor, college professor, and key figure in the charismatic movement of the 1960s. Beginning in 1982, he taught theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and became Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus there in 2002. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

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