The Lutheran tradition remains a significant and influential branch of Protestant Christianity over 500 years after its establishment. Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity is one of the most noteworthy movements of the 20th century. Many people naturally wonder if Lutheranism has adopted certain practices, like speaking in tongues.
The Lutheran tradition, including its major denominations, doesn’t believe in speaking in tongues. Lutheranism argues that God only gave the gift to the early church. However, in the mid-20th century, a small number of Lutheran churches practiced and advocated speaking in tongues as part of the Charismatic movement.
Why do Lutheran denominations believe that speaking in tongues was only for the first century? What Lutheran churches encouraged the gift in the 20th century? What’s the Charismatic movement? Keep reading to learn more.
Lutheran and Pentecostal Christianity
Lutheran doctrine, including its teaching on the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts, is founded upon the theology of the German Reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546). Luther lived centuries before the establishment of the modern Pentecostal movement, which many historians date to the early 1900’s.
Cessationism: Luther’s position regarding speaking in tongues is called “cessationism,” which is the belief that God employed certain miraculous gifts to establish the Church in the first century, but they weren’t intended for later use. In his commentary on Galatians 4:1-9,
This visible outpouring of the Holy Spirit was necessary to the establishment of the early Church, as were also the miracles that accompanied the gift of the Holy Ghost… Once the Church had been established and properly advertised by these miracles, the visible appearance of the Holy Ghost ceased.”
The first Lutherans believed and taught cessationism with regard to spiritual gifts. Early Lutheran beliefs, like the Augsburg Confession (1530) and the Book of Concord (1580), articulated cessationist views. Cessationism is often contrasted with “continuationism,” which is the view that all spiritual gifts are active and available today.
|Definition: certain miraculous spiritual gifts, like speaking in tongues, were only for the early church in the first century||Definition: all spiritual gifts, miraculous or otherwise, are available to believers in every century|
|Purpose: the purpose of miraculous gifts was to confirm the proclamation of the Gospels to establish the Church||Purpose: the purpose of miraculous gifts is to empower the church for effective ministry in all eras|
|Lutheranism: cessationism is the traditional, classic, and present position in major Lutheran denominations||Lutheranism: continuationism is the view held by a small number of Lutheran congregations that were influenced by Charismatic movement|
Speaking in tongues in Lutheran churches
While the clear position in the Lutheran tradition regarding speaking in tongues is cessationism, some member churches began speaking in tongues in the mid-20th century. The experience people had in these Lutheran churches is often discussed in the context of the Charismatic movement.
What is Charismatic movement?
The Charismatic movement is the name some historians give to the appearance and practice of speaking in tongues in non-Pentecostal churches like Presbyterian, Baptist, and Lutheran. The Charismatic movement is also referred to as the “Second Wave” in relation to the history of Pentecostal Christianity.
- The “first wave” is the establishment of the Pentecostal movement within Protestant Christianity in the early 20th century.
- The “second wave,” also called the Charismatic movement, is when mainline denominations and churches embraced Pentecostal theology and practices in the 1960’s.
- The “third wave,” often seen as starting in the 1980’s, held some common positions with Pentecostalism, like continuationism, but rejected the idea that baptism in the Holy Spirit occurred after conversion, instead arguing that it occurred at the time of conversion
Prior to the Charismatic movement, when a person adopted the theology and practices of Pentecostal Christianity, they would leave their mainline church and attend a Pentecostal one, such as an Assemblies of God church.
A distinguishing feature of the Charismatic movement is that people adopted the theology and practices of Pentecostal Christianity and stayed in their mainline church.
Larry Christenson was one of the early leaders of advocating for speaking in tongues in Lutheran churches. Christenson was a Lutheran pastor in San Pedro, California, that was convicted that Jesus Christ still heals people today like he did in the Gospels.
Christenson spoke in tongues for the first time in 1961 at an Assemblies of God church. Rather than leaving the Lutheran tradition, Christenson stayed in it and advocated that Lutherans and other mainline Christians seek and experience the miraculous gifts of the Spirit.
Christenson recorded that his denomination sent leaders, including psychiatrists, to investigate his church in 1964:
“In 1964 the American Lutheran Church (ALC) appointed a study commission to look into the matter of speaking in tongues, which was beginning to happen in some of their congregations.
A team consisting of a psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist, and a New Testament theologian was sent to our congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church in San Pedro, California, one of the first ALC congregations where speaking in tongues had been reported.
They tested and interviewed a group of 32 people who had received the gift of tongues, and a control group of 32 people who did not speak in tongues. They administered the Minnesota Multiphasic Test, the Rorschach Ink Blot test, and a psychiatric interview; they inquired into our understanding of the Bible and Lutheran doctrine.” 
Christenson’s wrote, “Speaking in Tongues” in 1968 and “The Christian Family in 1970.
Lutheran Renewal churches
In the early 1970’s, a small number of Charismatic Lutherans organized under the name “Lutheran Renewal.” Christians in this movement were committed, theologically orthodox Lutherans who adopted aspects of Pentecostal theology and practices, including speaking in tongues.  Lutheran Renewal held annual conferences for decades. The last meeting occurred in 2013.
Most Lutherans are committed to cessationism
The largest orthodox Lutherans denominations remain committed to cessationism. One example is The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). Their doctrinal statement about the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts reads:
“The Holy Spirit also equips the church with all the spiritual gifts it needs for its well-being (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). During the beginning of the New Testament era, special charismatic gifts were given to the church, such as signs, miracles, and speaking in tongues.
These gifts were connected with the ministry of the apostles (2 Corinthians 12:12). There is no evidence in Scripture that we today should expect the continuation of such charismatic gifts.” 
Thee WELS counsels its members to evaluate the claims of Pentecostal theology against Scripture to assess its merits:
“On the other hand, there can be the expectation and demand in Pentecostal churches that the Holy Spirit will give people the ability to utter sounds that are not known languages.
A good course of action is to compare the teachings of those churches with the Bible. When we recognize that the teachings of churches are not the teachings of the Bible, then we do not believe their message or follow their instructions.”
The WELS also affirms to its members that their identity is in Christ and speaking in tongues doesn’t enhance their status as God’s sons and daughters:
“Today many Christians are being told that speaking in tongues is a sign that they are God’s children. That is unfortunate because the Bible tells us that we are not to expect the same spiritual gift in all Christians (1 Corinthians 12:27-31).
More than that, the certainty of our status as God’s children is not dependent on us and what we can do, or claim to do. That certainty comes from God, as he calls us his own because of his work (2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Titus 3:4-7).”
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